rafa nadal

Rafael Nadal set for seventh Roland Garros title; Maria Sharapova climbing the ranks — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Happy Hunting Grounds

Last weekend, Rafael Nadal was right where he wanted to be – on red clay and back in the winner’s circle. His play at the Foro Italico was a glowing example of why Nadal is arguably the greatest clay court player ever. He’s mixing in the right amount of aggression, and his defense is second to none. He’s also shown that his mental toughness is once again intact, as evidenced by his ability to come out on top in virtually any tight situation, absolutely refusing to give anything away to the opposition. This is the pre-2011 Nadal fans are used to seeing – less complaining and more sure of his game. This Rafa is also likely to hang around through the Roland Garros fortnight. There’s no doubt he’s the heavy favorite. There are only a handful of players that can even hang with Nadal when he’s playing this well, and it will take a Herculean effort from any one of them to defeat the Spaniard. At this stage, only a fool would bet against Nadal earning a seventh title in the French capital.

Don’t Rain on her Parade

Sharapova is not the most gifted athlete, and her shrieking is a source of annoyance to many. But irrespective of any of this, you have to respect that she’s currently No. 2, and it’s due in no small part to the fact that she is one of the fiercest competitors on the WTA. Down a set and 4-0 to Li Na on a cold, rainy day in the Italian capital, it would have been easy for Sharapova to throw in the towel. She’d already won Stuttgart and had put in a good effort to defend her Rome title. But the Russian has never been one to settle, and she fought to secure a dramatic three-set win to successfully defend her Rome crown. Sharapova heads to Paris as one the favorites, but gut instinct says she’s going to need some help to complete the career Grand Slam. Unlike Serena, who virtually blitzed most of the competition en route to titles in Charleston and Madrid, Sharapova more than once benefited from an opponent’s collapse. Not to take away from her victories, but it’s better to be in control of one’s destiny. Suffice it to say, Sharapova won’t be an easy out for anyone (except maybe Serena), but she’s not a lock in Paris.

Paris or Bust

Novak Djokovic hasn’t had a bad season. He won the Aussie Open and Miami, and he reached the finals of two out of the three clay court Masters leading up to Roland Garros. But after last week’s Rome final, Djokovic fans may have some cause for concern. On the one hand, he showed he still has the skills and the right game plan – when properly executed – to beat Nadal. The Spaniard has closed the gap, but there’s still a feeling that Djokovic can control the majority of points over the course of an entire match, which will likely continue to be the case given his superior return. But controlling points means nothing if you can’t execute the finishing shot. The Serb committed an uncharacteristically high number of unforced errors – 41 to be exact – ranging from shanked overheads to overcooking easy sitters. To be fair, Nadal’s incomparable retrieving ability put pressure on Djokovic to hit ever closer to the lines, but 2011 Djokovic didn’t press in those same situations. Additionally, while you had to feel for Djokovic when a botched line call late in the first set gave Nadal a reprieve and ultimately proved a crucial turning point, you can’t expect to remain No. 1 and allow such a call to have a long carry over effect as it clearly did heading into the second. Djokovic is going to have to find that 2011 form and mindset if he wants to have any shot at completing the “Nole” Slam.

White Flag Ready

With the French Open just days away, Jo-Willie Tsonga is ruffling feathers with his pessimistic forecast for French players at this year’s French Open. Tsonga stated there was zero chance a Frenchman would be hoisting the trophy, and while none would argue against the realistic nature of his comments, they were no less disappointing. Most of France’s top stars are cast in the traditional French mold – flashy shot makers able to catch lightening in a bottle at any moment. Perhaps none are more capable of catching fire than Tsonga himself. Though he’s never won a clay court event, the fact that he’s currently No. 5, has been to a major final, and has beaten each of the four guys in front of him at least once makes his comments all the more galling (or is it Gauling? – sorry, bad pun!). Yes, the Frenchmen may all be eliminated in week one, but would anyone honestly be surprised to see a handful reach the second week? It would be wonderful to see Tsonga prove himself wrong, but it’s awfully hard to put together a good run when you’ve already decided defeat is inevitable before the first ball has even been struck.

Non-Breaking News

Earlier this week, Kim Clijsters confirmed what many of us already saw coming. Rather than finish out the 2012 season, she will officially hang up the racquet at the conclusion of the US Open. It’s been a frustrating year for the Belgian, who has had to forgo the entire clay court season due to niggling injuries. As the competition is growing stiffer at the top, Clijsters’ lack of match plays is also apt to prove more costly this summer than in years past. In short, though as a four-time major champion Clijsters may know what it takes to win the big titles, it’s still a big ask for her to reign victorious at Wimbledon, the London Olympics, or at Flushing Meadows. But as one of the nicest and greatest players of her generation, here’s to hoping for a successful swan song. Here’s to hoping fans are treated to vintage Clijsters. And here’s to hoping she grabs what will be one of the three most prestigious titles remaining in 2012 before she heads off into the sunset.

Roger Federer wants Roland Garros, Djokovic tumbles Nadal and Kvitova earns shock win

Federer Will not Concede French Open Title:

Everyone is talking about Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic right now, but anybody would be a fool to forget about the other large threat at Roland Garros this month – 16-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer. “It’s definitely an interesting time right now that Novak hasn’t lost all season long. It makes it a new, different situation, but for me it doesn’t change a whole lot,” said the Swiss ace. “Right now [Djokovic and Nadal] are playing better than me and better than other players. I feel like everybody can play on all the surfaces these days and that makes it extremely hard to win all these big tournaments.” At 29, Federer has a lot on his plate with a family to look after but he is by no means faded as far as top-class tennis is concerned.

The Dominant Force Dislodges the Immovable Object:

Novak Djokovic continued his unbeaten start to 2011, ending Rafa Nadal’s two-year winning streak on clay in the final of the Mutua Madrid Masters. The Serbian won 7-5, 6-4 at the Caja Magica, racing in to a 4-0 lead in the first set. The Spaniard levelled proceedings but ‘Nole’ showed his new resilient side by again fighting back to take the set. The second started with the Spaniard lobbing his opponent expertly through his legs while running to the back of the court but the magic was not to last as Djokovic closed out the match to seriously put his case forward about taking the No.1 ranking off of Nadal. “I came up against a great player obviously – he’s having a monster year,” said Nadal afterwards. “He was better, you have to accept that.” Djokovic showcased his new found self-belief when he said: “I stepped onto the court today believing I could win. I needed to be aggressive and it was a great match.” If Djokovic wins this week’s Rome Masters and Nadal fails to reach the semi-finals then we will have a new No.1 to cast our eyes over next week. It was Djokovic’s first win over Nadal on clay in ten meetings between the pair on the surface.

Kvitova Shocks Azarenka in Madrid:

Petra Kvitova lifted her third title of the year by shocking Victoria Azarenka 7-6(3), 6-4 in the Madrid Open final. It adds to the titles she took in Brisbane and Paris earlier in the year. The 18th-ranked Czech star dominated the first tiebreak after both players had broken the others’ serve in the first set. Four breaks were seen in the second and with the 21-year-old leading 5-3, she needed two match points to see off the Belarusian’s challenge. “We know each other so it was going to be tough to find the key, but I think it was who will play faster, who will be the more aggressive – and I was the first!” she said afterwards. “It’s nice to win the tournament and to be in the top 10 at the same time, but it’s just a number. I want to improve my game and we’ll see – I don’t want to be only number 10!” Azarenka was quick to praise her opponent’s play: “Petra had such a great week and totally deserved to win today,” she said. “She showed some impressive tennis.”

Injuries Still Rife Among Stars:

Venus Williams has put her French Open participation in doubt after pulling out of next week’s Brussels Open. The 30-year-old has still not been seen since retiring from her third-round match against Andrea Petkovic at January’s Australian Open and her eyes may now be on Wimbledon having signed up for the pre-Slam event at Eastbourne. Meanwhile, David Nalbandian is one definite casualty on the men’s draw saying he is “not right physically” to play. The 2004 and 06 semi-finalist has lost 6kg since getting injured in March and fighting a fever over recent weeks. He hopes to return at Queen’s to prepare for Wimbledon. 2009 US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro may also miss out on Roland Garros after revealing he has torn a hip muscle. “The results of my tests showed a tear in the hip,” the Argentine wrote on his Twitter page. “I have already started rehabilitation and I will do all I can to be in Paris.” Ernests Gulbis is still suffering from a respiratory problem that has kept him out of Madrid and Rome. He hopes to have the problem resolved by the Roland Garros kick-off. “Every time a small wind blows it affect me,” Gulbis told The Times of London. “My immune system was not good and this time I had to drink antibiotics for three days and didn’t practice at all. I hope to get a wild card into Nice.” India’s Sania Mirza was continuing her comeback in the Prague Challenger, hoping to maybe make a late push for Paris, but she was forced to withdraw from her first-round match with Aleksandra Krunic after suffering back spasms. “Tried to play today, back was no good, it’s gotta be one of the worse feelings ever to pull out mid-match,” she said on Twitter.

