quarterfinal

Tsonga and an opportunity lost

James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.

By James Crabtree

MELBOURNE –

As tough as Federer’s draw has been on paper this was his first real test.

Jo- WilfredTsonga is a big, fast and intimidating player who knows what it feels like to beat his rival in five sets.

Add to that Tsonga’s assorted collection of thunderous ground shots, booming serves, tantalizing volleys and a crowd he keeps enchanted, Federer had a problem.

Most people attending, aside from those who had national pride or an unhealthy devotion at stake, were happy to see either man win.

The first four sets were shared evenly and at that point both players deserved to win. Consistency, fitness and strategy were comparable, although Tsonga’s style was generally more flamboyant. By this point people watching were thinking up elaborate excuses why they wouldn’t be into work tomorrow morning, in anticipation of a Wawrinka Djokovic battle royale.

“Jo was really pressing forward today, playing aggressive, pushing me to come up with the plays and get one more extra ball back.  I think I did well.  I’ve been moving well all week, or the last couple weeks.  You know, I guess also not having played any tournaments leading in, today was tricky because I haven’t been in a match like this for some time, and I’m happy I came through.” said a relieved and happy Federer who added to his own history books with his 10th straight Australian Open semi-final.

Jo-Wilfred Tsonga went toe to toe with Federer but failed to deliver when it really mattered most, losing 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 7-6 (7-4) 3-6 6-3. Tsonga was bidding to deny Federer any more statistical achievements and his 10th consecutive Australian Open semi-final.

The Frenchman had taken the fourth set brilliantly seizing the opportunities when they presented themselves. Sadly he started the fifth without the desperation needed to outlast the most successful player of all time. Something was missing and with it Federer’s confidence multiplied.

But luck was on Federer’s side during this kind spirited affair. Even whilst a break up  he was the fortunate recipient of a net cord that dribbled over the net, with Tsonga fruitlessly running all the way past the net and into Federer’s court to which Tsonga, with a wry smile, could only mock hit a ball at the Swiss master.

Tsonga’s downcast expression following his defeat was more striking than the words he used afterwards when speaking to the press.

“You know, I’m a bit in the bad mood because I lost it. But, you know, in other way I played a good match.  I was solid.  I was there every time.  I keep my level of concentration, you know, really high all times. You know, I just gave my best today, so I’m proud of that. But, you know, I’m not happy to lose, and I already look forward for the next tournament, the next Grand Slam, to try another time.”

Everybody is so quick to comment on Federer’s age, almost without realisation how old everybody else is getting. Tsonga and Berdych are both 27, David Ferrer is 30. Their athletic biological clock is ticking by too and all three need to renounce their membership from the illustrious ‘nearly men’ group.

A subdued Tsonga reflected afterwards of the Federer he lost to today but beaten at Wimbledon two years ago. “In 2011 I think it was not a really good year for him, and I’m sure he’s more in a good shape. He was in a good shape last year and he’s in a good shape at the beginning of this year, so I think it’s a different player.”

A different player Andy Murray, Federer’s next opponent, should be wary of.

The Weekly Debrief – Federer praises Fish; Microphones in player boxes at US Open?

In this week’s Debrief, I catch you up on Sunday’s final in Cincinnati where Roger Federer fistpumped his way into a victory, touch on Mardy Fish’s current mental attitude, update you on the 2012 Olympics, and analyze the good, the bad, and the ugly about a new fan enhancement in effect at this year’s US Open, microphones in the player boxes. Wait, really? Yes. But first …. Federer.

Top Five

Roger Federer is once again the forerunner of this year’s US Open after taking the title Sunday in Cincinnati at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters. He defeated American Mardy Fish in a tight three-setter, 6-7(5), 7-6(1), 6-4.

What makes Federer’s run in Cincinnati so alluring is that he had only played a total of 37 minutes to reach the quarterfinals, and only 3 hours and 26 minutes to reach yesterday’s final. Compare that to Fish’s time on court prior to the final, 10 hours and 22 minutes, and the disparity is staggering. How could this have happened at a Masters 1000 event? And exactly how lucky is Federer? Well, Fish entered as a wildcard and proceeded to play all six rounds, with his quarterfinal and semifinal matches each going to three sets. Federer, however, had a first-round bye, a second-round retirement victory over Denis Istomin, and a third-round walkover from Philipp Kohlschreiber. Exactly how lucky IS Federer? Well, of the tournament’s four retirements, two came as a direct benefit to Federer.

This was only Federer’s second title of the season, as he had fallen in his last three finals in Madrid, Halle and Toronto.

This is a breakthrough of sorts for a champion whose tennis genius has been challenged by several players this year alone. The wide gap that once existed between the “King” and the rest of the players has diminished, allowing the upcoming US Open to have one of the deepest fields in recent times. Federer could come out crushing in Flushing Meadows, but he could also come out crashing as he did in Wimbledon, struggling from his very first match. Either way, he is fully prepared to attain that coveted trophy again.

Speaking of Mardy Fish, he’s had quite a decorated summer himself. Despite losing to Federer in a match that could have gone either way, he also improved to 2-0 in the year against Andy Roddick and 3-0 against Andy Murray.

His newfound game is most directly a result of his weight loss, but as with any change in a person’s life, their mental attitude tends to be even more telling of their physical state. Take, for example, John Isner’s recent annoyance about “still” being questioned regarding his second-round Wimbledon epic against Nicolas Mahut. Or Francesca Schiavone’s “so over it” attitude concerning how her life has changed after her Roland Garros win this year. Fish, on the other hand, has been constantly questioned about his weight loss and how it’s affected his game. He began his regimen when he went in for knee surgery in September of 2009. He then changed his diet, lifestyle, and obviously mindset because, almost a year later, he still doesn’t mind the reporters and fans asking him the same question about his weight loss. He’s proud of his commitment and it has paid off, why not enjoy it?

