Rome Masters

Three Unmissable Events of the Clay Season

The draw is whittling down nicely at Houston’s grandly titled US Men’s Clay Court Championship. The WTA has already completed a fine week in Charleston. Clay, whether we like it or not, is upon us. There are unbroken months of dirt ahead, and it’s only getting redder. Soon it’ll be everywhere – swirling into our eyes, clogging our nostrils and matting our hair. With the last of the clear air, I’m looking forward to the three landmark events that excite me the most about the coming European clay season.

Mutua Madrid Open, Madrid

Madrid was of course notorious last year for its blue clay, which was roundly condemned at the time, but has since grown so toxic in frenzied retrospect that it might as well have been laced with arsenic. Actually, Madrid’s surface was notorious for two things: its colour and its slipperiness. The organisers insisted repeatedly that these two factors weren’t related: the slickness was the result of a shoddy job when laying the court down, and had nothing to do with the colour. They pointed out that an older blue court had been available on the site for a year, and that it was no more slippery than the Madrid surface is in other years (which is to say quite slippery).

Nevertheless, cerulean dirt and insecure footing became so inextricably bound up in people’s minds that there was no way to separate them, even at the time. It didn’t help that the tournament’s owner Ion Tiriac is held out in such low regard that any attempt to defend his event has come to seem wilfully perverse. It was very easy to assume Tiriac was lying, because he’s a natural villain  It was harder to assume Manolo Santana and Carlos Moya were lying, as well. The consensus emerged that they’d been duped. There’s nothing that wicked Tiriac won’t stoop to.

In the end, Madrid’s blue surface – which improved televisibility (a word I just made up) and resembled nothing more lethal than laundry powder – was felt to be too unpredictable and too unsafe, and fatally disruptive to everyone’s Roland Garros preparation. It was so unpredictable that almost only seeded players made the quarterfinals (two non-seeded women pushed to the final eight). It was so unsafe that it saw fewer serious injuries sustained than most other events of similar stature; look at the recent Miami event, whose attrition rate was comparable to The Somme. Of course any subsequent niggle suffered by anyone was duly ascribed to the blue dirt, including shoulder twinges and a stomach virus. And it was so disruptive that the following week in Rome the men’s semifinals consisted of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, who all went on to reach the French Open semifinals.

On the men’s side, Madrid produced the first decent Masters final in over a year; an electric blue tussle between Federer and Tomas Berdych. The women’s final was a perfunctory blowout, though this had nothing to do with the court. It had everything to do with Serena Williams playing as she can, thus rendering her opponent irrelevant, notwithstanding that her opponent was world number one Victoria Azarenka.

In any case, the chorus of disapproval was not merely deafening but decisive. Nadal and Djokovic declared they wouldn’t come back unless the clay was returned to its proper shade. Williams recently remarked that she doesn’t ‘know of anyone that’s going to miss the blue clay’. Consequently, this year it’s back to red. The irony, if we can call it that, is that the Madrid surface is always relatively slick. But you can be sure the tournament work diligently to guarantee secure footing this year, even if they have to lay down Velcro, and that everyone will claim it is due to the colour. I think it’s a shame, but I’m still looking forward to it.

Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Rome

Rome is my favourite combined tennis event outside of the four Majors.

It contrives the perfect alchemy of real and fake tradition; the real evoked by the thousands of fine matches it has hosted over the decades, and the fake by the kitsch faux-Classicism of the venue itself. The Foro Italico’s striven-for effect of gladiatorial antiquity is utterly undone by the slightest knowledge of the facility’s history: it is a Mussolini-era monument to Il Duce’s ego, and testifies to his overweening determination to connect his rule with ancient Rome. The adjacent swimming pool is a real eye-opener.

But in the heat of battle, especially in the semi-submerged old Court Pietrangeli, the absurd colonnades and statues become the best set dressing in the sport. Throw in ideal clay, typically excellent weather, and a local crowd only ever one inconvenience away from rioting, and you’re all but guaranteed a magical week in which high drama becomes the norm rather than the exception, especially when Italian players make a bold run through the draw.

