Robby Ginepri

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Citi Open Q&A: Rhyne Williams Talks Embarrassing Moments, Keeping His Cool on Court and More

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Twenty-two-year-old Rhyne Williams captured his first win at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. as he defeated good friend Robby Ginepri in the grueling heat, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. (Gallery at bottom)

The pair went our for dinner Friday night in D.C. joking about the possibility of having to play each other in yet another tournament, after Williams most recently defeated his fellow American to win the Dallas Challenger in February.

Williams acknowledged how tough of a competitor Ginepri was again today.

“I played Robby so many times, we know each other’s game so well,” said Williams.  “I knew it was going to be tough from the first point. We always have battles. He likes to run me side to side, I’ve noticed. So it was fun to get to play him again.”

Despite the nine aces, the Tennessee native admitted to having some right shoulder trouble the past couple of months and feeling “a little banged up right now,” but is hoping it’s nothing serious. He plans on checking it out sometime after this week’s tournament, but not before attending his sister’s wedding next weekend.

So what if Williams happens to make a deep run at the Citi Open and is forced to miss his sister’s wedding?

“She’ll probably be pissed,” he laughed. “But I have to do it!”

I sat down with the charismatic, funny and level-headed Williams as he talked about his family’s tennis legacy, his love for Chipotle and his most embarrassing moment among other topics. Get to know one of American tennis’ rising stars!

What is your most memorable moment?
I’ll probably say qualifying for the US Open last year. Not only qualifying but I got to play Andy Roddick on Ashe stadium. That was a blast. To feel that environment for my first time — I’ll never forget that. …. That’s by far my favorite tournament.

How did you first start playing tennis?
My mom taught me tennis. She was top 100 in the world, so she taught me when I was 7 or 8 years old. We got out there a couple of times per week. I also played a lot of basketball and baseball growing up, but decided on tennis. Everybody (in the family plays.) You wouldn’t believe it. It’s overwhelming at times, but they’ve done a good job letting me do my thing. My cousin is with me all the time, and that’s been great. We’ve been not only family, but best friends. We grew up across the street from each other, hit every day growing up. No one knows me really as well as Christopher does.

If you were hosting a party, what three tennis players would you invite and why?
(Laughs) I would invite Roger (Federer) – he’s my all-time favorite. I guess I have to throw a female in there too. I’ll go with Ana Ivanovic, another one of my favorites. And then, I’ll probably invite my best buddy, Tennys Sandgren.

What is one thing that scares you?
Flying. I used to never, never be fazed. But lately, I can’t even handle a little bump. I freak out, grab an armrest. I’m terrified now; it’s awful.

Rhyne Williams_Citi Open_27 July 2013-6What are two things you couldn’t live without?
Chipotle …

There are a few in D.C.

Yes, we went. I’ve been.

Already?

Yea. (Laughs) … So, Chipotle … and college sports.

If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be doing?
I would probably be playing baseball. That was my first love. The first thing I picked up was a baseball bat and gloves. My dad and I used to throw the baseball around and have batting practice.

What is your most embarrassing moment?
(Laughs) I was playing a Future in Spain a long time ago — I think I was 16 years old. And there was a pretty good crowd; I was playing one of the hometown favorites and everyone was cheering for him. I was acting like an idiot. I think I ran for a dropshot, didn’t get it. Got mad. Kicked the net and my foot got stuck in the net. I fell down on the court and everyone in the crowd erupted into cheers. I actually injured my tailbone from doing that. I was hobbling around the rest of the match and ended up losing. I deserved it. (Laughs)

What’s the secret to keeping your cool on court now, after being somewhat notorious for smashing racquets and such?
Don’t jinx it! (Laughs) Maybe I’m just growing up, I don’t know. It’s such a day-by-day thing. Some days I really love being out there. Some days I just can’t stand it. That’s why I have Christopher to try and keep me happy and calm out there.

Sometimes there’s just no turning back (from an outburst), but sometimes I can catch myself before it gets out of hand. But I have been better. It really just depends if I’m mentally fresh, then I’m probably going to hold it together. If I’m worn out or something is bothering me off the court, then maybe I’m more likely to smash a racquet or something. But I’ve been working on it really hard for sure.

What are your goals for the year in terms of progress or ranking?
I really want to make the push for the top 100. I think I’m already really close. But if I do end up breaking that, I don’t want to be satisfied with that. I want to stay inside the top 100, and be in all the Grand Slams without having to qualify.

That’s where I want to be the rest of my career. I think it’s doable. I still have a lot of work to do and a lot of growing up to do, but I think I’m on the right track. And I see guys like Steve (Johnson), Jack (Sock) and Denis (Kudla) who have all done it. We’re all pushing each other up the rankings, and that’s so great about having peers that are trying to do the same thing you are. You want to push yourself to stay on pace with them. It’s been nice having a group – we’re all friends and good buddies — who are doing the same thing as you.

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

San Jose: Harrison Beats Ginepri in Third Set Tiebreak

Ryan Harrison preparing to hit a backhand

At the SAP Open yesterday evening, two talented American players in very different stages of their careers met in the headline match. Ryan Harrison, the up-and-coming 19-year old, was coming off of his career best season last year, but had failed to get much momentum during the tour’s swing in Australia. He met Robby Ginepri, ten years older, who was trying to get back to the top level of the men’s game after breaking his arm in bicycling accident in October of 2010. The pair put on a high-quality tennis match, but in the end, youth was served when Harrison came away with the win, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(0).

As the match progressed, it became very difficult to ignore the resonance of the fact that these two players were poised at the opposite points in their career arcs. Ginepri is a three-time ATP titlist, former world number 15, and made it to the U.S. Open semifinals in 2005, losing to Andre Agassi. Ginepri was one of the American players coming up in the twilight of the era of Sampras-Agassi dominance, along with Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish, and James Blake. He’s not ready to call it quits on his career by any means, and his renewed dedication to tennis developed during the time off his injury required, when he was able to get some perspective on what tennis meant to him. Judging by his performance tonight, he should have a few good years left in him.

On the other hand, Ryan Harrison is at the head of the new generation of American players, who were well-represented at this tournament. Denis Kudla bested Jack Sock and then gave veteran Andy Roddick a scare, but all three 19-year-olds should have promising tennis careers ahead of them. Thus far, it is Harrison who has demonstrated the greatest ability to capitalize on his potential. Last year, he reached back-to-back semifinals in Atlanta and Los Angeles, losing to top American Mardy Fish in both tournaments. He’s yet to have a signature win or claim his first title, but his tenacity and firepower have kept him on everyone’s radar.

The pair battled gamely from the very first, each taking turns at demonstrating their offensive and defensive skills. Both showed that they were able to strike powerful, penetrating ground strokes off both their forehand and backhand wings, as well as scramble and scrap their way back to a neutral position after their opponent had struck a particularly good ball. Harrison managed to break Ginepri and serve out the first set, but his level subsequently dropped enough for Ginepri to take the second set handily.

Once the third set began, both players began playing more consistently, and the match quickly began to heat up. Neither player was able to get a chance to break their opponent, until the very end of the set. Serving at 5-6, to try to get the match into the tiebreak, Harrison found himself down two break points – match points. On each of the two points, Ginepri did all he could to take the match. He attempted a scorching cross-court passing shot on the first, but Harrison managed to make a stellar lunging drop volley. On the second, Ginepri was forced to play a defensive lob, but Harrison had just buried an overhead into the net on the previous point. When he got his second chance, he made no mistake.

After saving those two match points, Harrison seemed invigorated in the tiebreak, while Ginepri was regretting his missed opportunities. The first point of the tiebreak went against sere when Ginepri missed a drop volley, and with his first two serves, Harrison produced a pair of powerful serves up the middle, neither of which Ginepri could get back in play. Once he was in a 3-0 hole, it proved to be too much for the elder American to dig himself out of.

There are times when being in Ryan Harrison’s shoes, with a decade of tennis ahead of you and innumerable opportunities along the way, makes it easier to swing freely in the pressure moments, as he did when he was down match points. For Robby Ginepri, he might have been wondering how many more chances like this he was going to have. Those thoughts can make it very difficult to play the kind of fearless tennis that Ryan Harrison produced yesterday.

Andy Murray has the perfect opportunity to attain that elusive first Grand Slam

Andy Murray

As first round matches came to a close on Wednesday, thing appear to be progressing more or less according to plan thus far in the men’s draw at the U.S. Open.

Andy Murray advanced against former NCAA standout Somdev Devvarman by a score of 7-6(5), 6-2, 6-3. Murray mentioned he felt some early match nerves and when asked to explain gave a rather humorous response.

“Well, I mean, try being a British player going into a Grand Slam.  It’s not easy (smiling).”

With Roger Federer struggling this summer and Rafael Nadal also seeming less-than-perfect, Murray might have the perfect opportunity to attain that elusive first Grand Slam. He certainly seemed to be handling Novak Djokovic as well as anyone could in his first set against the Serb in Cincinnati. Djokvic would retire while trailing 0-3 in the second set of that match citing shoulder pain.

In other matches today, American John Isner beat a tricky opening round opponent in Marcos Baghdatis, 7-6(2), 7-6(11), 2-6, 6-4. With Robin Soderling withdrawing in this section of the draw due to illness, Isner has a great chance to make the round of sixteen and maybe even a quarter-final at a Slam for the first time in his career.

Isner will now face compatriot Robby Ginepri who only started his season in June after injury issues. He won today against Joao Suza in four sets. Many will remember Ginepri for his loss against Andre Agassi in the semi-finals here in 2005.

2009 champion Juan Martin Del Potro destroyed Filippo Volandri 6-3, 6-1, 6-1. Known more for his clay-court exploits, Volandri has not won a match on hard-courts since 2007. Del Potro couldn’t have asked for an easier match in his return to Flushing Meadows.

Forced to miss defending his title a year ago due to a wrist injury, Del Po has returned to the top-twenty in the game and appears to have a good shot of advancing deep into the draw.

The Argentine mentioned several times after the match how happy he was to return to his favorite Grand Slam tournament following his inability to play a year ago.

“Well, I am feeling very special these couple of days, because I wasn’t here last year so I couldn’t see my name in the locker room,” DelPotro said. “That’s special, but are pretty little details. But, you know, it’s an honor be part of the champions of this tournament.”

Canadian Vasek Pospisil is giving fans in his country reason to cheer in the absence of Milos Raonic. The 20 year old Canuck won his first ever Grand Slam match against Lukas Rosol with ease 6-1, 6-2, 6-1. Pospisil will now face Feliciano Lopez the 25th seed.

12th seeded Gilles Simon survived a marathon five-set match against Ricardo Mello of Brazil, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. 3-6, 6-4. The Frenchman will now go up against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain who also required five sets to advance to the second round.

The only seeded player to fall on day three was Nicolas Almagro, the 10th seed, who was beat by French veteran Julien Benneteau 6-2, 6-4, 6-3. I’d hardly consider that result an upset since Almagro rarely performs on this surface while Benneteau made the finals a week ago of the inaugural event in Winston Salem where he was defeated by Isner for the title.

In the final match of the night amongst the men, Andy Roddick needed a four set struggle to finally overcome 33 year-old Michael Russell, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.

Roddick seemed to be moving along quite well until Russell experienced a resurgence in the third set. It was not meant to be for the veteran however, as he fell to 0-7 in matches at the Open.