In Federer’s presser after his win over Fish, he applauded him for his “great serve,” accuracy and mixing up his shots and pace to keep Federer on his toes. “He’s got a great serve,” Federer remarked. “He keeps you guessing. His first serve is particularly hard to read and get any proper play on it. I saw the stats against Roddick, and he had 95% first serve winning percentage, not only here, but in Atlanta.” Although it looks like Fish will be seeded in the US Open, he will likely be at the top of many people’s lists for a possible upset of any of the top four men in the field.

On the heels of Serena Williams’ announcement that she has withdrawn from the US Open, last year’s men’s titlist, Juan Martin del Potro, has also withdrawn citing a recovering right wrist injury. To most avid tennis fans, this isn’t really “news,” but when it’s officially stated, it still stings.

Del Potro’s only tournament this year came at the Australian Open where he made a run to the fourth round. Currently, at number ten in the world rankings, after the US Open he is expected to drop out of the top 30. No doubt, a plummet in the rankings hurts del Potro’s return. However, it will also alleviate some of the expectations that people have of him coming back and winning every tournament he enters right away. “It would have been a pretty tall task for him to come back and [at] his first tournament be a major player,” said Andy Roddick. “That’s something that’s built up over time.”

So, the ugly injury list continues. We now add del Potro to an already-growing field of withdraws: Mario Ancic, Ivo Karlovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tommy Haas. Here’s to hoping this list doesn’t grow any longer, but with the intensity of today’s tennis game and players being in a perpetual state of injury and pain, I wouldn’t be surprised if at least two more players withdrew.

The 2012 Olympics in London are still two years away, but there are already announcements coming from tournament staff concerning the dress code at the tennis games. While Wimbledon is known for its all-white dress attire, the All England Tennis Club has decided to suspend the dress code for the London games which will be played at the same venue. “We have been very supportive to the Olympic organizers throughout the process,” stated AELTC chief executive Ian Ritchie. “We hope to some extent there will be a different type of audience. It is not a repeat of the Championships. It will be its own competition, have its own style and it will play out in its own way.”

Another change will be that only 12 of the available 17 courts will be in use, bringing down crowd capacity from 40,000 to 26,000. The question I have is whether there will still be a desire from fans to watch tennis a mere 20 days after the completion of Wimbledon, especially when there are so many sports at the London Games. The 2012 tennis event will also be the first to have mixed doubles, bringing the medal count to five: men’s and women’s singles as well as men’s and women’s doubles. If nothing else brings in the money, the mixed doubles may. It will be interesting to see possible new pairings such as Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic, or Serena Williams and Andy Roddick.

Last week, the USTA announced that it is expanding its “fan enhancements” for the 2010 US Open. It began with the inaugural US Open National Playoffs earlier this summer and will continue with venue improvements in Flushing Meadows, as well as online.

After reading about all the enhancements, I realized that one stood out unlike the rest. “Microphones in the Players Boxes.” Wait, is this what I think it is? “For the first time, microphones have been installed in the player boxes in Arther Ashe Stadium, which will help viewers get even closer to the emotion and drama of the US Open by adding perspective of the players’ guests as matches unfold.”

Can I admit that I’m a bit surprised this is allowed? As much as I would enjoy getting into the head of a player’s coach or parent, I wonder if every player and their guests are aware of this new “enhancement.” Some players don’t talk about their personal lives much, and many don’t disclose what they need to improve on in their game specifically. This lack of privacy that this new enhancement allows simply can’t be what they signed up for. Although I’m sure there will be player guests and teams that don’t cheer or say much during a match, others are quite vocal. Taking it one step further, who will be monitoring their conversations? The ESPN2 and Tennis Channel staff? They’re already armed with more information than the typical fan needs sometimes, why further disrupt the privacy of a player’s team by granting us access to their guests? I think a line needs to be drawn now or soon there may be a new “enhancement” that forces coaches to wear microphones at all times while they’re coaching so we can get “added perspective” as fans. Come on, enough is enough. Let us just watch what we signed up for: the beauty of the game.

ATP Bonus
Two greats, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, were interviewed by Cincinnati.com junior journalists last week. They ask Rafa how he celebrates after a great win and Roger on his cooking skills. These girls are asking great questions and better than some professional media out there!

That’s it for this week’s Debrief. Just stop by anytime you want a recap of the ATP Tour. We’ve got you covered!

GONZO OUT, MURRAY DUCKS OUT ON DAVIS CUP: TENNIS PEOPLE

* Former world No. 5 Fernando Gonzalez has announced he will be away from the tour for 10 weeks while he battles a bilateral patellar tendinitis. “Unfortunately I have bad news,” he told his official website. “The bilateral patellar tendinitis that I have will force me to be away from competition for 10 weeks. Because of that, I will have to skip Gstaad, Bastad, Hamburg and, most sadly, the Davis Cup quarterfinal tie against Czech Republic at Coquimbo.” He has targeted the hard-court ATP Masters tournament in Toronto in August as his return.

*Andy Murray has conformed he will not be participating in Great Britain’s crucial Davis Cup relegation playoff against Turkey next month. New captain Leon Smith must face the Turks without his two highest ranked players as Alex Bogdanovic is also missing. But Murray felt the Brits were in good shape even without their two top stars. “I’ve given a lot of reasons for not playing and I do think that it’s time for us to start winning ties, having young players getting used to winning,” Murray told BBC Sport. “Right now it’s important that the guys get used to winning and beating teams like Turkey and I think they will do.”

