San Jose

The Forever Men

Last Sunday afternoon, Milos Raonic became the first man to win three consecutive titles at the SAP Open, at precisely the same moment he became the last man to win one at all. This edition of the San Jose was the last, bringing the rich history of professional tennis in northern California to a close. Raonic will therefore reign as defending champion approximately forever.

It can be a tricky matter to define precisely when a tournament actually expires, or even if it has. There are technical points to be made about licences and ownership, such that it is theoretically possible for an event to survive across endless variations of geography, surface and draw. Has Los Angeles really gone, or has it just moved to Bogota, simultaneously shifting continent and soaring into low orbit? What about the Memphis 500 event, which will relocate to Rio? What, if anything, about that tournament will truly endure?

Such discussions are apt to grow philosophical, as we’re compelled to wonder at the ineradicable essence of a tennis tournament, such that it can retain its identity when everything important about it has ostensibly changed. Apparently these things have ineffable souls, or at least durable traditions that might be strung out indefinitely.

On the other hand, aficionados of professional tennis in southern California are in no doubt that the LA tournament has ascended, not to Columbia, but to that great tennis boneyard in the sky. They might well be insulted if the next champion in Bogota was appended to the long and illustrious list of past LA champions, which includes Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe. The fans often know when a tournament has really perished, just as they know when it is being artificially sustained on life support.

Indeed, reading down the past champion’s lists for many of these cancelled events is bittersweet, evoking sepia-tinted glories, now fading irrecoverably with the tournament’s passing. While some were new ventures that evidently didn’t pan out, many more were decades old, and the winner’s list tells a salutary tale of prestige giving way, gradually or suddenly, to irrelevance. You can understand what is lost, even as you can see why it had to go.

Sometimes what is lost is an invaluable start. It is fascinating to note that each of the Big Four won his first title at a tournament that has since been cancelled: Roger Federer (Milan 2001), Rafael Nadal (Sopot 2004), Novak Djokovic (Amersfoort 2006), and Andy Murray (San Jose 2006).*

In any case, today I’m going to look at those men currently active on the ATP tour who won the ultimate edition of a tournament, whose names will remain the last one on the trophy. I won’t pretend that great insight will be thereby gleaned – perhaps a pattern will emerge – but sometimes it is enough merely to catalogue such things as they pass. There is a sense in which such compilations are subjective; I think I could mount a good argument why the tournament in Sao Paulo is the basically same one that was in Costa do Sauipe, while disputing the idea that Brisbane is a continuation of Adelaide, but I understand that others may not feel the same way. (I do encourage anyone who spots glaring factual inaccuracies to let me know.)

Milos Raonic (San Jose 2013)

The Canadian is only man on this list who goes out as back-to-back-to-back champion. He has won three San Jose titles in a row without dropping a set, in the process breaking records and Fernando Verdasco’s mind. It’s interesting to think how different it might have been had Gael Monfils contested their semifinal in 2011. He didn’t, Raonic gained free passage to the final, and the rest is history, in every sense. It’s even more interesting to think what the tournament’s disappearance will mean for Raonic from here. San Jose accounts for 75% of his career titles.

Sam Querrey (Los Angeles 2012 and Las Vegas 2008)

Querrey is one of two men who merit inclusion on this list twice. He is the forever champion in Los Angeles, which he won a total of three times. Indeed, one report archly implied that his dominance was part of the reason the event was consigned to oblivion (or Columbia). He was also the last man to win the ill-fated Las Vegas event, which is where the Scottsdale tourney went to undergo palliative care.

Andreas Seppi (Belgrade 2012)

When the old Dutch Open was sold to the Djokovic family, they probably dreamed it would last longer in their home city than five years. Alas, the event more or less lived and died according to the presence of the family’s most famed member, which is a parlous situation for any tournament. Nonetheless, Seppi was a worthy final winner.

Kevin Anderson (Johannesburg 2011)

At the time, I joked that Joburg’s days were numbered when Feliciano Lopez was marketed as the star attraction in 2011. Initially things seemed okay, with players such as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Ferrer lured to South Africa, presumably with their consent. But geography and scheduling proved a fatal cocktail. Staged the week after the Australian Open, at the far end of the earth, it just couldn’t work. It was, nonetheless, Anderson’s first title. It also boasted a truly ludicrous trophy, as so many do.

Nikolay Davydenko (Pörtschach 2008 and Warsaw 2008)

Davydenko is the other twice-tainted forever man. He remains the eternal champion in both Pörtschach and in Warsaw (which were to St Poeten and Sopot what Las Vegas was to Scottsdale: a nice spot for the tournament to sit with a rug over its knees as it quickly slid into its eternal goodnight). Both of these events were staged for the last time in 2008, which was something of a watershed year as far as these matters go. If the prevailing trend is for the United States to shed tournaments, five years ago Europe was suffering a similar affliction. It is curious that almost alone among this list, Davydenko is rare for being a player who was at the top of the game when he won these tournaments (ranked world No.4), although this says more about how modest his profile was even in his hey-day.

