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PRAISE TO ANA IVANOVIC: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Serbian Turnaround – Over the course of the last year or so, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic have experienced varying degrees of a downward spiral in their careers, but signs seem to indicate that they are well on their way to turning things around.  Earlier this spring, Jankovic snagged the Indian Wells title, and she showed great mental toughness to defeat both Williams sisters back-to-back in Rome.  With a few more big wins under her belt, she may just find the consistency that took her to the top of the game in 2008.  My bigger praise, however, has to go to Ana Ivanovic.  While she lost early in Madrid to countrywoman Jankovic, she did put together a great run in Rome that included wins over Azarenka, Dementieva, and Petrova.  She’s gotten herself a new coach, she’s lost some weight, and most importantly, her mindset couldn’t be better.  Ivanovic acknowledges that she’s faced her worst fear in experiencing her playing slump and is ready to begin the climb back up the rankings.  Kudos to both, and I hope that they’ll once again strongly factor into the top of the women’s game.

Chaos Reigns – Roland Garros is just over a week away, and with the decimation of the seeds in Madrid, the women’s field couldn’t look more open. After winning Stuttgart, many (myself included) thought that perhaps Justine Henin was worthy to wear one of the heavy favorite tags, but her upset by Aravane Rezai, which included a bagel in the third, might suggest otherwise.  Serena Williams has looked decent for a player who hasn’t competed since the Australian Open, but with her failure to twice serve out the match against Jelena Jankovic in Rome and a listless performance against an inspired Nadia Petrova in Madrid, she hasn’t exactly looked solid.  Throw in that names like Wozniaki, Sharapova, Safina, Dementieva, Kutznetsova, and last week’s Rome champion Martinez Sanchez have all made an early exit in Madrid, and the time may be ripe for a dark horse to step up and take her first Slam victory at the second major of the year.  And yes, I realize that the seeds that have fallen in Madrid haven’t exactly had the greatest past couple of months, but that only sets the stage further for a surprise victor or finalist in Paris.  But then again, the champions are champions because they can turn it on when it counts.  One thing is for sure…it should be an interesting two weeks at the French Open.

Turning Back the Clock – First there was the return of Kim Clijsters that was then followed by the comeback of Justine Henin. Now there’s another news item that harks back to days gone by. With her three-set victory over Francesca Schiavone this week in Madrid, Venus Williams has guaranteed that she will be the No. 2 player in the world when the new rankings come out on Monday. Younger sister Serena currently holds the No. 1 ranking, and the occasion will mark the first time since May 2003 that the sisters have held the No. 1 and No. 2 spots.  While the Williams sisters aren’t dominating the game as they once did when they previously held the world’s top rankings, their longevity and ability to come up big on the sport’s grandest stages, which has led to their return to the top, deserve tremendous applause.

Zero Pressure – That’s what American Andy Roddick should be feeling as he goes into Roland Garros. Roddick opted to skip Monte Carlo and Rome and do his Paris preparation in the Spanish capital. A stomach virus has since forced him to alter his plans, however, as the virus resulted in his withdrawal from the Madrid Masters before even playing a single match. Not that Roddick has probably ever held great expectations on the red dirt, given that it is his worst surface, but this year in particular he should really be swinging freely. Who knows? Perhaps possibly mental lower expectations will ultimately lead Roddick to his best finish in Paris.

Off into the Sunset? – A lot of tennis fans, myself included, are wondering when Spaniard Carlos Moya will decide to hang up his racquet.  The 33-year-old Moya has rarely played in recent months, and his showing against Benjamin Becker this week was dismal. One wonders if he is able to play Roland Garros, which is currently his plan, if that won’t be the last we see of him.  Having won a major, reaching the No. 1 world ranking, and even winning the Davis Cup, Moya has nothing left to prove. And with Moya and his girlfriend Carolina Cerezuela expecting their first child later this year, he may find it the perfect time to call it a career.

WOMEN FALL LIKE DOMINOS IN MADRID

The clay courts of the Madrid Open have provided some shock exits in the first round this week, with Justine Henin, Dinara Safina, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova falling like dominos to the dismay of tournament chairman Manuel Santana, who breathed a sigh of relief as top seed Serena Williams managed to survive a match point to get through her first match of the tournament against Vera Dushevina, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 – lasting a mammoth 3 hours and 26 minutes.

The American world No. 1 looked on her way out of the clay event when the unseeded Russian had a match point at 6-5 in the second set. Visibly chastising herself on court and appealing wildly to her father and coach Richard Williams in the stands, she miraculously summoned her enormous willpower to claw her way back and take the deciding set despite having a long treatment break for what appeared to be right thigh and lower back problems. She revealed “After so long on the court, I was saying to myself, ‘You’d better win this thing’”.

After squandering one match point with a wild backhand at 6-4 on the third set tie break, a ninth ace on the next point provoked a primal cry of joy from the 28 year old, who said “When I shout like that, it’s just to get energised. I need my emotion to help me play better.” She is now on course to meet Russian sixth seed Elena Dementieva in the last eight. Her sister, fourth-seeded Venus Williams also downed Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele 6-4, 6-2 to proceed.

Meanwhile, Aravane Rezai of France beat Justine Henin. 4-6, 7-5, 6-0, who revealed she had not fully recovered after falling ill following her win at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart last weekend, her first title since coming out of retirement.

Lucia Safarova of the Czech Republic defeated Russian bombshell Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-3 to the disappointment of her male fans in Madrid. The leggy blonde commented “It’s a struggle trying to find the rhythm…I thought she played really solid, good tennis and did everything she needed to win the match. More solid than me anyway.”