* Rafa Nadal has admitted that recapturing his Roland Garros crown from Roger Federer was always top priority in his mind ahead of reclaiming the No. 1 slot in the South Africa Airways ATP World Rankings. In an interview with Fox Sports he said: “The (French Open trophy) is the most important thing for me. After the No. 1 is there, yes. But I was No. 1, and believe me, I am very happy. When I was crying after the match, the last thing I was thinking was the No. 1. The first thing is the title and all the hours I worked, a lot, to be here another time.” The interview also gives the views of top stars including Robin Soderling on Rafa’s chances of dominating at Wimbledon again two years on from that epic 2008 final against Roger Federer. Check it out at the Fox Sports website.

* Roger Federer’s defeat to Lleyton Hewitt in the final at Halle last Sunday was only his second defeat on grass since 2003, the first being the blockbusting 2008 Wimbledon final against Rafael Nadal. The victory for Hewitt moved him up to No. 26 in the world in this week’s ATP rankings (14/06) which will help emphatically with his seeding for Wimbledon. Benjamin Becker re-enters the Top 50 at 48 while his Queens final defeat to Sam Quarrey has seen Mardy Fish jump 20 places to No. 70 in the world.

*Thai star Paradorn Srichapan has officially announced his retirement from professional tennis. He has always said he hoped to return from the wrist injury that has kept him sidelined since early 2007 but a recent motorcycle accident in which he broke both his hands and injured his knee has put paid to that. He is now set to coach the Thai Davis Cup team.

*In the Sony Ericsson WTA Rankings (14/06) Na Li’s victory over Maria Sharapova in Birmingham moves her in to the world’s Top 10 for the first time since February. Aravane Rezai is in to the Top 20 at 19 while Sybille Bammer and Arantxa Parra Santonja enter the Top 50. It is the first time since the week beginning August 25, 2003 that only one Russian occupies a Top 10 slot.

* The knee injury that forced Russian Elena Dementieva to pull out of her French Open semi with Francesca Schiavone has now ruled her out of Wimbledon. The 28-year-old reached the semis in 2008 and 2009 and had hoped to go one step further this year. In better news, Richard Gasquet has stepped up his return from the back injury that kept him out of Queens in a bid to make the Slam, reports L’Equipe. Kei Nishikori also hopes to make the event according to his management.

* Kim Clijsters reflected favourably on her return from injury which saw her crush compatriot Yanina Wickmayer 6-1, 6-1 at Eastbourne. “It was not bad for a first match in a while,” said Clijsters. “I stayed focused very well… Yanina wasn’t playing her best tennis, she made a lot of mistakes, but I was trying to go to the lines a lot and be really aggressive.”

* Following on from yet another Roland Garros title Rafa Nadal chose somewhere different to celebrate – Disneyland Paris. He posed with new-generation favourites such as the Incredibles and spent the day on his favourite rides and attractions. “It’s a place I love,” he said. “I often come with my family and I also intend to return very soon.”

* Lindsay Davenport has increased her return to the WTA Tour by announcing she will also be playing the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford this year.

* Billie Jean King is backing Martina Hingis to also return to pro tennis on the doubles circuit following her competing in the 2010 World Team Tennis season. Hingis has already announced that her and Anna Kournikova will compete in the legends doubles competition at Wimbledon this month and King believes she is “testing the waters” in regards to a full return according to the associated press. In a conference call with Tennis.com, however, Hingis has claimed she is still undecided on the issue but has considered teaming up for doubles with Lindsay Davenport after the former American star announced more dates for her comeback this year.

* Following on from his defeat to Feliciano Lopez at Queens Rafa Nadal gave an insight in to how he was going to be spending his time off before Wimbledon. “Have some dinner with the friends and maybe play some golf. That’s it,” he said. “Oh, and World Cup—always,” he added. He also pinpointed where he may improve before tackling the third Grand Slam of the year at Wimbledon later this month. “Next week, in Wimbledon, I gonna have more time to practice and to adjust a little bit more the serve, a little bit more the backhand and the movements on the grass. So that can be good thing.”

* Dominica Cibulkova has begun to work full-time with Dinara Safina’s recently axed coach Zeljko Krajan, according to TennisReporters.net.

* Three-time Rogers Cup Champion Chris Evert is heading in to the tournament’s Hall of Fame. She will be inducted in a ceremony on August 16th during the evening session of that day’s play.

* GB’s Ken Skupski has spoken of his delight at moving in to the world’s Top 50 doubles players, at No. 49. “We’ve [Skupski and partner Colin Fleming] just finished with the Aegon Championships and we’re heading to Eastbourne to play in the Aegon International and that’s the tournament prior to Wimbledon,” he told BBC Sport. “We feel we have got a good chance next week. I’m not sure whether we’ll be seeded but we will be one of the top ranked teams there.”

BOUND FOR GLORY: THE GREATEST STREAK IN SPORTS HISTORY

By Peter H. Nez

After the forecast gloomed something awful, and tennis fans geared for their action packed Tuesday, by towing umbrellas and slickers, the quarterfinal between the defending champion Roger Federer, and the upstart who crashed the fiesta Del la Espanola last year: Robin Soderling, started on the eve of a potential 24 straight semis or better run by Federer, a streak that is unmatched in the sport, or any other sport for that matter. Broadcaster Patrick McEnroe called the streak, “The greatest streak in tennis history.” I go even further by calling it the greatest streak in sports history period.


Soderling the wiry, lanky Swede, with Dr. Suess face, and quirks to match, had a 0-12 record heading in. If given the right color, and the right kind of eyes, one could see the shades of the Grinch in the young Swedes smirks and overall demeanor on court. Could anyone foresee Soderling manifesting the Grinch that stole Tennis Glory? Two years in a row?