Ivo Karlovic (Nottingham 2008)

In 1998, the towering Croat became the two-time defending champion in Nottingham, which used to be the Wimbledon warm-up that almost no one played. On this surface, facing a weak field with his serve, Karlovic had no trouble making hay from the emerald sward. Nottingham was replaced (but not relocated) on the calendar by Eastbourne, which became a dual-gender event. The current Nottingham Challenger is a totally new tournament.

Michael Llodra (Adelaide 2008)

The French net-rusher was the last man ever to win the ATP event in Adelaide, also in 2008. The technical argument is that this tournament was moved to Brisbane, and combined with the existing WTA event. Technically this may be true, but really the Brisbane International is nothing like the old warhorse at Memorial Drive, where Lleyton Hewitt famously won his first career title as a 16 year old.

Richard Gasquet (Mumbai 2007)

The tournament that finally found peace in Mumbai had led a troubled journey through what some Australians quaintly persist in calling the Far East, beginning in Shanghai, moving briefly to Ho Chi Minh City, and finally gasping its last in Mumbai. After Gasquet won the final instalment, it was supposed to move to Bangalore, but security concerns cancelled the event the following year, and after that everyone seemed to lose interest. It was replaced by Kuala Lumpur, meaning that India, the second largest country in the Asia, lacks a tournament within the now-unified Asian Swing.

Filippo Volandri (Palermo 2006)

I confess I don’t know too much about this one, although I’d suggest that the days were numbered on any tournament whose final featured Volandri three years in a row.

Robin Soderling (Milan 2005)

The Milan Indoors was one of those tournaments with a tremendous history and a champion’s list that scans like a who’s who of the Open Era (McEnroe and Becker won four times each. Lendl, Borg, Edberg, and Vilas also hoisted the trophy). Roger Federer won his first title here in 2001. Nonetheless, the entry list had thinned calamitously by the time Soderling won in 2005, years before the Swede found his place in the loftier echelons of the sport. At the time he was just another in a lengthening line of journeyman champions, a line that leads smaller regional tournaments inevitably to the scrapheap.

*Amersfoort later moved to Belgrade, which has also been cancelled.

Another Typical Day Watching San Jose

The ATP 250 tournament currently called the SAP Open, and currently hosted in San Jose, California, has been continuously operating in some form since 1889, making it the second oldest tennis tournament in the United States. The current edition will be its last. Next year the tournament relocates to Memphis.

One would hope that in its final year the SAP Open would make a strenuous effort to honor its golden past. If today was anything to go by, the tournament instead appears content merely to showcase its dreary present, and to illustrate just why it had to go.

Last Saturday night an attendee at the San Jose Sharks ice-hockey game tweeted their disbelief that within twenty-four hours the playing surface would be replaced by a tennis court. Attached pictures attested that the floor of the HP Pavilion was indeed composed of ice, and that the stands were packed with people. Really, one must have greater faith in modern technology. Stage-managing the set switch from a hockey rink to a tennis court is relatively easy to accomplish. Convincing the people to hang around, on the other hand, is apparently an insurmountable problem. As ever during the SAP Open, the stadium today looked like it had been converted into a storage facility for unused bleachers.

It is debatable whether the prevailing vibe is more depressed in San Jose than it was in Montpellier last week, which attained transcendent new levels of banality in striving to entertain its few attendees. (The best moment – if ‘best’ is the word – came when the court was invaded by a dance troupe pretending to be synchronized swimmers. Unfortunately for those of us watching, the impression was uncanny, achieving a manic exuberance unmatched anywhere outside of a North Korean military parade.) The SAP Open boasts nothing as overtly weird, although ones awareness that this is its last edition certainly helps to deflate proceedings. It didn’t have to, though: you’d hope the imminence of its loss would lend proceedings a bittersweet piquancy. But the organisers seem determined that blandness will prevail, at least until the weekend.

It shares every other current event’s penchant for incongruous and blaring music at the changeovers. This is staple fare during the slow month of February, and each region has its own preferred playlist, although the selection never seems quite to align with local tastes. Montpellier had a great time with ‘Part Time Lover’. San Jose differs in that fans may make requests of the DJ via Twitter. So far today I’ve heard Bon Jovi, Nickelback, Bruno Mars and Chumbawamba, among others. It is therefore theoretically possible to track down those responsible.

In the spirit of commercialism, the SAP Open periodically alleviates these pop-medleys by advertising local businesses. I now know that Blue Mango was recently voted best Thai restaurant in Silicon Valley, which will come in handy the next time I want to travel 8,000 miles for dinner. Admittedly the ads are intended for those in the stadium itself, but given that there were only about twelve people there today, I’m not convinced Blue Mango is seeing a decent return for its advertising dollar. Along with sparse attendance, the tournament has struggled with sponsorship for years. The impression, across the board, is that the event has been left to drift aimlessly for a good decade, a far cry from the days when Barry MacKay toiled tirelessly in its promotion. As ever, the whole thing feels provincial, and, despite its cavernous venue, cramped.

