question marks

Ana Ivanovic Snubbed By Rogers Cup – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

The Plot Thickens – Once again, mystery surrounds American tennis star Serena Williams. No doubt she’s injured, and no doubt she is questionable for the final major of the year. But it’s fair to say that there are a number of question marks surrounding how Williams acquired the injury and just how much of a threat is it to her chances of competing at the US Open. First we heard she hurt her foot and would miss the World Team Tennis season. Then we hear she needed stitches and has pulled out of all of her scheduled hard court tune up events. Now we know the World No. 1 has undergone surgery and may not make it to the Big Apple. Throw into the mix the type of injury (deep cuts on the bottom of her foot from stepping on broken glass in a restaurant), and Serena Williams has left many in the general sports world scratching their heads. The good news for Williams is that if she is able to play the US Open, she’ll still be considered one of the heavy favorites. She’s never needed many matches going into a major to post big results, so while not ideal, her lack of preparation will not be nearly as detrimental as it would be to her fellow competitors. And perhaps just maybe this latest injury will work up a little sympathy for the 13-time Grand Slam champion so that others prove less apt to revisit her infamous meltdown in the semifinals against Clijsters last year.

Serbian Snub – One of the more surprising stories of the week was the wildcard snub of Ana Ivanovic for the upcoming Montreal event. Tournament organizers defended the snub, stating that they wanted to ensure Quebec native Stephanie Dubois, whom they felt was an equal, if not bigger draw than Ivanovic for the Canadian crowd, received a wildcard into the event. As Ivanovic never quite reached the popular status of a Maria Sharapova or Williams sisters, it’s difficult to argue with the logic of the tournament organizers who presumably know what their fans want. Playing the qualies could also work in Ivanovic’s favor. Players have talked about the added hunger and mental boost that comes with earning a place in the main draw, not to mention the added advantage of having a few matches under the belt when coming up against an opponent when main draw play is underway. So while already having a ranking that would automatically see her entered in the main draw would have been preferred, qualifying for and playing the Montreal event has the potential to pay dividends later.

Recognition for Martina – The International Tennis Hall of Fame has announced that the 2010 recipient of the Eugene L. Scott Award will be none other than Martina Navratilova. The award is being given in recognition of Navratilova’s contributions to the sport of tennis, which includes her commitment to insightfully and thoughtfully commenting about the nature and state of the sport. It is appropriate that Navratilova receive this award at this stage in the game, given that she has continued to contribute to the sport of tennis in the face of her own battle with breast cancer.

Two for Two – Rising Hungarian star Agnes Szavay completed two spectacular weeks this past weekend, taking her second title in as many weeks in the Czech capital of Prague. She won the Budapest title the previous week in her native Hungary. Granted, the fields at both of these events were not exactly stacked the way that they are at the top tier tournaments, but Szavay may finally be starting to gain some consistency and deliver on the some of the promise she showed earlier in her career. Her Prague win saw her jump 11 places in the rankings, and she’ll be keen to maintain the momentum and raise that ranking even more over the course of the hard court summer season.

Mixed Bag – In a recent poll of America’s favorite female sports stars, tennis took the cake, with current stars Serena and Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova making the list, as well as Anna Kournikova and tennis legends Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova also earning spots among that elite ten. It was great to see such a wide spread among the tennis stars that appeared on the list, and particularly for someone like Billie Jean King who played a huge role in laying the groundwork for women’s tour, to see women’s tennis so well represented had to be immensely satisfying. On the flip side of all of this, no male tennis player earned a spot among the top ten male sports stars. One could argue they face stiffer competition with the popularity of the NFL, NBA etc., but it was still mildly surprising to not see the likes of Federer or Nadal on the list. Not that either of the European men will be broken up about losing a popularity contest in the United States, but it would still be great to see the men fare a little better in 2011.

YOUR GRASS IS MINE! 2010 WIMBLEDON PREVIEW

By Peter Nez

With Wimbledon only one week away, the talk has shifted from sheer dominance on the sandy surface to an all out blitz of question marks and shrugging shoulders as to who will take away lawn glory. It’s hard to refute a 76-2 record on grass for the past seven years by defending champion Roger Federer, and one would be remiss if he wasn’t, on all accounts, the decisive favorite, but circumstances are bound to change, the wind can shift, and church bells may toll, sounding off eras swaying, and epochs coming to an end, as we saw inevitably happen in France when Robin Soderling dismissed the G.O.A.T. in the quarterfinals, ending an astounding streak of 23 semis or better in a row.