Roddick not Enjoying European Clay Holiday:

Andy Roddick’s miserable start to the 2011 clay season continued with a first-round defeat to Gilles Simon at the Rome Masters. The world No.19 notched a 6-3, 6-3 victory to frustrate the 28-year-old, who a week earlier had suffered a first-round Madrid exit to clay-court debutant Flavio Cipolla. “He moves very well, which you don’t want to see when you are short of matches like I was today, when you are not getting clean hits,” said Roddick. “We soon got into rallies and it became a battle striking the ball in movement, I was coming second sometimes.”

Carlsen calls for Wozniacki to Attack:

After three straight losses to Germans Julia Goerges (twice) and Andrea Petkovic in recent weeks, former Danish star Kenneth Carlsen believes the world No.1 may be playing too defensively against foes who up their game against the top-ranked star. “Caroline has trouble with the likes of Goerges and [Petkovic] when they [are playing their best] and not making so many mistakes,” he said. “When they do, it might look as if Caroline is bombed out. It’s the girls who take the initiative immediately, and you’ll get no peace from Caroline. Most people know that it is the way to beat Caroline, but it is also difficult because she, like Nadal, gets to so many balls and sends them back. We are still talking about small margins, but Caroline might be too defensive and rely too much on her own game, and with good reason, because she beats nine out of 10 opponents that way.”

Li Hoping for Danish Magic:

China’s Na Li has hired Danish Fed Cup captain Michael Mortensen as her new coach after citing that she could not regain her confidence whilst working under husband Jiang Shan, who had coached her to the Aussie Open final. “After the Australian Open I didn’t do well until Madrid,” said Li. “We’re working well together—we have good communication and [Mortensen] is helping me a lot. He’s giving me a lot of confidence and I feel positive on court.”

Kuznetsova Coach Split:

Two-time grand Slam winning-Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova has announced via her official website that her and coach, Spain’s Carlos Cuadrado, have parted ways. She will still work with her other coach, Larissa Savchenko, and her hitting partner Alexander Krasnorutskiy.

Peering in to DC’s Debut:

Washington DC will have its own WTA World Tour event again this summer with the Mid-Atlantic Women’s Tennis Championships taking place from July 25-31. Israel’s most successful player, of both men and women, ever, Shahar Peer, will headline the field in the 32-strong draw which also features Lucie Safarova, Jelena Dokic and rising American stars Melanie Oudin and Sloane Stephens. Stacey Allaster, Chairman & CEO of the WTA, said: “We are thrilled to bring women’s tennis back to the incredible sports fans of the Washington DC area. The Mid-Atlantic Women’s Tennis Championships promises to be a fantastic event featuring some of the best female athletes on the planet. I look forward to this being the first edition of a great tradition of WTA tennis in Washington DC.”

Rankings Watch:

France’s Gael Monfils climbs above Nicolas Almagro to No.9 in the world in this week’s South African Airways ATP World Rankings after last week’s play in Madrid. The Ukraine’s Alexander Dolgopolov returns to the Top 20. Thomaz Bellucci’s first ATP Masters semi-final sees him climb 14 to No.22 in the world, a career best. Andreas Seppi enters the Top 50 while Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo, Illya Marchenko and Rainer Schuettler are in to the Top 100. Victoria Azarenka became the top-ranked Belarusian ever in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings on the back of her Madrid finals defeat as she became the new world No.4, a career-best. Maria Sharapova is up to No.8, her best ranking since November 2008, while Petra Kvitova is a career-best No.10 after her win over Azarenka. Julia Goerges makes her Top 20 debut while Czech star Lucie Hradecka enters the Top 50 at No.45. Incidentally, this week is the first in rankings history that there has been no Americans in both the Top 10 of the women’s and the men’s game. Yet American star Andy Roddick refused to accept that tennis in his country was on the way down. “There is no bigger crisis in American tennis than there is in Italian. We’re kind of a victim of our own success over the years in the sport,” he said.

Nadal moves Further Ahead in GOAT Race:

Rafael Nadal’s semi-final victory over Roger Federer at last week’s Mutua Madrid masters means he has moved further ahead of the early-season leader in the 2011 GOAT race. Federer’s semi-final berth earns him 50 points, while Nadal’s final defeat to Novak Djokovic earns him 100. They both also gain an extra 10 points for entering the Rome Masters this week.

Roger: 665, Rafa: 890

2011 Set For a Cracker

With the dust still settling in our memories over the stunning year that was 2010 the new tennis calendar is already upon us. It seems not too long ago that Federer was dismantling a shattered Rafa Nadal at London’s o2 Arena in the ATP Tour Finals. But with Christmas coming and going with its ever-rapid characteristics Down Under has opened its tennis season with aplomb.

Everyone has their favourite star and their own pantomime villains. And everyone has an ideal year mapped out in their mind with their top men and women coming out trumps at all the major tournaments, myself included.

So, as a year-beginning blog I have decided to look ahead to the 2011 men’s tour and predict, not entirely seriously, what may (or probably not) happen throughout the year ahead…

January

The early hard court season jumps in to life at Brisbane, Chennai and Doha building up to the first slam of the year in Australia. Andy Murray falls in the second round blaming the heat and a low-flying seagull and promptly sacks his coach. Juan Martin del Potro is still suffering with his troublesome wrist but plays his way to the quarter finals using only his good hand. The final is slightly predictable with Rafa and Roger battling their way there but to spruce things up after their recent exhibition exploits on water, centre court is flooded and the pair do battle in full scuba gear. Roger comes out as winner in four sets. As January winds down in Santiago, Chile, Juan Ignacio Chela wins the Movistar Open and is touted as this year’s big hope to challenge Rafa in the clay season.

February

As the early hard season slowly slides in to clay, Thomaz Belluci lifts his home Brasil Open title while Gael Monfils dances his way to the Open 13 in Marseille where he celebrates with a perfectly executed Moonwalk across court. Four Americans reach the semifinals at Memphis and again at Delray Beach. Wayne Odesnik wins both tournaments which causes mass outrage throughout the sport. He is touted for a Davis Cup call but Jim Courier decides to take a seething Mardy Fish instead.

March

The first Masters events of the year begin and fresh off Davis Cup victory Andy Roddick, Fish, The Bryans and John Isner are on fire. A sulking Sam Querrey falls early in both. Andy Murray comes out on top at Indian Wells beating Roddick in the final but then typically falls early at Miami and promptly sacks his coach. Nadal faces Robin Soderling in the final who has been slating the ‘Big Two’ all year. Rafa takes it with two bagel sets bringing tears and tantrums from the egotistical Swede.

April

April begins with Rafa rubbing his hands and licking his lips at the prospect of another clay season. Young Yank Ryan Harrison takes the title at Houston and is the latest star to be labelled ‘the next Sampras.’ Rafa takes Monte Carlo as expected with a straight set win over Fernando Verdasco in the final. Most notably throughout the tournament he seems to be multitasking while on court, even seen filing his nails whilst rallying with his compatriot. There is no real sign of Chela. Novak Djokovic again takes the Serbia Open in Belgrade and is installed as ruler of the nation for his achievements. He decides to sit out the rest of the 2011 season to concentrate on his new role.

May

Madrid and Rome are again taken by Rafa who now appears to be growing bored on court. Whilst dismantling Marcos Baghdatis in the final in Rome he appears to give interviews to Spanish television during the match. As everyone arrives in Paris the shocking news emanates that Rafa has decided he is bored of lifting the French Open with such ease and has decided to umpire the tournament instead to see who else can win it. With the new celebrity chair the French players really kick on in the race to be crowned their nation’s new hero. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retires from his first round match injured while Michael Llodra comes through an epic five set semi with R-Fed to face Monfils in the final. The marathon man then takes Monfils through six hours of stupendous Gallic play and the greatest French Open final of all time ends with Monfils on the floor in a tantrum pounding the floor with his fists. Llodra is crowned the saviour of France.