For those fans who unfortunately cannot attend in person – apparently nearly all of them – the television coverage hardly encourages them to tune in. It is seemingly directed by Terry Gilliam in full Twelve Monkeys mode, and assembled from whatever security footage he has at hand. The default camera is positioned along the doubles sideline on the umpire’s side of the court, on a shallow angle. This is periodically switched out for a useful low-angle behind the opposite baseline, or to another less-useful camera suspended from the ceiling. The perspective and the ends switch about restlessly, thereby making it easier to lose track of which player is which. I know this is the tournament’s last year, but could they not have positioned a camera in the conventional spot?

Ryan Harrison today was the tiny but vociferous figure who wasn’t wearing a hat, while Benjamin Becker was the one in white, with his hat turned backwards. Harrison was by all accounts unwell, although as far as I could make out from the bird’s nest vantage he was competing with undiminished gusto, especially when he fought to break back in the final set. The crowd went wild, although their meagre cheers were immediately drowned out by the sound system’s efforts to entertain them. Alas, Harrison was broken again immediately, and Becker eventually served out the match. The best points came at the end, as Harrison saved a couple of match points.

Jack Sock was clad in yellow, and like Becker wore a hat, which counts as a highlight. Marinko Matosevic was hatless, in white. Sock led by a break throughout much of the first set, lost it, then lost the set in a tiebreaker. Thereafter he lost interest, and soon afterwards, the match. The hatless Ryan Sweeting fared no better against the presumably be-goggled Denis Istomin (the security footage made it hard to be sure), losing in straight sets. Later on Tim Smyczek upset Fernando Verdasco, thus saving Milos Raonic the trouble.

It was thus a mixed day for the young American men, but a bad day for an old American tournament. At least for the former there is some hope that better days will come. For the San Jose tournament the best days, in which the world’s top players would do vigorous battle for a coveted title, are only fading memories. The ATP website put up a nice video to commemorate the passing, appropriately valedictory in tone, rich with recollection, and entirely contrasting with the limping haggardness of the event so far. Thankfully, they’ve planned something special for the weekend. I hope it’s an appropriate send-off.

Mark Knowles as a Tennis Player and Father

 

By Matt Fitzgerald, Special for Tennis Grandstand

On a crisp January morning in Texas, four-time Grand Slam champion Mark Knowles found himself in an elementary school classroom in Southlake. Accompanying his eldest child Graham to a breakfast function, “Donuts For Dads”, Knowles spent the morning with his son’s classmates and fellow fathers in the area, who had made their usual plans to attend the occasion before heading off to work. But Knowles was turning out for the first time. The Bahamian’s profession is unlike anyone else’s in his community. His occupation forces him to make personal sacrifices on a consistent basis. Sacrifices like quality time with his children. But on this day, in this month of January, Knowles put his family first… and tennis second.

9,000 miles away in Melbourne, the Australian Open was just underway. It was an event Knowles had played professionally since 1993, a tournament where he first tasted Grand Slam glory in 2002. At 40 years old, it’s hard to fathom many players, if any, would forgo the year’s first Grand Slam tournament with a full bill of health. But Knowles isn’t ordinary. He’s extraordinary. Knowing it may have been his final opportunity to play Down Under, the precious time with his family is something Knowles wouldn’t trade for anything else. “I have been fortunate to have a long, successful career and I have reached a stage where all my decisions are family based as opposed to being based around my tennis,” Knowles tells Tennis Grandstand in Delray Beach.

“Things have changed a lot for me with the addition of our third child, and with my oldest son, Graham, starting Kindergarten last September. I always told myself that I wanted to be there for my kids growing up as much as I possibly could.”

His wife Dawn, whom he married in 2003, relished the change in dynamics. “Mark has a close bond with the children. For us as a couple, it was great, as we got to do so many things as a family. I’m usually doing many of things by myself,” said the Texan.

“The day in and day out of having Mark home with the kids was wonderful. One minute, he’s outside kicking the soccer ball with Brody. Or he’s working on Graham’s baseball since it’s starting up. The next minute, he’ll take Presley outside in the Baby Bjorn. There’s not a minute where he’s not with one of those kids, so it’s great for me.”

Family has always been a priority for Knowles, but with the birth of daughter Presley last March, it would seem to be even more difficult to strike a perfect harmony between his loved ones and his career. But not for the former world No. 1, stating, “I want to be a major influence in my kids’ lives. And with that comes the responsibility of being there for my wife and my kids.

“It takes so much hard work and dedication to be a great tennis player and I have chosen to shift those energies towards being a great husband and great father for my family. Just like tennis or anything else, you have to dedicate yourself completely to it. The best part about it is that I love being with my family so much that it makes it easier to be away from the tennis sometimes.”