Roddick now moves on to face youngster Jack Sock who at the age of 18 is making just his second appearance in a major.

Roddick got a good laugh out of the crowd as he assessed his next foe in Sock.

“Well, I know he’s full of piss and vinegar and he’s from Nebraska. Sounds a little bit like an 18 year old I knew once upon a time. I like Jack a lot. He had a good win and I’m excited…I’ll take on the young American and I’ll enjoy it.”

It is nice to see Sock, along with Ryan Harrison and Donald Young emerging to form the next generation of American players. Thirty-one straight majors without a U.S. champion is a strange reality after so many decades of success. Perhaps one of these young guns can one day reverse this declining trend in tangible results at the Grand Slam level.

Tennis In The Commonwealth – Murray and Robson To Play For GB In Hopman Cup

TENNIS-WTA-QAT

By Leigh Sanders

Andy Murray and Laura Robson have confirmed they will represent Great Britain at the Hopman Cup, the official mixed team competition of the ITF, in Perth, Australia in January. Murray will use the event to prepare for the 2010 Australian Open. He is looking to improve his record at Melbourne Park and has decided to use the same tournament that Novak Djokovic (2008) and Marat Safin (2005) played on their way to victory Down Under. They will be the first British representatives at the tournament since Jeremy Bates and Jo Durie lost in the first round in 1992. Each match consists of a men’s and women’s singles and a doubles. The hosts will be represented by Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur. Melanie Oudin and John Isner have been confirmed as the American team while Russia will be represented by Elena Dementieva and Igor Andreev while Tommy Robredo and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez will compete for Spain.

Robin Soderling is a doubt for the ATP World Tour Finals in London, England, after the world No. 10 was forced to withdraw from his semifinal in Stockholm against Cyprus’ Marcos Bagdhatis with an elbow injury. The Swede would have made up points on the Spaniard Fernando Verdasco who currently holds the eighth and final qualification place for the Championships. Soderling has not yet pulled out of his scheduled tournaments in Valencia and Paris ahead of London hoping he will be fit to fight for his place in the end-of-season tournament.

The final line-up for the Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha was decided this week without one representative from the Commonwealth making the final cut. Jelena Jankovic sealed the eighth and final spot despite crashing out of the quarterfinals of the Kremlin Cup in Moscow and she joins Venus and Serena Williams, Elena Dementieva, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina, Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka in the battle to find the top player for 2009.

This weeks ATP singles world rankings (26/10) saw Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt climb two places to 20th while his compatriot Peter Luczak held on to his ranking of 83. Chris Guccione, also from Down under, climbed five places to 104th. Britain’s Andy Murray remained in 4th place and India’s Somdev Devvarman climbed three to 121st. In the doubles, Daniel Nestor of Canada remains No. 1 despite his early exit from Shanghai recently but Mahesh Bhupathi of India drops one place to 7th. Paul Hanley of Australia climbs four places to 26th after his finals appearance in Stockholm (see below) while South Africa’s Jeff Coetzee remains 35th after his semifinals berth at the same tournament. Australia’s Ashley Fisher is below him in 36th while Britain’s Ross Hutchins and Aussie Stephen Huss both fell this week to 49th and 50th respectively.

This week’s WTA rankings (26/10) saw Australia’s Samantha Stosur remain at 13 as she continued her climb towards the world top 10 while Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada climbed one place to 30. Another Aussie, Jelena Dokic, dropped to 64th and Britain’s Elena Baltacha jumped from 93 to 86 after her semifinal appearance at St. Raphael (see below). Her compatriot Katie O’Brien was also up one to 91st.

In the WTA doubles rankings (26/10) Australians Samantha Stosur and Rennae Stubbs find themselves tied for 5th spot after Stosur jumped three places while Sania Mirza of India drops two places to 38th. Sarah Borwell, British No. 1 for doubles, jumps one place to 78th while South Africa’s Natalie Grandin is up two to 80th.

Daniel Nestor of Canada suffered his third straight first-round defeat with partner Nenad Zimonjic at the Bank Austria Tennis Trophy. The top two doubles players in the world fell to John Isner and Australian Jordan Kerr 4-6, 7-6(8), 10-6 in just over 90 minutes. It is the eighth first-round defeat the pair have suffered this year.

Jeff Coetzee of South Africa and Australia’s Stephen Huss reached the semifinals of the If Stockholm Open before going down to Kevin Ullyett and Bruno Soares. It was the 500th doubles victory for Ullyett making him only the 31st man in ATP history to reach that landmark. In the final they faced Australia’s Paul Hanley and Sweden’s Simon Aspelin. Soares and Ullyett won through 6-4, 7-6(4) to break the hearts of the Australian and the Swede.

In the doubles event at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow India’s Rohan Bopanna partnered Janko Tipsarevic to a semifinals berth where they were eventually defeated by Frantisek Cermak of the Czech Republic and Slovakia’s Mikal Mertinak. Metinak/Cermak went on to win the tournament and improve their chances of appearing in the doubles bracket at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, England next month.

Geoff Pollard has been re-elected as the President of Tennis Australia for another twelve months following this year’s Annual General Meeting held in Melbourne on Monday.

More doubles joy for Great Britain this week as Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski were victorious at the ATP Challenger Event in Orleans, France. They defeated the French pair of Sebastian Grosjean and Olivier Patience 6-1, 6-1 who had beaten another British pair, Jamie Murray and Jamie Delgado, in the semi finals to prevent an all-British final. In Glasgow, Scotland, Chris Eaton and Dominic Inglot picked up their third Doubles title of the month. They defeated fellow Brit Dan Cox and Uladzimir Ignatik of Belarus.

Peter Luczak of Australia was defeated in the round of 32 at the Bank Austria Tennis Trophy on the hard courts of Vienna by the Spaniard Nicolas Almagro. After taking the first set Luczak battled hard but it wasn’t quite enough and he went down 5-7, 7-6(3), 6-1.

Rising teenage star Bernard Tomic of Australia will warm up for the 2010 Australian Open by partnering Aussie tennis legend Pat Cash at the World Tennis Challenge in Adelaide next January. The novel tournament, which concludes just four days before the Open begins, sees a retired tennis star partner a modern-day pro in a team format. The 17-year-old Tomic will represent Australia with Cash, 27 years his senior. Representing America will be John McEnroe and Robby Ginepri, while Henri Leconte will represent Europe with an unconfirmed teammate. Finally, world No. 14 Radek Stepanek will head the Internationals team with an unconfirmed retired player.

Britain’s Elena Baltacha reached the semifinals of the $50k Event in St. Raphael, France before going down to the No. 3 seed Sandra Zahlavova of the Czech Republic. Meanwhile in Glasgow, Scotland, Melanie South was defeated in the final of the AEGON Pro-Series Event. 5th seed Johanna Larsson of Sweden was too much for the British No. 4, winning in three sets. But South made amends in the doubles, teaming with Emma Laine of Finland to defeat the Mayr sisters of Italy 6-3, 6-2 and bring home the Championship. Future tennis starlet Heather Watson crashed out of the first round of the singles, going down 6-2, 2-6, 7-6(2) to Tunisian veteran Selima Sfar.

Tennis Canada has announced that former Chairman Harold P. Milavsky will be inducted in to the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame in the Builder category with a dinner in his honour on December 3rd at the Glencoe Club in Calgary.

Mondays With Bob Greene: Mirka and I became proud parents of twin girls

Dinara Safina wins Banka Koper Slovenia Open

STARS

Robby Ginepri beat Sam Querrey 6-2 6-4 to win the Indianapolis Tennis Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Nikolay Davydenko beat Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-4 6-2 to win the International German Open in Hamburg, Germany

Dinara Safina won the Banka Koper Slovenia Open in Portoroz, Slovenia, beating Sara Errani 6-7 (5) 6-1 7-5

Andrea Petkovic beat Ioana Raluca Olaru 6-2 6-3 to win the Gastein Ladies in Bad Gastein, Austria

SAYING

“I have some exciting news to share with you. Late last night, in Switzerland, Mirka and I became proud parents of twin girls. This is the best day of our lives.” – Roger Federer, announcing the births on his Web site and Facebook page.

“The twins certainly come from good tennis stock. If they are half as good as their dad they will still be a potent force on the court.” – Nick Weinberg, spokesman for British bookmaker Ladbrokes on the twin girls one day winning Wimbledon.

“When you have a lot of losses, you start questioning if you can play at this level. It creeps in the back of your mind, so this is definitely a confidence boost for me the rest of the summer.” – Robby Ginepri, after winning the Indianapolis Tennis Championships.

“It’s been a great week for me. Of course, when you are in a final you always want to win but it has been a great week for me.” – Paul-Henri Mathieu, after losing in the Hamburg, Germany, final to Nikolay Davydenko.

“I know I am good enough to beat most players on this level.” – Andrea Petkovic, after reaching her first career WTA Tour final, which she won.

“I played better each match this week. I beat two Top 30 players this week, the best wins of my career. I’m sorry about today: I wish I could have done more, but there’s always next tournament.” – Ioana Raluca Olaru, who lost in the Gastein Ladies final to Andrea Petkovic.

“I am a hundred percent. I mean, if I wasn’t at that point, I certainly wouldn’t be playing.” – Maria Sharapova, who played for the Newport Beach Breakers in a World TeamTennis match against Kansas City.

“There’s always a lot of pressure against Korie (Homan) because I have not lost a set at this tournament since 2000 and of course I have the winning streak.” – Esther Vergeer, after stretching her unbeaten singles record to 364 matches in wheelchair tennis by again beating world number two Korie Homan.

“Andy’s presence really does give a boost to County Week and British tennis in general. It proves to 12-, 13- and 14-year-old children that if the world number three can be bothered to show up and compete for his county, then they can do it, too.” – Ian Conway, captain of the North of Scotland team, on Andy Murray playing an amateur event.

SUCCESS, FINALLY

It’s been awhile since Nikolay Davydenko took home the biggest check at a tournament. The Russian won his first ATP World Tour title in over a year when he trounced Paul-Henri Mathieu at the International German Open in Hamburg. Davydenko last appeared in a final at the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai last November, and he hadn’t won a title since Warsaw, Poland, in June 2008. Davydenko also became the first Russian to win in Hamburg.

SONY TOPPER

Until this past week, Andrea Petkovic had a 3-8 lifetime record in WTA Tour-level events, with all three match wins coming at Grand Slam tournaments. That changed in Bad Gastein, Austria, where Petkovic won five straight matches and her first Sony Ericsson WTA Tour title, the Gastein Ladies, when she stopped Ioana Raluca Olaru. The unseeded German dropped only one set all week, that to seventh-seeded Anna-Lena Groenefeld in the quarterfinals. “It’s the best moment of my career,” Petkovic said. “I hope I can keep playing like this and build on it.” Olaru was also appearing in her first Tour singles final, having upset third-seeded Sybille Bammer, sixth-seeded Magdalena Rybarikova and top-seeded Alize Cornet en route to the title match.