June

As the ATP Tour comes to Britain tennis stars snap up as much Royal Wedding memorabilia as they can get their hands on as the traditional Wimbledon plate is switched for a porcelain edition bearing the faces of beloved Wills and Kate. Andy Murray takes both Queens and Eastbourne and is believed to be a dead cert for Wimbledon. But he crashes out in round three and promptly sacks his coach. John Isner and Nicolas Mahut somehow weave their way to the final and the tents are brought out in preparation for the impending marathon. Isner wins in three sets. Roger Federer makes some possible unsavoury comments about Mahut after he overcame the Swiss God in the semis and the world’s media call him unsporting and a scurvy dog for the next six months before involving him in another betting scandal claiming he and Rafa betted on many of the matches the Spaniard had chaired at the French Open.

July

Serbia’s Davis Cup title defence ends at the quarter final stage and King Djokovic has the entire team executed for letting their nation down. Federer re-hits form late on again by taking Bastad and Gstaad while Roddick is doing well by taking Hamburg and Los Angeles. The Americans work themselves in to a fervour over the home prospects for the US Open and many pundits are with them because of the top form of A-Rod, Harrison and Isner. David Nalbandian wins in Atlanta and everyone once again remembers who he is. There is talk of a possible push in New York. Surely not…

August

Nalbandian again wins at the Legg Mason Classic. He takes a marathon final against Baghdatis, his other eternally injured friend. Andy Murray loses in the second round in Montreal and sees his title slip away. He again blames a lack of love for tennis and promptly sacks his coach before announcing his retirement from the sport. Roger takes the title before losing the Cincinnati final to Roddick. America is literally on the edge of its seat. Rafa ruptures the tendons in both knees in the third round at Cincy against Ernests Gulbis and will miss the rest of the season.

September

The final Slam of the year in New York explodes in to life with the partisan crowd firmly behind Roddick. He finally puts all the pain behind him by overcoming Federer at last in the semis in five sets. Federer is immediately written off by the world’s media, again. In the other semi Soderling falls to a resurgent Nalbandian and America gears itself up to crown Roddick their new leader. But he falls apart. His serve leaves him, his ground strokes are erratic and Nalbandian triumphs in four to become the second Argentine in three years to silence Arthur Ashe court. He quickly sees his title switch from the best player of the last decade not to win a major to the sixth best player of the last decade to win one.

October

With no Rafa, Murray or Djokovic to compete with Federer once again silences his critics by beginning a clean sweep of the late tournaments. He takes the China Open, Shanghai, the Kremlin Cup, Vienna and Basel without losing a set. Over in Valencia David Ferrer shoots to the final after a quiet year where he meets the marathon man Llodra. Ferrer takes the final in five much to the delight of the home fans. Murray decides he was wrong to be so hasty and announces his return to tennis, promising he will win that first Slam in 2012. Djokovic declares that all Serbian children will take karaoke lessons as well as practice tennis at school as of 2015.

November

In Paris, Federer finally runs out of steam and drops a set against Brian Dabul. Critics are again on his back saying he is finished. He manages to reach the quarter finals where he falls to Ryan Harrison. The American youth then falls to Del Potro in the semi who in turn loses to Soderling in the final. The Swede moves to No. 3 in the world and says he is ever so close to breaking the Top 2 but nobody is listening anymore. The ATP Finals kick off with a somewhat decimated lineup. Federer, Soderling, Roddick, Del Potro, Nalbandian, Isner, Ferrer and Verdasco do battle in London with the eyes of the tennis world watching on. Ferrer, Verdasco, Nalbandian and Roddick fall at the group stage leaving Soderling and Federer to battle it out in the final after overcoming Del Potro and Isner respectively. Federer triumphs in straight sets and the Swede storms off court refusing to take part in the ceremony, predictions in tatters. The USA take the Davis Cup home after defeating Russia in the final and it is seen as a victory for politics rather than tennis.

Well, stranger things have happened!

Nadal and Wozniacki world champions, Roddick to play Davis Cup again and Ivanovic hires van Grichen

*The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has named Rafael Nadal and Caroline Wozniacki as their world champions for 2010. 20-year-old Dane Wozniacki has ousted Serena Williams as world champion after six tournament wins during this calendar year. She is, however, yet to lift a Grand Slam. “To be listed with all the former world champions is something I’m really proud of,” said the No. 1 player in the women’s game. Rafa Nadal was a more obvious choice on the men’s side having taken three of the four majors and becoming the youngest player to complete the career Grand Slam after finally conquering New York. The 24-year-old reclaims the crown off Roger Federer. “It is an honour to be named world champion for the second time,” said the 24-year-old. “After a difficult year in 2009, it was an amazing feeling to regain the number one ranking and finally win the US Open. My goal all the time is to keep improving and be a better player each year than I was the previous year.” This should be a pretty dominant 2011 for the Spaniard then.

*American No. 1 Andy Roddick has committed to his country’s Davis Cup cause for 2011. The 28-year-old missed the 2010 event but is set to return under the stewardship of new captain Jim Courier. The USA will travel to Chile for round 1 between 4-6 of March. “I have always said that Davis Cup is something you should commit to for the entire season and not when it is convenient,” said the world No. 8 who suffered a torrid time at last month’s ATP Tour Finals. “Andy not only brings his outstanding Davis Cup record but also his experience and team leadership which will be invaluable to our efforts,” Courier added. “On a personal note I am very excited to get the opportunity to sit on the bench with Andy and help him continue to perform at his very best on the Davis Cup stage.”

*Rejuvenated Serbian star Ana Ivanovic has hired Portuguese coach Antonio van Grichen on a trial basis till at least the end of the Australian hard-court season. She enjoyed a fabulous end to 2010 which saw her climb back to No. 17 in the world but then split with coach Heinz Gunthardt as he no longer wanted to travel full-time. van Grichen enjoyed great success coaching Viktoria Azarenka to No. 6 in the world and he has also worked briefly with Vera Zvonareva and Sorana Cirstea.

*Belgian stars Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin are pondering pairing up to compete at the London 2012 Olympics together. The pair once shared a pretty hostile relationship but having both returned from retirement recently this seems to have thawed. They have competed as a team once before at the 2006 Fed Cup where Belgium lost to Russia in the quaterfinals. Both are said to be treating the Olympics very seriously and Clijsters has hinted that 2012 could be her final year on the tour. “We have to get together to discuss this, see what the possibilities are and assess how far we want to go in this,” said world No. 3 Clijsters. Henin, 28, added: “There is a real willingness to be there.” Further feedback from the players can be read at the BBC Tennis website.

*The Australian Open have announced that both Juan Martin del Potro and Dmitri Tursunov have been accepted directly in to the men’s singles playing field as they both have injury-protected rankings.

*Gael Monfils has pulled out of the French team to play next month’s Hopman Cup and will be replaced by Nicolas Mahut. This means that he will come face to face with America’s John Isner for the first time since their record breaking 183 game, 11-hour epic encounter at Wimbledon back in June.

*After an exceptional year world No. 16 Mardy Fish has set his sights on cracking the Top 10 in 2011. “I have very high expectations, higher than I’ve ever had,” he told the Treasure Coast Palm. “I’m healthy, fit, confident. So I don’t think it’s unrealistic to aim for the Top 10. I don’t have many (rankings) points to defend the first half of the year. The first three Grand Slams, I didn’t get past the second round. So if I can be more consistent through the first part of the year, win some matches on the clay, do something more at Wimbledon, I should be able to get there.”

*Serbian Davis Cup hero Novak Djokovic took some time out on Tuesday to visit the Special Olympics Centre in Monte-Carlo where he spoke to members, posed for photos and signed autographs. He became involved with the organisation earlier in the year where he has helped fund various events. “I was really impressed with the good organisation of the centre and the nice and dedicated people working there,” Djokovic said, sporting his newly shaved head from the final celebrations. “It’s always very nice to be able to give time and resources to these kinds of causes here in Monte-Carlo, where I live.”

*Rafa Nadal becomes the latest sporting superstar to become a modelling figurehead for fashion powerhouse Giorgio Armani. He follows in the footsteps of football’s David Beckham and Christiano Ronaldo and will spearhead their spring/summer campaigns for 2011.

*The Moorilla Hobart International has a strong lineup ready for tennis fans when it kicks off on January 9, 2011. There are five former Top 10 players including the Russian former world No. 1 Dinara Safina who will be looking to put a dreadful 2010 behind her. World No. 16 Marion Bartoli will take the top seeding but she will face stiff competition from the likes of Kimiko Date-Krumm, Patty Schnyder, Anna Chakvetadze (two former Champions), Alona Bondarenko and Shahar Peer if she wants to be victorious.