The couple has found it challenging to deal with the requirements of Knowles being on and off the road, in particular with six-year old Graham, explains Dawn. “Mark will say that he’s just going to play tennis for a few days, but Graham knows the difference now with how long a day is. Brody doesn’t know the time frame.

“The hardest part is the kids are getting smarter, so we can’t keep saying dad is going to be gone for a couple days, because they’re counting the days he’s away. They ask for him at night. Mark helps Graham with his homework, taking the time to read the books and oversee all of his assignments. When it’s me doing it, it’s not the same for him. His expectation is that time is for him and his dad to spend together.”

Perhaps the best decision Knowles made after having two months with his family was a return to action at the Dallas Challenger in February, a virtual hometown event that would allow him to ease back into the reality of his career. Playing an ATP Challenger event for the first time in 11 years, Knowles didn’t put himself above the level of competition at the tournament, knowing that it would be an ideal environment to acquire some match practice. “It was interesting returning to the Challenger level. It was a chance for me to get some matches in and also to play at home with family and friends watching,” says Knowles.

“The level is so high at challengers that it prepares you well for the ATP World Tour events. Being from the Bahamas, I have never had a home event. To be able to drive 20 minutes and play and then come back to your own house and be with your family was awesome!”

Partnering Robert Kendrick, Knowles reached the semifinals, and then headed off to San Jose to rejoin Xavier Malisse. The two enjoyed success during the North American summer hard court swing in 2011, winning the title in Los Angeles and reaching the third round of the US Open. They clicked more with each match in San Jose, and went on to finish in the winner’s circle to win their second team trophy. The victory gave Knowles his 55th career title, and extended his impressive streak of winning at least one tour-level title to 19 of the past 20 seasons. He also became the first player in his 40s to win a doubles title since John McEnroe (who also won in San Jose). “Playing Dallas was a huge benefit and the reason I did well in San Jose. There is no substitute for match practice and match situations,” believes Knowles.

“I always go into a tournament thinking that I can win it. I think everyone feels that way. However, I know how hard it is to win tournaments, especially coming off a prolonged break. Xavier and I were able to raise our games with each match and that is what it takes to win at this level.”

Knowles hasn’t set any specific goals for this season, but will continue playing provided his ranking holds up to gain him entry into tournaments. For Dawn, she would love nothing more than for Mark to play in another final, with Graham cheering him on from the front row. “Graham is beginning to understand sports. Before Mark went to San Jose, he said, ‘I hope you get the trophy.’ His idea of winning is Mark getting a piece of silverware. That’s what they do at his age. For him to see Mark lift the trophy would be huge. He thinks that’s the best thing in the world.”

Either way, Dawn is backing her husband 100 percent, whether he decides to retire tomorrow, at the end of the year or further down the road. Being there with him through all the ups and downs, the former model believes his accomplishments speak for themselves. “If I could waive the magic wand and give him the men’s doubles Wimbledon title, I would totally do that. But that doesn’t define his career. He’s a good candidate for the Hall Of Fame. He has a proven record with a variety of partners to show he can win.

“If he decides at the end of this year that he’s done, I want him to walk away like he’s done it all and is satisfied. I’m going to support him through that decision. He’ll go down as one of the best doubles players to play the game and I’m not saying that because I have to as his wife. In a broader context, he has earned that among his peers.”

(All photos courtesy of Mark’s wife, Dawn Knowles via the author)

Matt Fitzgerald is the web editor for the ATP World Tour and Tennis Grandstand’s resident doubles specialist. He is in Indian Wells, California this week covering the BNP Paribas Open and will be in Key Biscayne, Florida next week covering the Sony Ericsson Open. Follow Matt on twitter @tennisfitz.

Raonic Joins the Ranks of the Andys in San Jose

Milos Raonic received a bottle of Canadian maple syrup for the second consecutive year from SAP Open tournament director Bill Rapp on Sunday after he successfully defended his San Jose title.

The 21-year-old native of Thornhill, Ontario defeated world no. 61 Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan 7-6(3), 6-2 in the championship final to earn his third career title and become the first player since Andy Murray (2006-07) and Andy Roddick (2004-05) to win back-to-back titles in San Jose. Raonic also becomes the first player on the ATP World Tour to capture two titles in 2012 after winning in Chennai during the first week of the season. He is now 11-1 on the year.

Raonic, who did not drop a set en route to the title, once again showcased his dominance on serve, winning 41 of his 42 service games to remain undefeated at the SAP Open. In the final against Istomin, the Canadian lost a mere four points on serve in his 80 minute victory. Raonic also kept his unblemished tiebreak record in San Jose intact, improving to 8-0.

“I feel amazing. It’s definitely a different feeling from the first time last year. I think I’m more aware and more appreciative of the moment,” Raonic told the crowd in an on-court interview.