Israel’s Shahar Peer recorded the biggest upset, defeating the reigning French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 2-6, 6-0 after the Russian dropped serve six times in the match and said “I’ve been playing well since the beginning of the year. Even the matches I’m losing, it’s just a point here and a point there. I’ve been working very hard on my game the last two years and I saw the fruits starting to come last summer. I’m playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

Dinara Safina’s preparations for the French Open took a serious knock after she lost 7-6, 7-6 to Czech qualifier Klara Zakopalova in the first round. The defending champion claimed seven breaks of serve, but the 28-year-old from Prague dominated the tiebreaks only allowing Safina one point in the first, and three in the second. Despite being the runner up in the last two French Open finals, Safina struggled on the clay and has slipped from three to five in the updated WTA rankings on Monday.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.

Despite Loss, Cancer Survivor Sandra Klemenschits Wins In Grand Slam Debut

It wasn’t the result she was hoping for, but for Austrian doubles specialist Sandra Klemenschits, wins and losses don’t have the same impact anymore.

Playing with Aravane Rezai of France, the pair lost 6-1, 6-2 in the first round to the No. 5 seeds in the women’s doubles draw, Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia and Ai Sugiyama of Japan.

“After my illness, I’m just happy to be alive,” said Klemenschits. “We did the best we could against a team that are not just great players, but great people as well.”

Klemenschits used to be a top doubles pairing with her twin sister, Daniela. The pair won 20 doubles titles on the ITF circuit and reached the finals of a WTA event in Istanbul in 2006.

That all radically changed in January of 2007 when both players were diagnosed with a rare form of abdominal cancer, squamous cell carcimona. The chances of survival from the cancer are slim at best.

“It was a complete surprise,” said Klemenschits. “We’re both very healthy people and then all of a sudden, we’re being told that we both are dying.”

The sisters immediately underwent a series of expensive medical treatments in Germany. Lacking insurance, the costs of the treatment threatened to wipe them out financially.

The WTA Tour and its players responded with great generosity, putting together an online auction that raised over $70,000 for their medical treatments. Players including Martina Hingis, Maria Sharapova, and Justine Henin donated items for the auction. Later that fall, when Sugiyama won the doubles title at the WTA event in the Austrian city of Linz, she donated her winnings to their medical expenses.

“It was really special for me to be able to do that,” said Sugiyama. “This is about so much more than results or winning and losing. I’m so happy to see her back on the tour and doing so well. There were a lot of extra emotions running for me in our match today.”

“Sugiyama is one of the most amazing people that I know, but the support of all the other players was so moving as well,” said Klemenschits. “You can’t believe that people are thinking of you like this and doing these things for you.”

Although doctors told both sisters that their prognosis was promising, Daniela ultimately died from her cancer in April of 2008. She died at the same time Sandra was told that her cancer was in remission. Feeling that she needed a distraction, Sandra picked up a racket as soon as she was given the green light by her doctors.

“The first practices was so hard because the cancer wiped away all the power from my body,” said Klemenschits. “But I knew that I needed to do something.”

Three months after the death of her sister, Klemenschits returned to the WTA Tour in July of 2008 at an event in Bad Gastein, Austria. Shockingly, the titles soon began to pile up and Klemenschits returned better than before. Since returning to the tour, Klemenschits has won 8 doubles titles on the ITF circuit, five of them in 2009.

Klemenschits said that she still needs to be checked by her doctors in Austria every two months, but her cancer is still in remission and all signs are promising at the moment.

“Obviously, my perspective has changed after all of this,” said Klemenschits. “You start to think differently because you realize that life is so short. The most important thing for me right now is health, and to just enjoy everything that I’m doing. In the end, the winning and losing doesn’t matter as long as you have your health.”

Klemenschits will return to the ITF circuit in the fall for a series of events in Europe. She said that she hopes to serve as a motivation for people with the same illness as she had.

“The one thing that I would tell people is to be positive mentally and you can beat the cancer,” said Klemenschits. “If you aren’t thinking positive, then you have no chance. You never know what’s going to happen next, so it’s just important to enjoy every minute.”

Austrian Cancer Survivor Klemenschits To Make Grand Slam Debut In US Open

Austrian doubles specialist Sandra Klemenschits, who returned to the tour in July 2008 after overcoming a rare form of abdominal cancer, will make her Grand Slam debut this week at the US Open in the women’s doubles event. Partnering Aravane Rezai of France, they will play Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia and Ai Sugiyama of Japan, the No. 5 seeds. The match will take place either on Wednesday or Thursday during the first week of the tournament.

Klemenschits, currently ranked No. 111 in doubles, is a winner of 28 doubles titles on the ITF circuit. 20 of these titles came when she partnered with her twin sister, Daniela. In January of 2007, both Sandra and Daniela were diagnosed with a rare form of abdominal cancer, squamous cell carcimona, forcing them to retire.

Players including Roger Federer, Justine Henin, and Martina Hingis donated items for an online auction in June of 2007, raising over $70,000 for their medical bills. In April of 2008, Daniela Klemenschits died at age 25.

In July of 2008, Sandra Klemenschits announced she had beaten her illness and returned to professional tennis at a WTA event in Bad Gastein, Austria. Since returning to the pro tour 13 months ago, Klemenschits has won eight ITF circuit titles in doubles. She arrives at the US Open having won 10 of her last 11 matches.