SURE BET

It didn’t take the British bookmakers long. Just a day after their birth, Roger Federer’s twin daughters were given 100-1 odds for either to win Wimbledon. Charlene Riva Federer and Myla Rose Federer are 50-1 to win a Grand Slam as part of the same doubles team and 200-1 to capture the Wimbledon women’s doubles. Andy Roddick, who has lost the Wimbledon final three times to the twins’ father, agreed with the bookies. The American sent a message from his Twitter page, which read: “Wimbledon women’s champs in 2029-2040 … the Federer girls: congrats to the new parents!”

SUPER TIEBREAKS

Playing together for the first time, Dmitry Tursunov of Russia and Ernests Gulbis of Latvia won all four matches in third-set super tiebreakers to capture the doubles title at the Indianapolis Tennis Championships. “They’re obviously better as a team, but when there’s a lot of firepower against you, there’s not much you can do,” Tursunov said after the pair beat top-seeded Ashley Fisher and Jordan Kerr 6-4 3-6 11-9 (match tiebreak). Not one to break up a winning pair, the two plan to play together in Los Angeles this week. “It’s kind of like beginner’s luck in poker, so we’ll see how it goes,” Tursunov said. “If we’re having success, it makes sense to continue to play.”

STEPPING IT UP

The knee injury must be better. Rafael Nadal has returned to training for the first time since he was sidelined by tendinitis in his right knee. Nadal is planning on returning to the ATP tour at the Montreal Masters next month. He has been out since losing to Robin Soderling in the fourth round of the French Open, where he was seeking his fifth straight title. The injury also kept him from defending his Wimbledon crown. With Nadal not there, Roger Federer won both Roland Garros and Wimbledon to record his 15th Grand Slam trophy and reclaim the number one ranking.

STRUGGLING

Leander Paes was named the league’s male MVP as he led the Washington Kastles to their first World TeamTennis Pro League championship. Paes teamed with Scott Oudsema to win the men’s doubles and with Rennae Stubbs to win the mixed doubles as the Kastles downed the Springfield Lasers 23-20. Oudsema beat Springfield’s Raven Klaasen in the men’s singles, while Washington’s Olga Puchkova downed Vania King in women’s singles. King and Liezel Huber captured the women’s doubles. King was named the league’s female MVP.

STANDING TALL

Cara Black is only 5-foot-6 ( 1.67m) but she stands tall in the tennis record book. The Zimbabwean player is second only to Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova in the number of weeks spent as the number one doubles player in the world. When Black recorded her 125th week at number one spot, she moved past Natasha Zvereva. The 30-year-old first took over the top spot on October 17, 2005, staying there for 16 weeks. She regained the spot on June 11, 2007, before relinquishing it two weeks later to Lisa Raymond. But Black began her third and current stint at number one on July 9, 2007, after winning Wimbledon. Navratilova led the doubles rankings for 237 weeks.

SPOTLIGHTED

Austria’s national anti-doping authorities are investigating Tamira Paszek after she received a medical treatment for a back injury that allegedly violated doping regulations. Authorities say that during treatment earlier this month, blood was taken from Paszek for enrichment, then later injected back into her, which is not allowed under international anti-doping rules. Paszek said she was not aware that the treatment was possibly illegal until a reporter told her. Paszek then alerted the Austrian anti-doping agency NADA, which began its investigation. The Austrian right-hander has struggled with back problems since last season. She has not played since retiring during her first-round match at Wimbledon.

STAYING HOME

Argentina’s David Nalbandian and Croatia’s Mario Ancic won’t be playing in this year’s US Open. According to the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the 15th-ranked Nalbandian is still recovering from recent hip surgery, while Ancic is battling mononucleosis. Their spots in the men’s main draw were taken by Ivan Navarro of Spain and Karol Beck of Slovakia.

An injury has caused Li Na of China to withdraw from China’s National Games in Shandong. The 27-year-old said she felt a recurrence of her right knee injury. Li will undergo tests in Beijing to determine whether she will be able to play the North American hard court season, including the US Open. “We have signed up for it and got the visa,” said Li’s husband and coach, Jiang Shan. “If she is OK by then we will go to play.”

SUSPENDED

John McEnroe seems to be a lightning rod for problems on a tennis court. His World TeamTennis club has been fined for what the league called “unprofessional conduct.” During the men’s doubles match between McEnroe’s New York Sportimes and the Washington Kastles, a shot by Washington’s Leander Paes hit New York’s Robert Kendrick. McEnroe and Sportimes coach Chuck Adams went to Paes’ side of the court and yelled at him. Four points later, Kendrick hit Paes with a serve, prompting more confrontations. The league suspended and fined Adams the next day, then, after reviewing the video and getting the umpire’s report, issued fines on both teams. Kendrick and Kastles player Olga Puchkova received individual fines.

SHORT STICH STAY

Michael Stich’s return to competitive tennis lasted only 62 minutes. The former Wimbledon champion lost his first-round doubles match at the German Open in Hamburg. The 40-year-old Stich, who retired from the sport 12 years ago, and 21-year-old Mischa Zverev were beaten by Simon Aspelin of Sweden and Paul Hanley of Australia 6-4 6-2. Stich won Wimbledon in 1991 and reached the final at both the French Open and US Open. His best ranking was number two in the world. As tournament director of the German Open, Stich gave himself and Zverev a wild card into the tournament. Stich is not the only retired player to make a brief doubles comeback. John McEnroe was 47 when he and Sweden’s Jonas Bjorkman won the doubles at San Jose, California. That came 14 years after his previous title.

SAYING AU REVOIR

Nathalie Dechy is calling it a career. The 30-year-old Frenchwoman is expecting a child and wants to devote her time to family life. Dechy reached the Australian Open semifinals in 2005, but is currently ranked 88th in the world. She won two US Open women’s doubles titles, with Vera Zvonareva in 2006 and Dinara Safina in 2007. She also won the French Open mixed doubles in 2007 with Israel’s Andy Ram. Dechy won her only WTA Tour singles title at the Gold Coast tournament in 2003 and reached her career-highest ranking in January 2006 when she rose to 11th in the world. She played for France in the Fed Cup in singles and doubles from 2000 until this year.

STRIKE IT WASN’T

Robby Ginepri had an unusual way of throwing out the game’s first pitch when he was a special guest at the Triple-A baseball game between the Indianapolis Indians and the Durham Bulls. In Indiana where he was competing in the Indianapolis Tennis Championships, Ginepri used his racquet and a tennis ball to serve to the Indians catcher. The umpire called balls on both of Ginepri’s “serves,” but the American was delighted with his performance. “It was very close to a strike,” Ginepri said. “It is quite different to have to serve at a catcher’s glove. The target is just very small.”

SCHOLARSHIPS BY MARIA

Maria Sharapova is continuing to give back. The former world number one has launched the Maria Sharapova Foundation to distribute scholarships among first-year students at Belarusian State University throughout the 2009-2010 academic year. The USD $3,500 scholarships will be available to Belarus residents attending BSU who come from areas formally recognized as affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident. According to the BSU press office, recipients should actively participate in public, research and volunteer activities, and should have a high average grade in their general education school diplomas. It’s not the first time the tennis player has given generously. In February 2007, Sharapova, who serves as a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Development Program, donated USD $100,000 for eight Chernobyl relief projects in Belarus and Ukraine. Sharapova’s father and pregnant mother fled Homyel, a town 80 miles north of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, shortly after the accident in April 1986. She was born in a Siberian city months later.

SUMMER COUNTY CUP

Forget the ranking. Andy Murray took time to compete in the AEGON Summer County Cup, a 115-year-old amateur team tennis competition. With no umpires, line judges or ball-persons, the players call their own lines in the last amateur grass-court competition in the United Kingdom where senior professionals mix with junior players to represent their county in a competitive team environment. It was a huge surprise to the other players and the 300 spectators at Eastbourne when Murray showed up to play for North of Scotland. “Andy has come down to Eastbourne under his own steam, paying for his transport and lunch out of his own pocket,” said North of Scotland captain Ian Conway. “I was surprised and delighted, and his presence has given the rest of the team a huge boost.” While Murray and Owen Hadden won all three of their matches for the North of Scotland, Hertfordshire won the tie 5-4 when Andy’s brother, Jamie Murray, and his partner lost the deciding match 6-3 6-7 (3) 10-8 (match tiebreak).

STILL WINNING

Esther Vergeer is not slowing down. The Dutch woman won her ninth consecutive women’s wheelchair singles title at the British Open in Nottingham, defeating Korie Homan. Ranked number one in the world, Vergeer stretched her winning streak to 364 matches.

Shingo Kunieda of Japan won the men’s main draw singles, while American David Wagner captured the quad singles titles. Kunieda beat Stephane Houdet for his third successive men’s main draw singles title. Wagner won his second British Open quad singles in three years as he beat world number one and home favorite Peter Norfolk.

SIGNED ON

Nicole Pratt has been appointed Australian national women’s coach. A former junior Australian Open champion, Pratt will work with Australia’s Fed Cup team and on player development, according to Tennis Australia. Pratt’s highest ranking on the WTA Tour was 35th in the world.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Indianapolis: Dmitry Tursunov and Ernests Gulbis beat Ashley Fisher and Jordan Kerr 6-4 3-6 11-9 (match tiebreak)

Hamburg: Simon Aspelin and Paul Hanley beat Marcelo Melo and Filip Polasek 6-3 6-3

Bad Gastein: Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka beat Tatjana Malek and Andrea Petkovic 6-2 6-4

Portoroz: Julia Goerges and Vladimira Uhlirova beat Camille Pin and Klara Zakopalova 6-4 6-2

SITES TO SURF

Los Angeles: www.latennisopen.com/

Gstaad: www.allianzsuisseopengstaad.com/e/

Umag: www.croatiaopen.hr

Stanford: www.bankofthewestclassic.com/

Istanbul: www.istanbulcup.com/

Washington: www.leggmasontennisclassic.com/

Segovia: www.teniselespinar.com/

San Marino: www.atpsanmarino.com/

Vancouver: www.vanopen.com/

Los Angeles: www.latennischamps.com/

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$700,000 Countrywide Classic, Los Angeles, California, USA, hard

$500,000 Allianz Suisse Open, Gstaad, Switzerland, clay

$450,000 Studena Croatia Open, Umag, Croatia, clay

$100,000 Orbetello Challenger, Orbetello, Italy, clay

WTA

$700,000 Bank of the West Classic, Stanford, California, hard

$220,000 Istanbul Cup, Istanbul, Turkey, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$1,402,000 Legg Mason Tennis Classic, Washington, DC, USA, hard

$150,000 ATP Open Castilla y Leon, Segovia, Spain, hard

$120,000 San Marino CEPU Open, San Marino, clay

$100,000 Odlum Brown Vancouver Open, Vancouver, Canada, hard

WTA

$700,000 LA Women’s Tennis Championships presented by Herbalife, Los Angeles, California, USA, hard

RAJEEV RAM WINS HIS FIRST CAREER ATP WORLD TOUR TITLE

RAJEEV RAM WINS HIS FIRST CAREER ATP WORLD TOUR TITLE

NEWPORT, RI – Rajeev Ram became the 15th player in the history of the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships to claim his first career ATP World Tour title on the grass courts at the International Tennis Hall of Fame. On Sunday, Ram won his maiden title with a 6-7(3) 7-5 6-3 win over fellow American Sam Querrey.