The first set was typical in their historic matchup. Roger, with majestic movement and balletic flourishes, took the opener 6-3. Commentator Brad Gilbert remarked, “I’ve never seen anyone slide on clay better than Federer,” going as far as saying, “Even his socks stay clean. He glides so well, that he doesn’t have the typical smears and smudges most players have.” It looked that number 24 for Roger would be inevitable. Then something happened that may have only happened once in tennis history in the past five or six years: Soderling’s racquet morphed into a 12 gauge shotgun, with the accuracy of a laser sighted pistol. Line after line bombasted and thumped past the Swiss Maestro’s flailing efforts to defend, set after set. Soderling was compiling an offensive so massive that the Roger base looked pitiful in comparison. You could feel the Swede’s pop on his racquet swelter the Maestro’s usually impervious front. This was reminiscent of the Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro’s missile strike at the 2009 US Open. Forehands blistered, serves rocketed, and the flag was still there. This wasn’t the lefty anomaly of spin mayhem that Nadal mustered to garner a winning record against the holy one, but an all out onslaught of power that inspired large oohs and aahhs from the Parisian spectators. Darren Cahill repeatedly commented that Soderling was “Bringing the heat!” Soderling’s average second serve ranged in the 115 to 118 mph zone, and he held serve much more comfortably than he had in previous meetings. But wait a minute… this was the “Greatest of All Time” wasn’t it? There had to be a response right? One would think. But, the same thing happened that I have been witnessing happen, with scratchy head and bewilderment, for the past several years: The Federer kryptonite forehand emerged. Amidst rain soaked Parisian skies and grounds, the usually competent, jedi-light-saberesque forehand of Roger’s, sprayed the back of the courts almost as much as the groundskeepers’ water hose. Routine short balls ended up five feet out of bounds, and the Roger Empire in Paris was crumbling fast. And as Roger’s ground strokes became more wobbly, Robin’s ground strokes gained heat and the white lines of Roland Garros couldn’t have been bigger for the Swede, as stroke after ripping stroke painted the lines regularly. If one looked closely one could see smoke fuming from the top of Soderling’s Head racquet. If the story last year was ‘The Slaying of the Dragon’ than this year’s would indubitably be ‘The Demolition of The Royal Palace.’

Still, even after the near perfect assault of Soderling on the Royal grounds, Roger’s streak of 23 semis stands alone in sports history and in my mind will never be surpassed. In today’s game, where the top fifty players in the world would easily have been top ten or better fifteen years ago, to reach a milestone as that even supersedes the 16 slam titles in my humble view. And with Roger’s game and playing style, if he can remain healthy, which he has done, and doesn’t lose the hunger to play, which he has claimed is safely in tact until at least 2015, who knows? Could it be fathomable that Roger could be the one to beat the streak?

FEDERER RIDUCLED AS GRAND SLAM CHOKER? SAY IT AIN’T SO!

Roger Federer, the man who has won more major singles titles than anyone in history, was once considered a Grand Slam tournament choker. Rene Stauffer, the author of the book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com), takes readers back to the time when Federer was remarkably perceived as a Grand Slam underachiever.

Chapter 15

The Grand Slam Block

Roger Federer’s declared goal for 2003 was, as before, to win a Grand Slam tournament. He finally wanted to rid himself of the moniker as the best player in tennis without a Grand Slam title. In his 14 career Grand Slam tournament appearances, his best results were two modest quarterfinal finishes— both achieved in 2001.

Coach Peter Lundgren still displayed an unshakable belief in Federer. He constantly repeated the mantra in his sonorous voice that Federer required more time than others to fully develop. “He has an unbelievable repertoire and he needs more time with his game for all the pieces to come together,” he said, declaring that the goal to be achieved for the 2003 season was to reach the top four in the world rankings. “Roger is on the right path and shouldn’t listen to what others are saying. He’s like a bird that is learning how to fly. As soon as he reaches his maximum flying altitude, he’ll be hard to beat. He is now beating all the players he is supposed to be beating. There isn’t much of a difference between being ranked No. 1, No. 5 and No. 10.” Pleasant words and nice thoughts—but what else was Peter Lundgren supposed to say?

More disturbing than the initial, unexpected defeats to Jan-Michael Gambill in Doha and Franco Squillari in Sydney was the reappearance of the pains in his groin that just didn’t want to go away. Federer was forced to rest and not practice for two days and his status for the Australian Open was in doubt. In addition, his late season surge and appearance in the Tennis Masters Cup in China late in 2002 diminished the already paltry tennis offseason. The season’s first Grand Slam tournament came much too early in the tennis season, especially for those who competed in the year-end Tennis Masters Cup. “There isn’t enough time to prepare,” said Federer.

The Czech Pavel Kovac was a member of Federer’s entourage as a physiotherapist since the past summer. He was a taciturn, burly man completely devoted to serving Federer. The wear and tear of the tennis circuit made Kovac and his services very important to Federer’s future success. Kovac managed to stop Federer’s pain just in time for him to post at the Australian Open.

In his first three matches, Federer did not lose a set. Expectations rose, especially when two of his rivals in his half of the draw—Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin—were eliminated from the tournament—Hewitt losing to Younes El Aynaoui and Marat Safin withdrawing with injury prior to his third-round match with Rainer Schuettler. In the round of 16, Federer faced David Nalbandian for the third time in his professional career—and for a third time—he was defeated. Federer seemed dazed against Nalbandian and struggled with the Argentinean’s backhand and strong counter-attack in the 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 loss. Another opportunity to win a Grand Slam tournament disappeared. Federer was completely devastated.

Away from the pressures of Grand Slam tournament play, Federer flourished and continued his winning ways. He won 16 of his next 17 matches—including two singles victories in Davis Cup against the Netherlands, where the Swiss, led by new captain Marc Rosset, defeated the Dutch 3-2. He then won his sixth and seventh career ATP titles in Marseille and Dubai. For the third consecutive year, the ATP named him the “Player of the Month” for February.

