Rafael Font de Mora

Groenefeld Looks To Erase The Past

While all of the players competing in the US Open qualifying are hoping to move on to becoming top-ranked players, one player is looking to do so for a second time.

Anna-Lena Groenefeld, who reached a career high ranking of No. 14 in 2006, is back competing in the qualifying for the first time in four years, as she looks to rebound from a nightmare 2007 season. She moved one step closer to qualifying for the main draw, easily defeating Regina Kulikova 6-4, 6-2 in a second round match.

The big serves and heavy groundstrokes that were so prevalent in Groenefeld’s game when she reached the 2006 French Open quarterfinals appeared as though they had never left. Attacking the ball early and controlling most of the rallies, Groenefeld jumped out to early leads in both sets as she advanced in just over an hour.

“I didn’t lose serve once today, so that was very good for me,” Groenefeld said. “Because I was able to break her serve once more in the second set, I started to feel very comfortable from that point on.”

The confidence that Groenefeld currently has in her game wasn’t easy to regain after a 2007 season that featured a high-profile breakup with her coach, Rafael Font De Mora. After the break-up, Font De Mora publicly criticized Groenefeld’s weight and physical appearance. He also sat courtside at Groenefeld’s matches whenever possible, offering tactical advice to her opponents.

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“It wasn’t easy for me to play with all of these distractions,” Groenefeld said.

After ending the summer of 2007 with a 6-16 record and with her ranking well outside the top 150, Groenefeld said that she took a self-imposed break from tennis in order to get her career back on track.

“I was playing the whole time, but it was never at one-hundred percent obviously,” Groenefeld said. “There’s no way you can do that unless you’re completely focused.”

After ten months away from the tour, Groenefeld hired a new coach, Dirk Dier, and worked on getting herself back into shape both mentally and physically.

“The first thing he told me was that I had to have fun doing this,” Groenefeld said. “Otherwise, there was no point.”

With a renewed sense of determination, Groenefeld returned to the tour last May on the challenger circuit. She quickly won four challenger titles and reached the finals of a WTA Tour event in Budapest.

Groenefeld said that while she has always believed she could return to the top of women’s tennis, she didn’t expect to be winning tournaments so quickly.

“I couldn’t be any happier with the results so far,” Groenefeld said. “To be winning this many tournaments so far is just amazing.”

Groenefeld said that she credits Dier for not only saving her career, but giving her the balance that her life had been missing.

“He’s been making practice fun and of course is also offering some good tactical advice,” Groenefeld said. “I love the way we work together and hope we can continue this for the rest of my career.”

Gabashvili Rolls On While Groenefeld Rebounds

While the top stars are preparing for the grass courts of Wimbledon, the challenger circuit remains on the clay courts. Last week showed one player on the men’s side continuing his prowess on the circuit, while another player on the women’s side took a small step towards gaining back her former top 15 ranking.

After an outstanding 2006 season which saw her reach a career high ranking of No. 14, Groenefeld suffered a nightmare 2007 season that included fitness issues and a high-profile feud with her former coach, Rafael Font De Mora. After taking most of 2008 off, Groenefeld showed that she is serious about getting her game back on track by winning the $75,000 challenger in Zlin, Czech Republic, dispatching Jelena Kostanic Tosic of Croatia 6-3, 4-6 6-1, in the final. The win also puts Groenefeld back in the world’s top 300, with minimal points to defend for the rest of the year.

At the $75,000 challenger in Marseille, France, Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium won her second challenger title of the year with a 7-6, 6-2 win over local favorite Stephanie Foretz of France. The win gives Flipkens the biggest title of her career and propels her just outside of the top 150 in the rankings.

While satellite results normally aren’t mentioned in this column, one result deserves a special accolade. Kimiko Date-Krumm, who reached a career high ranking of No. 4 in 1995, won the first singles title in her comeback at the $10,000 satellite event in Tokyo, Japan. The 37-year-old didn’t drop a set all week, storming through Shiho Akita of Japan in the final with a 6-3, 6-2 win. The win moves Date-Krumm just outside of the top 400 in the world rankings after just four tournaments.

In other results on the women’s side, Masa Zec-Peskiric of Slovenia won the $25,000 event in Campobasso, Italy, while Anna Tatishvili of Georgia won the first pro title of her career at the $25,000 challenger in El Paso, Texas.

On the men’s side, Adrian Ungur of Romania won the first pro title of his career at the $50,000 challenger in Sofia, Bulgaria, rolling over Franco Ferreiro of Brazil in the finals 6-3, 6-0. Ferreiro is still looking for his first title of the year, having lost his other final of the year at the challenger in Florianopolis, Brazil.

At the $35,000 event in Kosice, Slovakia, Lukas Rosol of Czech Republic also won the first challenger title of his career by beating Miguel Angel Lopez-Jaen of Spain with a 7-5, 6-1 victory in the final. The win moves Rosol within a few spots of breaking the top 200 for the first time in his career.

Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia continues to roll on the challenger circuit. The 23 year old won his third challenger title of the year at the $35,000 challenger in Milan, Italy, beating Diego Hartfield of Argentina 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in the final. The win moves Gabashvili within striking distance of the world’s top 100, a place he has remained out of for almost a full year now.

The men host the biggest event on the challenger circuit this week as Jiri Vanek of Czech Republic is the top seed at the $125,000 event in Braunschweig, Germany. Eric Prodon takes top billing at the $35,000 in Bytom, Poland, while Bjorn Phau of Germany leads the way at the $35,000 challenger in Recanati, Italy.

Only one challenger will take place on the women’s side this week, as Nina Bratchikova of Russia is the top seed at the $25,000 event in Istanbul, Turkey.