queensland australia

Rafael Nadal and Caroline Wozniacki Top Seed at Australian Open – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Answering the Call

As it has so often done in the past, the sport of tennis will once again be rallying to the call to aid victims of another natural disaster, this time the devastating floods in Queensland, Australia where the city of Brisbane has been particularly hard hit. Andy Roddick and Sam Stosur donated money for each ace they hit last week during the Brisbane event, and Stosur and Matthew Ebden will be continuing this trend through the Australian Open. The ATP and WTA have also pledged to follow their example. But the charity won’t stop there. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Kim Clijsters, Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Stosur plan to participate in another exhibition event similar to last year’s “Hit for Haiti.” It’s sad that with so many tragedies in recent years, organizing these events has practically become second nature, but it’s always something special to see these star athletes coming together for a common cause.

And the Nominees Are

It’s that time of year again, when the sports world looks to who will win one of the prestigious Laureus Awards, and once more, tennis is well represented. Up for Sportsman of the Year is Rafael Nadal. Finishing No. 1 in the world and winning three of the four majors last year (and completing the career Grand Slam in the process), the Spaniard has a glittering résumé but is up against some tough competition with Sebastian Vettel, Manny Pacquiao, Kobe Bryant Andres Iniesta, and Lionel Messi also in the running. On the women’s side, tennis is heavily represented, with Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters and Caroline Wozniaki vying for the honor, while Lindsey Vonn, Jessica Ennis, and Blanka Vlasic round out the other half of the nominees. Stay tuned to find out who will take home top honors.

Top Men’s Seed

The seeds for the Australian Open are out, and no surprise that the powers-at-be at Tennis Australia have essentially stuck by the rankings, naming Rafael Nadal as the No. 1 seed in the men’s draw. There’s no issue with Nadal being named No. 1 given his performances over the course of the 2010 season, though between his recent bout of the flu and Federer’s phenomenal form in Doha (and nod to Davydenko’s performance is also in order), it’s hard to see him as an overwhelming favorite. Throw Soderling’s Brisbane title run and the strong starts of Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Roddick into the mix, and Nadal will have his work cut out for him to make it four straight majors.

Top Women’s Seed

As with the men’s field, Tennis Australia also stuck to the women’s No. 1 ranking and named Caroline Wozniaki as the top seed in the 2011 staging of the Aussie Open. As the most consistent performer on the WTA last year, no one should begrudge the Dane her top ranking, but being named the top seed is a bit questionable. Clijsters certainly had the better 2010, winning a major and getting the better of Wozniaki in the year-end championships. Their most recent performances in Sydney would also seem to suggest that Clijsters is quicker off the blocks. But the women’s tour is generally full of surprises, so perhaps Wozniaki will live up to her seed and win her maiden major, quieting the critics who question the legitimacy of her No. 1 ranking.

Laver Speaks

When Rod Laver speaks, people listen, and in an interview that came out earlier this week, the “Rocket” was quick to say that while Nadal winning the Australian Open would be an amazing achievement, it would not be a Grand Slam. With Laver being the last male to achieve the Grand Slam over 40 years ago (and Graf the last player to do so in 1988), fans and sports pundits are itching to see the feat repeated. But to even consider looking at Nadal’s achievement as a Grand Slam should he go on to take the title in Melbourne would be a disservice to the sport. However short the off season is, it is still an off season – a time to recuperate and allow any niggling injuries to heal. Playing straight through the season and fighting one’s way to the winner’s circle of every major in a calendar year is what makes the true Grand Slam so rare and so special. To his credit, Nadal has not suggested that should he go on to win the title, it be given the same recognition as a calendar-year Grand Slam. It would be the “Nadal Slam,” similar to the “Serena Slam,” that Serena Williams completed with her 2003 Australian Open win. So all power to Nadal if he’s able to achieve a phenomenal feat by simultaneously holding all four majors, but fans will have to wait a little longer to see something as special as that which was achieved by only Don Budge, Maureen Connolly, Laver, Margaret Court, and Steffi Graf.

LATE BLOOMER STOSUR A RARITY ON WTA TOUR

By Blair Henley

The ATP Tour is full of late bloomers. Sure there is the occasional teenage superstar, but it’s often more common for men to peak in their mid to late 20’s.

Not so on the women’s side.

That’s why 26-year-old Samantha Stosur’s recent first-time appearance in the Top 10 is an unusual feat. Her stellar doubles resume has made it easy to miss the fact that her singles ranking has been steadily improving since her professional debut in 1999.

In an age where mindless pounding from the baseline seems to have taken over, Stosur has shown that a well-rounded game, complete with solid volleys and a blazing serve, pays long-term dividends. Up-and-coming players and their coaches would be wise to take note.

Stosur, who goes by the nickname Sam, grew up in Queensland, Australia and didn’t start playing tennis until age 8, when a friend gave her a racket for Christmas. She spent as much time as possible hitting with her older brother until he advised their parents to get her some real lessons. By the time she turned 16, Sam’s rapid improvement had secured her a spot in the Australian Institute of Sport’s tennis program, which helped launch her professional career.