While Federer experienced disappointments on the major stages of the Tennis Masters Series events in Indian Wells and Key Biscayne, he again demonstrated his strength in Davis Cup, registering all three points for Switzerland in its 3-2 upset of France in Toulouse. So excited was Federer at leading the Swiss into the Davis Cup semifinals, he uncharacteristically celebrated at a disco in the French city, dancing and partying until the wee hours of the morning. Federer’s success continued into the start of the clay court season as he won the title in Munich and also reached the final of the Italian Open, losing unexpectedly to Felix Mantilla of Spain. The result, however, still propelled him into the conversation as being a favorite to win the French Open.

“I feel much better this year than the year before when I first was in the top 10,” he explained in one of the many interviews before the French Open. “It was a new situation for me back then. I’ve gotten used to it in the meantime.”

He admitted to feeling the pressure from the public. “The entire world keeps reminding me that I am supposed to win a Grand Slam tournament and be No. 1 in the world. That’s not fair because it’s not that easy,” he said. He then stated defiantly that “whoever wants to beat me will have to work hard for it. I don’t want to lose in the first round at Roland Garros again.”

On a summery Monday afternoon in Paris, Federer’s first match at the 2003 French Open took place on Court Philippe Chatrier, the center court named after the Frenchman who was a past president of the International Tennis Federation. His opponent was an unknown Peruvian Luis Horna, whom Federer beat earlier in the year in Key Biscayne. Horna, ranked No. 88 in the world, had yet to win a match at a Grand Slam tournament. Federer took an early 5-3 lead in the first set, but began to show his insecurity and nerves when, during a routine rush to the net, he slipped and fell to the ground, only to mutter to himself and show negative emotions. Despite his lead, he seemed discouraged and, quite unusually, often glanced desperately at Peter Lundgren. Federer lost his service break advantage and despite holding a set point in the tie-break, he surrendered the first set by an 8-6 tie-break. The match immediately turned into a drama for Federer. He seemed frustrated, apathetic and didn’t show any belief that he could win. He appeared mentally absent, missing even the easiest shots. He tallied 82 unforced errors in the 7-6 (6), 6-2, 7-6 (3) first-round loss.

The tournament was shockingly finished before it even really began. Federer, the fallen favorite, appeared in the overcrowded interview room with his head bowed low. “I don’t know how long I’ll need to get over this defeat,”

he said. “A day, a week, a year—or my entire career.”

Federer became the ridicule of the tournament. France’s sports newspaper L’Equipe ran a headline the next day translated as, “Shipwrecked In Quiet Waters” and published a cartoon in which a steam ship named “Roland Garros” steams away, leaving Federer behind in quiet waters. Florida’s Palm Beach Post described him as the “Phil Mickelson of Tennis,” comparing Federer to the American golfer who failed to win any of the major tournaments despite his great talent and many opportunities. “Federer has all the strokes but no Grand Slam trophy. He carries the dog tags of the best tennis player who

has never won a major competition.”

The loss undeniably confirmed Federer’s reputation as a Grand Slam loser. He showed that he was a player who could not pull out a match even though he was not playing his best tennis—a characteristic that most champion tennis players exhibited, most notably in the present by Lleyton Hewitt, who could win a match on guts and determination alone. Since his victory over Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001, Federer was 0-4 in matches at the French Open and Wimbledon—the last three matches without even winning a set. His last five Grand Slam tournaments ended in defeat at the hands of much lower-ranked players

What could one say in his defense? Federer was now five years into his ATP career and approached his 22nd birthday. He won six ATP singles titles, excelled in Davis Cup play and time and again insisted he was capable of achieving greatness. He was considered one of the bigger stars in tennis and climbed to No. 5 in the world rankings. But outside of the title in Hamburg, all of the tournaments he won were smaller events and even the German Open was not a Grand Slam tournament. Federer failed routinely in the arenas where it was decided if a player was a champion or not. The once precocious maverick simply could not bring his tremendous potential to bear at the Grand Slams. When looking at the successes of his idols, rivals or earlier great players, he couldn’t help but feel envy.

At his age, Becker, Borg, Courier, Edberg and Sampras as well as Hewitt, Safin and many others had already long since won their first Grand Slam titles. Federer, however, had not even reached the semifinals at a Grand Slam tournament. The experts were unanimous in their opinions that Federer was mature enough athletically to break through a win his first title. But athletic brilliance alone was not sufficient enough and Federer was still searching for the key to real success. An analysis would seem to indicate that a mental block was preventing him from winning. He felt under pressure to such a degree at the Grand Slam tournaments that he couldn’t concentrate on the moment, especially in the early rounds. This was a basic rule for success. The pressure came from all sides—but mostly from himself. He hadn’t yet learned that these tournaments couldn’t be won in the first week but they certainly could be lost. With some luck, he could have already won a Grand Slam title—in 2001, for example, after upsetting Sampras. Everything would have looked different.

After his loss to Horna, Federer seemed to be the loneliest man in tennis. He was a man alone braving the stormy tempest. How could he have known that this defeat was to be his last such one-sided Grand Slam defeat in a very, very long time? How could he have known that this painful experience was necessary in order to become the hardened, keen-sighted but yet modest champion who would have the tennis world at his feet?

Federer described what really happened when he faced Horna in Paris  months later. “I was simply not prepared mentally,” he said. “I put myself under too much pressure. After losing the first set, I couldn’t get back into the match. I had the feeling that it was impossible, that I was no longer in control of the situation. After the first set, I said to myself, ‘Even if I survive this round, I still have to play six more rounds to win this tournament.’ That almost drove me insane. I put myself under such pressure that I couldn’t play anymore.”