Last year’s bold locals were Andreas Seppi and Flavia Pennetta, who both ran all the way to the quarters. Seppi’s excruciatingly tense victory over Stanislas Wawrinka was the match of the tournament, conducted in a restive twilight atmosphere on Pietrangeli. There’s no telling what the crowd would have done had the Italian lost. After Li Na’s morbidly fascinating third set collapse to Maria Sharapova in the final, the crowd really did lose it, indulging in some minor civic unrest when it was announced the men’s final was delayed. Boos rang out lustily, security stepped in, and the Center Court was littered with bottles.

Open de Nice Côte d’Azur, Nice

The Open de Cote d’Azur is an ATP 250 level event staged in Nice the week before Roland Garros, and it is cursed.

It first ran in 2010, taking the place of Kitzbühel on the tour calendar. The week before a Major is a tricky slot for a tournament, especially given that the top male players no longer bother with anything more strenuous than inconsequential exhibitions – think Kooyong or The Boodles – conserving their energy and time for meticulous acclimatisation and useless media events.

Consequently, the best Nice can manage to attract are a few standouts from the second tier. However, even to secure their services, the tournament has apparently struck a Faustian deal with Mephistopheles. Richard Gasquet won the tournament’s inaugural edition, then travelled to Paris and lost in the first round from two sets up. Nicolas Almagro won Nice in 2011, then lost in the first round in Paris from two sets up. Only divine intervention prevented another recurrence last year, in the form of Brian Baker.

Astute fans will remember that it was precisely a year ago that Baker shot to prominence, setting forth on his seemingly quixotic quest to have a professional tennis career. He won the USTA’s French Open wildcard playoff series thing, before travelling to continental Europe and qualifying for Nice. The rest is history. He pushed through qualifying, and then pushed further – all the way to the final. Although he fell to Almagro, his audacious run so impressed the tournament’s demonic patron that the curse was temporarily suspended, with the dire promise that it will return tenfold if Baker doesn’t reprise his heroics every year thereafter.

The Cote d’Azur is unquestionably an idyllic location at which to stage a decisive battle between heaven and hell, and Baker’s shoulders are slight ones upon which to place the fate of so many. But I think he’s up for it. In fact, he’ll probably win it. And then lose in the first round at the French Open from two sets up.

American tennis players Mardy Fish and John Isner fire back at Ivan Ljubicic Twitter comment

By Romana Cvitkovic

The tennis world went into overdrive Saturday afternoon as Ivan Ljubicic tweeted a comment targeted at American tennis players supposedly skipping the European tournaments. Americans John Isner and Mardy Fish quickly fought back on Twitter with Fish almost immediately deleting his tweet after he sent it.

Of all the tennis players looking to cause controversy, newly-retired Croat Ivan Ljubicic would not be high on my list that includes the likes of Daniel Koellerer, Yannick Noah, John McEnroe and Marat Safin.  Hell, even Marat Safin has cleaned up his act and holds a seat in the Russian Parliament!

But I digress. In light of Mardy Fish pulling out of the Mutua Madrid Open due to fatigue and Andy Roddick skipping both Madrid and Rome due to a hamstring injury, the presence of American ATP players at the European clay tournaments has dwindled. But Ljubicic’s tweet may have gone a little too far to point the finger.


Three hours later, American John Isner (who was ousted in the second round of Madrid by another Croat, Marin Cilic, and is scheduled to play Rome this week) defended his friend’s absence from the tournaments in Madrid and Rome:

Not even an hour later, Fish fired back heavily at Ljubicic before almost immediately deleting the following tweet.

Unfortunately, the internet is not forgiving once you put something out there. Perhaps this conversation should have occurred through direct messaging, email, or BBM. It’s one thing to put a “generalized comment” on your personal Twitter but it’s also another nobler thing to privately respond. Not sure if there is history here between Fish and Ljubicic, but hopefully the 140 character limitation framed responses insufficiently. However, the fans were drinking it up …


 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Djokovic and Sharapova Conquer Rome, Paris Missing Williamses, but Del Potro and Clijsters opt in

Djokovic Building Roman Empire:

