Queen’s Club Tournament

Mondays With Bob Greene: It might be the greatest victory of my career

STARS

FRENCH OPEN CHAMPIONS

Men’s singles:

Roger Federer beat Robin Soderling 6-1 7-6 (1) 6-4

Women’s singles: Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Dinara Safina 6-4 6-2

Men’s doubles: Leander Paes and Lukas Dlouhy beat Dick Norman and Wesley Moodie 3-6 6-3 6-2

Women’s doubles: Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual beat Victoria Azarenka and Elena Vesnina 6-1 6-1

Mixed doubles: Liezel Huber and Bob Bryan beat Vania King and Marcelo Melo 5-7 7-6 (5) 10-7 (match tiebreak)

Boy’s singles: Daniel Berta beat Gianni Mina 6-1 3-6 6-3

Girl’s singles: Kristina Mladenovic beat Daria Gavrilova 6-3 6-2

Boy’s doubles: Marin Draganja and Dino Marcan beat Guilherme Clezar and Liang-Chi Huang 6-3 6-2

Girl’s doubles: Elena Bogdan and Noppawan Lertcheewakarn beat Timea Babos and Heather Watson 3-6 6-3 10-8 (match tiebreak)

OTHER TOURNAMENTS

Jan Hajek beat Steve Darcis 6-2 1-6 6-4 to win the Unicredit Czech Open in Prostejov, Czech Republic

SAYING

“It might be the greatest victory of my career. It takes away so much pressure. Now I can play in peace for the rest of my career. Nobody will never tell me again that I have not won Roland Garros.” – Roger Federer.

“Yesterday, with my coach (Magnus Norman) we were joking, like nobody can beat me 10 times in a row. We were wrong.” – Robin Soderling, after losing for the 10th straight time to Roger Federer, this time in the French Open final.

“I can’t compare because it’s like parents having a second baby. One baby you are happy and second baby you are even more happier. It’s just unbelievable.” – Svetlana Kuznetsova, who won the French Open women’s title to go with her 2004 US Open crown.

“She was too tight. She had so much pressure on her. I just played the match. It was just one more match. … Definitely it was a lot of emotions inside of me, but I control it.” – Svetlana Kuznetsova, after beating Dinara Safina to win the women’s singles.

“Hopefully, one day I can win here.” – Dinara Safina, after losing in the Roland Garros final for the second consecutive year.

“I’ve played against him 20 times, so it’s always nice to play against somebody else.” – Roger Federer, speaking about Rafael Nadal after the three-time defending champion was upset.

“I already think she’s definitely authenticated as the world number one.” – Serena Williams, about top-ranked Dinara Safina before Safina lost the Roland Garros final.

“There is one thing I’ve always been convinced about, is that I win my matches with my serve and with my forehand. I can play well, but I win with those two shots.” – Fernando Gonzalez.

“I hope one day I would be the idol of the crowd the way Roger was today.” – Juan Martin del Potro, after falling to Roger Federer in the semifinals.

“I realized, like, ‘What is happening? 6-0, 5-0.’ It’s too much, I think, against Maria. That’s why maybe I missed the first match point.” – Dominika Cibulkova, after beating Maria Sharapova 6-0 6-2.

“I don’t really care about numbers. It’s either a ‘W’ or an ‘L,’ and I prefer ‘W.”‘ – Maria Sharapova., who trailed 6-0 5-0 before winning two games in a 6-0 6-2 loss to Dominika Cibulkova.

“This was a way for me to feel good, you know, to leave here with a win, leave here with a trophy, big title and a Grand Slam.” – Bob Bryan, who teamed with Liezel Huber to win the mixed doubles championship.

“Andy, I mean, he’s a great player. But he doesn’t have enough experience maybe playing five sets on clay courts.” – Fernando Gonzalez, after beating Andy Murray.

“I played against him before, and he hits the ball hard, but today he was hitting it huge.” – Andy Murray, after losing to Fernando Gonzalez.

“I’ll be disappointed, but I’ll wake up tomorrow and know that I had a great two weeks here and definitely will be looking forward to the next time I come back. So there’s far more positives than negatives right now.” – Samantha Stosur, who reached her first Grand Slam tournament semifinal.

“It doesn’t matter what they say about her (Anna Kournikova) not winning a tournament. For me she was a top-10 player, played the semis of Wimbledon and she was tough.” – Svetlana Kuznetsova, lauding Anna Kournikova’s role in the evolution of Russian women’s tennis.

“I have never taken any cocaine in my life, I can swear it.” – Richard Gasquet, who has been provisionally suspended by the International Tennis Federation after he tested positive for cocaine at the Sony Ericsson Open in March.

