Stefan Koubek

Mondays With Bob Greene: Ana Ivanovic May Even Be Better Than Maria Sharapova

STARS

Nikolay Davydenko won The Hypo Group Tennis International 2008 in Poertschach, Austria, defeating Juan Monaco 6-2 2-6 6-2

Sweden captured the ARAG World Team Cup in Duesseldorf, Germany, edging Russia 2-1 when Robert Lindstedt and Robin Soderling took the decisive doubles, downing Dimitry Tursunov and Mikhail Youzhny 4-6 7-6 (5) 11-9

Gilles Simon defeated Julien Benneteau 7-5 6-2 to win the Grand Prix Hassan II in Casablanca, Morocco

Anabel Medina Garrigues successfully defended Internationaux de Strasbourg title by beating Katarina Srebotnik 4-6 7-6 (4) 6-0 in Strasbourg, France

Agnieszka Radwanska beat Elena Demetieva 6-3 6-2 to win the Istanbul Cup in Istanbul, Turkey

SAYINGS

“I don’t think I will ever come back. I think that it’s important just to move on.” – Justine Henin, confirming her retirement from tennis is for good.

“What better way could there be for me to say goodbye?” – Gustavo Kuerten, three-time French Open champion who retired after losing his first-round match at Roland Garros 6-3 6-4 6-2 to Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu.

“I’ve never been this nervous in my whole life and maybe never been this glad in my whole life either. It’s a great feeling.” – Robin Soderling, after teaming with Robert Lindstedt to win the decisive doubles and lead Sweden to the ARAG World Team Cup title.

“Even though I was a qualifier this week, I knew that in theory I was number two of the tournament. I came here to win the tournament. I knew that I had my chances and it was a great week for me.” – Gilles Simon, after winning the Grand Prix Hassan II.

‘I had a couple of funny finals, but I would say this was the toughest. It stopped and started. I don’t even know how long we were out there.” – Katarina Srebotnik, who led 6-4 6-5 before losing at Strasbourg, France, to Anabel Medina Garrigues.

“I am very happy to win here and I have a lot of confidence going into Paris.” – Nikolay Davydenko after winning The Hypo Group Tennis International 2008.

“In the warm-up I couldn’t put the ball in the court because I was so nervous. So the first few games were more like my warm-up.” – Agnieszka Radwanska, who won the Istanbul Cup

“The doctor did not give me the green light to serve at 100 percent. I prefer to focus on the grass-court season.” – Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean, pulling out of the French Open.

“I have had the best preparation I’ve had since 2002. I fell like I have played so many clay-court tournaments. I feel like I’m a clay-court player. I’m comfortable out there, which is great.” – Serena Williams, saying she’s one of the favorites to win at Roland Garros.

“I am probably more relaxed. I am now capable of saying the objective is just the next match.” – Amelie Mauresmo, admitting the pressure to win the French Open has affected her game in the past.

“You have to concentrate. You just have to survive all the problems that come at you. It’s like tennis’ equivalent of a marathon.” – Carlos Moya, the 1998 French Open champion, on playing at Roland Garros.

“If he’s as good as he looks right now … and stays away from injuries and be motivated, it’s going to be tough to beat him at the French.” – Bjorn Borg, picking Rafael Nadal to win his fourth straight French Open.

“I don’t think it’s going to be anything that’s terribly long and I would be surprised if he was not ready to go for Queen’s. But as for now he needs to take a good 10 days, 12 days, just rest.” – John Roddick, Andy’s brother and coach, on the sixth-ranked American’s right shoulder injury.

“There is sufficient cause for concern about the integrity of some players and those outside tennis who seek to corrupt them.” – Report by an independent panel that concluded that 45 professional tennis matches in the past five years had suspicious betting patterns.

“James Blake is a great ambassador for his sport on and off the court. He is always friendly, courteous and lives the idea of Fair Play.” – Dietloff von Arnim, tournament director of the ARAG World Team Cup while giving Blake the Fair Play Trophy for the second time.

“You taught me everything important in this sport.” – James Blake, thanking his coach Brian Baker after receiving the Fair Play Trophy in Duesseldorf, Germany.

STIRRING FINISH

The ARAG ATP World Team Championships went into overtime before Sweden finally edged Russia 3-2 to collect the trophy. The two nations split the singles – Sweden’s Robin Soderling beat Mikhail Youzhny 6-3 6-1 in the opener before Russia’s Igor Andreev eclipsed Thomas Johansson 2-6 6-3 6-4, ensuring that the doubles would be decisive. Soderling and Robert Lindstedt, who were undefeated during the week, rallied from behind to nip Dimitry Tursunov and Youzhny 4-6, 7-6 (5) 11-9.