Ram is the first lucky loser to claim the Newport crown. Initially in the qualifying tournament, Ram entered the main draw when top seed Mardy Fish withdrew on Monday in order to replace Andy Roddick on the US Davis Cup team for a tie against Croatia. No lucky loser had ever advanced beyond the quarterfinals previously in Newport. Ram is the first lucky loser to win on the ATP circuit since Sergiy Stakhovsky won last year in Zagreb.

On the ATP World Tour, Ram is the third player to claim his first career title in 2009, joining Benjamin Becker (‘s-Hertogenbosch) and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (Kitzbuhel). The most recent Newport champion to be claiming his first career title was Robby Ginepri in 2003.

Querrey, who fired a tournament record 80 aces during the week, was in search of his second career title. This is his second runner-up finish of 2009, having lost to Juan Martin del Potro in Auckland in January.

The all-American final was the ninth in Newport history and the first since 2002 when Taylor Dent defeated James Blake. It was the first all-American title match on the ATP since 2007 when Blake defeated Fish in the New Haven final.

Ram is the15th American champion in tournament history, and joins Roddick and Fish as the only American winners on the ATP World Tour in 2009.

Ram later teamed up with Jordan Kerr to defeat Michael Kohlman and Rogier Wassen 67(6) 76(7) 10-6. This was the first time either team was playing together on the ATP World Tour.

Ram is the third player in tournament history to claim both the singles and doubles titles in the same year while Kerr adds to his record haul of Newport trophies by winning the title for the fifth time.

Ram was the 15th player in tournament history to contest both the singles and doubles titles in the same year, and joins Dan Goldie (1987) and John Fitzgerald (1983) as the only three players to win both.

Kerr moves to 18-1 lifetime in Newport, having won the title in 2003 with David Macpherson as well as 2004, 2005 and 2007 with Jim Thomas. His five doubles titles are the most in tournament history, and it ties him with Vijay Amritraj for the most overall (Amritraj won three singles and two doubles titles).

The 2010 Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships will take place July 5-11 at the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The next event at the venue is the 2009 Hall of Fame Champions Cup Aug. 20-23 featuring Pat Cash, Jim Courier, Wayne Ferreira, Todd Martin, Mikael Pernfors, Mark Philippoussis and Mats Wilander.

The International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of tennis and its champions. For more information regarding the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, Tennis Tournaments, Events and Programs, please call 401-849-3990 or visit our website at www.tennisfame.com.

Another Croatian Surprise?

Bob and Mike Bryan

Croatia stands just one win away from a third incredible win over the United States in Davis Cup play. Croatia, in fact, is the only nation the United States has never beaten in Davis Cup play and it will remain as such unless James Blake and Mardy Fish can sweep Marin Cilic and Ivo Karlovic in Sunday’s reverse singles. On Saturday, Bob and Mike Bryan defeated Roko Karanusic and Lovro Zovko 6-3, 6-1, 6-3, cutting the Croatian lead from 2-0 to 2-1.

After losing to Croatia 3-2 in the opening round of the 2003 competition, the United States was again upset by Croatia in the first round in 2005, despite the United States having Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and the Bryan twins on the squad. That 2005 upset – a match that was ultimately the Davis Cup swan song for Agassi – is documented below.

The day after returning back in New York after the 2004 Davis Cup Final in Sevilla, Spain, where the U.S. lost 3-2 to the Carlos Moya/Rafael Nadal led Spanish team, U.S. Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe called into the nationally-syndicated morning radio and MSNBC cable show “Imus in the Morning,” where host Don Imus and his sports reporter Sid Rosenberg had been ridiculing McEnroe for the final round loss to Spain – or as Imus described “a team of leaf blowers and cab drivers.” McEnroe was introduced onto the program as the “tennis terrorist” in that he had embarrassed the United States to the largest degree.

After taking the playful ribbing, McEnroe told “the I-man” and gang that he wanted to have a serious reflection on the Davis Cup Final, stating that he felt proud in the way that he and his team represented the United States in Spain and that the conduct and sportsmanship displayed by his team “had restored a little respect for our country in a part of the world where the U.S. is not looked upon in the most positive way” in reference to Spain’s recent objection to the foreign policy of the United States, most notably the war in Iraq.

“Next year,” Pmac then boasted. “We’re going to bring back the Cup I-man.”

Imus, quick with the retort, then stated, “When the authorities find you, they’re going to ask that you give it back.”

The United States had drawn a first round home tie against Croatia and the USTA selected The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles, as the site of the contest. Los Angeles is a town that like stars and while the U.S. Davis Cup team did have a star in Andy Roddick, the one star that it was missing was one Andre Agassi.

McEnroe had always kept Agassi in the loop as far as Davis Cup goes since taking over as captain and, after asking him to play in the Final against Spain, sensed that Agassi was considering a return to Davis Cup in 2005. McEnroe began to push the buttons again at the Australian Open, where Agassi first addressed his possible comeback after his second round romp over Rainer Schuettler.

“I’m going to have this discussion with Patrick, just because he’s made the effort to want to have conversations with me about it, so I’ll be respectful of that,” said the 34-year-old Agassi. “But it’s just two-fold. I have a lot of regret not playing because it’s one of the best memories of my career, playing Davis Cup, not to mention playing with another generation of guys that have such a good fellowship and team camaraderie together. To experience that would be a great feeling. But the other side of the coin is really what my decision has come down to in the past, which is what can I really do. I’ve never been a big fan of being halfway playing at your convenience. It’s always been something I haven’t respected a whole lot in the past when it’s come to that for others. The decision I had to make is not an easy one and it hasn’t been easy, but it’s something I’ll discuss with him.”

A few days after Agassi’s quarterfinal loss to Roger Federer, McEnroe phoned Agassi at his home in Las Vegas and offered to sit down with him in person en route back to New York after the Australian Open. Agassi told McEnroe he was still hung up on the year-long commitment that he expected he would have to give to Davis Cup. On Monday January 31, McEnroe arrived in Los Angeles from Melbourne and stopped off in Carson for a media luncheon to promote the USA vs. Croatia tie. McEnroe then revealed to the gathered guests and media that he was en route to Las Vegas that evening to meet with Agassi.

”I think (Agassi) finds that right now, it’s hard for him to commit to every match because of his family and his responsibilities and because he is going to be 35 and it’s a little taxing on him,” McEnroe told the assembled press. “My job is to alleviate his fear that we don’t necessarily have to have him play ever match… I don’t need to hear from Andre ‘I’m going to play every match.’ My feeling is, let’s see how it goes. Let’s get you to play in the first round and let’s see what happens and take it from there.”

McEnroe tagged his chances at “less than 50-50” before boarding the AmericaWest Airlines flight to Las Vegas. “I don’t have any expectation other than I hope he says yes,” said McEnroe. “I have to field the best team I can and I have to exhaust all possibilities. If that means getting on a plane and sitting down with him face to face, than that’s a small price to play for trying to get him to join up.”

McEnroe met Agassi and his coach Darren Cahill for a two-and-a-half hour dinner at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. The three reminisced about Davis Cup stories of old, talked of the passion of the current group of Davis Cuppers and addressed the concerns and issues that Agassi had with committing to Davis Cup. McEnroe later said he told Agassi, “Don’t cut off your options by saying it’s all or nothing, because to me it’s not. We’ve never had a year where we’ve had the same four guys every match. It’s too unrealistic for that to happen, with injuries, with different surfaces, with schedules, you name it.” McEnroe said he, the team and the tennis industry in general would not hold it against him if he could not commit for every match in 2005.

Two days later, after consulting with others in his inner circle – most notably his wife Steffi Graf -  Agassi phoned McEnroe to tell him to count on him to be in Carson. Agassi then called all the members of the team – Roddick, the Bryan twins and Taylor Dent (who would travel to Carson as the “fifth” player on the four-man team and would have been the No. 2 singles player had Agassi not decided to play) – to get their approval on his returning to the team. On Monday, February 7, McEnroe made the Agassi news public in a conference call with the media.

“We’re going to take it one match at a time,” said McEnroe in explaining Agassi’s commitment to the team. “It’s not just this match. It’s not every match. I think it’s a case-by-case basis situation. He’s not coming back simply to play because it happens to be the week before Indian Wells. At the same time, I didn’t ask him to say, “Are you going to play every match?’ I understand where he is in his career, personally, professionally with all the different things on his plate. We will take it one step at a time…To me, it doesn’t make any sense to say to him, ‘Listen, you’ve got to play every match.” Things happen, things come up, whether it’s injuries, whether it’s having a tough major, whether it’s not having a tough major and maybe wanting some extra matches. I think you have to take all those things into account and understand that Andre is going to make the decision based on a variety of factors.”

Two days later, Agassi first addressed his return to Davis Cup following his first round win over xx in San Jose, Calif.

“What had a big influence on me was the camaraderie I saw last year,” said Agassi. “They’ve built a great team and are a part of something I never got to experience. I played Davis Cup with guys who were fighting to be the best in the world and everyone had a sense of their own goals…This group of guys really seems to look out for each other. I respect and admire it a lot.”

Agassi again addressed his absence from Davis Cup for five years, citing the demanding schedule and the difficultly in committing to potentially four ties during a calendar year, especially at age 34 with a wife and two children.

“I had gotten to a point that I didn’t have enough to give anymore when it came to the full goal of winning the Cup,” said Agassi. “I did it for 12 years and wasn’t convinced I could do it anymore and accomplish the things I needed to stay out here for the last few years. I never respected those guys who played at their convenience and didn’t play all times. Patrick was the first captain to show a strong sense of understanding and support in knowing it’s not realistic for me to play every tie.”

Roddick was estactic at the news and struggled to stay composed when Agassi reached him by phone while Roddick was in his car in driving several of his buddies around his hometown of Austin. Said Roddick, “I told him I was excited he was on board and then hung up the phone and started screaming.”

While the Agassi hype was substantial, insiders were paying close attention to the progress of the Croatian team. Ivan Ljubicic, who had almost single handedly defeated the United States in Zagreb two years prior in the first round, was fast becoming the hottest player on the circuit. Entering Davis Cup week, he posted three straight final round appearances in Marseille, Rotterdam and Dubai – the latter two losing to world No. 1 Roger Federer in three tight sets. Ancic had reached the semifinals of Marseille (losing to Ljubicic) and Rotterdam (losing to Federer) and had reached his second career ATP singles final in Scottsdale, Ariz., the week before Davis Cup. With Ljubicic and Ancic boasting a bronze medal in men’s doubles from the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the Bryan twins would also face a stern test. Cautioned Ancic, “In Davis Cup, there are many surprises.” Croatian Captain Niki Pilic, who also captained Germany to Davis Cup victories over the United States in 1985, 1987 and 1989, echoed the sentiment of his young charge. “In Davis Cup,” he said, “there are no rules.”

To add to the intrigue of the first round tie, Roddick suffered a scare during his quarterfinal win over Robby Ginepri at the ATP event in Memphis, spraining his ankle just two weeks before the start of the tie. Roddick chose to default his semifinal match with Kenneth Carlsen of Denmark rather than risk further injury that would jeopardize his form for the tie with Croatia.

“The repercussions of this injury won’t just affect me, but they’d affect my teammates it would affect me playing for my country as well,” said Roddick. “That’s a lot of responsibility that I have to take into consideration.”