SUCCESS, FINALLY

When Roger Federer tearfully sank to his knees on the red clay of Roland Garros, he had finally captured the one Grand Slam tournament title that had eluded him. Federer’s 6-1 7-6 (1) 6-4 victory over Robin Soderling was his 14th major singles title, tying him for the men’s record with Pete Sampras. He also became the second man after Andre Agassi to win all four Grand Slam titles on three different surfaces – clay, grass and hard court – and the sixth man to win all four majors in their careers. Only two men – Don Budge and Rod Laver – won all four in the same calendar year, but the four tournaments then were played on just two surfaces, clay in Paris and grass at the other three: Wimbledon, Australia and the United States championships. Federer has played in a record 20 consecutive Grand Slam tournament semifinals and has been in 15 of the last 16 major finals, including the last five. Federer also is the first Swiss player – male or female – to win a singles title at Roland Garros.

SODERLING’S SHOCKER

Maybe only Robin Soderling was expecting a victory when he took on four-time defending champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round at Roland Garros. Nadal, after all, had never lost at the French Open and was riding a 31-match winning streak on the famed red clay. But the 23-year-old Swede wasn’t shocked when he continued his remarkable run all the way to the final, where he finally lost to Roger Federer 6-1 7-6 (1) 6-4. It was the first time Soderling had been even to the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament. But he wasn’t surprised. “I always knew that I could play really, really good tennis,” Soderling said.

STRUCK

Leander Paes just couldn’t get out of the way of a Dick Norman forehand volley. Standing near the net in the third game of the men’s doubles final, Paes was struck between the eyes by the volley and fell to his knees. “At that moment I was in a lot of pain and I basically sat down,” Paes said. “I just had a throbbing headache the whole match.” When Paes dropped to the ground, his partner Lukas Dlouhy, the chair umpire and opposing players gather around him while a bag of ice was provided from one of the courtside coolers. A trainer check Paes’ eyes before the veteran from India resumed playing. The hit didn’t affect his play as Paes and Dlouhy beat Norman and Wesley Moodie 3-6 6-3 62 to win the French Open title.

STAR-STUDDED NIGHT

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova was presented the Philippe Chatrier Award by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) at the annual ITF World Champions Dinner, held in Paris during Roland Garros every year. Also honored were 2008 ITF singles champions Rafael Nadal and Jelena Jankovic; doubles champions Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic, along with Cara Black and Liezel Huber; junior champions Tsung-Hua Yang and Noppawan Lertcheewakarn; and wheelchair champions Shingo Kunieda and Esther Vergeer. Navratilova won 167 singles, 177 doubles and 11 mixed doubles titles in her career, an Open Era record for both singles and doubles. Among her successes were 59 Grand Slam tournament titles, including 18 singles, 31 doubles and 10 mixed doubles. Her last major title was the US Open mixed doubles with Bob Bryan where she became the oldest Grand Slam tournament winner at age 49.

SIDELINED

Knee problems will keep Rafael Nadal from using the grass-court tournament at Queen’s Club as a warmup for Wimbledon. Tournament organizers in London said Nadal has been advised by his doctors to rest. The Spaniard is the defending champion at both Queen’s Club and Wimbledon. “I hope I can be ready to compete by then,” Nadal said of Wimbledon. Japan’s Kei Nishikori also has withdrawn from the Queen’s Club tournament and was replaced in the draw by Marco Baghdatis.

SO CLOSE

Jelena Janovic came oh-so-close to reaching the French Open quarterfinals. Instead, the fifth-seeded Jankovic lost her fourth-round match to Sorana Cirstea 3-6 6-0 9-7. “I should have won that,” said Jankovic, who served for the match at 5-4 in the third set. “I had 30-love, and what more can I ask for myself? All of a sudden, point by point, and the game went in her favor and everything got complicated.” Cirstea lost in the quarterfinals to Samantha Stosur. “The way you play, this is the result you’re going to have at the end of the day,” Jankovic said. “That’s all I can say.”

SMALL AND DANGEROUS

Maria Sharapova towered over her opponent by almost a foot. That statistic, however, doesn’t show up on the scoreboard. At only 5-foot-3 (1.61m), Dominika Cibulkova won the first 11 games to crush the 6-foot-2 (1.88m) Sharapova 6-0 6-2 and reach the semifinals at Roland Garros. Sharapova, who was playing in just her second tournament after a layoff of nearly 10 months because of a shoulder injury, faced match point before she could win a game. She won two games before Cibulkova, a 20-year-old from the Slovak Republic, closed out the match. The winner said she was surprised that the crowd was so solidly behind Sharapova, who was ranked number one in the world a year ago. “I was a little bit surprised because this never happened to me that so many people were maybe not against me, but they wanted Maria to go, to play, to beat me or to watch longer our tennis,” Cibulkova said.