*Dutch doubles legends Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis will return to the ATP Tour briefly in February to compete at the ABN Amro Tournament in Rotterdam to raise money for the Richard Krajicek Foundation. Between 1991 and 1998 they won 39 doubles titles together.

*Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi has begun his first mission as UNDP Goodwill Ambassador by visiting the victims of this year’s devastating floods in his native Pakistan. He flew in by helicopter to oversee rebuilding projects where homes are being built of wood, brick and stone, most notably with indoor plumbing. “It is really overwhelming,” said Qureshi. “You see the pictures on the television, you read about the thousands and thousands that are affected. But until you actually go there and see the suffering and in such harsh weather, it is very tough to fully comprehend.” You can read his full reaction at the ATP website.

*Yen-Hsun Lu’s 4-6, 7-6(3), 7-6(4), 6-7(5) 9-7 victory over Andy Roddick in the fourth round at Wimbledon has been named the upset of the year by the ATP. “Through three sets I was playing horrendously, I mean really, really badly,” Roddick moaned at the time. “Actually I think the fifth set was probably the best set that I played as far as hitting the ball, making him struggle to actually get through service games sometimes. But when you dig yourself a hole, it’s tough to get out. He deserved to win more than I did. That’s for sure.”

*Following recent reports that much of Pete Sampras’ career trophy haul had been pinched from a storage facility in LA, the ITF have offered him duplicates of some of those missing. He has been offered two replica trophies of his Davis Cup wins with the United States, according to thestar.com. Sampras also recently admitted he had no insurance to cover the theft.

*Former women’s star Martina Hingis has tied the knot with French showjumper Thibault Hutin, six years her junior, in a private ceremony in Paris. “Our marriage may come as a surprise to many, but it was planned a long time in advance,” the 30-year-old, who has been engaged twice before but never married, told Swiss magazine Scheizer Illustrierte.

*American doubles star Bob Bryan has wed lawyer Michelle Alvarez on December 13.

*Serena Williams is to be inducted in to the California Hall of Fame next week. She enters alongside Hollywood director James Cameron, country music singer Merle Haggard, former Secretary of State George Shultz, actress Barbra Streisand and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

*Canadian Valerie Tetreault, 22, has announced her retirement as a pro following four and a half years on the tour. She reached a career-high No. 112 in the world in February but leaves to study communications, citing depletion in motivation as the main reason.

*17-year-old George Morgan, the British junior No. 2, has become the latest player to add his name to the prestigious pool of Champions to lift the Orange Bowl title in Key Biscayne, Florida. He beat the Dutch second seed Jannick Lupescu 6-2, 6-3 in the Under-18s final having already lifted the Under-14s trophy in 2007. Most of tennis’ top talent have competed at the Championships and past winners include Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Bjorn Borg.

Davis Cup build up, Roger happy with year end and Sharapova to play Fed Cup?

*Serbian star Novak Djokovic says that having the home support in Belgrade will be crucial to his homeland defeating France in the upcoming Davis Cup Final. Over 16,000 will be present at the Belgrade Arena when play kicks off this Friday, only 1,500 less than at the ATP WTF in London last week. “It’s going to be an unpredictable match against a very strong French team and the crowd’s support can play a key role,” said Djokovic. “We’ve always had huge home support, and you can feel the interest and the passion of the people who want to come here and support their team.” French captain Guy Forget also acknowledges how important a part the crowd could play in proceedings. “We are not afraid of anything, we know how good Novak and the other Serbian boys are,” he said. “We also know that when you play away the atmosphere is sometimes hard and you have to be ready. It’s going to be a great match, a tough match and we are really looking forward to it.”

*Guy Forget also expanded on that point by insisting the partisan home support could put pressure on the home players to perform for their country. “If we have pressure the Serbia players might have even more,” he said. “We have been talking about the crowd and we know it can get very loud at times. The only way to deal with it is to be quiet and forget about it. If the match gets close any Serbian player will feel the pressure. He is not just playing for himself, he is playing for his friend, he is playing for the whole country and if things don’t go well he will have the feeling to deceive a whole nation and that’s not easy to deal with as well.” The full interview can be seen on the ITF website as well as listening to what the opposing players and coaches were saying at the pre-Final press conferences.

*Roger Federer described his recapturing of the Barclay’s ATP Tour World Tour Finals as “amazing” after putting rival Rafa Nadal to the sword on Sunday evening. The 29-year-old triumphed 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to lift a trophy he last did so three years ago in Shanghai. “It’s fantastic, I’m really thrilled the way I played all week,” he told journalists. “To win a fifth time is obviously amazing, for the third time in a different place. Like I said before, it would be great to win in Houston, Shanghai and also now here in London. I’m just really happy the way I was able to finish the season in style, playing some of my best tennis, really saving the best for last. Obviously, beating Rafa in the final makes it extra special because of the year he had.” The full interview can be seen at the BBC Tennis website in which he talks about plans for his future.

*Shamil Tarpishchev, both president of the Russian Tennis Federation and their Fed Cup captain, has confirmed that Maria Sharapova will join the squad for their first round match against France next year, according to the Malaysian Insider. “Sharapova has agreed to play the first round,” he said. “She is now fully recovered from the problems with her shoulder and again could challenge for the number one spot.” Sharapova has only played Fed Cup once before; a 4-1 victory over Israel in February 2008. She needs to play at least one round to qualify to play the 2012 Olympics and there are murmors she could be involved further. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will make up the rest of the squad. However, a source from Camp Sharapova claims that she is only “very likely” to play, according to Tennis.com.

*Lleyton Hewitt will again join forces with new Davis Cup coach Tony Roche in a bid to stop his world ranking slide, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The two-time Grand Slam winner has recently suffered with injury problems but will once team up with Aussie legend Roche in 2011 as well as another former player Josh Eagle. “I’m really looking forward to working with both guys and feel that if I can keep the body performing then I can climb back up the ranks again,” said Hewitt, who is currently No.55 in the world. “I have been discussing this with Rochey for a few months now prior to him accepting the job as Australian Davis Cup coach, and when he asked me about taking that role with Pat, I thought that would work in well with what we were planning for myself.” Roche previously coached Hewitt between July 2007 and August 2009.

*Czech star Tomas Berdych has revealed that his continuing disappointment over comments made by Roger Federer after Berdych’s Wimbledon victory over the Swiss led to him voting for Rafa Nadal for the ATP Sportsman of the Year Award. “I was trying to just decide between two names, him and Roger,” he said. “I just decide to go for Rafa. I think he really deserves it. Just was a little bit disappointing after what I read in London, when I play against Roger and beat him. He was a little bit complaining about how he was injured and stuff like that. It was just kind of surprise for me. So maybe that was just the reason I vote for Rafa.”

*2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro has confirmed he will be returning to the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships in 2011. The tournament is played from February 18-27 next year. American trio Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish and John Isner have already signed up to play while John McEnroe and Mark Philippoussis headline the Champions Tour Event.

*Mardy Fish has become the first singles player to commit to the 2011 US Men’s Claycourt Championships at River Oaks Country Club, Houston. The 2006 winner ends 2010 at No. 16 in the world after what has been a magical and resurgent year. The Bryan brothers have committed to the doubles event for next year.

*British No. 1 Andy Murray has been reflecting on his 2010 in the latest entry of his column for BBC Tennis. “I’ve got to look back and think it’s been a good year overall, bar the US Open, which was terrible,” he says. “It was a bit inconsistent throughout but at two of the four Grand Slams I had a chance of winning. The Australian Open was very good, Wimbledon was very good and then I won in Toronto and, after New York, in Shanghai too. And it was great to end the year playing well in London with two good wins and a very tough match against Rafa. I’ve now got about five days at home before I leave for Miami, possibly via the Bahamas depending on whether I play in a charity event there first. This time next week I’ll already be back in training and thinking about 2011. I go to Miami every year at this time and I plan to work even harder than ever. That might involve longer sessions, more hours, and just making sure everything is even more professional.”

*Three Aussie youngsters have been banned from competing in the playoffs for next year’s Aussie Open after reports surfaced about their conducts at various tournaments. Brydan Klein, Nick Lindahl and Dayne Kelly are the offending parties. “This action has been taken following reports of numerous accounts of unacceptable behaviour at tournaments both locally and internationally over the past few months,” Tennis Australia’s Todd Woodbridge said. “All players are expected to abide by Tennis Australia’s code of ethics and behaviour. The opportunity to participate in the Australian Open playoff is a privilege, not a right. This decision will send a clear message to all Australian players that breaching this code will not be supported by Tennis Australia through the granting of wildcards or other financial support.” Klein has previous including spitting at his coach and an opponent during a tournament at Wimbledon while Kelly is reported to also have problems with his temper.