Gavin Rossdale of the rock band “Bush” and the husband of rock star Gwen Stefani pulled the ceremonial chip at the Davis Cup draw ceremony at The Home Depot Center that placed Andre Agassi against Ivan Ljubicic in the opening rubber of the best-of-five match series. Roddick would follow against Ancic, while the Bryan twins would face Ancic and Ljubicic in Saturday’s doubles contest. Whether it was nerves, discomfort with the cool, blustery conditions or Ljubicic’s game, Agassi showed distress and tentativeness as his return to Davis Cup began at 1 pm Los Angeles time on Friday, March 4. There was no swagger in the legend’s step or game as Ljubicic swept the first set 6-3. Agassi got out of his funk in the second set, taking a 5-2 lead, but faltered when serving for the second at 5-3 and was skunked 7-0 in the second set tie-break to go down two-sets-to-love. The eventual 6-3, 7-6 (0), 6-3 loss marked only the third time that Agassi has been dismissed in straight sets in 36 Davis Cup singles matches.

His anger and displeasure was apparent on his face as he briskly left the court for the U.S. team locker room where his Head tennis racquet was tendered to multiple fragments scattered throughout the locker room within minutes.

“Today was one of those days,” said a dazed Agassi in the post-match press conference. “I just never got settled and never got comfortable. It was just frustrating. You’re trying hard to figure things out and sometimes you wonder if you’re just trying too hard…I was useless to be quite honest, as far as being clear on what was going on out there.“

Said McEnroe, “Everybody gets nervous playing Davis Cup – even Andre Agassi.”

Down 0-1, the match virtually sat on the shoulders of Roddick against Ancic, who quickly bounced upon the tentative Roddick taking the first set 6-4 as panic began to set in among the American hopefuls.  The second set marked the start of “the street fight” as Roddick’s trainer Doug Spreen would later describe the Roddick swagger and attitude, that translated the match into a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory for the American – tying the first day’s play at 1-1.

‘I’m not going to lie, I was really tight during the first set today,” admitted Roddick. “I’m happy because I was able to dig down…I think this was a big steppingstone for me.”

The Bryans entered the pivotal doubles match on Saturday having not lost a set in Davis Cup play in their previous five matches. However, the twins from Camarillo, Calif., knew that Ljubicic and Ancic were by far the best team they had faced in Davis Cup play.

Jumping like a pair of Mexican jumping beans, the Bryans were quick out of the blocks to take the first set 6-3 in just 27 minutes, but Ljubicic and Ancic would stay tight in the second set, forcing a tie-break. The Bryans would hold three set points, including one of Mike Bryan’s serve at 7-6, but were unable to deliver what would be a near lethal two-sets-to-love blow. They surrendered the second set tie-break – and their first ever set in Davis cup play – 10 points to eight and gave new life to Ancic and Ljubicic. As the Croatians gained in confidence, the Bryans appeared drained and dismayed. As the sun dripped below the Pacific Ocean just xx miles away, conditions became cooler and slower, helping Ljubicic and Ancic close out the final two sets for the vital 3-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4, 6-4 win and the 2-1 lead for Croatia heading into the climatic third day.

Former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers basketball coach Phil Jackson entered the U.S. team locker room to try and cheer up the Bryan twins. “You guys think you are going to win every match you play?” a jovial Jackson told the Bryans as one must of wondered whether Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal received the same speech after losing an NBA game. Jackson’s words could not take the sting out of the loss for the Bryans, who for the first time tasted Davis Cup defeat in front of their father and numerous friends and family from Southern California

“We’ve had a lot of disappointing losses, but this ranks pretty high,” said Mike Bryan. “It hurts.”

McEnroe’s posture still exuded confidence. After all, the United States was still favored to win the final two singles matches – Roddick against Ljubicic in the fourth rubber and Agassi against Ancic in the fifth rubber. Roddick held a 5-1 career record with Ljubicic, having won the last five meetings, while Agassi’s experience and aura would make him the clear favorite against the 20-year-old Ancic, who had lost to Agassi in their only previous meeting.

“If there are two guys you want to roll out down 2-1, we’ve got the two guys we want,” said McEnroe. “I’m extremely confident that they’re both going to play well. Andre’s been in this position before and Andy’s been in a position where he’s had to win a match. These are the two guys we want to bring out. This is our best team. It’s our one-two punch. We’re playing at home. They’re going to have to play with a little more pressure on them now. Up until now, I think they’ve been able to sort of swing away and been the underdogs and go for their shots. If they can do that, if Ljubicic can do that against Agassi, the Bryans and Roddick, than that’s too good. But we’ll see if he can.”

Roddick and Ljubicic would battle in the fourth rubber of the tie – Ljubicic, like in 2003, trying to shut the door on the Americans – while Roddick trying to stave off elimination, a position he had been in on two other occasions without success – against France in 2002 and Spain in 2004.

After splitting the first two sets, the epic – and pivotal – third-set tie-break ensued with neither Roddick or Ljubicic willing to give the other the two-sets-to-one lead. Roddick jumped to a 4-1 lead and held three set points throughout the 24 point tie-break – tying the longest tie-break in U.S. Davis Cup history. However, Roddick’s inside-out cross court forehand at 11-12 landed wide giving Ljubicic the fourth set. The two players would again go toe-to-toe in a tie-break in the fourth set, with Ljubicic fighting off four set points before double faulting at 7-8 on the fifth-set point to give Roddick the set and square the match at two-sets apiece. The momentum appeared to be with Roddick, but he was not able to capitalize. Ljubicic ran off with the first eight points of the fifth set, breaking Roddick at love in the first game of the fifth set and cashing in on an insurance break in the fifth game of the final set. Three game later, Ljubicic closed out the crushing 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (11), 6-7 (7), 6-2 victory in three hours and 57 minutes.

Roddick and McEnroe slumped on their courtside seating while Ljubicic, Ancic, Pilic and the rest of the Croatian delegation danced and sang on the court with handfuls of Croatian fans in the audience waving flags and rejoicing in the historic first round upset. It marked the first time in 105 years of Davis Cup that the United States was eliminated in the first round on home soil.

Ljubicic would become one of only two players to win three live rubbers against a U.S. Davis Cup team on two occasions – joining Mexico’s Raul Ramirez who turned the trick against the United States in the 1975 and 1976 Davis Cup campaigns.

In all, Ljubicic labored for a total of eight hours and 44 minutes over 12 sets over the weekend. His career record against the United States in Davis Cup play now stood at 6-0 – with only Laurie Doherty of Great Britain holding a better record against the U.S. with a 10-0 record in matches against the U.S. in 1902, 1903, 1905 and 1906.

“I have no words, really,” said Ljubicic. “To beat Andre, the Bryans and Roddick in three days….it is amazing.”

Roddick was crushed, irritable, devastatingly angry and disappointed. He slumped in front of the microphone in the interview room and was asked to share how he was feeling.

“Probably not in words you would understand,” he slurred. “It’s tough to describe. Really, really bad….There’s no worse feeling than losing a match in Davis Cup in our sport, especially when your teammates are counting on you.”

“It hurts a lot,” said McEnroe, who spoke with the press after coaching Bob Bryan to a three-set win over Roko Karanusic in the dead-fifth rubber that made the final verdict a 3-2 win for Croatia. “After getting to the final last year, starting off at home with our best team, it’s disappointing.”

Davis Cup in Croatia revisited – Roddick out, Fish in

Andy Roddick is out of the Davis Cup team

What happened the last time the U.S. Davis Cup team traveled to Croatia? Ironically, Andy Roddick was not in the U.S. line-up due to exhaustion and injury following a marathon match at a Grand Slam tournament – as is the case this week following his 16-14 fifth-set loss to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final on Sunday. Back in 2003, it was a wrist injury that placed Roddick off the U.S. team following his 21-19 in the fifth set win over Younes El Aynaoui in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and, like this week in Pec, Croatia, he was replaced in the singles line-up by Mardy Fish. The following is a summary of the last U.S. visit to Croatia back in February of 2003

The pending retirements in 2003 of Pete Sampras and Michael Chang, and the retirement of Jim Courier three years prior caused the U.S. Davis Cup focus to center more squarely on “Generation Next.” With a 33-year-old Andre Agassi still playing, but in retirement from Davis Cup play, and 33-year-old Todd Martin playing what turned out to be his final Davis Cup match at Roland Garros the previous fall, the changing of the guard was to be completed with an away match in the first round of the 2003 competition against Croatia in Zagreb.

However, Captain Patrick McEnroe’s hopes of his Andy Roddick-led youthful charge in 2003 suffered a lethal blow just 10 days before the start of the Croatia tie as Roddick’s exhausting Australian Open campaign had instigated a case of severe tendonitis in his right wrist, preventing his nomination to the team. Roddick’s 4-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, 21-19 quarterfinal win over Younes El Aynaoui of Morrocco in four hours and 59 minutes contributed greatly to Roddick’s condition as did a diving attempt at a volley near the end of the match.

“I didn’t think anything about it then, and the wrist wasn’t really sore after the match,” Roddick told Bill Dwyre with the Los Angeles Times of landing on his right wrist after the diving volley attempt. “I packed up, went off, did my press, and then, when I went to leave, I picked up my big tennis bag and felt this huge pain in my wrist.”

Roddick considered defaulting the Aussie semifinal match to Rainer Schuettler of Germany, but since it was his first sojourn into a Grand Slam semifinal gave it a run. The later the match went, the more the pain affected his play in his 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 loss to Schuettler.

“At the end, it hurt so much to hit my two-handed backhand that I was, pretty much, just releasing my right hand and hitting a left-handed forehand.”
Roddick saw Dr. Norm Zemel of the Los Angeles-based Kerlan-Jobe group, who diagnosed three weeks of rest. “The doctor said it was the most severe case of tendonitis he had ever seen,” Roddick told Dwyre. “I really didn’t know what it was, how bad it was, until I saw the doctor yesterday.”

Without its No. 1 player, U.S. Captain Patrick McEnroe would have to rely on James Blake, Mardy Fish, Taylor Dent and Robby Ginepri to carry load in lieu of Roddick. All four players had been knocking at the door and waiting to burst through and make a mark on their own and follow in Roddick’s lead through to the upper echelon of world tennis. Croatia would be their opportunity to take the stage and shine.

“I’ve said from the time I became captain, it’s time for the younger guys to step up and they have and now it’s time for them to take over,” said McEnroe. “I’m excited about watching the young guns take the responsibility into their hands fully for our Davis Cup quest to bring the Davis Cup back to the U.S… It’s time for them to enjoy this challenge, to take the responsibility of being our team and get us through this match.”

Much of the responsibility would fall on Blake, who would be designated as the No. 1 player for the U.S. with an ATP ranking of No. 24. The 23-year-old – the oldest player in the green American team -  had previously only played supporting roles in Davis Cup play, playing singles behind Roddick in two previous ties – against India in Winston-Salem in 2001 and against France at Roland Garros the previous fall – while also playing doubles only in two other ties.

“It’s a little weird since I definitely feel like I’m still the one learning,” confided Blake. “Just last year, I was the brand new kid and the rookie on the team and now I’m considered the veteran. I’m the oldest member of the team. It’s going to seem a little strange.”