Stosur’s aggressive style of play took some time to develop, and it wasn’t until 2005 that she started seeing significant results in both singles and doubles. She teamed up with Lisa Raymond midway through the year and proceeded to win seven doubles titles with her new partner, including the U.S. Open and the WTA Tour Championships. Her newfound success provided the necessary momentum heading into 2006, where Stosur delighted her home crowd by making it to the fourth round of the Australian Open. After that solid season, she reached the No. 1 ranking in doubles and sat comfortably at No. 29 in singles.

Things were looking great for the Aussie, but trouble lurked right around the corner. After a decent start to 2007, Stosur’s season was cut short by extreme fatigue and joint pain. It wasn’t until October of that year, after a viral meningitis scare, that she was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease. The tick-borne illness sapped her strength and energy and left many wondering if she could come back from such severe health issues.

Stosur overcame the odds and had a fairly successful return to tennis in 2008, but she didn’t completely regain steam until the following year. In addition to her consistent doubles success, Sam’s all-court game fell together in 2009, making her a significant singles threat in the process. Her breakthrough season was capped off by her first WTA Tour singles title in Osaka.

That brings us to 2010. Stosur went into this year with a new and improved slice backhand and an intense focus on her singles play. Boy has that paid off. She recently captured the Family Circle Cup title and just fell in a tough three-setter to Justine Henin in the final of the Stuttgart Grand Prix. Interestingly, many of her biggest tournament wins have come on clay, which speaks to her adaptability and peak physical condition.

Stosur may have been a long-shot for success when she turned pro over ten years ago, but her slow and steady ascent shows just how dedicated she has been to a game-style that took some extra time to develop.  For every hard-hitting baseliner that has succeeded on the pro tour, there are many more that have flamed out upon realizing their games had hit a permanent plateau. Sam is a fantastic example for the next generation of players who would be smart to establish an aggressive, well-rounded game that can set them up for long-term success.

Only time will tell if Samantha Stosur will become a fixture among the world’s tennis elite,  but for now it looks like this late bloomer has effectively thrown her “doubles specialist” title out the window, trading it in for something more along the lines of singles powerhouse.

AUSSIE MOVINGS AND SHAKINGS: TENNIS IN THE COMMONWEALTH

Tennis fans of Queensland, Australia, were celebrating after three of their big name stars received wild cards this week for the 2010 Australian Open.

Davis Cup star Carsten Ball, two-time junior Grand Slam winner Bernard Tomic and national under 18 champion Jason Kubler were all handed passes to the event.

Ball missed the recent wild card playoff tournament with a back injury but has performed exceptionally well in 2009 and came close to making the main draw cut off point so the organisers made the decision to hand him a wildcard.

Tomic won this year’s US Open boy’s title to add to the 2008 Aussie boy’s title he’d already picked up. The Australians view Tomic as a huge prospect for the future and he has already shown promise by reaching the second round of the 2009 tournament.

Sixteen-year-old Kubler went on a 30-match winning streak this year which included victory at the prestigious Osaka Junior Open as well as leading Australia to Junior Davis Cup victory.

Former World No. 8 Alicia Molik and rising star Olivia Rogowska received wild cards in the women’s draw, Rogowska being the losing finalist in the recent wildcard playoffs.

The decision on the final wildcards to be handed out to the men’s and women’s draws will be made soon.

*Women’s doubles pairs were left feeling nervous as one of the most successful pairings of all time, America’s Lisa Raymond and Australia’s Rennae Stubbs, announced that they will once more compete together in 2010. Between 1996 and 2005 they won 32 titles together including three Grand Slams – Australia (2000), Wimbledon and the US Open (both 2001). They also won the 2001 Sony Ericsson Championships and both held the No. 1 ranking slot. Raymond has won a further two majors with another Aussie, Samantha Stosur, but the pair were always the most successful together. Raymond commented: “It’s funny how things come full circle.”

*Australian World No. 77 Peter Luczak has signed up to play in the 2010 Movistar Open, an ATP World Tour 250 tournament beginning January 31st in Santiago, Chile. The tournament takes place during the 200th anniversary of Chilean independence and vast celebrations are set to mark the event.

*Spanish clay court coach Felix Mantilla has been added to the Australian Davis Cup coaching team and captain John Fitzgerald was full of praise for the move, describing it as one of the most significant moves in decades. “Having Felix Mantilla now is a great asset to us,” he said. “I reckon it’s a very, very important appointment.”

*British tennis has awarded its December AEGON Awards with Naomi Broady picking up player of the month, Luke Bambridge (Junior Player) and Neil Frankel (coach) being the other benefactors.

*The Australian Open Changing Ends Film Festival has extended its entry deadline until January 18th. By submitting a film of no longer than 30 seconds you could win the top prize of $5,000 and have your film shown during end changes at the 2010 Open. Films must have a tennis theme. For more information visit www.changingends.com.au.