Roger, who typically plays his Wimbledon warm up tournament in Halle, Germany, the Gerry Weber Open, did the same this year, only bypassing it twice in the last eight years. He had a strong week, reaching the finals, taking out some accomplished grass court players along the way, losing only to Lleyton Hewitt, a former world no. 1, and former Wimbledon champion; an accredited savant on the green stuff, in three sets on Sunday. Not a terrible start to Federer’s grass campaign, especially considering how quick the transition is from clay to grass, and the results of his arch rivals and other top players: Nadal, Murray, Roddick, and Novak, all went out fairly early in their Wimbledon warm up at the Queen’s Club in London.

Entering major tournaments in good form is all about momentum, and nothing can build momentum like match play and excellent results at preceding tournaments. This couldn’t be exemplified any more than what happened this past spring where Rafael Nadal took three back to back masters titles upon entering the French Open; riding on a mountain of momentum, there was little doubt as to what the Savage Spaniard would do at Roland Garros. I don’t think there was one ‘expert’ out there in the tennis universe who didn’t pick Nadal to win it all, and many thought that maybe spring 2010 would mirror spring 2008 for the Mallorca Madman, who won not only The French Open, and Wimbledon, but the warm up to Wimbledon in the interim, (Queen’s Club Open) taking out a red hot Novak Djokovic in the final. But all for not, Nadal lost to Feliciano Lopez in the quarterfinals in straight sets, his only other loss to Lopez coming when Rafael was a bubbly seventeen year old, raw on the tour. Nadal seemed relaxed about his loss saying he was, “looking forward to going home,” and was happy so he could, “play golf and see family.” A peculiar attitude to exude before the Super Bowl of Tennis, but who am I to speculate on Rafa’s preparation? His track record speaks for itself. A friend of mine said, about Nadal’s performance, who was a National Doubles Champion for the USTA, in his smooth southern drawl, that “It looked like he wasn’t timing the bounce as well. He looked unbalanced.” It’s not out of order to speculate that he may be feeling the magnificent run he had this past May, and a bit tired, and I don’t see any cause for alarm for Nadal fans, but I don’t get the feeling that 2010 will sing a cover song anytime soon for the Spaniard, but even more than that, I have reservations about King Roger as well.

Federer has been in a title drought since the Australian Open, and his clay season was anything but normal, and we know how important confidence is to him, and to lose to Hewitt, somebody he has owned in past meetings, in a final of a grass court tournament that he has won many times before can’t bode well. Something is amiss. I get this strange feeling that there may be something more to this “lung infection” he acquired back in February and that it hindered him more than anyone thought, including himself. Who knows, maybe the universe is saying it’s time for somebody else, that the old adage about greed may prove true. The “uncharacteristic losses” have been accumulating since 2007, and Roger fans have been biting their nails more readily during his matches these days. Between the alien arrival of the spraying forehand, and the cryptic breakdown in his first serve (something we saw full fledged against Ernest Gulbis, in Federer’s first round loss at the Rome Masters), the impenetrable veneer of the Federer palace is looking to wane. But, the caveat to that is the swirling doubts have been parading around the press rooms and fan sites before every major, and Roger seems to silence the naysayers time and time again, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he places a giant index finger across them yet again, by holding the coveted title that fortnight.

If anything, this year’s Wimbledon will be the hinge that turns the door on the rest of the season for anybody, especially the top players. Who can do it? A number of players can step up. What about Murray? Maybe he can finally reach grand slam glory that he has come so close to tasting before? Last year he was a semi-finalist and has an entire nation pulling for him. Henman Hill has now been transformed to Mound Murray. Can Djokovic finally turn back the hand of time and resurrect the career many expected he would encompass? What about Roddick? He always has a chance, as he proved last year. This is the next sunrise, the new morning, the middle of the ATP season, the cathedral of tennis, the hallowed lawns of Wimbledon, where dreams come true, and tears tremble the blades of grass, and in a men’s draw loaded up with bursting at the seams talent, anything can happen. Federer and Nadal are the two super powers, and it would be great to see them in the final again, battling it out, knifing through the English dusk with their artistry and brute will, but something tells me there may be new blood lurking in the Channel, that the familiar silhouettes may have different shapes this year coming out of the tunnel. I don’t know exactly what it is, it’s just a feeling, but I sense something blowin’ in the wind…

STOSUR UNDER PRESSURE: THE CHRONICLES OF THE LIONESS, THE DUMP TRUCK, AND THE CITY OF LOVE

Peter H. Nez

The women’s game is back! A return to elegance, a return to charm, a return to that sweet display of all-court fastidiousness and unabashed attack. A return to women who actually know how to serve. A return to likeability? Yes, I said it… Sam Stosur and Francesca Schiavone are likeable women, unlike others on tour. In an era of women’s tennis where question marks and strained TV ratings were plaguing the WTA Tour, an era that witnessed inconsistency and unfulfilled prophecies, one Dinara Safina comes to mind, an era that produced infidelity amongst usual loyal fans, I know I fast forwarded most of the women’s matches on my TiVo, we have a mighty welcomed return to the game’s true spirit in Stosur and Schiavone. What a great story these two have inspired in the last week and a half of play at Roland Garros.