Novak Djokovic moved to 39-matches unbeaten after battling to a 6-4, 6-4 victory over world No.1 Rafael Nadal in the Rome Masters final. The Serb star at times over-powered Nadal and has now beaten a man twice in a week, who, before last weekend’s final at the Mutua Madrid Masters, had not lost on his favoured clay surface since 2009. Most had written off Djokovic after an enthralling semi-final victory over Andy Murray on Saturday night as the 23-year-old had visibly been struggling with tiredness and injury throughout much of the second and third sets. Yet he dusted himself off and came back determined to win his second title in the Italian capital and stop Nadal taking his sixth. Both players were in good form. The accuracy and power behind each shot was mesmerising and the Italian crowd was thoroughly entertained from start to finish, even though they did not receive the third set they so desperately craved. “I’m amazed with they way I’m playing, especially today given the circumstances and the condition I was in,” Djokovic said afterwards. “I played three hours [on Saturday] against a player [Murray] who was playing great, I was on the verge of losing that match and I came back. Whatever the conditions I needed to step into the court and take chances and be aggressive. That’s really the only way against Nadal on clay.”

Sharapova Back in the Winners’ Circle:

Maria Sharapova lifted her first title in nearly a year by beating Australia’s Sam Stosur 6-2, 6-4 in a Rome final heavily delayed by rain. The damp conditions favoured the Russian who powered in to a 4-0 lead, Stosur taking only three points in the opening four games. The 24-year-old has not lifted a Grand Slam since the 2008 Australian Open and has only shown glimpses of her former dominant self after taking long injury lay offs to recover from shoulder surgery. But recently she has looked in a dominant mood again and after cruising to the first set withheld the more assertive challenge from Stosur in the second. “I’m so happy to be the champion,” said the three-time Slam winner. “It means so much to me to add this title to the ones I already have. Rome is such a special place and I’ve dreamed of holding up this trophy. There are a lot of tournaments coming up, and this is a great start to everything. I can’t wait to be back next year.”

Djokovic set for o2 return:

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic has qualified for the season-ending ATP Finals at London’s
o2 Arena in November after picking up his seventh title of the year in Rome on Sunday. The 24-year-old is closing in on the record of 44 set by Guillermo Villas, depending on which sources you believe, in 1977. He is only the second man, after Nadal in 2009, to qualify for the event before the French Open has even been played. He has already lifted the Australian Open, plus the titles at Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Belgrade, Madrid and now Rome in what has been a sensational start to the year. American Hall of Famer John McEnroe believes that Djokovic’s current record surpasses his own unbeaten 42-match streak to kick off the 1984 season due to the increased depth to the modern game. “There is more competition, more athleticism, deeper fields and more depth in the sport,” said the 52-year-old. “So his record is even more impressive than mine. I’m quite excited at the timing of this because he could break my record at the French Open. I’ve followed his progress and to put it mildly it’s been quite amazing to see how much confidence he is playing with. It’s impressive given he came in number three and to dominate [Roger] Federer and [Rafael] Nadal the way he has, to see what he has done, it’s a little surprising.”

 

Roland Garros to be Williams-less:

Former world No.1 Serena Williams has pulled out of this month’s French Open after failing to recover from the foot injury that has kept her out of action since winning last year’s Wimbledon Championship. “While I am making good progress, unfortunately I won’t be able to compete in Roland Garros as I am continuing to rehab my foot and recover from the pulmonary embolism,” said Williams. “I am grateful for every moment I have and the fact that I have returned to the court. I am hopeful that I will be back competing this summer. Thank you all for your continued prayers.” Serena’s older sister, Venus, is also doubtful for the Open after pulling out of Brussels. The 30-year-old has not competed since retiring from her third-round match against Andrea Petkovic at the Australian Open in January after tearing her groin muscle. Another former No.1, Dinara Safina, and Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky have already withdrawn from the competition. Ana Ivanovic, yet another former incumbent of the top spot, is also a doubt for the Open after pulling out of Strasbourg this week still troubled by a wrist complaint. “I’ve had this pain for a while now, despite physical therapy,” she said on her official website. “My doctor has told me to rest it completely for a few days, and I’m having treatments twice a day. Considering that it is not my racquet hand, I can still practice, but backhands are out of the question for the next few days. I expect to be fit for Roland Garros.” In the men’s draw, Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez has withdrawn after failing to recover from a knee injury. The 2009 semi-finalist has not missed the event since his 2001 debut but the current world No.370 has suffered badly with injuries over the past 12 months. “Unfortunately today I withdrew myself from Roland Garros, it’s a shame, but I’m doing everything possible to comeback and feel better,” he said via his Twitter account. Andy Roddick is also questionable after pulling out of this week’s tournament at Nice with a right shoulder injury. “It’s running a big risk, playing on an unhealthy shoulder with Roland Garros round the corner and Wimbledon shortly afterwards,” the American said. “I’m pulling out of Nice for now. Obviously the situation is not perfect for Roland Garros, but I still have a couple of days to hope for something to get better.” He also said that he would not play Roland Garros unless he was 100% fit.