STUNT, PERHAPS

One spectator got up close and personal to Roger Federer during the men’s final. With Federer leading 6-1 2-1, a man got through a row of photographers and leapt onto the court, where he tried to place a red hat on Federer’s head. Federer pushed the intruder away before the man began dancing in front of him while waving a Barcelona soccer team flag. When security guards ran onto the court, the man jumped over the net where he was tackled by a security guard from Robin Soderling’s side of the court. Police said the man, who claimed to be a Federer fan, was jailed for questioning and could be charged with illegally entering a sports stadium.

SCHOOL TIME

Rafael Nadal’s foundation is setting up a tennis school in India. The Nadal Tennis School (NTS) is expected to be functional by June 2010 in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The Hindu newspaper reported NTS is a joint venture before the Rafael Nadal Foundation and Fundacion Vincente Ferrer, the Spanish arm of India-based non-governmental organization Rural Development Trust (RDT). The school will be restricted to children over eight years old. So far 135 children have registered for admission to the academy.

SWEARS INNOCENCE

Richard Gasquet swears he never knowingly used cocaine. The French player was provisionally suspended by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) after he tested positive for the drug at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Florida, in March. Gasquet had pulled out of the tournament without playing a match, citing a shoulder injury. If he fails to clear his name, Gasquet could face a two-year suspension from the sport. The player said he attended a party in Miami before the tournament and was told that there was cocaine available. “I have never taken any cocaine in my life, I can swear it,” Gasquet told French radio Europe 1.

SILENCE

A minute of silence was observed at the French Open in memory of the 288 passengers and crew aboard the Air France plane that disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean. Among those on Philippe Chatrier Court who stood with their heads bowed were top-ranked Dinara Safina and Victoria Azarenka before they battled in the quarterfinals.

SCHEDULE SET

Featuring two of the top players in the world, Serbia will make its Fed Cup World Group debut next year against a dominant Russian team. With Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic playing, the Serbs will play host to Russia, which has won three of the last four Fed Cup titles. In other first-round matches, the United States will play at France, Italy will visit Ukraine and Germany travels to the Czech Republic. In the World Group II pairings, drawn during the French Open, it will be Spain at Australia, Belgium at Poland, Argentina at Estonia and China at the Slovak Republic.

SPECIAL LADY

Peachy Kellmeyer is the recipient of the Golden Achievement Award given jointly by the International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF) and the International Tennis Federation (ITF). The award is presented to individuals who have made important contributions internationally to tennis in the fields of administration, promotion or education, and have devoted long and outstanding serve to the sport. A former player and coach, Kellmeyer has been a senior executive with the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour since 1973 and most recently served as Senior Vice President of Tour Operations overseeing player commitments, the Tour calendar, overall Tour operations and a USD $3.5 million bonus pool. Although she officially retired at the end of 2008, Kellmeyer has continued to work with the WTA as Tour Operations Executive Consultant. As physical education director of Marymount College in Boca Raton, Florida, Kellmeyer spearheaded a lawsuit that ultimately led to the creation of Title IX, ending gender discrimination in intercollegiate athletics in the United States.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Prostejov: Johan Brunstrom and Jean-Julien Rojer beat Pablo Cuevas and Dominik Hrbaty 6-2 6-3

SITES TO SURF

London: www.aegonchampionships.com

Halle: www.gerryweber-open.de/

Lugano: www.challengerlugano.ch

Marseille: www.opengdfsuez-marseille.com/

Eastbourne: www.lta.org.uk/Watch/

s-Hertogenbosch: www.ordina-open.nl/

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$1,000,000 AEGON Championships, London, Great Britain, grass

$1,000,000 Gerry Weber Open, Halle, Germany, grass

$119,000 BSI Lugano Challenger, Lugano, Switzerland, clay

WTA

$220,000 AEGON Classic, Birmingham, Great Britain, grass

$100,000 Open GDF Suez de Marseille, Marseille, France, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$600,000 Ordina Open, s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, grass

$600,000 AEGON International, Eastbourne, Great Britain, grass

WTA

$600,000 AEGON International, Eastbourne, Great Britain, grass

$220,000 Ordina Open, s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, grass

Will Sampras Return?

When Pete Sampras defeated Andre Agassi in the finals of the 2002 US Open, the retirement debate began almost immediately. Was Pete going to go out on top or would he continue to try to add to the record-breaking legacy he had created? While that decision took a year to officially sort out, I’ve always wondered if Pete did the right thing. Sure, he had been struggling that last year on tour. His motivation did not seem to be as high. Getting knocked out at Wimbledon in the second round was a major shock to the tennis world. And yet his run during those two weeks at Flushing Meadows certainly showed he still had what it took to continue at a high level. During that time he knocked off his young heir apparent Andy Roddick, and perhaps his greatest rival of all time in Agassi.