*All in all, the ATP Player Portraits reported in last week’s Tennis People raised a total of $127,755 for charity. Most surprisingly was a late surge in bidding for Andy Roddick’s masterpiece which saw it finish as the highest valued painting at $33,100.

Roger Federer ($27,300) and Rafa Nadal ($26,500) were the other highest earning portraits.

London Ready for Grand Tennis Finale

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was dragging myself out of bed nice and early ready and eager for the Australian Open to kick off. Ten months later and the 2010 tennis season is ready to draw to a close.

There is much talk at the moment about the shortening of the tennis calendar. In return for a longer winter break to recuperate, many tournament organisers want a halt put to the money-spinning off-season exhibitions which many stars partake in.

If such plans go ahead, then these ATP Finals will become THE final say in the tennis season, but maybe at an earlier date. As it is, mid-November is the time for the top eight players from the last forty-odd weeks to battle it out for the final big scalp of the year.

While many argue that the lineup picks itself, there is always a surprise and who would have placed David Ferrer or Tomas Berdych in the mix at this point last year? We take a look at the eight hopefuls and run the rule over their chances of finishing the year on the highest of highs.

Group A:

Rafa Nadal:

Finished the year as the world No. 1 and waded in to the “GOAT” debate after finalising the career Grand Slam with victory, at last, at Flushing Meadows. He has nine Majors, has reached the semi finals of this tournament in 2006 and 2007 and holds an Olympic Gold from Beijing.

He is many people’s favourite for London and rightly so. However, his form has been a little erratic since that victory in New York and many still question his ability compared to Federer’s on the hard courts.

However, doubt Rafa at your peril. The man also equalled Andre Agassi’s record of 17 ATP Masters titles this year and is more than adept at bringing his A-game when it really matters. But the bookies acknowledge that Rafa has never won this tournament so he is installed as 3/1 second favourite.

2010 Titles: Monte Carlo, Rome, Madrid, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open, Tokyo

2010 Finals: Doha

Novak Djokovic:

The nearly man. Since that 2008 Australian Open it just hasn’t quite happened for the Serb who has often been derided for his collapses on court and his perceived exaggeration of injuries to escape tricky opponents early.

While his on-court manner has undoubtedly toughened and the tears and early exits are becoming less of a problem he still has not secured that second major. His big enemy continues to be consistency. That dramatic victory over Federer in the US Open semis succeeded by a rather empty performance in the final against Rafa due to fatigue.

The two-time French Open finalist won this tournament in 2008 and after a relatively quiet period following Flushing Meadows maybe he is rested enough to quietly negotiate his way to a second triumph, leading to perhaps that second major? He is the 4/1 third favourite.

2010 Titles: Dubai, Beijing,

2010 Finals: US Open, Basel

Tomas Berdych:

Despite complaining about the increased pressure which followed his Wimbledon finals appearance it has been a great year for Czech star Tomas Berdych. The 25-year-old reached a career-high No. 6 in October as well as that first Slam final at SW19.

He also reached the semifinals at the French and is debuting in the end-of-year Championships. His fast pace and aggressive play is sure to delight the locals that got behind him back in the summer although winning this may be a step too far.

The only man here not to lift a title in 2010, Berdych is available at 25/1, placed last alongside Ferrer.

2010 Titles: none

2010 Finals: Miami, Wimbledon

Andy Roddick:

It has been a fairly difficult year for A-Rod who has battled with losses of form as well as illness throughout the season. But the 2003 US Open winner looks back to full fitness and with three semifinals placings in these championships he is somebody with the experience to repeat that feat.

With the likes of John Isner, Sam Querrey and a rejuvenated Mardy Fish challenging his placement as America’s No. 1, Roddick will have to remain at the top of his game to keep ahead of the pack and what better way to do that than victory here?

However, he only qualified due to Verdasco’s end-of-year collapse and lost some big matches to the likes of Soderling and Federer who he would need to beat here if he was to see success. Roddick is available at 20/1 with only Berdych and Ferrer below him.

2010 Titles: Brisbane, Miami

2010 Finals: San Jose, Indian Wells

Group B:

Roger Federer:

With critics questioning his temperament after squandering five match points against Gael Monfils at Paris it is up to R-Fed to shut them up as he has continually throughout his glittering career.

Statistically the greatest of all time, Federer lifted the Australian Open in January but has failed to reach a Grand Slam final since. But who would be stupid enough to bet against the man who has 16 Grand Slams and four ATP Finals to his name?

However, Federer hasn’t won this trophy since 2007 which shows the competition at the top of the sport. Even so, he is still the favourite with the bookies at 5/2. Could it be a return to form?

2010 Titles: Australian Open, Cincinnati, Stockholm, Basel

2010 Finals: Madrid, Halle, Toronto, Shanghai

Andy Murray:

The wait for the Grand Slam continues as he defeated Federer in two of the three finals they met in this year but the important one, Australia, was taken by the Swiss.

Murray made the semifinals of this tournament in 2008 and will hope to go one better, but the latter half of 2010 has not been too good for the Scotsman. A shock loss to Stanlislas Wawrinka at the US Open has been followed by some not-too-flattering results across Asia and Europe, Shanghai aside.

But with the home crowd behind him you cannot dispel him as the British public have helped roar him to two Wimbledon semifinals before this. Murray is available at 9/2.

2010 Titles: Toronto, Shanghai

2010 Finals: Australian Open, Los Angeles

Robin Soderling:

The pantomime villain of tennis, nobody can argue with Soderling’s ability on a court. Always there or thereabouts in the major tournaments nobody likes to play him.

You never know which Soderling is going to turn up though and every great defeat can be matched to a despairing loss throughout his career. He will be hoping the former turns up as he did in Paris last week.

The two-time French Open finalist has also reached the semifinals here and will be looking to go one further. Soderling is available at 10/1.

2010 Titles: Rotterdam, Paris

2010 Finals: Barcelona, French Open, Bastad

David Ferrer:

As he showed by turning up in a grey suit to Downing Street while everyone else wore black you just cannot ignore David Ferrer. As this year’s last minute late surger in to the finals everybody will be looking elsewhere for a winner. But as a successful 2010 clay season showed he can beat anyone.

Spanish players are so many that they have to perform at the highest level consistently to remain above the parapet. Ferrer has done so. While only reaching one Grand Slam semi final he lost the 2007 ATP Tour Final to Roger Federer and nobody will relish playing him.

Placing him at 25/1 alongside Berdych shows the bookies have little faith in him but this will not bother the diminutive star one bit.

2010 Titles: Acapulco, Valencia

2010 Finals: Rome, Beijing

Nadal Expects to play London, Federer and Murray Call for Longer Winter Break, Wozniacki on Player Council

*World No. 1 Rafa Nadal expects to be fit for the ATP Tour Finals in London despite pulling out of the Paris Masters this week with injury. “I am not worried at all about London,” said the Spaniard. “It was not an easy decision [to pull out of Paris] because Paris is a special city for me. But I have played all the season’s Masters and Grand Slams. I will be back to practice soon, before next Sunday.” Nadal had an awful experience at the o2 Arena last year, being eliminated at the Group Stage without taking a single set. “I’m going to do all in my hands to play well there,” said the man who has won this season’s French Open, Wimbledon and US Open titles.

“It’s my goal to improve the image of last year in London.” The full interview, in which he discusses his latest injury, can be seen at the BBC Tennis site.

*Roger Federer is calling for the current four-week ATP Tour winter break to be increased to six to protect players from possible burnout. This debate has been going on for years as more and more tournaments crop up on the circuit and there have even been mentions of a possible fifth Grand Slam in Asia to dip in to the Eastern market. “I think it’s time we shifted back a bit and we get a proper off-season,” said the 29-year-old before he went in to battle at Paris this week. “Four weeks is just not enough. I think six is much better as you can take two weeks off… practise three, four weeks which is a lot for us in our world.” Federer has also this week firmly denied he has had any part to play in the IMG betting scandal surrounding many sports currently. IMG executive Ted Forstmann is accused of betting millions on sporting events including the 2007 French Open final with Federer lost to Rafa Nadal. “I reached out to him and told him I want to know everything about it, how this came about,” Federer told the New York Times. “And he’s been, you know, nice enough obviously to tell me from his side and has been very open in the press already. So that’s OK.”