Raonic was able to defend his title at San Jose despite being unable to play his final singles match at the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas first-round match-up against France the previous weekend. What was originally thought by doctors to be a 4 millimeter tear in Raonic’s left knee following an ultrasound in Vancouver, turned out to be nothing serious once the swelling faded. He was re-examined upon his arrival at the Stanford Medical Center on Monday and the MRI results thankfully allowed doctors to give the fastest rising star in tennis the green light to return to the court after just a few days rest.

All three of Raonic’s ATP titles have come on hard courts and at 250 level events. The next step for the hard serving Canuck, nicknamed the “Maple Leaf Missile”, will be to make deeper runs at bigger tournaments on multiple surfaces where the competition is tougher. Raonic will get the chance to do just that this week in Memphis, an ATP 500 event, where he reached the final last year before falling to Andy Roddick in a hotly contested final that featured one of the shots of 2011 by Roddick on match point.

Raonic is seeded fourth in Memphis this year and finds himself in the same section of the draw as second-seeded Roddick, fifth-seeded Russian Alex Bogomolov Jr. and sixth-seeded Julien Benneteau of France. He will play his first match on Wednesday night against talented Latvian Ernests Gulbis.

Fellow Canadian Rebecca Marino, the reigning Memphis women’s finalist, is back on Tour and will play her first match since the Australian Open against second-seeded Ksenia Pervak of Kazakhstan in the opening round on Tuesday. In addition to Marino and Raonic reaching the singles finals in Memphis in 2011, Daniel Nestor also won the doubles title to complete an impressive Canadian trifecta.

San Jose: Andy Roddick Overcomes Injury and Denis Kudla to Win

There are times when it takes something special to invigorate a tennis tournament, to really make it feel like the competition has begun in earnest. Without question, the most thrilling and dramatic match in recent SAP Open memory came last night, when three-time champion Andy Roddick overcame a spectacular challenge from 19-year old qualifier Denis Kudla, 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 6-4. Under any set of circumstances, the match’s changes in momentum and stellar shot-making from both players would have had all the makings of a classic match. But it was an injury scare deep in the second set that raised the drama in this match to another level.

Roddick had started the match somewhat tentatively, which was cause for concern since the former world number one was playing his first tournament since withdrawing from the Australian Open with a hamstring injury. As the match wore on, it seemed to be more a result of a lack of match practice, rather than any lingering effects. Roddick found a serving rhythm, and while he was still not playing at his best, he was varying his shots effectively and moving well around the court.

It quickly became apparent that for Roddick, moving well would be an absolute necessity. His young opponent, who had to overcome some jitters at the start of the match, quickly settled into an extremely comfortable and surprising rhythm. Since Kudla is a newcomer to the ATP (he was playing in his ninth career tour-level match), not many of the viewers knew what to expect from him. Some had seen him play an excellent match in the first round against Jack Sock, in which he played solidly but largely beat the other young American with his consistency. He came out against the veteran with a much more difficult game plan.

Denis Kudla, who had reached the finals of the 2010 U.S. Open Junior tournament, played the majority of the match at a level that no one would have ever expected from a player ranked outside the top 200, except perhaps for Kudla himself. He had the confidence to go for shots that were for all intents and purposes, ridiculous. He would hit winners stretched wide to both his forehand and backhand side. He would blast shots up the line and rip cross-court winners. For a stretch, it not only seemed that Kudla was able to consistently paint the lines with his shots, it seemed that he was refusing to hit anywhere else on the court.

Roddick was clearly flustered by the flurry of winners coming off the 19-year old’s racket, and on many occasions when another cleanly-struck, line-licking ball flew past him, all he could do was roll his eyes in disbelief and get ready for the next point. This onslaught would have been enough to unsettle most players, but Roddick was clearly there to win. He may have only been playing, in his own words, “at 40%” throughout the first set, but he still managed to get it to a tie-break. Some aggressive play from his opponent in a key moment was enough to seal the set, and Roddick suddenly found himself down a set.

The second set saw Roddick up his intensity, buoyed by the crowd’s support and his own frustration. He started hitting his shots with more pace, while Kudla continued to swing freely, hardly concerned with the fact that he wasn’t supposed to be able to play that well for that long. Roddick was leading as the tail end of the set was drawing close, and the crowd was rooting for Andy to break and take the set. But when stretching out wide to return serve on the first point of the game at 4-5, Roddick rolled over on his ankle and screamed in pain as he rolled on the ground, covering his face with his hands.

The atmosphere in the arena was tense while the trainer evaluated the extent of Roddick’s injury. Ultimately, his ankle was put in a brace and took a few tentative steps. After the match, Andy admitted that he thought that the match might have been over, but he said in his press conference that he didn’t want to retire from another match with injury. He “was tired of doing that,” he said. Even when he returned to the court, it seemed like a long shot that he would be able to fight all the way back.

He was clearly moving a bit gingerly on his injured ankle, finding it difficult to push off that side. In his first service game after the injury, Roddick found himself in a love-forty hole. If he was broken there, surely Kudla would be able to serve out the match. It was at that point that the 19-year old first showed signs that he was feeling the pressure. Kudla had a simple cross-court pass that would have given him the break, but he pushed it slightly wide. Despite being slightly hobbled, Roddick seemed to detect the little waver in his opponent’s nerve, and he somehow managed not only to hold serve, but he also managed to eke out the tiebreak that followed.