SKIPPING PARIS

A host of French players and two former world number ones – Americans Lindsay Davenport and Andy Roddick – are among the growing crowd skipping the French Open for various reasons, including retirement, injuries and fatigue. Another former number one, three-time defending women’s champion Justine Henin, shocked tennis when she announcement her retirement last week. Others who have pulled out of Roland Garros include French players Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who will undergo right knee surgery, Sebastiab Grosjean and Tatiana Golovin; Americans Meilen Tu and Meghann Shaugnessy; India’s Sania Mirza; Romania’s Andrei Pavel, and Austria’s Stefan Koubek.

SIZZLING SI

The cover of Sports Illustrated’s South Africa edition shows a topless Ana Ivanovic with her arms strategically wrapped around her body. The edition is headlined “Beauties of Sport Special Issue,” while the cover line says, “Author Paul Fein wrote of Ivanovic: “Breathtakingly beautiful and very talented, the Serbian tennis star has blazed up the WTA Tour rankings. We never … ever … thought we’d say this, but she may even better than Maria.”

SIR RABBIT

American Ashley Harkleroad revealed that she posed for the August edition of Playboy magazine. The 23-year-old Harkleroad, who is ranked 61st in the world, noted other athletes who have appeared in the magazine include Olympic swimmer Amanda Beard and former volleyball player Gabrielle Reese. “I’ll be the first tennis player ever. That’s kind of cool,” Harkleroad said.

SPANISH STREAK

Anabel Medina Garrigues is very comfortable at Strasbourg, France. For the second straight year and the third time in her career, the Spaniard won the Internationaux de Strasbourgh, this time rallying from a 6-4 6-5 deficit to beat Katarina Srebotnik 4-6 7-6 (4) 6-0 in a title match plagued by rain delays. Besides her three titles in Strasbourg, Medina Garrigues has won at Palermo, Italy, four times in her eight career titles.

SURPASSES MILLION-DOLLAR MARK

When Agnieszka Radwanska knocked off top-seeded and defending champion Elena Dementieva 6-3 6-2 to win the Istanbul Cup, she became the first Polish woman to surpass USD $1 million in career earnings on the WTA Tour. It was the third career title for Radwanska, who won at Stockholm, Sweden, last year and Pattaya City, Thailand, earlier this season. The loss was Dementieva’s first in eight matches in Istanbul.

SWEET SWEDES

Robert Lindstedt and Robin Soderling not only outlasted their Russian opponents to lift Sweden to the title of the 2008 ARAG World Team Cup, the pair also won the tournament’s doubles ranking. Lindstedt and Soderling captured all three of their round-robin matches in straight sets, then capped the week with a 4-6 7-6 (5) 11-9 win over Mikhail Youzhny and Dimitry Tursunov in the decisive match. Their victory in the final was enough to earn the pair an additional $15,700 along with the Rheinische Post Doubles Cup. Soderling won all eight matches he played – four singles and four doubles – during the week, joining John McEnroe and Fernando Gonzalez as the only players in the 31-year history of the tournament to achieve the feat.

STANDOUT

James Blake was awarded the Fair Play Trophy at the ARAG World Team Cup for the second time. The honor was voted on by the media representatives and the eight team captains.

SHALE SPARKLE

Maria Sharapova will have extra sparkle when she takes to the court at Roland Garros. The world number one will be wearing earrings designed by Tiffany’s Elsa Peretti, part of a two-year partnership between the tennis star and the jeweler. Sharapova also will be wearing a “Paris dress” by Nike which will have a luminous Tiffany pearl button closure.

STUDY INTENSIFIED

Tennis will take closer look at 45 matches played over the past five years that produced unusual better patterns. An independent panel recommended a closer investigation be made along with creating both an anti-corruption program and an integrity unit in tennis. The four Grand Slam tournaments, the International Tennis Federation (ITF), APT and Sony Ericsson WTA Tour accepted all 15 recommendations of the Environmental Review of Integrity in Professional Tennis, which concluded that “professional tennis is neither systematically nor institutionally corrupt.”

SPECIAL LADY

The Barnard Medal of Distinction – Barnard College’s highest honor – was bestowed on Billie Jean King at the school’s 116th commencement ceremony in New York City. King was honored for her being a pioneering athlete and champion for social equality.

STANDING TALL

United States Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe is one of nine new members of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Men’s Hall of Fame. Inducted in ceremonies at Tulsa, Oklahoma, were McEnroe, who played at Stanford, Steve Denton of Texas, David DiLucia of Notre Dame, Donald Johnson of North Carolina, Jim Pugh of UCLA, Robbie Weiss of Pepperdine and Chris Woodruff of Tennessee. Also inducted were Tom Jacobs, honored for his longtime contributions while at the NCAA, and Minnesota coach Jerry Noyce. The ITA Men’s Hall of Fame has inducted more than 170 players, coaches and contributors, including the late Arthur Ashe (UCLA), Jimmy Connors (UCLA), John McEnroe (Stanford) and Stan Smith (Southern California).

