sixth seed

WOMEN FALL LIKE DOMINOS IN MADRID

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FRENCH HOPES IN MONTE CARLO

The 2010 Masters Circuit has landed on European soil with the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters this week.

After Americans had home-grown superstar Andy Roddick to cheer on in both the finals of Indian Wells and Miami, the French will be hoping that one of their many young prodigies across the tennis circuit rises to the challenge on the sumptuous clay courts of one of Europe’s largest tax havens. Yes, technically there can’t be any home-grown winners as no current players cite the city-state of Monaco as their place of birth, but you know what I mean.

As usual with organizers handing wildcards to national treasures they have plenty to choose from throughout the draw.

Most knowing eyes glance immediately to the name of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. ‘The Black Barracuda,’ No. 10 in the world and sixth seed here in Monte Carlo, would be most fan’s prediction as the nation’s biggest hope.

With no Gael Monfils, Julien Benneteau will be receiving an increased share of support from the home crowd. The world No. 36 is still chasing his first career title and at the age of 28 is quickly approaching that dreaded brow of the hill known as the “big 3-0.” Having reached a career high ranking of No. 33 last October he will be hoping to push on and improve further in 2010.

Of the four finals he has lost during his career, two were on French soil in Lyon in 2008 and Marseille back in February where he went down 3-6, 4-6 to compatriot Michael Llodra. He also has four doubles titles on French soil and lost the doubles final here in 2007 when he and Richard Gasquet fell short of the dominating Bryan brothers.

Another bright French spark, Jeremy Chardy, has already crashed out in round one going down to Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan yesterday 2-6, 6-7(2).

With such big players in the draw the task lying ahead for the home talent is huge. But every big name missing from the draw is a blessing and they will all be happy not to see the shadow of Roger Federer crawling through the rounds towards them.

Whether they can live up to expectation is another matter and if they are like us Brits across the channel the French will be braced for disappointment. However, with so many more highly ranked players than our sole hope Andy Murray they have a much better chance of success.

The French have their own hoodoo to break too you know. Marcel Bernard was the last Frenchman to win Roland Garros in 1946, before the Open Era had even begun. It may not be quite as big as the ghost of Fred Perry but there’s not too much in it. They haven’t had a French finalist since Henri Lecont lost to the Swede Mats Wilander in 1988 either.

Will a local star use this tournament to push on towards ending that spectre and help appease the hurt of one of the world’s proudest nations? Sit back and find out as one of the world’s grandest tennis settings plays host to its own masters event of 2010.