sixth straight title

RAFA, CRY ME A RIVER: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Cry me a River – Maybe I’m alone in this, but I had to roll my eyes a bit at Rafael Nadal slamming the tour calendar, “especially this part of the clay court season,” just because he couldn’t play Barcelona. Look, I think everyone is in agreement that “tennis off season” is one of the better oxymorons in sports. I also understand that Monte Carol is a Masters 1000 event, and Nadal was going for his sixth straight title there. But Nadal is also one of the lucky few who has enough ranking points to be selective about where he plays, and Monte Carlo is not a mandatory Masters 1000 event. If Barca is that important to Nadal, he had the option of skipping Monte Carlo to play his “home” event. Furthermore, it’s not like he hasn’t played the full clay court schedule only to go on and taste success at Roland Garros. At the end of the day, the real issue for his being forced to pull out of Barcelona and lighten his load is his knees. I’m glad to see he’s opted to sit out a week, because that’s something he can control. He can also control his style of play, and he’d be well served to tweak that so that it’s not as demanding on the body. He can’t control the schedule, so he needs to make his peace with controlling what he can.

Battle of the Comeback Queens – In honor of Belgium’s six-month stint in the president’s seat of the European Union, fan favorites and fellow Belgians Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin will duke it out in an exhibition match due to take place on July 8. The match between the two is currently slated to beat the previous exhibition match attendance record of 30,492, which was set during the historic 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. While the match between the two Belgians won’t have nearly the same ramifications, it will still be great for tennis if the two could generate such a crowd.

Million Dollar Baby – $1.54 million that is. That’s the chunk of change that’s awaiting the men’s and women’s singles winners at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships. I think it’s great to see that the folks at Wimbledon have taken into consideration the deflation of the British Pound and are still doing everything possible to ensure Wimbledon remains the premiere event in the sport. I also greatly admire the fact that they’re sticking to tradition and have confirmed that there will still be no night tennis matches scheduled, despite having the lights and roof for Centre Court. Certainly selling tickets for a separate night session would help raise more funds to offset the increase in prize money, but it’s nice to see that they didn’t cave in to that temptation.

I Love This Town – That’s how Sam Stosur will undoubtedly feel when Charleston rolls around in 2011. This past Sunday, Stosur not only won her second (and biggest) WTA Tour singles title, but she did so in dominating fashion. Stosur absolutely crushed the competition, including her win in the final over Vera Zvonareva. Hopefully Stosur will take some confidence from this emphatic victory and employ it against the biggest guns on the grandest stages in the game.

Road Trip! – The biggest story of the week was volcanic ash disrupting flights all across Europe (and the world for that matter). No one was exempt from the inconvenience, including pro tennis players. One individual who had a particularly interesting journey from London to Barca was Jordan Kerr. His journey included a train ride, a subway ride, and a car trip with an unknown Moroccan man in a suit and seven other strangers, proving that the pro life isn’t always as glamorous as one might think.  The story has a happy ending however, as Kerr did win his first round doubles match and walked away with nearly 3,000 Euros. To read the whole saga, be sure to check out www.atpworldtour.com

Clijsters rolls in return to Grand Slam play

NEW YORK (AP)—Four years and one baby later, Kim Clijsters still looks like a contender.

The 2005 U.S. Open titlist cruised through her return to Grand Slam tennis Monday, defeating Viktoriya Kutuzova 6-1, 6-1 in the opening round in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Next on that court, Roger Federer extended his U.S. Open winning streak to 35 matches with a 6-1, 6-3, 7-5 victory over NCAA champion Devin Britton.

While Federer is seeking his sixth straight title at Flushing Meadows, Clijsters played her first Grand Slam match since the 2007 Australian Open, after which she retired to start a family. She had a baby girl in May 2008, but recently decided to return to competitive tennis.

It has been a good return thus far, one that has included four wins over top-20 opponents in two tournaments in August. Granted, this was only the first round of the U.S. Open, but her 58-minute win over Kutuzova included very few signs of rust.

“Now it’s a matter of trying to keep this going,” Clijsters said.

She won the first seven and last 11 points of the match and grinded through her few hiccups, including three double-faults in the third game of the opening set, which extended to seven deuces before she pulled it out.

The win guaranteed she’ll be ranked at least 148th after the Open, when she’ll have played the three required tournaments she needs to return to the list.

“I still feel like I can improve,” she said. “But I’m definitely comfortable where I am right now.”

Other winners in the first round included eighth-seeded Victoria Azarenka, 12th-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska and 26th-seeded Francesca Schiavone. Paul-Henri Mathieu, No. 26 on the men’s side, was the first seeded player to lose, beaten by Mikhail Youzhny 2-6, 7-5, 6-0, 6-2.

The Williams sisters were both on the schedule, as were Andy Roddick and James Blake.

Another American, Sam Querrey, will debut later this week, bringing with him some lofty expectations—he might be the next great American tennis star in a country looking for just that.

“Everyone is doing what they can,” said Querrey, who is seeded 22nd. “A lot of times, even if you go back 100 years, you’ll have a period of 10 years where you’ll have four or five guys in the top 10, and then years where you might just have one guy. It’s kind of like a rolling wave.”

As much as anywhere else, the search for America’s next great player resonates at Arthur Ashe Stadium, inside the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of America’s Grand Slam. It’s the place where Connors and McEnroe, Chrissy and Tracy Austin, ruled during a golden era that feels more like ancient history with each passing year.

Patrick McEnroe is in charge of putting together the program that will keep the pipeline filled, with hopes of producing multiple stars in the future.

“I think it’s going in the right direction,” Roddick said. “I think even with younger kids going back to 14, 15, 16 years old in Florida, from what I hear, it’s a lot more” organized.

That’s the future.

The present belongs—could belong, that is—to guys like John Isner (ranked 55th), Donald Young (185) and Jesse Levine (135). No. 25 seed Mardy Fish is on this list, too, but the 27-year-old withdrew Sunday with a rib injury.

And Querrey.

He stands 6-foot-6 and ranks third on tour with 696 aces this year, a stat that is allowing him to become more aggressive in his return game, as well, because he’s more confident about holding serve.

He is 21-6 since Wimbledon and has played in four finals, including a victory in Los Angeles. He won the U.S. Open Series, a grouping of hard-court tournaments leading to this week. That pushed his ranking from barely inside the top 50 to a career-best 22nd. It also earned him a chance for a $1 million bonus if he wins the Open.

His biggest win this summer was a 7-6 (11), 7-6 (3) victory over Roddick, one that may not signal Querrey is ready to rise all the way to the top, but certainly serves as a confidence builder.

“It also helps if you play Federer or Nadal,” Querrey said. “Andy’s beaten those guys. Hey, he did it, I beat him, why can’t I beat those guys? So it kind of gives you that extra edge against them, too.”