Blake would also be thrown into the spotlight as the draw for the U.S. vs. Croatia tie would be held on February 6 – the 10 year anniversary of the death of Arthur Ashe. The USTA would honor the legacy of Ashe by sewing the embroidery of his name on the left sleeve of the official team uniform for each U.S. team member. Said USTA Chief Executive Arlen Kantarian “The Davis Cup represents one of Arthur’s greatest ideals, to bring people together around the world through sports. On this tenth anniversary of his death, we remember an outstanding player, captain and humanitarian – and inspiration not just for his team, but to our country and the world.”

“I think being African-American, I owe him a great debt of gratitude for being able to deal with the pressures and situations. What I go through now and what anyone goes though is much easier thanks to what he did. It took a great man and great athlete like him to do that and we are so fortunate today to have had him as that role model.”

Ashe’s legacy and reputation to assist in humanitarian causes had clearly rubbed off on Jim Courier, who continued in his role as coach under McEnroe in Zagreb. Courier had been made aware of the significant land-mine problems in Croatia that remained following its war for independence in the early 1990s from Jim Lawrence, the U.S. State Department’s Director of Mine Action Initiatives and Partnerships.

Courier had arranged for the team to visit a de-mining operation on the morning of Tuesday, February 4, but snow and high winds delayed the helicopter ride that would take the team to a coastal region near the city of Zadar, where a major de-mining operation would take place.  In place of the team, the United States Tennis Association sent a group of its officials in their place. USTA Davis Cup Committee Chairmen Warren Kimball and Allen Kiel were so moved by the struggles for the Croatian people to rid their soil of such deadly land mines, that they encouraged and received the financial commitment from USTA President Alan Schwartz, to donate $25,000 to de-mining efforts in Croatia. The U.S. Embassy in Zagreb pledged a matching $25,000 grant. The money was used to clear a mine-field in the village of Mekusje, 30 miles west of Zagreb, where the mine field prevented townspeople from access the town’s local tennis court.

“This is our way of showing support to the people of Croatia, who have been such incredible hosts to our Davis Cup team and USTA contingent this week,” said Schwartz. “It is reassuring to know that the contribution by the USTA and the U.S. government will help the people of Mekusje enjoy the wonderful sport of tennis once again.”

Much of the buzz entering the first round series centered around the status of 2001 Wimbledon champion and Croatian sporting god Goran Ivanisevic. Since his celebrated win at the All England Club in 2001, Ivanisevic had been plagued with injuries and underwent surgery on his left shoulder in May of 2002. Despite not playing only three ATP singles matches in the last year due to the recovery from his surgery, Ivanisevic was determined to make his return against the Americans. He had played in the Heilbronn Challenger level event in Germany the week before Davis Cup, only to withdraw in the second round with tremendous pain in his shoulder.
“I couldn’t do anything, my arm hurt terribly,” Ivanisevic said. “I suffered for 10 months, underwent an operation to feel better and now this…I’ve never felt so miserable….I’ll let him give me 30 injections if that’d help. I’m in such a state that I’d go to Tibet on foot if I knew that would help,” he said. “I’m totally lost.”

Not surprisingly, he was not drawn to play singles against the Americans, but in doubles with Ljubicic. Fish, ranked No. 74 in the ATP rankings, was drawn to face No. 52-ranked Ljubicic to start the tie off, with Blake and Mario Ancic playing the second singles match.

Under a backdrop of a loud, flag-waving jam-packed crowd of 2,800 in the tiny Dom Hall Sportova, which resembled a high school gym than a major sporting arena, Fish and Ljubicic opened the proceedings. Ljubicic, with his future brother-in-law banging a drum to incite the small but overflowing and vocal crowd, took advantage of the fast conditions on the indoor carpet serving with equal abandon on both first and second serve. With Fish showing nerves in his first away Davis Cup action and his first ever Davis Cup singles match, he was tentative on his normally solid return of serve and was unable to hook onto Ljubicic’s blistering serves. Only after 97 minutes – at 1-2 in the third set – was Fish able to look at a break point – only to see it disappear behind a Ljubicic service winner. Of Ljubicic’s 70 service points, 30 were aces, 19 were service winners, while 16 were double faults. Final result, Ljubicic in straight sets by a 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 margin.

“I’ve never played anybody with a serve like that,” said Fish of Ljubicic. “I couldn’t read his serve and I just didn’t have an answer…I’ve never seen a first and second serve like that.”

Blake took the court with the swagger of the team leader and jumped on and dominated Ancic, easily winning the first two sets 6-1, 6-2 before maneuvering through a third set-tie-break to square the matches at 1-1 after the first day of play.

“Davis Cup is a lot of pressure and I think it’s a lot of fun out there,” said Blake. “It’s a great atmosphere out there having a biased crowd. There is going to be pressure in every match, with varying degrees. I went into it looking it as if it was another live Davis Cup rubber.”

While there was little doubt that Fish and Blake would pair in the doubles, there still remained a minor mystery on whether Ivanisevic would take the court the next day.  Said Croatian captain Niki Pilic of Goran’s availability for the Saturday doubles, “I think he will make his decision. I have made my decision already. If he has a good arm, like today (in practice), I think he will play.”

An electric atmosphere greeted Ivanisevic as he strolled onto the court with Ljubicic on Saturday afternoon. The scene, according to Bud Collins of the Boston Globe was of pandemonium. “Horns toot, a drum rat-a-tat-tats, shrill whistles pierce the fetid air, and the checker board flags of Croatia flap everywhere.”

Ivanisevic was playing in only his second complete match since undergoing left shoulder surgery on May 15, 2002. Ivanisevic retired with shoulder pain in the second round of last week’s Heilbronn Challenger in Germany, his first event since April 6, 2002, when he and Ljubicic defeated Guillermo Canas and Lucas Arnold of Argentina in the Davis Cup quarterfinal in Buenos Aires.

The rust showed early for Ivanisevic who struggled with his serves and stumbled on volleys and returns, trying desperately to find his rhythm against the energized Blake and Fish.  Leading two-sets-to-love, Blake and Fish appeared in complete control, until the third set tie-break. With the Croatians leading 4-2 in the tie-break, Fish served up a double fault to put the set on the Croatians racquet with Ljubicic serving at 5-2, but Blake and Fish won both points on Ljubicic’s serve, to cut the lead to 4-5. Blake then served to Ivanisevic, who floated a sitter return, that Fish netted on top of the net, giving Croatia two set points. A bungled volley by Blake then gave Croatia the third set tiebreak. “It was a screwy tiebreaker,” Blake said later.” Hard to believe – on a fast court, and strong servers. But I thought we were OK.” A loose service game by Fish in the first game of the fourth set, cemented the momentum change for the Croatians. At 4-4 in the fifth-set, the Croatians broke Blake at love for a 5-4 lead, with Ljubicic then serving out the incredible 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-4 victory for the vital 2-1 lead.

Wrote Collins of Ivanisevic as the match concluded, “He was beaming ecstatically after hugging Ljubicic at the conclusion of their enthralling 3-hour-4-minute rebound. They leaped, danced, and pitched their rackets into the joyful crowd. Ivanisevic grabbed a microphone to thank the crowd and lead them in a victory song. The essence of the lyrics: “We stomped the Americans!”

Said Ivanisevic, “I knew it was going to be tough because 11 months, I played (one) challenger, but not a match like this. This is Davis Cup. It was really the first time in my life (I was) lost, that you don’t know what you are doing on the court. Nervous, heavy, no ideas. Then (Ivan) was telling me, come on, don’t worry it’s going to come, we need one break, we need something to happen. By the end of the second set, I start to play better and felt it that we were going to be OK. Blake played very good and also Fish, but Blake was the guy who was really pushing. Third, fourth and fifth set, everything open…I had great pain in my elbow, biceps, everywhere, but I said, doesn’t matter what happen, you have to finish this match….

“I was taking painkillers and I said to Ivan, ‘We are going to break Blake in the fifth set’, because he is playing too good, he has to do something wrong, Yesterday, he didn’t do anything wrong and today almost three hours, he didn’t do anything wrong and nobody can do it. And then we had good returns in the last game and it was great….I needed this match. Wimbledon was different. I forgot how to play this kind of match. I was so happy I didn’t what to do, where to go, where to jump. I really need this match. I need to feel, because when you play Challenger and you win a match and nobody is jumping, but when you beat the USA in doubles from two sets to love down and after 11 months without this type of match, you have to be happy. … I knew I play good at the practice. I was very nervous today. Very stiff, very lost, but I knew it would break somewhere and I did it. I started to play well later….volley, return everything was great. Crowd was great…this is crowd this is what you say, when you have home advantage when we have crowd like this and crowd can lift you. Without this crowd, we couldn’t win today….I was so stiff, so tight, so much pressure. I started to feel my serve at the end of the second set. I served the best in the fifth set when I had the most pain. I wouldn’t stop for anything. Even with a broken shoulder I would play, but I think it’s going to fine. Now I can take off for the next five months.”

The match marked the first time since 1965 that an American doubles team has lost in Davis Cup after leading two sets to love. In 1965, Dennis Ralston and Clark Graebner lead Spain’s Luis Arilla and Manuel Santana two sets to love, only to lose 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 11-9 in Barcelona.

Said Blake, “They served great. They kept their heads high. They stayed positive. Goran, I think, got better as the match progressed. He served better than you can expect from someone coming off an eight-month layoff.”

Blake chose his post-match press conference to also vent at some of the Croatian fans in the crowd, who called out during points, in between first and second serves, during serves, during overheads.  “I feel like I was a little disappointed with the lack of class of some of the fans, but some of them might not be tennis fans, so that is possibly to be expected,” said Blake. “It didn’t really have a place in a match that was supposed to about goodwill and friendship between countries. I feel like I was more disappointed with the referee’s decision not to do anything about it and not control the situation when that’s there job and that’s the rule. I don’t think that affected us that much besides one incident of calling out in the middle of a point, which obviously affected concentration during that point. We tried to put that behind us.”

Instead Blake chose to look ahead to the fourth rubber of the series between he and Ljubicic and hopefully a live fifth rubber between Fish and Ancic. “I still see a good chance for me,” said Blake, “and I’d love to give Mardy the chance to be the hero”

On Sunday, Blake withstood the Ljubicic barrage of aces and after losing the first set, stole the second set tie-break and took a 4-2 lead in the third and appeared in complete control of the match. But Ljubicic went on a run of four straight games to win the third set, benefiting from two loose service games from Blake in the eighth and tenth games of the fourth set. Ljubicic carried his momentum to win in four sets-  6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3 -  to clinch the tie for Croatia.
“I thought James was in control, ready to win the third set,” said McEnroe. “Maybe we both relaxed too much. Those were loose games that you can’t play against a guy serving and competing like Ljubicic. You cannot allow yourself to relax for a second. Maybe we both relaxed. Maybe I have look at myself and what I did there. Certainly, James played a loose game and you can’t afford to do that in a match like this, whether it is the Davis Cup pressure or how well Ivan was playing, because he was certainly playing well and doing things that took James out of his rhythm but that was his game plan…My job is to keep my player as a tune to what is happening without making him nervous. Maybe I could have done a better job at that.”