Pete Sampras 1

But Sampras opted to go out a champion, and nobody could fault him for that. He had a young family to spend time with. His 32 year old body was taking a beating after so many years on the tour, and after tasting success at almost every possible major venue, he felt it was time to call it a career. Many wondered if Sampras would be content in retirement. At the time, I would not have been surprised if a year or two later he decided to come back while he was still young enough to compete at a high level. Maybe he could have put away another Wimbledon or two before Roger Federer truly hit his peak. Instead, no one heard a whisper from Sampras. He kept to himself while spending time with his family and practicing his game on the golf course, not the tennis court.

Almost four years would pass before the world would see Pistol Pete on a tennis court again. It started very simply, with an exhibition match against young American Robby Ginepri on April 6, 2006. Sampras could have decided to take on a fellow retiree such as Jim Courier or John McEnroe. Instead, he chose to test himself against a current professional. An interesting choice no doubt. While Ginepri would take the exhibition 6-3, 7-6, Sampras must have been content with his showing after such a long layoff and against a much younger opponent.

Talk turned quite quickly to the prospect of a Sampras/Federer clash of the ages. While that would not materialize for some time, Sampras did try his hand at World Team Tennis and some events on the Outback Champions Series, a senior level tour. Many remarked that Sampras still had some serious skills on the court; John McEnroe even stated he felt Sampras could be a top five threat on the lawns of Wimbledon.

Fast forward to the fall of 2007. Talk of a Sampras/Federer exhibition matchup came to fruition with a three match tour of Asia. Sampras had been practicing quite heavily leading up to the encounters, and although Federer was coming off the Tennis Masters Cup and a long season of tennis on top of that, he was still the clear overwhelming favourite. Federer also does not strike me as the type of competitor who simply goes through the motions just to entertain the crowd. I have no doubt that he was eager to show his was able to defeat Sampras, whose Grand Slam titles record he is trying to catch.

All three matches were quite close. Federer took the opening encounter 6-4, 6-3 in Seoul, Korea. Two days later the score was even closer; Federer again won in staight sets 7-6, 7-6. The last match of the series was the most remarkable, with Sampras actually winning in two straight sets, 7-6, 6-4. Clearly his serve and volley game was something that gave Federer somewhat of a challenge. The fact that a 36 year old Pete Sampras was even able to make these matches close against the 26 year old Roger Federer was incredible. Sampras must have left the Orient feeling pretty happy with his accomplishments. Might he also have been wondering about how he would fare against some of the other top ATP players of today? Part of him had to have, at least for a fleeting moment, considered how he might hold up against today’s players in a real tournament scenario.

Here we are now at the start of the 2008 season. Instead of taking a break from his recent exhibition revival, Sampras is scheduled to play Tommy Haas (who replaces an injured Marat Safin) at next week’s SAP Open in San Jose. Again testing himself against a current player, I must wonder what Sampras hopes to achieve with this or future matches against today’s players. Is he trying to see if he can defeat another one of today’s big names? Trying to see whether his encounter with Federer at the end of a long season was just a fluke?

Another exhibition match against Federer looms in March at Madision Square Gardens in New York City. This is good opportunity for Sampras to take on the current number one on his home soil. But then where does he go from there? Why is he continuing to play against today’s players and not his contemporaries who still dabble in the sport on the senior tour?

The only realistic and reasonable answer in my opnion is that Sampras is systematically gearing himself up for a return to the ATP tour. Not a full return, and perhaps not even a limited schedule, but certainly he is trying to gauge his response to today’s challengers. The thought has to have been planted in his head, and further nourished by his recent success against Federer. Despite his repeated denials, I would not be the least bit surprised if Sampras asked for, and was granted, a wild card at the Queen’s Club tournament in June in order to prepare for his ultimate goal, a return to the All-England club at Wimbledon. While he may be in too deep against a Federer or Djokovic, he could still give just about anyone else a good run for their money on his favourite surface. Keeping his age and fitness level in mind, he would have to try to limit his matches to three or four sets and avoid a long, drawn out five-setter. But with his booming serve still in order and his net game tuned up, I’m sure he would still be able to make it to the last sixteen.

Something more than just a desire to stay fit and have fun with today’s crop of players is at work here. While Sampras has given no official word that would indicate this is what he has in mind, don’t be surprised if we see Pistol Pete one more time on Centre Court at Wimbledon this summer. Tennis fans of all ages and backgrounds would certainly be in for a treat if this were to happen.