Two hours in and the pair were tied at a set apiece. Each had held serve twelve straight times. Shockingly, the third set started with Kudla – who must have been severely disappointed that he hadn’t been able to wrap the match up already – finding a way to break Andy Roddick’s serve. It was at this point, once again, that Kudla blinked. He had the victory in his sights, and the pressure of beating a player who had inspired him while he was growing up proved to be too much. Kudla was broken twice, largely off of shots that he had been making for the first two sets, but were now landing well wide of the lines.

In the end, Roddick was happy to get the win and hopeful that his ankle would recover in time for him to play his best in Friday’s quarterfinal. But he believed that Kudla struggled with the prospect of winning the match, once the reality of it was so close. He knew that he’d been let off the hook, in some ways, by the younger American, and he understood the special kind of pressure that came with closing out a big upset.

Over the course of two hours and forty-two minutes, Roddick and Kudla played 257 total points. The match was so close that the final breakdown of points won was Kudla – 128 and Roddick – 129. The one extra point that Roddick won turned out to be the only point that mattered: match point.

San Jose: McEnroe/Sock Prevail Over Monfils/Johnson; Anderson Wins

The weather in San Jose may have been unusually cold and wet today – even for February, but that didn’t stop things from proceeding exactly as planned at the HP Pavilion, where the first day of the SAP Open finished up at ten minutes before midnight, when big-serving Kevin Anderson prevailed over Grigor Dimitrov in a third set tiebreak. Dimitrov had come out on fire, but once the tall South African found his serving rhythm in the second set, neither player could manage a break, and when it comes to tiebreaks, being able to rely on a booming serve like Anderson’s can make all the difference.

The highlight of the evening had been earlier, when the legendary John McEnroe took to the court, along with the talented and top-seeded Gael Monfils to play doubles, each paired with a young American. McEnroe partnered with Jack Sock, while Monfils played with NCAA champion Steve Johnson. The exhibition match had its roster changed around due to the withdrawals before the tournament, but neither the B-team players nor the weather outside could dampen the audience’s enjoyment of Johnny Mac displaying plenty of his signature magic at the net.

Monfils got up to plenty of showmanship as well, with his own brand of shots behind the back, between the legs, and hang time smashes, not to mention plenty of diving and sliding around the court, in his inimitable fashion. Sock and Johnson each acquitted themselves admirably, both serving and volleying with more precision that you might expect from a pair so inexperienced at tour level. Sock has perhaps a bit more firepower and a bit more flare than the USC Trojan, but everyone in attendance was left confident that both players ought to have long and successful pro careers ahead of them.

Of course, it was McEnroe who was the main draw of the evening, and he did not disappoint. He served exceptionally well, going so far as to thank the operator of the radar gun when one of his serves hit the 126 mph mark, which he claims to have been a first for him. McEnroe turns 53 on Thursday (the crowd regaled him with a rendition of “Happy Birthday”) but his ability to hit pinpoint volleys from seemingly impossible positions and to place them perfectly on the other side of the court remains unmatched in the modern game. The crowd also got the result they wanted from the match, with McEnroe and Sock prevailing in two tight sets, 6-4, 6-4. There were even some theatrics involving the line calls and the challenge system, but it all seemed to be in good fun.

After the match, McEnroe fielded questions about the state of the game today and the surprises of his post-playing tennis career. He explained how thankful he was to have come to enjoy these sorts of exhibitions as well as his time as a broadcaster, two things which he never thought he would have wanted to continue doing, while he was playing. He also discussed his movie and TV roles, and marveled at how many people recognize him from his appearances in Adam Sandler movies, without being aware that he was originally a tennis player.

When it came to his take on the modern tennis game, he once again touched on how spoiled the United States had been up until the current generation, and what needed to be done to get an American player vying for grand slam titles, again. McEnroe touted Sock as a future top ten player, but he had more to say about what he is currently trying to accomplish at his tennis academy in New York. It was his opinion that the current trend in junior development which forces young players to devote themselves almost exclusively to tennis inevitably leads to burnout. He believed that a more rounded development process would ultimately be more successful, but he recognizes he’s in the minority, even finding himself in disagreement with his own brother, who is the head of the USTA player development program.

I guess time will tell.

When it came to the other matches during the day session, it was not a great day to be a former junior world number one. Two of them were in action in the final round of qualifying, and neither managed to win a set. Ricardas Berankis, who reached the quarterfinals in this tournament last year but has been struggling with a leg injury, was forced to retire against Tim Smyczek. Yuki Bhambri, another great junior player who has been struggling to make the transition to the pro level, fell to collegiate tennis player Dennis Lajola, of the University of Hawaii. It marks the first time that Lajola has ever successfully qualified into the main draw of an ATP event, and he has a chance to go even further, since he meets another qualifier in the first round tomorrow.