Ljubicic would end the match with 29 aces and 19 service winners in 97 service points. For the weekend, Ljubicic would amass 72 aces, would hold serve 50 of 51 times and only face nine break points during his three matches in joining a elite company of only eight other players to win three live matches against a U.S. Davis Cup team, joining Laurie Doherty of Great Britain (1903), Henri Cochet of France (1928), Frank Sedgman of Australia (1951), Neale Fraser of Australia (1959), Nicola Pietrangeli of Italy (1961), Raul Ramirez of Mexico (1975 and 1976) and Roger Federer of Switzerland (2001).

Blake described the matches as the most emotional match he’s ever played, but put a optimistic spin on the first round loss.

We are going to get a Davis Cup in the next four or five years with Andy, myself, Mardy, Taylor, Robby,” said Blake. “I don’t really make guarantees, because I think it’s kind of silly, but I’m confident that we are going get a Davis Cup in the next couple of years. We’re already extremely strong. We all care about Davis Cup a lot, that’s why this hurts so bad. Together, we are so emotionally high and low after a weekend or an entire week together, I don’t see how other teams can be as excited about Davis Cup as we are, that’s why I feel confident in the fact that we are going to do this together and we are going to come through one of these times.”

McEnroe was obviously disappointed in the loss, which gave him the distinction of being the only U.S. Davis Cup Captain to lose two first round matches during his tenure, but again looked at the long term potential of the team.

“I think that down the road we are going to be a damn good team,” he said. “How far that road is…I certainly thought that we could do it this year and now we are out…

“These guys care a lot. One of the reasons that I’m not dispirited is because of these kids. They care and they are passionate about it. At the end of the day, that’s what it is all about. At the end of the day, that’s what it is all about. Obviously, it’s about winning and losing and I’m disappointed to lose again in the first round. It hurts. This one hurts more than any other one, because I felt like we could go all the way this year, but there is a thin line between doing that and losing in the first round.

“This is a tough atmosphere. These guys have to get burned. There’s no other way around it. Pete Sampras is the greatest player of all time and he went through it. It’s tough to go through it. These guys love it. Taylor Dent said to me in the middle of the match today, when he was playing out there. “You know what? We lost and all, but it’s been such a great week.” That makes me feel that it is worthwhile and that these guys really do care and that if they continue to improve that we will have success down the road.”

Tennis History Tuesday: Bagels at Wimbledon

Wimbledon 2009

Bagels – in addition to strawberries and cream – were served on the opening day of Wimbledon Monday as Marion Bartoli registered a “double bagel” – a 6-0, 6-0 win over Yung-Jan Chan in the first round of women’s singles.  On Tuesday, June 23, marks the 22nd anniversary of the last TRIPLE bagel at Wimbledon when Stefan Edberg hammered his fellow Swede Stefan Eriksson. That match – and others – are documented in the June 23 chapter of the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennishistorybook.com). The full excerpt is detailed below.

June 23

1987 – Stefan Edberg defeats fellow Swede Stefan Eriksson 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 in the first “triple bagel” at Wimbledon since 1947. ”It’s nice to be able to do whatever you want to do out there,” Edberg says, ”but I felt sorry for Stefan, too. It was his first match on grass. I thought about giving him a game but you never know when you are going to have another chance to win three love sets again.”

2003 – Robby Ginepri of the United States becomes the first player in Wimbledon history to wear a sleeveless shirt in competition in his 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (3), 10-8 first-round loss to Arnaud Clement of France.

1981 – Fourteen-year-old American Kathy Rinaldi becomes the youngest player to win a match at Wimbledon at the at the time, saving a match point in defeating Sue Rollinson of South Africa 6-3, 2-6, 9-7 in 2 hours, 36 minutes on Court No. 2 at the All England Club. Rinaldi, a ninth-grader at Martin County High School in Stuart, Fla., enters Wimbledon fresh off reaching the quarterfinals of the French Open. Rollinson serves for the match twice – at 5-4 and 6-5 in the final set and holds at match point in the 12th game of the third set. Rinaldi loses her distinction nine years later when Jennifer Capriati, at the age of 14 years, 90 days – one day younger than Rinaldi – defeats Helen Kelesi 6-3, 6-1 in her first-round match on June 26, 1990.

1976 – John Feaver of Britain fires 42 aces, a Wimbledon record at the time, but is not able to put away three-time champion John Newcombe, losing to the Australian legend 6-3, 3-6, 8-9, 6-4, 6-4 in the third round on Court No. 2. Feaver’s 42 aces stands as the Wimbledon ace record for a match until 1997, when Goran Ivanisevic fires 46 aces in a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 4-16, 14-12 loss to Magnus Norman in the third round. Ivo Karlovic of Croatia breaks Ivanisevic’s record in a first round match in 2005, a 6-7(4), 7-6 (8), 3-6, 7-6 (5), 12-10 loss to Daniele Bracciali of Italy.

1992 – Jeremy Bates of Britain, a man who Robin Finn of the New York Times describes as being “more prone to be written off locally than to pulling off major upsets on the home turf” defeats No. 7 seed Michael Chang 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in the opening round of Wimbledon. The win marks only the second match victory on the season for the 30-year-old Bates, ranked No. 113. John McEnroe, playing in what ultimately is his final singles sojurn at the All-England Club – and unseeded in the Championships for the first time since his 1977 debut – wins his opening round match with Luiz Mattar 5-7, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3.

1990 – Eighteen-year-old Californian Pete Sampras, the future seven-time Wimbledon champion, wins his first grass court tournament title of his career, defeating Gilad Bloom of Israel 7-6 (9), 7-6 (3) in the final of the Manchester Open in Manchester, England. Says Sampras following the victory, ”I was very composed, and he got a little tight on the crucial points.” Sampras, however, is not able to translate his grass-court success in Manchester onto the lawns of Wimbledon the following week as he loses in the first round of The Championships to Christo van Rensburg of South Africa 7-6 (4), 7-5, 7-6 (3).

1982 – Prior to teeing off for a round of pro-am golf at the Westchester Country Club in support of the PGA Tour’s Westchester Golf Classic, Ivan Lendl explains that his decision to skip Wimbledon is based on an allergy to grass. ”I sneeze a lot,” he says. ”I take shots every second day.” When pressed about his Wimbledon absence, Lendl says. ”I am on a vacation because I need the rest. When you are on vacation you don’t write stories. I am not at Wimbledon because I needed the rest. This is when I scheduled my holiday and I didn’t want to change it. The grass courts at Wimbledon are also a factor because of my allergy. I’ll probably play at Wimbledon next year. ”

1988 – John McEnroe suffers a second-round straight-set loss to Wally Masur, losing 7-5, 7-6, 6-3, marking the three-time Wimbledon champion’s earliest loss at the All England Club since a first-round loss in 1978. Says McEnroe after the match, “If that’s the best I’ve got to give, I’d quit tomorrow. It’s like my body went into some sort of letdown. I wasn’t even pushing myself to be my best. It’s almost enough to make me sick.”

Mondays With Bob Greene: For me Roger is the greatest player ever who played the tennis game

Caroline Wozniacki wins Eastbourne

STARS

Caroline Wozniacki beat Virginie Razzano 7-6 (5) 7-5 to win the AEGON International women’s singles in Eastbourne, Great Britain

Dmitry Tursunov beat Frank Dancovic 6-3 7-6 (5) to win the AEGON International men’s singles in Eastbourne

Tamarine Tanasugarn beat Yanina Wickmayer 6-3 7-5 to successfully defend her Ordina Open women’s crown in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands

Benjamin Becker beat Raemon Sluiter 7-5 6-3 to win the Ordina Open men’s singles in ‘s-Hertogenbosch

SAYING

“When I start a tournament like Wimbledon, it is to try to win, and my feeling right now is I’m not ready to play to win.” – Rafael Nadal, withdrawing from Wimbledon and becoming only the fourth man in the Open Era to not defend his Wimbledon singles title.

“I love playing here.” – Tamarine Tanasugarn, after winning her second straight Ordina Open singles title at ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands.

“That loss exhausted me mentally. I am still trying to recover.” – Novak Djokovic, on his three-set, four-hour loss to Rafael Nadal in Madrid, Spain, in mid-May.

“No girl likes to be compared to another. Ultimately, what we have in common is that we play tennis. I feel flattered that people like the way I look, but it doesn’t help you win points.” – Ana Ivanovic, who is constantly being compared to Maria Sharapova and Anna Kournikova.

“For me Roger is the greatest player ever who played the tennis game. It’s always good to see him play and win and we are going to see so much more of Federer in the future, he is going to win more grand slam tournaments.” – Bjorn Borg, picking Federer to win Wimbledon this year.

“The body of work is phenomenal and now he has got that French Open and I think he can just go on and sip Margaritas for the rest of his life.” – Martina Navratilova, on Roger Federer winning in Paris.

“I can play on grass. I just need time.” – Jelena Jankovic, after losing a first-round match at Eastbourne.

“It’s my first title on grass so that means a lot to me. I wish I could have closed it off a little bit earlier but it doesn’t matter how I won, so that is the main thing and I am happy.” – Caroline Wozniacki, after winning at Eastbourne.

“I am definitely going to try to come out, unless I am going to be on crutches. Even then I will try to come out.” – Dmitry Tursunov, on whether his ankle injury will prevent him from playing Wimbledon.

“On this surface, everything is opposite. For me, it’s too much to change in three days.” – Svetlana Kuznetsova, losing her first match on grass after winning the French Open, a clay court tournament.

“It’s been a very surprising week for us because before this tournament we had only won four matches in our whole career on grass. So we’ve managed to double that this week.” – Marcin Matkowski, after teaming with Mariusz Fyrstenberg to win the men’s doubles at Eastbourne.

“We managed to beat the number one seeds and French Open champions in the first round, and then we played better and better as the week progressed.” – Mariusz Fyrstenberg.

“It’s Ralph Lauren, it has a bit of a tuxedo feel but it’s flattering. I’m having a good time with it.” – Five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, about the outfit she wore to a pre-Wimbledon player party.

STAYING HOME

Because of his aching knees, Rafael Nadal became just the fourth player in the Open Era to not defend his Wimbledon singles title. Nadal announced his withdrawal after playing two exhibition matches on grass. He lost both, the first to Lleyton Hewitt, the second to Stanislas Wawrinka. “I didn’t feel terrible, but not close to my best,” the Spaniard said. “I’m just not 100 percent. I’m better than I was a couple of weeks ago, but I just don’t feel ready.” Nadal joins John Newcombe (1972), Stan Smith (1973) and Goran Ivanisevic (2002) as the only players who did not defend their Wimbledon titles in the Open Era; in 1973, Smith joined a player’s boycott against the tennis establishment. Nadal has complained about his knees since a fourth-round loss to Robin Soderling at the French Open on May 31 ended his streak of four consecutive championships at Roland Garros. “It’s not chronic,” Nadal said of his knee problems. “I can recover, for sure.”

Frenchman Gael Monfils pulled out of Wimbledon because of a wrist injury. A week earlier, he had pulled out of his scheduled match against Steve Darcis at Queen’s Club.

Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus has withdrawn from Wimbledon due to a knee injury. An Australian Open finalist in 2006, Baghdatis was carried off the court on a stretcher for the second time in nine months after injuring his knee during a match at ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands. He also was carried off the court on a stretcher last fall at the Open de Moselle in Metz, France, when he hurt his back.


SPOT ON TOP OPEN?