Del-Po and Clijsters are Definitely In:

2009 US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro has declared that he is fit and ready to compete in the French Open. The 22-year-old Argentine missed most of 2010 with a wrist injury and his comeback has been blighted by niggles such as a torn hip muscle two weeks ago in Madrid. The former world No.4 has clawed his way back up to No.27 in the South African Airways ATP World Rankings since his return thanks largely to his victory at the Estoril Open on May 1, where he beat Fernando Verdasco in the final. “See you in Paris!” he posted on Twitter ahead of the year’s second Grand Slam. Kei Nishikori’s agent says that the Japanese star has also recovered from kidney troubles and will play in Paris. Kim Clijsters also says she will play at the Open after recovering from an ankle injury she suffered last month whilst dancing at a friend’s wedding. “Increasingly I am going for it,” said the reigning US and Australian Open Champion. “I am not totally without pain, but the strong tape round my ankle gives me sufficient security. The advantage is that I still have the spirit of the past Grand Slam tournaments. If I play well, I can win. Attitude is very important, even though the situation is physically very different.” France’s Virginie Razzano has also declared she will play despite her fiancé’s death on Monday. Stephane Vidal, 32, served as her coach until March and was diagnosed with a brain tumour nine years ago. “He was like a big brother,” Razzano said. “We shared very strong moments and, little by little, we fell in love.” It was thought that Vidal had encouraged Razzano to compete before his death.

Rosewall Hospitalised in Rome

Australian tennis Hall of Famer Ken Rosewall was hospitalised in Rome on Saturday morning after a suspected stroke. His wife, Wilma, said that the doctors had told her that he had not suffered any heart or brain damage and would be monitored until deemed fit to fly back to Australia. The eight-time Grand Slam champ was due to receive a golden racquet over the weekend given annually to greats of the game, which his wife accepted on his behalf at a dinner on Saturday night. His condition is said to be good.

Nalbandian Handed Queens Wildcard:

2002 Wimbledon finalist David Nalbandian has been handed a wildcard in to the main draw at Queens club to warm up for his return to SW19. The Argentine has suffered badly with injuries over the past 12 months and aims to be fit for the grass-court Slam after failing to regain fitness in time for Roland Garros. He joins the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, British No.1 Andy Murray and Andy Roddick in the draw. “I am looking forward to starting my comeback from injury on grass at the AEGON Championships at The Queen’s Club,” said Nalbandian. Meanwhile, Canadian starlet Milos Raonic has committed to the 2011 Atlanta Tennis Championships, one of the opening events of the US Open Series from July 18-24. Americans John Isner, Mardy Fish and Sam Querrey are already on the bill.

Ginepri Hoping for Summer Return:

Robby Ginepri has said that he is back on the practice courts after breaking his elbow last autumn swerving to avoid a squirrel whilst cycling, and that he hopes to return to competitive action this summer.

Rankings Watch:

This week’s South African Airways ATP World Rankings see Tomas Berdych climb back above David Ferrer to No.6 in the world, while Mardy Fish re-enters the Top 10 at the expense of Nicolas Almagro. Croatian Marin Cilic re-enters the Top 20 while Jarkko Nieminen of Finland is back in to the Top 50. Russia’s Igor Andreev and Argentina’s Horacio Zeballos take big leaps to re-enter the Top 100. In the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings, Maria Sharapova climbed above Sam Stosur to No.7 in the world after defeating the Aussie in the Rome final last weekend. New hotshot Petra Kvitova also claimed a new personal best by climbing above Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic to No.9. Greta Arn’s magnificent run to the quarters in Rome sees her post a career-best No.40, while Anastasia Pivovarova made it 16 Russians in the Top 100 by climbing up to a career-best No.95.