SAP Open Tournament Preview

While the tennis season has been underway for nearly a month and a half already, the sport has to make its way onto US soil – with the exception of five matches a few weeks ago, when the United States bested Belarus in Fed Cup competition in Worcester, Massachusetts. That encounter was just a taste, because from now until the middle of April, there will be at least one professional tennis tournament taking place in the United States every week.

The first tournament is the long-running SAP Open in San Jose, and it must be said that US tennis is slightly stumbling out of the blocks. Even before the tournament has officially begun, the draw has been dramatically weakened by some high-profile withdrawals, particularly the veterans Hewitt and Blake, along with up-and-coming Aussie phenom Bernard Tomic. As if that weren’t enough, all three of the tournament’s top three seeds (Roddick, Monfils, and defending champion Raonic) have been struggling with injuries recently, and their ability to perform at their top levels has to be considered something of a question mark.

Fortunately for the tournament organizers, the remainder of the field – while not necessarily star-studded – is certainly varied. There are a handful of tour veterans, including Tommy Haas, Radek Stepanek, Xavier Malisse, and Michael Russell. The showing from the younger contingent is just as strong, as it features Donald Young, Grigor Dimitrov, Ryan Harrison, and (probably) Milos Raonic. In addition to those young men, there is an excellent chance that we’ll have at least a couple more, once qualifying is completed on Monday. Ricardas Berankis, Yuki Bhambri, and Denis Kudla are all young players who have a shot at the main draw. Several years ago, Andy Murray won his first ATP title in San Jose, so we could see another young gun using this tournament as a springboard this year.

There are a handful of other interesting players scattered throughout the draw, including a pair of Americans fighting their way back from injuries last year (Sam Querrey and Robbie Ginepri), one of the shortest and one of the tallest players on tour (Olivier Rochus and Kevin Anderson), as well as the most successful active player without a tournament win (Julien Benneteau, who is 0-6 in finals). I also happen to think that Denis Istomin is one of the most entertaining players who you’ve probably never heard of. Just check out this point he played against Nadal a few years ago. He’s a guy that I keep expecting to make a breakthrough, but it hasn’t happened, yet.

It’s always tough to predict how a tournament will break down, before you can see what sort of form players are in and how well they like the conditions that particular week. It’s especially difficult for a tournament when the favorites are carrying injuries that aren’t going to be helping their chances. Roddick, Raonic, and Stepanek are all former champions here. Raonic has another title this year already, and Monfils made the final of the last tournament he played in, losing a close match to Berdych in Montpellier. Roddick looked to be in good form at the Australian Open until a hamstring injury sidelined him against Lleyton Hewitt. Roddick is one of two active players (the other being Federer) to have won at least one title per year for the last eleven years. I know that’s a streak that Andy would like to see continue, and if he’s fully recovered, he has an excellent shot this week in San Jose.

If Roddick and the other big dogs aren’t able to play their best, then it might be open season. There are plenty of wily veterans who would love to get their hands on the trophy and just as many hungry young players who want their first taste of victory.

Emergence of Canadian Tennis: Raonic, Marino, Pospisil

For years, Canada’s tennis accomplishments could be found in one man’s trophy case, that of doubles legend Daniel Nestor. The country’s tennis community has been starving for its first bona fide singles player since the days of Carling Bassett-Seguso, Helen Kelesi and Canadian turned Brit Greg Rusedski.

Over the past few seasons, Canadian tennis has turned over a new leaf. The proverbial ball started rolling in 2008 when Aleksandra Wozniak became the first Canadian in 20 years to win a WTA title and reached a career-high ranking of no. 21 in June of 2009. Fast forward two years and the emergence of a trio of 20-year-olds with big serves, Milos Raonic, Rebecca Marino and Vasek Pospisil will arguably make 2011 the greatest single season in Canadian tennis history.

An unexpected run to the fourth round of the Australian Open put Raonic on the tennis map, and in a big way. He proved his performance was no fluke, backing it up with his maiden ATP title in San Jose and a finals appearance in Memphis where he lost a dramatic championship match to Andy Roddick. His breakthrough season has allowed Raonic to become the highest ranked Canadian man in history and also earned him nomination for the ATP’s Newcomer of the Year award. In the process, Raonic has become Canada’s tennis ambassador, and a very good one at that. After recovering from hip surgery this summer, the sky is the limit for Raonic in 2012.

With Raonic watching on the sidelines, Vasek Pospisil single-handedly propelled Canada into the Davis Cup World Group for the first time since 2005, winning all three of his matches against Israel including the decisive fifth rubber. Pospisil also posted the first two Top 50 wins of his career in 2011 over Juan Igancio Chela at the Rogers Cup presented by National Bank and over John Isner at the Valencia Open.