Roger Federer could reclaim the number one ranking by winning his sixth Wimbledon title. The Swiss star held the top spot in the rankings for a record 237 consecutive weeks until Rafael Nadal pushed him down to number two last August. Nadal has withdrawn from Wimbledon because of his injured knees. But anything short of a sixth Wimbledon title won’t be enough for Federer, who could actually be passed in the rankings by Andy Murray. If he became the first Brit to win the men’s singles since Fred Perry in 1936, Murray would move up to number two in the rankings behind Nadal, but no higher.

SICK CALL

Ivan Ljubicic fell heavily in his match at the Eastbourne International, injuring his ankle. Racing to the net to reach a delicate shot by his opponent, Fabrice Santoro, Ljubicic skidded on the grass, fell and cried out while clutching his left ankle. Santoro dropped his racquet and ran to the court-side freezer to get bags of ice, which he then applied to Ljubicic’s ankle while officials summoned the trainer. Ljubicic had won the first set 6-3 but was 2-4 down when he fell.

Marion Bartoli is still in the Wimbledon women’s singles despite suffering a leg injury in the semifinals at the AEGON International tournament in Eastbourne. Bartoli had lost the first set to Virginie Razzano when she asked for a trainer. Her thigh was treated and strapped, but, after losing the first game of the second set to love, she retired from the match.

SLUITER HISTORY

Although he lost the title match, Raemon Sluiter made history by becoming the lowest-ranked player to reach an ATP World Tour final. Ranked number 866 in the world, Sluiter gained entry into the grass-court tournament in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, via a wild card. It was the fourth final for the Dutchman in his career, all coming on his home soil. And when he fell to Germany’s Benjamin Becker 7-5 6-3, Sluiter still was left seeking his first ATP World Tour title. Becker was only the second qualifier to reach a final this season and the first qualifier to win the Ordina Open.

SAFINA SLAYER

There’s something about Tamarine Tanasugarn when she plays the Ordina Open in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands. Just ask top-ranked Dinara Safina. Tanasugarn upset Safina for the second straight year at the grass-court warm-up to Wimbledon. A year ago the veteran Thai player beat Safina in the final. This year, the 32-year-old Tanasugarn stopped Safina in the semis 7-5 7-5 before beating 19-year-old Yanina Wickmayer 6-3 7-5 to retain her championship.

SPORTS RADIO

Aces, a one-hour radio show dedicated to tennis, has begun broadcasting in Toronto, Canada, and on the Internet just in time for Wimbledon. Listeners in t4he Toronto area can tune into FAN 590 AM on the radio, while tennis fans around the world can listen online at www.fan590.com. Rogie Lajoie and Olympic tennis broadcaster Michael Cvitkovic will host Aces, which began by interviewing 10-time Grand Slam tournament singles champion Serena Williams, Sony Ericsson WTA Tour president Stacey Allaster and Toronto Globe and Mail tennis columnist Tom Tebbutt. Aces is currently scheduled for broadcast August 6 and 13.

STARS SHINE IN LONDON

The Ralph Lauren presents the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Pre-Wimbledon Player Party brought out the stars, and not just the tennis variety. Among the players in attendance at the Kensington Roof Gardens were Venus and Serena Williams, Elena Dementieva, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Vera Zvonareva, Ana Ivanovic, Anne Keothavong, Jelena Jankovic, Victoria Azarenka, Dominika Cibulkova, Alize Cornet, Anna Chakvetadze, Alisa Kleybanova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Sabine Lisicki and Gisela Dulko. Besides the host, Sir Richard Branson, other celebrities in attendance included Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child fame, as well as Branson’s son, Sam Branson. There was even a royal presence, with Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, attending with her two daughters, the Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.

SWINGING AWAY

Three former champions, including two-time defending king Fabrice Santoro, will compete in this year’s Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island, USA. Also in the field will be Robby Ginepri, the 2003 winner, and 2002 champion Taylor Dent. The ATP World Tour event is the only professional grass-court tournament played in the United States and begins the day after the Wimbledon men’s final.

SENIOR CHAMPIONS

Stefan Edberg, Jim Courier and Michael Chang, three former champions of the LA Tennis Open, will play in featured legends matches at the 83rd annual Los Angeles tournament that begins July 27. Edberg won a gold medal during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics on the same UCLA courts that now stage the LA Tennis Open. He also won the tournament in 1990. Chang captured titles in 1996 and 2000, while Courier won in 1997.

SLUR

Brydan Klein of Australia has been fined USD $13,920 and suspended by Tennis Australia for using a racial slur against his South African opponent, Raven Klaasan, during their qualifying match at the AEGON International in Eastbourne, Great Britain. The ATP tour said in a statement that the 19-year-old Klein has been given the maximum penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct and added that it is carrying out a fuller investigation which could result in an additional penalty for aggravated behavior. Tennis Australia said it has suspended Klein from the Australian Institute of Sport Pro Tour Program and could impose further sanctions after an investigation. Klein, the 2007 Australian Open junior champion, called Klaasan a “kaffir” and spat in the direction of Klaasan’s coach and another South African player. Use of the term “kaffir” is illegal in South Africa and is regarded as a gross racial insult, especially to black South Africans. Klassen is one of South Africa’s few black players and has represented his country in Davis Cup. Klein beat Klassen 6-7 (2) 7-6 (3) 7-6 (4) before losing in the second round of the main draw to Janko Tipsarevic.

SWITCH

Bjorn Borg won five consecutive Wimbledons. Now he’s trying to pick the men’s singles champion at Wimbledon for the second straight year. A year ago, Borg picked Rafael Nadal to win the grass-court major, which the Spaniard did. This year, Borg is picking Roger Federer. And he did it before Nadal withdrew from the tournament. “Coming into Wimbledon I think he is relieved in a way that he won Paris, because that was one of his main ambitions, goals to try and win Paris,” said Borg. “So coming into Wimbledon he feels very confident, he has equaled (Pete) Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slams.”

SEEKING HEAVIER PENALTY

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) is considering an appeal from India, which is seeking a heavier penalty against Australia for forfeiting last month’s Davis Cup competition. The ITF said the appeal from the All India Tennis Association (AITA) will be discussed at a board meeting on July 15. Australia was fined USD $10,000 after refusing to travel to Chennai, India, for the zonal tie for safety reasons, but the ITF’s Davis Cup Committee decided not to ban Australia from the 2010 competition. India also wants the ITF to rule that the next two ties between the two nations should be played in India. Security for sports teams in the sub-continent had been questioned after the Sri Lanka cricket team’s bus was ambushed in Lahore, Pakistan, in March. That followed militant attacks in Mumbai, India, last November that killed 166 people.

SITTING PRETTY

The global credit crunch hasn’t affected Wimbledon. The 2,500 Centre Court debentures that were offered last month were snapped up at USD $43,830 each. Each debenture holder will receive one Centre Court ticket for every day of the two-week long Championships from 2011 through 2015. “We were heavily over-subscribed,” said All England Club chief executive Ian Ritchie. “We were very pleasantly delighted with the response. With a new roof over Centre Court, play is guaranteed there regardless of the weather.

START ANEW

It is a tournament Amelie Mauresmo would just as soon forget. The former Wimbledon champion squandered five set points in each tiebreak as she lost a quarterfinal match to Ekaterina Makarova 7-6 (8) 7-6 (13) at the Eastbourne International. “It was a very cruel match,” said Mauresmo, who received a warning from the umpire when she vented her frustration by hitting a ball high over a line of trees and into the street. “This one wasn’t for me, I guess.”

SET FOR WIMBLEDON

Could it be that Andy Murray is hoping his clothes will help him duplicate Fred Perry’s success at Wimbledon? Murray will play in a retro outfit at this year’s grass court Grand Slam tournament. The new clothes were designed specifically for Wimbledon by clothing maker Fred Perry. The company said the clothes were inspired by the shirts that Perry designed for clients and friends such as John F. Kennedy and Billie Jean King. Perry, who died in 1995, was the last Briton to win at Wimbledon, capturing three consecutive titles in 1934-36 and completing a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open in 1935. A week ago, Murray became the first Briton to win the grass-court tournament at Queen’s Club since Bunny Austin in 1938.

SURFACE CLAY

It is no surprise that Italy has decided to play November’s Fed Cup final against the United States on clay courts in Reggio Calabria, a city on the southern tip of Italy’s boot-shaped outline. The outdoor event will be held at the Rocco Polimeni club on November 7-8. Even on clay, the Americans are favorites since both Venus and Serena Williams said they hope to play in the final after missing the previous rounds.

SKIPPING DAVIS CUP

When Russia takes on Israel in a Davis Cup quarterfinal next month, Russia’s top player, Nikolay Davydenko, will be missing. Russian team captain Shamil Tarpishchev said he had allowed Davydenko to skip Russia’s first two ties in this year’s competition. The top-ranked Russians will still have Marat Safin, Igor Andreev, Dmitry Tursunov and Mikhail Youzhny for the July 10-12 encounter in Tel Aviv, Israel.

SUCKER-PUNCHED

A 20-year-old UCLA tennis player was in a coma after being punched following a country music concert in Dallas, Texas, USA. Jeffrey Fleming was attending a Rascal Flatts concert with friends when a man hit him. Fleming’s family says he was sucker-punched as he was about to catch a taxi after the concert. The blow knocked Fleming to the ground where his head hit the concrete pavement. The attacker and others ran away.

SOONERS COACH

The new men’s tennis coach at the University of Oklahoma is Andy Roddick’s brother. John Roddick was hired to take over the Sooners team that had been coached for the past 22 years by John Lockwood. Athletic director Joe Castiglione says Roddick has the ability to recruit top players and a reputation for being able to develop them. For the past seven years he has been operating a performance boarding academy for tennis players in Austin, Texas. John also helped coach his brother Andy, who is still ranked in the top 10 in the world.

SPONSOR

The 83rd annual LA Tennis Open in Los Angeles, California, USA, has a new sponsor. The Farmers Insurance Group of Companies has reached an agreement with the Southern California Tennis Association to become the presenting sponsor of the ATP World Tour 250 and Olympus US Open Series men’s event. French Open semifinalist Fernando Gonzalez leads a group of early entrants to the 28-player field. Also entering the tournament are Tommy Hass, Radek Stapanek, Marat Safin, Marcos Baghdatis, Mardy Fish and Sam Querrey. In addition, a special exhibition match will pit Pete Sampras against Safin in a rematch of the 2000 US Open won by the Russian.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Eastbourne (women): Akgul Amanmuradova and Ai Sugiyama beat Samantha Stosur and Rennae Stubbs 6-4 6-3

Eastbourne (men): Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski beat Travis Parrott and Filip Polasek 6-4 6-4

s-Hertogenbosch (men): Wesley Moodie and Dick Norman beat Johan Brunstrom and Jean-Julien Rojer 7-6 (3) 6-7 (8) 10-5 (match tiebreak)

s-Hertogenbosch (women): Sara Errani and Flavia Pennetta beat Michaella Krajicek and Yanina Wickmayer 6-4 5-7 13-11 (match tiebreak)

SITES TO SURF

Wimbledon: www.wimbledon.org

Cuneo: www.countrycuneo.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP and WTA

The Championships (first week), Wimbledon, Great Britain, grass

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP and WTA

The Championships (second week), Wimbledon, Great Britain, grass

WTA

$100,000 Cuneo ITF Tournament, Cuneo, Italy, clay

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