Rafa Still Edging Ahead in GOAT Race:

Last week saw Rafael Nadal reach another ATP Masters Final and extend his lead over Roger Federer in the 2011 Greatest Of All Time Race. Rafa’s second successive final defeat to Novak Djokovic gives him another 100 points to his total, while R-Fed’s failure to reach the quarter-finals means he fails to add any points on to his score.

Roger: 665, Rafa: 990

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

Federer Will not Concede French Open Title:

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

The Dominant Force Dislodges the Immovable Object:

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

Kvitova Shocks Azarenka in Madrid:

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

Injuries Still Rife Among Stars:

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

Roddick not Enjoying European Clay Holiday:

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

Carlsen calls for Wozniacki to Attack:

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

Li Hoping for Danish Magic:

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

Kuznetsova Coach Split:

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

Peering in to DC’s Debut:

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

Rankings Watch:

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

Nadal moves Further Ahead in GOAT Race:

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

Roger: 665, Rafa: 890

The 2008 French Open draw is now available!

The 2008 French Open draw is now available! Full draws can be found at event’s official website – www.rolandgarros.com. Agence France Presse report on the draw is as follows:

PARIS (AFP) – Birthday boy Novak Djokovic, the best player in the world in 2008, emerged the big winner after the French Open draw placed a succession of booby traps in the paths of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Federer’s bid to win a first Roland Garros title faces a testing start against big American Sam Querrey.

He could then face a tricky fourth round date with Argentinian claycourter Juan Monaco before a possible quarter-final match-up with the likes of either fast-rising compatriot Stanilas Wawrinka, the ninth seed, or French eighth seed Richard Gasquet. Spanish claycourt specialists Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2002 champion, fifth seed David Ferrer and Tommy Robredo are all possible semi-final opponents for Federer who is desperate to add an elusive French Open title to his collection of 12 Grand Slams. Federer, who has lost to Nadal in the last two finals, will face a confident Querrey. The 20-year-old is riding high after capturing his maiden career title in Las Vegas this year.

Querrey also showed that he is no fool on clay when he reached the quarter-finals at the Monte Carlo Masters in April knocking out former French Open winner Carlos Moya on the way. But Nadal, who is bidding to become the first player since Bjorn Borg in 1981 to win four titles in a row here, was the biggest loser in the draw.

The Spaniard, who has a perfect record at Roland Garros of 21 wins in 21 matches, begins his campaign against a qualifier with a possible tricky quarter-final against David Nalbandian. Nadal has lost both his career meetings with the muscular Argentininan.

The 21-year-old, fresh from deposing Federer as Hamburg champion last week for his eighth win in nine claycourt meetings with the Swiss, faces an array of possible problems in the early rounds.

Compatriots and claycourt specialists Nicolas Almagro, seeded 19, and 22nd seed Fernando Verdasco, as well as British 10th seed Andy Murray, could stand in his way.

Australian Open and Rome Masters champion Djokovic could face Nadal in the semi-finals. He starts against Germany’s Denis Gremelmayr, the world 63, with America’s James Blake a probable last eight opponent. In between, Djokovic, who turned 21 on Thursday, should be untroubled with just 1998 champion Moya a potential problem in the third round. Former triple champion Gustavo Kuerten, who will be playing his last match before retirement, faces a tricky opener against French 18th seed Paul-Henri Mathieu.

Women’s top seed Maria Sharapova, bidding to win a first French Open and complete a career Grand Slam, begins her campaign against fellow Russian Evgeniya Rodina, the world number 104. Second seed Serbian Ana Ivanovic, the runner-up to Justine Henin in 2007, faces Sweden’s Sofia Andersson while 2002 champion Serena Williams starts against fellow American Ashley Harkelroad. Henin, the champion here for the last three years, recently announced her retirement from the game, a decision which has thrown open the women’s draw. Sharapova, a semi-finalist in 2007 and the new world number one could face compatriot and 2004 runer-up Elena Demetieva in the quarter-finals with fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova a potential semi-final opponent. Third seed Jelena Jankovic begins against a qualifier with French hopes Amelie Mauresmo and Alize Cornet also in her section.

Venus Williams, runner-up to her sister in 2002, is seeded eight and could face Jankovic in the last eight. Serena is a possible quarter-final opponent for Ivanovic.