*Andy Murray is another calling for a longer break. He believes the current length of the tour will curtail many players’ careers before their time. “There’s no time for you to take a break to get rid of an injury,” The British No. 1 told The Sun newspaper. “Instead players end up playing through it and that actually shortens careers. There should be fewer mandatory tournaments because you get punished so much for being injured and I don’t think that’s fair.” Recent examples of Murray’s points are 2009 US Open winner Juan Martin Del Potro and Serena Williams.

*World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki will replace the outgoing Patty Schnyder on the WTA Players’ Council. She joins the Williams sisters, Franchesca Schiavone, Akgul Amanmuradova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands as the players’ representatives.

*American Taylor Dent has become the latest star to announce their retirement from professional tennis. The Newport Beach native staged an amazing comeback in 2009 from a debilitating back injury for which he was nominated for the 2009 Comeback Of The Year award after climbing nearly 800 ranking slots to finish the year at No. 76 in the world. “I had the privilege to compete at the highest level for 12 years, see places in the world I would have never been able to see without tennis, and meet people along the way that have become lifelong friends,” said 29-year-old Dent.

“I am looking forward to spending more time with my family, especially with my wife Jenny [Hopkins, former tennis pro] and our son Declan. I want to continue to stay active in the tennis industry and I am excited to explore opportunities in the world of tennis that my full tournament schedule never allowed me to do.” 38-year-old doubles specialist Martin Damm has also announced his retirement from the sport due to poor results coupled with his age. He will now coach American starlet Ryan Harrison.

*World No. 4 Andy Murray has said it is “a possibility” that he may play on without a full-time coach if he feels happy with his current form and set-up. The British No. 1 has not had a full-time coach since parting ways with Miles McLagan in July but has been working closely with former world No. 2 Alex Corretja in that time. “I just have to decide to see what to do next year,” said the 23-year-old. “If I like the way things are going and I feel like I’m improving, then I’m not scared of playing some tournaments on my own, trying out being on my own for a little bit. But I need to make sure I’m improving. If I’m not improving, then I’m not going to keep just trying to make it work without a coach.” You can read, or watch, the full interview including Murray’s views on his recent form at the ATP website.

*Italy became the sixth nation to win three or more Fed Cup titles with their victory over the USA in San Diego. Understandably, Flavia Pennetta was on cloud nine. “It’s amazing to win a match like this,” Pennetta said of her victory over Coco Vandeweghe in their singles rubber. “I was feeling really good on the court and I think all of the team is very happy now. It’s amazing to be here. This will be with me all my life so it’s really nice and really exciting.”

*The Bryan brothers clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking in doubles with a 6-3, 3-6, 10-3 victory over long-time rivals Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic at the Swiss Indoors Basel on Sunday. It was title number eleven for 2010 and they now have a 11-0 record in finals this year. They have achieved this feat once before (2007) and have the chance in either Paris or London to take a career-record twelfth title of the season.

*Pat Rafter has outlined Plan A in bringing Davis Cup success to Australia: healing the very public rift between Lleyton Hewitt and Bernard Tomic. It began at Wimbledon 2009 when Tomic and his father and coach, John, snubbed requests by Hewitt to be his hitting partner. It then exploded last summer when Hewitt questioned whether Tomic was ready for Davis Cup play. With many seeing Tomic, 18 last month, as the future of Aussie tennis, Rafter is keen to heal the damage. “I think after the Australian Open would be a nice time for us all to sit down. Both boys have to agree,” Rafter told the HeraldSun. “I spoke to Bernard recently and we had a really good conversation with both him and his father. That’s been a great thing. Obviously he is really important to us. He’s a great player, a great talent and he’s got a good opportunity of making it. He’s someone, with me being Davis Cup captain, who will definitely come into the fray.” For a great interview including Rafter’s views on Aussie tennis and how kids should have “more mongrel” on the tour, as he puts it, check out the Herald/Sun website.

*Former world No. 20 Katarina Srebotnik has announced her retirement from singles tennis to focus fully on the WTA doubles tour. The 29-year-old Slovenian suffered badly with injuries throughout 2009 and so has decided to focus on her more prosperous doubles exploits. In January 2008 she reached No. 3 in the world in doubles and she hopes to recapture some of that form in her twilight years. “I practiced very hard in the off-season in 2009 to prepare to play my best in singles and doubles in 2010. My career goal was always to do well in both,” Srebotnik said. “Because I was still doing very well in doubles, I used my special ranking in singles at bigger events, so I could play doubles there too.” Speaking about the end of her singles career she said: “I was in a situation. I was No. 228 and couldn’t even make the qualies of the US Open. Everything was pointing to a new direction.” You can read the full interview at the WTA website.

*The Paris surface has received a thumbs up from many of the top stars this week. Check out their views at Tennis.com.

Nadals Laughs off “Grand Slam” Talk, Hopman Cup Taking Shape and Commonwealth Success for Australia

*World No. 1 Rafa Nadal has laughed off talk of him winning all four majors in 2011 as “impossible.” Nadal has the last three majors in his pocket and will complete an ‘out of calendar’ Slam if he lifts the Australian Open in January. Only Don Budge and Rod Laver (twice) have lifted all four Slams in the same year and Nadal said of his hopes: “I will try to keep playing well and try to win four titles next year. But the Grand Slam, for me, is impossible.”

*Andy Murray and Laura Robson have confirmed they will once again warm up for next year’s Aussie Open by partnering each other in the Hopman Cup. The pair lost 2-1 to Spain in this year’s final although the reigning Champions aren’t expected to defend their title in 2011. However, Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic are expected to represent Serbia, Serena Williams and John Isner (USA) and Justine Henin (Belgium), Lleyton Hewitt (Australia) and Francesca Schiavone (Italy) will also compete. Tournament Director Paul McNamee said of Murray’s pending return: “He is a rare talent so we are delighted he is coming back.”

*It was a busy time for Australia’s Anastasia Rodionova at the Commonwealth games. She partnered Sally Peer to women’s doubles Gold where they beat fellow Aussies Jessica Moore and Olivia Rogowska in the final. She also took Silver in the mixed doubles (with Paul Hanley) after they lost to Scotland’s doubles specialist Colin Fleming and Jocelyn Rae. The temperamental former Russian left court in tears after failing to land a triple gold. This came after Rodionova beat home favourite Sania Mirza 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(3) in a marathon women’s singles final. Australia and India largely dominated the medals tables which, in full, read:

Event:Medal:Country
Men’s SinglesGoldSomdev Devvarman (India)
SilverGreg Jones (Australia)
BronzeMatt Ebden (Australia)
Men’s DoublesGoldPaul Hanley

Peter Lukzak (Australia)

SilverRoss Hutchins

Ken Skupski (England)

BronzeMahesh Bhupathi

Leander Paes (India)

Women’s SinglesGoldAnastasia Rodionova (Australia)
SilverSania Mirza (India)
BronzeSally Peers (Australia)
Women’s DoublesGoldAnastasia Rodionova

Sally Peers (Australia)

SilverJessica Moore

Olivia Rogowska (Australia)

BronzeRushmi Chakravarthi

Sania Mirza (India)

Mixed DoublesGoldJocelyn Rae

Colin Fleming (Scotland)

SilverAnastasia Rodionova

Paul Hanley (Australia)

BronzeSarah Borwell

Ken Skupski (England)

*Novak Djokovic has a lot on his plate with the Shanghai Masters going on and the ATP Finals in London just around the corner in November. But he already has one eye on Serbia’s historic Davis Cup final matchup against France in December. Speaking at a press conference in Shanghai he said: “Davis Cup is a very unique competition where you get to feel the team spirit that you don’t get to feel that often. We are individuals, so we mostly perform for ourselves. In Davis Cup, it’s about the team; it’s about supporting each other, winning for your country.” He is also confident his beloved Serbia can upset the odds in Belgrade: “We are playing against France, who has much more success and tradition in this competition than us. Great players, but we’re confident we can pull out the win.” For the full interview visit the ITF website.

*Djokovic has also been issuing fighting talk on his chances of future Grand Slam glory to add to the Australian open he lifted in 2008. To date it is his sole Slam, but he is confident of more. “I’m ready. Definitely, I am,” he said at the Rolex Masters in Shanghai on Tuesday. “For the last two years I’ve been ready. If the good day comes, it comes.” Djokovic won his 18th tour-level title at the China Open last week and has now set his sights on higher honours once more. “Right now, emotionally, I’m confident. I’m happy, and looking forward to upcoming challenges. I feel good mentally and physically. I didn’t spend that much energy in Beijing. I’m sure I’ll be fit and ready. I will do my best to get as far as I can in this week.” The full interview is on the ATP site.