After the match, he said that he was overwhelmed with questions about the how and why. “But at that moment, I didn’t really feel like talking about it. I was too disappointed. I wanted to do nothing else but take eight days vacation and then start my preparations for the grass tournament in Halle. I didn’t want to think about Roland Garros—I wanted to forget it. I didn’t want to analyze what happened because I knew that I had simply failed mentally. I didn’t accept it by any means.”

ATP REVIEW WITH VOO

Robin Soderling came to Rotterdam having lost his last six matches and started the tournament by losing the first set in his opening match with Florent Serra. But since then, he played some of best indoor tennis and won nine consecutive sets, at 6-4 2-0 for him in the final, a 2007 champion Mikhaily Youzhny was forced to retire because of right hamstring. Youzhny had beaten a new No 2 Novak Djokovic in the semifinal in two tie-breaks. “It’s been a very good week overall,” said Soderling who won his fifth title. “I started out struggling a bit in my first two rounds, struggling to find my form, but I worked hard and managed to get better with every match”.

Fernando Verdasco claimed his fourth career title (first indoor) after beating Andy Roddick 3-6 6-4 6-4 in the final of SAP Open in San Jose. For the Spaniard, it was the first ever indoor tournament in USA. Verdasco broke Roddick’s serve at 1:1 in the second set and at 4:4 in the third set to finish the match with his 15th aces (Roddick served 10). Roddick has already won 13 matches this season, second best after Marin Cilic (15). The 19-year-old Ricardas Berankis (No. 255) of Lithuania, became the first man from his country to reach an ATP singles quarterfinal.

Juan Carlos Ferrero needed only 60 minutes to demolish Lukasz Kubot 6-1 6-0 in Costa Do Saupe, Brazil. Ferrero who celebrated his 30th birthday during the tournament, won the 13th title in his 30th career final. “You never expect to play a one-sided final like this,” admitted Ferrero. “One is always nervous in the beginning of a final, and it wasn’t different today. I thought I played well from the beginning and with two breaks of serve ahead quite early in the match I never looked back”. Kubot reached his second final of his career and for the second time lost to a top-seeded player (lost to Djokovic the final in Belgrade 2009). The Pole had had very busy Friday – he won two singles matches and one doubles (losing only 13 games in the process) before overcoming Igor Andreev in the semifinal despite being down 1:3 in the final set.

BRING ON A HENIN vs. SERENA FINAL

A blockbuster Justine Henin vs. Serena Williams women’s singles final at the 2010 Australian Open looks like a strong possibility.

A renewal of one of the best rivalries in women’s tennis over the last 10 years looks to be in the cards as the bottom half of the women’s draw opened up with losses by No. 2 seed Dinara Safina and No. 3 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Henin defeating fellow Belgian Yanina Wickmayer 7-6 (3), 1-6, 6-3, to advance into the quarterfinals.

To reach the Australian Open final in only her second tournament back from a 20-month retirement, Henin will have to beat Petrova and then the winner of the Maria Kirilenko vs. Jie Zheng quarterfinal.

Henin won six and lost seven matches against Serena during their rivalry and the two future Hall of Famers have combined for 18 major singles titles. The two players seems destined for a second-round collision course at the pre-Aussie Open event in Sydney, but Henin withdrew from the event after losing an exhausting final the week before against Kim Clijsters in Brisbane.

“I’m sure she’ll be ready and amped to go,” Williams said two weeks ago about the possibility of playing Justine in Sydney. “She has a good record against me so I’m sure it will be a good match.”

Williams lost only two games in their last encounter at Miami in 2008, shortly before Henin announced her shock retirement from tennis while holding the No. 1 ranking. Their most famous – and contentious – match came on June 5, 2003, as documented and excerpted below in the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com)

2003 – Serena Williams is defeated by Belgium’s Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in front of a raucously pro-Henin Hardenne crowd in the semifinals of the French Open, ending Williams’ 33-match major tournament winning streak. The match is highlighted by an incident in the third-set that proves to be contentious and acrimonious between the two rivals for years to come. With Williams serving at 4-2, 30-0 in the final set, Henin-Hardenne raises her hand indicating she is not ready to return serve. Williams serves in the net, then protests, to no avail, to the chair umpire and tournament referee that she should be given a first serve, while Henin-Hardenne says nothing of her gesture. Williams then loses the next four points to lose her service-break advantage and eventually the match. Says Henin-Hardenne, “I wasn’t ready to play the point. The chair umpire is there to deal with these kind of situations. I just tried to stay focused on myself and tried to forget all the other things…It’s her point of view but that’s mine now and I feel comfortable with it….I didn’t have any discussion with the chair umpire. He didn’t ask me anything. I was just trying to focus on playing the returns. She saw me and she served. It was her decision to serve. I just tried to stay focused on the second serve. One point in the match doesn’t change the outcome.”

Safina retired with a back injury in her round of 16 match with Maria Kirilenko, trailing 4-5. Petrova, who upset reigning U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters 6-0, 6-1 in the third round, continued her run by upsetting reigning French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.  Serena Williams faces Aussie Sam Stosur in the round of 16 on Monday night.

G’DAY FOR THE AUSSIES IN SYDNEY

Wednesday was a “G’Day” for the home Aussies at the Sydney International. Lleyton Hewitt needed just 55 minutes to beat Andreas Seppi 6-0, 6-2 to advance into the quarterfinals. The win avenged a loss to Seppi in Sydney’s quarterfinals four years ago after wasting two match points; Also 30-year-old Aussie Peter Luczak reached first ATP-quarterfinal in his home country after 1-6 6-4 6-2 win over Tomas Berdych.
The Spaniards are the main force at the Heineken Open in Auckland where they comprise of the top four seeds. However, only two of them advanced to the quarterfinals. Swiss qualifier Michael Lammer, 27, advanced to the first ATP-quarterfianl when he led 3:1 in the first set when his opponent, Juan Carlos Ferrero (No. 3 seed), was forced to retire (sprained right ankle).