A second round showing at the Australian Open, an appearance in the final at Memphis and a run to the third round of the French Open allowed Rebecca Marino to crack the Top 40 on the WTA rankings, overtaking Wozniak as the top Canadian in the women’s game.

At the junior level, Eugenie Bouchard won the Wimbledon doubles title this season and is the no. 5 ranked junior player in the world. At no. 20, Françoise Abanda is the top ranked 14-year-old on the planet.

The establishment of three National Training Centres in Montreal, Toronto and just last week in Vancouver, as well as talent id programs, is further proof that Canada is serious about developing tennis champions and intend on starting at an early age.

For the first time in a long time, the tennis world is sitting up and taking notice of Canada as one of the fastest growing tennis nations in the world. Perhaps what is most encouraging is the fact that success is coming by committee and not just the result of one player’s exploits.

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

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

Week 7 Preview: Buenos Aires, Rotterdam, San Jose

The 7th week of the ATP Tour is coming up and so here is another preview. The preview includes Buenos Aires (Argentina), ABN Amro in Rotterdam (Netherlands), San Jose (USA).

Buenos Aires

* Singles Draw
* Doubles Draw

The South American claycourt swing heads to Buenos Aires this week and all the usual suspects are there to try to win this title. Three of the top four seeds are hometown players looking to claim their first title of the year – #4 seed Juan Ignacio Chela especially will be looking to turn around an abysmal start to the year but faces a very tough opener in Santiago Ventura. We will have to wait and see if this is one of the weeks #1 seed David Nalbandian decides to care about tennis (though we’d like to think he’d care at his home tournament), and it is #2 seed Juan Monaco’s first tournament back after a pretty serious ankle injury that dashed his hopes for a title two weeks ago at Vina del Mar; he also faces a tough opener in Agustin Calleri. Also joining the party and poised to make deep runs are this week’s Brasil Open finalists Nicolas Almagro and Carlos Moya, depending on how they rebound physically. Filled with claycourters and possible upsets, it’s really impossible to know how this one might turn out.

Rotterdam

* Singles Draw
* Doubles Draw

Despite losing world #3 Novak Djokovic before the draw was made, this tournament is clearly still the strongest of the week, as it boasts half of the world’s top ten (in fact, all eight seeds are in the top 20) and 125 ranking points more than Buenos Aires or San Jose. This means there are no easy draws, evidenced by the fact that #1 seed Rafael Nadal must open against tough Dmitry Tursunov right away in the first round and a potential second round with Lleyton Hewitt. In the very same first quarter of the draw, Marcos Baghdatis faces no easy task in first round opponent and indoor monster Robin Soderling.

Headed by #4 seed and defending champion Mikhail Youzhny and #7 Juan Carlos Ferrero, this quarter is easily the weakest of the four, and Youzhny is the obvious favorite to make it through to the semis from this section, but Ferrero should not be counted out either. This quarter is not without dangerous floaters, though. Gilles Simon or Feliciano Lopez could make for a tricky second round match for Youzhny, and while not his favorite surface, the fact that Tommy Robredo is ranked 19 in the world and is unseeded just shows just how strong this draw is.

The third quarter of the draw is where things really get interesting. Fresh off his uh, challenger win this week, last year’s finalist Ivan Ljubicic sees himself unseeded and thus will have his hands full – very full – with #5 seed Tomas Berdych in the first round. Right next to them in the draw is perhaps the funniest-looking match on the ATP tour with pint-sized Olivier Rochus taking on the giant Ivo Karlovic. #3 Ferrer’s draw to the quarterfinals appears to be a fairly smooth one, but he cannot overlook Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber.

In the final quarter of the draw, #6 seed Andy Murray, fresh off his Marseille win, should make it through to the quarterfinals, where he’d also be favored against #2 seed Nikolay Davydenko. Also lurking in this quarter is Michael Llodra, who could be a formidable player indoors if he gets his serve-volley game working, and local players Robin Haase and Raemon Sluiter, who announced that he is making this Rotterdam event his last ATP appearance.

San Jose

* Singles Draw
* Doubles Draw

What can we really say except that this is Roddick’s tournament to lose (which means he probably will). Stopped by Andy Murray the past two years in the semifinals and champion the two years after that, Murray’s decision to play the European indoor swing, as well as Ivo Karlovic’s, conbined with the absence of Fernando Gonzalez, leaves this tournament Roddick’s for the taking. Whether he will take it, we will have to wait and see. He faces lucky loser Chris Guccione, a late replacement Vince Spadea, in the first round and could face Delray Beach champ Kei Nishikori in what would be a most intriguing second round. At the bottom of the draw, James Blake will have to rebound quickly from the disappointment of losing the Delray Beach final and could face Robby Ginepri again, if Ginepri makes it there (he opens in a rematch of last week’s match against Michael Russell).

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this event is something not even related to the tournament draw at all. Tomorrow night, Pete Sampras will play an exhibition against Tommy Haas and the following night, the entire US Davis Cup team will be present with the trophy itself, which is making a stop in San Jose, for a nice celebration.