*Three-time Grand Slam winners Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic will not play doubles together again next season. The No. 2 seeds will part ways with Nestor teaming up with Frenchman Michael Llodra and Zimonjic aligning to fellow doubles specialist Max Mirnyi. “It think it’s a good move,” Nestor told The Globe and Mail. “It came from him but it’s something I’ve definitely thought about, too.”

*After reaching the semifinals of the China Open last week Shahar Peer rose from No. 18 to No. 13 in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings. As well as being a career-high it is also the highest ranking for an Israeli in tennis history. Dane Caroline Wozniacki’s victory in China means she is now the twentieth No. 1 in WTA rankings history. Much has been made of the absence of Serena Williams attributing to Wozniacki’s ascent so the real test for her will be if she stays there once Serena is back on court.

*American Andy Roddick, who retired this week while leading Guillermo Garcia Lopez, hopes to be back competing in two weeks time in Basel, Switzerland. “I’m going to try to go home to Austin,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to get back for Basel. I think the fact that I still have a shot at London, even after the past year and everything, I think it would be an accomplishment for me.”

*Kim Clijsters is now more confident of featuring in the year-ending WTA Finals in Doha after the pain in her foot which has kept her out of the past few weeks has begun ceasing.

*Roger Federer has been answering questions from his Chinese fans this week. Visit the ATP website to find out what was being said.

*Alicia Molik is running for election to Tennis Australia, joining John Fitzgerald, Wally Masur and six other candidates. If successful, she will be a rarity as an active pro on the board of her country’s tennis association.

*The Bryan brothers brought smiles to the young children unfortunate enough to be spending time at the Shanghai United Family Hospital on Wednesday. They spoke to staff, patients and families while signing autographs and giving insight in to their time on the tour.

*Venus Williams has become the face of new home workout video game EA Sports Active 2 which will use her image for branding in North America. She joins David Beckham whose image is used in Europe and Australia. “Her commitment to healthy living and ability to inspire others makes her a natural fit for EA Sports Active 2,” said Jon Slavet, EA Sports Active’s Vice president.

*It seems Lindsay Davenport and her trainer Todd Norman have got their roles mixed up. Davenport Tweeted on Wednesday: “I’m here working my ass off but my trainer is nowhere to be found.” Norman’s response? “Was getting a foot massage!”

*We all know males can be somewhat competitive. But what happens when tennis stars take to their Playstation consoles for a spot of Pro Evolution Soccer gaming? Tuesday night saw Juan Monaco and Rafa Nadal take on Andy Murray and his friend Dani Vallverdu and there is still some confusion as to who won. Monaco spoke first via his Twitter account claiming a 2-1 win for the Latin duo but Murray thinks otherwise. It appears there is some confusion on the rules between the teams regarding penalty shootouts. Monaco/Nadal seem confident of the win so could it just be sour grapes from Murray. Murray? Couldn’t possibly be… Check the ATP website for a full summary.

Nadal to Play Queens, Davis Cup Semifinal Debrief, del Potro Back

*World No. 1 Rafa Nadal has confirmed he will warm up for the 2011 Wimbledon Championships by returning to Queens Club. Nadal played at the 2010 Aegon Championships where he lost to compatriot Feliciano Lopez at the quarterfinal stage. “I love playing at Queen’s Club because it is a traditional club,” he said. “Every time I have played there I have felt very welcome because of the British people and their support, and because of the tournament organisers who are so good at their job. After the French Open, it is very important for me to feel the grass under my feet as soon as possible. I tried my best in every match this year (at The Queen’s Club) and was disappointed that I could not win the tournament, but I reached the quarter-finals and it definitely helped me to feel ready for Wimbledon.” Nadal has reached the final at Wimbledon every time he has preceded it by playing at Queens.

*Both Serbia and France have understandably expressed their delight at reaching the final of the 2010 Davis Cup. But it is perhaps the Serbs, in their first final, who are looking forward to the occasion more. “This was a fairytale end to the tie, I have to thank the crowd for their fantastic support because they brought us back from the dead,” said Janko Tipsarevic, whose win over Radek Stepanek handed the young country victory over the Czech Republic. “Finally, it was my turn to shine for the national team after the others, mostly [Novak] Djokovic, proved to be instrumental so many times. I am glad I saved my best tennis for the national team in a match of this magnitude. I had to finish it in three sets today because I was getting tired towards the end and Stepanek was getting back into the match.” France coach Guy Forget was also delighted at his team’s achievements but is wary of the threat posed by the Djokovic-led Serbs. “We’ve been lucky enough to just play at home so far,” said Forget, after Serbia were given home advantage. “The final was already very hard and now it will be even harder because Djokovic and Tipsarevic are very talented. They will probably have 20,000 people behind them. It will be tough. Novak is in great form at the moment after his final at the US Open. Whenever they needed him, he responded. When he plays for his country, he surpasses himself every time. There’s also Tipsarevic, who saved his team against the Czech Republic. But we beat the Australians at their place a few years ago [in the final in 2001], so why not repeat the feat?”

*The injury nightmare looks like it’s finally over. According to his Twitter page, Juan Martin del Potro will finally return to the courts in Bangkok next week at the PTT Thailand Open. “I am extremely happy to tell you: I WILL PLAY AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!” exclaimed the man who has not featured since the Australian Open back in January. “Will be in the BANGKOK tournament next Monday. Thanks so much for everything!” Also on the draw will be new US Open Champion Rafa Nadal and French Open semifinalist Jurgen Melzer.

*David Nalbandian has denied any friction between himself and Argentine Davis Cup captain Tito Vasquez following their annihilation at the hands of France in last weekend’s Davis Cup semifinal. After losing the opening singles rubber to Gael Monfils it was reported that Nalbandian was unhappy that he was not selected as the top singles player which would have meant facing Michael Llodra instead. That task befell Juan Monaco. “It was a valid decision” he said. “It was all uncertain [who would play singles for France]… we did not know what would happen. Tito decided like this, sometimes can be good and other times not. If you want to win the Davis Cup, you have to beat Monfils Monday, Tuesday or Thursday.”

*As previously reported by Tennis People, Pakistani US Open men’s and mixed doubles finalist Aisam-Ul-Haq Quareshi has been awarded for his humanitarian work in a ceremony in Lahore last week. The doubles specialist has won worldwide praise for promoting harmony between his own country and India and has recently been raising money for the flood victims left homeless by recent events in Pakistan. “All my life I’ve tried to do something to make my country and my parents proud,” he said. “It’s been a long, tough journey. I want to thank my relatives, friends and family for being with me through my ups and downs. One should never give up on dreams.”

*The 2010 edition may not have reached its conclusion yet but the draw has already been made for Davis Cup play throughout 2011. India and Kazakhstan (for the first time ever) can look forward to World Group play and what will the likes of Italy and Switzerland have to overcome to re-enter the prestigious section? Head over to the ITF Website to check out the full draws.

*Chilean Fernando Gonzalez faces a long injury layoff after he announced he will undergo hip and possibly knee surgery next month. The world No. 44, his lowest ranking since 2002, was forced to retire from his first round US Open match against Ivan Dodig and could be out for eight or nine months which would place his return, possibly, at midway through the European clay-court season.

*It’s always quiet in the rankings at this stage of the season but there are a couple of significant changes in the South African Airways ATP World Rankings. American No. 1 Andy Roddick has re-entered the Top 10 at the expense of Spain’s David Ferrer. Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas has leapt 17 spots to No. 70 while Argentina’s Carlos Berlocq (No. 98) and the Russian Igor Andreev (No. 99) are in to the Top 100.

*Two women in particular are celebrating in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings this week. Jarmila Groth picked up her first tour title in Guangzhou last week which sees her at a career-high No. 41. 19-year-old Tamira Paszek won in Quebec City and she has leapt from No. 151 to No. 92.

*Interested in the whole ‘interfering parent’ row surrounding young tennis prodigies? American tennis writer Greg Couch had an interesting run-in with the parents of 21-year-old Donald Young at the US Open regarding comments former US Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe had made in his recent book about dealing with them. It opens up a huge can of worms on the lack of communication and name calling that sometimes goes on between the coach and the parent. It’s an excellent read. Check it out at the Fanhouse website.