 

I remember back in 2006 when I was watching a young Sam Stosur play in a doubles match at Indian Wells, and wondering to myself, “Why doesn’t Sam have a great singles record?” My friend I was with at the tournament, a very knowledgeable tennis player himself, agreed. She had all the tools, all the weapons, and a mental adjunct that seemed appropriately balanced and tantrum-free. I think I can safely say that we will never see Sam Stosur violently shaking her fist at any unassuming linesperson ever, and I mean EVER. Sam is just too professional for that, too decent, one could even say. Yes, there is something very likeable about Stosur, almost something angelic about her. In her visage on court one can see the fierce determination, coupled with the vulnerability that we see in the likes of past champions like Navratilova, Evert, and even Nadal maybe. There is a sweet innocence about her, which really comes out in interviews. She has the quiet Lioness in her, which roars and bellows when on court, flexing those very toned, and shapely arm muscles, that are very female, whipping her cyclone kick serve, which compliments this surface so well, and bashing ground strokes past her bewildered opponents, but then is reduced to a soft kitten when the spotlight is shone on her, flashing that shy, vibrant smile, almost ashamed of what she has accomplished, much like Nadal in that matter – very understated.

To get past Henin was a big enough feat, but to maul through the likes of Serena “I should be playing on the ATP Tour” Williams, is another thing entirely. Herein lies the divide: On one side of the net, you have the indomitable one, the dump truck, the entourage, the glitz and glamour, the cell phoneitis, the fashion, the diva, the attitude, the limousines, the rappers, the basketball stars, Miami, the cars, and money. And across from that you have the grace, the humility, the honor, the girl from down under, the water and breeze, the harmony of the elements, the silent assassin, the shape and fit, the look, the grace, the Lioness. I felt like I was watching the resurrection of what used to be, what should always be. The Gods are not crazy after all. Stosur moved beautifully, served like a top women’s player should serve, and didn’t seem to look back, or wonder what if at all. After the first set went Stosur’s way, and then the break in the second, one could almost sense the turning of the tide, not just in this match, not just in this tournament, not just in women’s tennis, but a shift back to a realer way of life, a realer way of carrying oneself, a dignified return to nobility in a game as old as time.

Then the screech in the skies erupted, the clouds returned, the dark matter unfolded yet again: Stosur got broken in the ninth game (the first time in the entire match) when she was serving for the match. Navratilova, who was commentating for the match foreboded another gloomy meltdown from another woman, who shoulda, woulda, and coulda… History was against Stosur, her record against Williams worked upon her psyche, she would have to self induce a lobotomy psychosomatically if she was to have a chance of forgetting that missed opportunity. Everybody who plays tennis, both recreationally and professionally knows what Stosur was going through. You feel sick, you want to break something, yell at a kitten, smash your head against the wall, dig a hole right underneath you and wait till dawn to reappear. Well, there goes her chance, the collective psyche of the tennis world communicated. No way was Serena going to lose now. And after coming back to take the second set, it seemed inevitable. With her trademark Yelp, and fist pumping, confidence reemerged in Serena’s serve, and her ground strokes. Poor Stosur was all I could think, all anyone was thinking. Except for Stosur herself. It was remarkable to witness. Stosur fought against the will of the Earth, she wasn’t going to listen to those booming expletives resounding in her head, she washed the doubt away with her Roland Garros towel, grit her teeth, picked up her weapon and fought with the entire pride riding on her shoulders. She didn’t care if God was on her side or not. She played with destiny like it was a ball of putty in her hand, like a Lioness playfully batting a baby gazelle, before taking a big chomp. It almost seemed that in her disposition she was saying to herself, “Well, what are you gonna do Sam? Just walk away, or go out with blood trickling from your feet?” The result speaks the choice she obviously made, and it was the first time in a long time that I yelled and jumped in the air for a women’s match in years. Against all odds, against all prospective bets, against the no. 1 player in the world, Sam Stosur showed what it takes to be a true champion. And after whomping Jankovic in the semis, it’s her tournament to take. And we will all be there watching, maybe the most watched women’s final in years. Maybe then, will the true Queen of the jungle be crowned.

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!