Martin Edges Krickstein; To Vie For Fourth Straight Charlotte Final

CHARLOTTE, N.C., September 24, 2009 – Todd Martin defeated fellow American Aaron Krickstein 2-6, 7-6(3), 11-9 (Champions Tie-Breaker) Thursday to advance into the semifinals of the $150,000 Breezeplay Championships at The Palisades at The Palisades Country Club in Charlotte, N.C.  Martin, a singles finalist at the Outback Champions Series event in Charlotte for all three years of the tournament’s existence, will look to advance to a fourth straight final when he next plays the winner of Friday’s quarterfinal between Jim Courier and Mikael Pernfors.

In 2006, in the first-year of the event in Charlotte, Martin reached the tournament final, falling to Courier 5-7, 7-6 (6), 10-4 (Champions Tie-Breaker). In 2007, Martin lost to Pete Sampras 6-4, 6-4 in the championship match, while last year, Martin reached the final at The Palisades for a third straight year, losing to Courier again 6-2, 3-6, 10-5 (Champions Tie-Breaker).

Against Krickstein, Martin had his serve broken twice in the first set as Krickstein surprised Martin with penetrating forehand returns and consistent play from the baseline. Martin appeared frustrated and flustered on court and struggled with his consistency, but was able to hold serve six times in the second set to force the tie-breaker. Martin connected on some strongly hit forehands and timely first serves to win the tie-breaker 7-3 and force the first-to-10-point “Champions Tie-Breaker,” played in lieu of the third-set. Martin jumped out to an 8-4 lead and appeared ready to cruise to the come-back win but Krickstein rallied to win five straight points to hold match point at 9-8. Martin, however, rallied to save the match point and win the next two points to close out the match.

“The match for me was horrible in the beginning,” said Martin. “I knew it couldn’t get any worse. I always play my best when I’m not playing to win. At one point tonight I was just trying to lose gracefully. The courts are very slow which doesn’t suit me well. I rushed an awful lot in the first set and Aaron played really well.”

Martin will have Friday off as Courier and Pernfors play to determine who will play the 1999 U.S. Open singles finalist in the semifinals. Courier and Pernfors, however, were on the court Thursday night as both players competed in a special celebrity match that opened up the evening session, with Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory pairing with Pernfors to defeat Olympic Gold Medalist Skater Dan Jansen and Courier 6-4.

The remaining schedule of play for the tournament is as follows:

Friday, Sept. 25
Starting at 7 pm
Jim Courier vs. Mikael Pernfors
Followed By
Pat Cash vs. Jimmy Arias

Saturday, Sept. 26
Starting at 2 pm
Doubles Match
Followed By
Pete Sampras vs. Pat Cash/Jimmy Arias winner
Starting at 7 pm
Doubles Match
Followed By
Todd Martin winner vs. Jim Courier/Mikael Pernfors winner

Sunday, Sept. 27
Starting at 2 pm
Third Place Match
Followed by
Championship Match

Sampras won the opening event on the 2009 Outback Champions Series, defeating John McEnroe in the final of the Champions Cup Boston in February. McEnroe won the second event of the year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, defeating Courier in the final. Sampras won his second title of the year at the Del Mar Development Champions Cup in Los Cabos, Mexico, defeating Patrick Rafter in the final. Courier won his first title of the 2009 season in April at the Cayman Islands, defeating Arias in the final. Cash successfully defended his title on the grass courts at the Hall of Fame Champions Cup in Newport, R.I. in August, defeating Courier in the final. Following Charlotte, the next event on the Outback Champions Series will be held in Surprise, Ariz., where Andre Agassi will make his debut Oct. 8-11.

Founded in 2005, the Outback Champions Series features some of the biggest names in tennis over the last 25 years, including Andre Agassi, Sampras, McEnroe, Courier and others. To be eligible to compete on the Outback Champions Series, players must have reached at least a major singles final, been ranked in the top five in the world or played singles on a championship Davis Cup team. The Outback Champions Series features seven events on its 2009 schedule with each event featuring $150,000 in prize money as well as Champions Series points that will determine the year-end Champions Rankings No. 1.

InsideOut Sports + Entertainment is a New York City-based independent producer of proprietary events and promotions founded in 2004 by former world No. 1 and Hall of Fame tennis player Jim Courier and former SFX and Clear Channel executive Jon Venison. In 2005, InsideOut launched its signature property, the Outback Champions Series, a collection of tennis events featuring the greatest names in tennis over the age of 30. In addition, InsideOut produces many other successful events including “Legendary Night” exhibitions, charity events, corporate outings and tennis fantasy camps such as the annual “Ultimate Fantasy Camp”. Through 2008, InsideOut Sports + Entertainment events have raised over $4 million for charity. For more information, please log on to www.InsideOutSE.com or www.ChampionsSeriesTennis.com.

Tennis great Jack Kramer dies at 88: This Week in Tennis Business

From tennis legend Jack Kramer passing away at the age of 88 to a possible Justine Henin press conference this week to announce her comeback to US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro earning a winner’s paycheck of $1.6 million plus an additional $250,000 for finishing third in the Olympus US Open Series to Serena Williams being fined $10,500 for her outburst during her semifinal loss to Kim Clijsters at the US Open, these stories caught the attention of tennis fans and insiders this week.