*One story that really caught my eye this week was that of Iraqi tennis hopeful Zainab Khadim Alwan. She used to skip school as a youngster to watch Venus and Serena Williams playing in the hope that she could one day emulate them. Losing both legs in a rocket blast four years ago, a lot of youngsters would give up on the dream there and then. Not Alwan. Now she hopes to star on the wheelchair tennis circuit. “I choose tennis because it’s a difficult game,” she said. “I wanted to prove despite losing my legs, I haven’t lost my mind.” “Tennis relieved Zainab’s suffering,” said her father, Khadim Alwan Jassim. This touching tale can be read at the News Sports Today website.

*Former Andy Murray coach Miles Maclagan has returned to work quickly as the coach of the German world No. 21 Philipp Kohlschreiber.

*Brit teenage star Laura Robson has announced that her and coach Martijn Bok will part ways at the end of the season. It is believed Bok did not wish to increase travelling commitments as Laura looked to push on further with her WTA tour next year.

*Bob Bryan is the latest tennis star to get engaged this week. He proposed to girlfriend Michelle Alvarez on Tuesday. “Just got engaged… at Pfeifer Falls in Big Sur, CA,” he posted on his Twitter account. She replied: “So happy to spend the rest of my life with the most amazing person. We’re engaged!” Awwwwwwwww!

*Indian star Mahesh Bhupathi has also got engaged to former Miss Universe Lara Dutta this week. Bhupathi divorced his former wife of six years earlier this year.

Davis Cup Build-Up, Nadal Plays Down Federer Comparisons and Nadal Year-End Number One

*With Grand Slam play over for another year attention turns to this weekend’s vital round of Davis Cup fixtures. France face Argentina in the semifinals in the World Group and French coach Guy Forget is pleased with the squad he has at his disposal despite the absence of top star Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as well as Julien Benneteau. “Michael [Llodra] has the game to bother [Juan] Monaco and Gael [Monfils] can beat anyone. And I feel that Gilles [Simon] is ready,” said Forget while also admitting his selection was “not an easy choice.” This may be referring to his decision to leave Richard Gasquet out of his team who has a disappointing 0-7 career record against top Argentine star David Nalbandian. “You’re not playing for yourself, you’re playing for your flag,” said Monfils. “You have your whole country behind you, an unbelievable crowd, your friends on the side, your captain on the chair. There’s a different spirit.”

*In the other semifinal Serbia square off against the Czech Republic and beaten US Open finalist Novak Djokovic says he is ready to step up to the plate and use the Davis Cup to alleviate his New York pain. “This is one of the key matches and the interest of the Serbian public is huge,” said the new world No. 2. “I’m ready to play in Belgrade, and I don’t think this loss to Nadal will affect my form.” The Czechs will be led by 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych who crashed out of the first round in the blistering New York heat to France’s Michael Llodra.

*Switzerland face a vital playoff against Kazakhstan to stay in the World Group but will turn to Stanislas Wawrinka to lead them after 16-time Grand Slam Champion Roger Federer pulled out of the tie to concentrate on the ATP Tour. “I need some extra time to relax after the intense weeks in North America so I can finish the year strongly,” said Federer, who lost to Novak Djokovic in that epic semifinal at Flushing Meadows.

*After Rafa Nadal became the third-youngest man to complete the Career Grand Slam in New York on Monday the inevitable comparisons between himself and Roger Federer have resurfaced. Nadal has played down talk of him being the world’s greatest and insists R-Fed is still the man to beat despite the Swiss No. 1 falling to No. 3 in the world. “I think talk about if I am better or worse than Roger is stupid,” said the 24-year-old. “The titles say he’s much better than me, so that’s true at the moment. I think it will be true all my life. For me, always Roger was an example, especially because he improved his tennis I think during all his career, and that’s a good thing that you can copy, no? So I try to copy this and I know Roger and me are different, much different styles. Being better than Roger – I don’t think it’s the right moment to talk about that because I don’t think that.”

*Nadal’s victory in New York means he will now definitely finish as the year-ending world No. 1 for the second time in three years. He becomes only the ninth man in the history of the South African Airways ATP World Rankings (since 1973) to achieve the feat at least twice. Only he and Switzerland’s Roger Federer have taken the top slot since 2000 outlining their dominance of the sport in the last decade. “It has been an incredible season – one of my best ever, if not the best,” said the nine-time Grand Slam winner. “Winning the US Open together with Roland Garros and Wimbledon, as well as the three back-to-back [ATP World Tour] Masters 1000s in Europe, was not easy.  I worked very hard to get back to the top and it feels really good to know I will end the year as No.1.”

*Super mum Kim Clijsters is eyeing the other three Grand Slams after lifting her third US Open title in New York. She has lost twice in the Roland Garros final (2001 and 2003) as well as the Aussie Open final (2004) and has also reached the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2005, last year and this year. “I’ll try everything I can to be in the best shape possible to try and achieve what I’ve achieved here,” she said in her closing press conference in New York. “They all motivate you in a different way. Tactic-wise you always have to adjust a little bit to each and every single one of them. But I think the one where I’ve felt I can do better than I have is obviously at the Australian Open. Similar surface.” For the full interview check out the BBC Tennis website.

*The post-Slam injuries are re-occurring once again. China’s Zheng Jie is the unlucky recipient this time around. She needs surgery on her left wrist and looks set to miss the rest of the year. In better news, Serena Williams has returned to the practice courts following her foot injury suffered stepping on broken glass.

*Dutch women’s wheelchair tennis star Esther Vergeer routed Daniela di Torro 6-0, 6-0 in the US Open final last week to lift her fifth Championship and sixteenth Grand Slam overall. After narrowly beating Florence Alix-Gravellier 7-5, 7-5 in the first round she only dropped one game over the next two matches on route to the final. Even more astonishingly, it was the 29-year-old’s 369th straight competitive victory. During that streak she has only faced one solitary match point; at the 2008 Paralympics. That is a record and a half!

*As tennis now heads to Asia for the climax to the 2010 season Kuala Lumpur has finalised its lineup for its ATP 250 Event, which includes five of the world’s top ten players. This makes it one of the strongest ever lineups for an ATP 250 event. US Open semifinalist Mikhail Youzhny (No. 9), David Ferrer (No. 10) and Nikolay Davydenko (No. 6) join Robin Soderling (No. 5) and Tomas Berdych (No. 8) in a bid for the title.

*The US Open has seen some changes in the South African Airways ATP World Rankings for this week (Sept. 13). Novak Djokvic is the new world No. 2 following his US Open finals appearance with Roger Federer slipping to No. 3. Mikhail Youzhny jumps five places to No. 9 following his semifinal berth while the Spaniard David Ferrer continues an impressive year by reaching No. 10 to make it three Spaniards in the Top 10. Stanislas Wawrinka is rewarded for his run by entering the Top 20 while Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro continues to be scolded for his injuries as he drops 24 places to No. 34 in the world. The Italian Potito Starace is the new world No. 50 while Paul-Henri Mathieu (No. 97) and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (No. 100) add to the French contingent in the world’s Top 100 players.

*The same can be said of the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings following last week’s sizzling Slam in New York. Venus Williams is back up to No. 3 in the world while beaten finalist Vera Zvonareva attains a career-high ranking of No. 4. Kim Clijsters drops to No. 5 despite lifting the US Open crown. Elena Dementieva re-enters the Top 10 and another Russian, teen sensation Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, is the new No. 20 as she continues her fierce assault on the world’s best players; another career best. Kimiko Date Krum continues to defy her younger peers by re-entering the Top 50 and Zuzana Ondraskova (CZE, No. 94), Pauline Parmentier (FRA, No. 97), Varvara Lepchenko (USA, No. 98) and Edina Gallovits (ROU, No. 100) are all in to the Top 100.

*Gisela Dulko and Flavia Panetta have become the first doubles team to qualify for the WTA Year ending finals in Doha.

*Richard Gasquet has split with his coach Gabriel Markus, reports L’Equipe. “I’ve been happy to work with Richard and we’ve had success,” the Argentine coach told the newspaper. “He has improved his ranking and his tennis. I tried to show him my way of seeing things and I did a little, but I think it’ll be more comfortable to continue as before, with Eric Deblicker. They have a very good relationship, and I wish them the best.”

*Another one for stat-fans like myself. This year’s US Open is the fourth time since 2000 that the Top 3 seeds in the women’s draw have reached the semifinals. It is also the third consecutive year the men’s final has been delayed till Monday because of weather.

*The Russian press are reporting that the 2004 French Open Champion Anastasia Myskina has recently given birth to her second child, a boy. She already has a 30-month-old son, Zhenya.