  • Tennis legend and the first executive director of the ATP Tour, Jack Kramer passed away at the age of 88 on Saturday at his Los Angeles home. Kramer, who won Wimbledon in 1947 and the U.S. Championships in 1946 and 1947, was the top ranked player in the world for most of the late 1940’s. “Jack Kramer was truly one of the greats of the game and was instrumental in the growth and development of the sport in so many ways, both on and off the court,” said ATP Executive Chairman and President Adam Helfant. “He was like a father figure to so many in tennis and his wisdom, enthusiasm and advice will be sadly missed. On behalf of everybody at the ATP, I would like to pass on our sincere condolences to his family.”

  • According to Belgian television station RTBF, former world No. 1 Justine Henin has ordered 14 racquets and may hold a press conference as early as this week to announce her return to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.

  • By winning the US Open men’s singles title on Monday evening, Juan Martin del Potro earned a winner’s paycheck of $1.6 million plus an additional $250,000 for finishing third in the Olympus US Open Series. Women’s champion Kim Clijsters earned a winner’s paycheck of $1.6 million. Men’s doubles champions Leander Paes and Lukas Dlouhy and women’s doubles champions Venus and Serena Williams each split a winner’s paycheck of $420,000. Mixed doubles champions Travis Parrott and Carly Gullickson spilt the winner’s paycheck of $150,000.

  • Serena Williams was fined the maximum $10,000 by the US Open for unsportsmanlike conduct following her tirade during her semifinal loss to Kim Clijsters. Williams was also fined $500 for racquet abuse during her loss. The Grand Slam Committee is currently looking into the incident and could force more fines and a suspension.

  • Writing on her official website, Serena Williams says, “I want to amend my press statement of yesterday, and want to make it clear as possible – I want to sincerely apologize FIRST to the lines woman, Kim Clijsters, the USTA, and tennis fans everywhere for my inappropriate outburst.” “I’m a woman of great pride, faith and integrity, and I admit when I’m wrong.  I need to make it clear to all young people that I handled myself inappropriately and it’s not the way to act — win or lose, good call or bad call in any sport, in any manner. I like to lead by example.  We all learn from experiences both good and bad, I will learn and grow from this, and be a better person as a result.”

  • US Open officials announced that they are ready to start developing plans to build a roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium but the final decision on when and if they actually will build a roof is a little bit away. The estimated cost to build a roof would be around $100 million. “We are substantially farther along the road of consideration than we were six months ago,” said Gordon Smith, Executive Director of the USTA. “It will be some time before there’s any decision made on whether or not to go forward with the roof.”

  • According to a study by Barclays and Professor Tom Cannon of the University of Liverpool, the British economy has increased by $405 million (UK) because of Andy Murray’s recent rise to No. 2 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings. With Murray’s popularity rising at a fast pace, people are spending lots of money on everything from equipment to advertising to sponsorship. Cannon also mentioned in his study that the $1 billion (UK) spending gap between tennis and golf will soon close.

  • A LeRoy Neiman watercolor painting of Serena and Venus Williams, that was expected to be sold around $60,000, received no bids during a recent US Open auction in New York. The proceeds of some of the other items benefited USTA Serves, which funds community tennis programs and college scholarships.

  • Melanie Oudin’s magical run to the quarterfinals at the US Open was a ratings winner for ESPN2. About 2,324,000 viewers tuned in during Oudin’s loss to Caroline Wozniacki. The night before during the Venus Williams vs. Flavia Pennetta match and Rafael Nadal vs. Gael Monfils match, 2,128,000 viewers tuned in to watch.

  • BackOffice Associates, LLC, has announced that Melanie Oudin has signed a multi-year promotional partnership. BackOffice Associates, LLC, is the world leader in SAP data quality.

  • The organizers of the Shanghai ATP Masters 1000 presented by Rolex are giving fans the opportunity to vote on which trophy they would like to see presented to the tournament champion. Malaysian manufacturer, Royal Selangor, has created three trophies that fans can vote for on the official tournament website. Each person who votes for the trophy will be signed up for a chance to win a trip to Malaysia to see the trophy being made.

  • At the recent Legends Ball held at the Cipriani on 42nd Street in New York City, the following awards were given:

      • Tennis Channel CEO Ken Solomon received the Joseph F. Cullman III award.

      • Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe accepted the Eugene L. Scott award for her husband, the late Arthur Ashe.

      • Martina Navratilova earned the Danzig award.

      • Fred Stolle received the Johnston award.

  • More than $130,000 was raised during a silent auction at the Legends Ball. $18,000 was raised for a hitting session with Monica Seles, $6,000 for a hitting session with Jim Courier and $15,000 for a men’s and women’s finals travel package to Wimbledon.

  • Roger Rasheed, coach of Gael Monfils, and Vlado Platenik, coach of Dominika Cibulkova, are spearheading a new organization called, Tour Level Tennis Coaches Association, to support coaches and trainers by offering them benefits, forms of insurance, financial services, job training and mentoring.

  • On September 11, CNN’s Tony Harris and Natalie Morales of The Today Show on NBC hosted a Breaking the Barriers reception to honor the National Junior Tennis League on the 40th anniversary of its founding by Arthur Ashe.

  • Rafael Nadal will not play Davis Cup this weekend for Spain’s semifinal tie against Israel due to an abdominal injury. Juan Carlos Ferrero will take Nadal’s spot on the roster.

  • Roger Federer is scheduled to compete for Switzerland this weekend during their World Group Playoff match against Italy.

  • Andy Murray announced that he is fit to participate this weekend in Great Britain’s Davis Cup Zonal tie against Poland.

  • ATP World Tour CEO Adam Helfant said the tour is looking into an All-Star event for the players that will happen right before the Indian Wells Masters 1000 event. “We’ve talked to our players about it and our players are excited about it and committed to it,” said Helfant.

  • According to the Melbourne Herald Sun, former Australian tennis star Mark Philippoussis has sold his family house in Australia to pay off an outstanding mortgage. Philippoussis is still being sought out by American tax authorities for $500,000.