SENIOR STEFAN

Stefan Edberg, a six-time Grand Slam champion, including two Wimbledons, will join the BlackRock Tour of Champions later this year. The 42-year-old Swede, who retired from the ATP circuit 12 years ago, will compete in Paris, France, in September and in London, England, in December. Also joining the senior circuit are former French Open champions Michael Chang and Yevgeny Kafelnikov along with 1996 Wimbledon finalist Malivai Washington.

SITE SWITCH

Bangalore is the next stop for the ATP tournament that has been held in Mumbai the last two years. Located in southern India, Bangalore was host to the ATP World Doubles Championships in 2000. The Bangalore Open, which will begin play on Sept. 29, is being promoted by a company owned by Indian tennis star Mahesh Bhupathi.

SAD NEWS

The first chief executive officer of the ATP Tour, Hamilton Jordan, is dead. The political strategist behind Jimmy Carters successful 1976 run to the White House, Jordan led the formation of the ATP Tour when it began in 1990. Jordan, who died at his home in Atlanta, Georgia, was 63.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Doubles Champions

Poertschach: Marcelo Melo and Andre Sa beat Julian Knowle and Jurgen Melzer 7-5 6-7 (3) 13-11

Casablanca: Albert Montanes and Santiago Ventura beat James Cerretani and Todd Perry 6-1 6-2

Istanbul: Jill Craybas and Olga Govortsova beat Marina Erakovic and Polona Hercog 6-1 6-2

Strasbourg: Yan Zi and Tatiana Perebiynis beat Chan Yung-Jan and Chuang Chia-Jung 6-4 6-7 (3) 10-6 (tiebreak)

SITES TO SURF

French Open (Roland Garros): www.rolandgarros.com/

French Tennis Federation: www.fft.fr/portail/

Ana Ivanovic: www.anaivanovic.com/

Anna Kournikova: http://clubs.sportsmates.com/kournikova/

Rafael Nadal: www.rafaelnadal.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

ATP

$11,034,805 Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay

WTA TOUR

$10,891,368 Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$11,034,805 Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay

$150,000 Prostejov Challenger, Prostejov, Czech Republic, clay

WTA TOUR

$10,891,368 Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay

$100,000 Tiro A Volo, Rome, Italy, clay

Challenger/Futures Write-Up for February 18th

The challenger and futures circuits on both the men’s and women’s tours this week showcased what was arguably some of the most competitive and high quality tennis in recent memory. Not only did three of the four challengers this week have finals that ended in a third set tiebreak, but Ivan Ljubicic also became one of the highest ranked players to ever compete in a challenger event.

Ivan Ljubicic

The clear highlight on the challenger circuit this week was the $125,000 event held in East London, South Africa. The field was on a similar level as an ATP event, with former top five player Ivan Ljubicic, top fifty player Stefan Koubek, 2002 Australian Open champion Thomas Johannson, and perennial ironman Jonas Bjorkman the event’s top four seeds. The top-seeded Ljubicic, now ranked 24 in the world, decided to pull out of the ATP event in Marseille and request a last minute wild card here in order to prove to his critics that he was still a serious contender for the Olympics.

“The press back home is pretty rough and if I didn’t win here, they would say I was finished and that I should give up,” Ljubicic said.

Although he started out slowly this week and almost fell in the first round to Lamine Ouahab, a qualifier from Algeria, Ljubicic said his game improved progressively with each round. He saved his best form for the final and put together an immaculate performance against Stefan Koubek; he defeated the 54th ranked Austrian 7-6 6-4 with an ace on match point.

“It’s not easy to win a challenger, especially when you have to beat players like Thomas Johansson and Stefan Koubek,” Ljubicic said. “But this victory is good for my confidence and I can take a lot away from this week.”

At the $125,000 event in Belgrade, Serbia, Croatian Roko Karanusic used his big serve and aggressive all-court game to earn the biggest title of his career to date. Karanusic defeated German Philipp Petzschner in a thrilling three-set final that culminated in a third-set tiebreaker 5-7 6-1 7-6. The win catapults the Croat to new career high ranking; in fact, he’ll find himself in the top 100 for the first time.

On the women’s side, Johanna Larsson of Sweden thrilled the home crowd by taking the $25,000 event in Stockholm. She overcame a slow start to win 0-6 6-1 7-6 over Barbara Zahalova Strycova of the Czech Republic. The nineteen year old is now on a 12 match winning streak, after also winning the $25,000 event in Sutton last week as a qualifier. Her fine form has also translated to her doubles game; she won the doubles event in Stockholm with rising British star Anna Smith. Larsson reaches a career high ranking of #232 this week and will likely contest her first Grand Slam qualifying event at Roland Garros this spring.

Berri, Australia was the host for the second of two $25,000 grass court events which were being held on the continent this month. In a shocking upset, Aussie Nicole Kriz won the first challenger title of her career by beating Marina Erakovic of New Zealand 6-4 4-6 7-6. Erakovic, who’s been in fine form this year by reaching the semifinals at a WTA event in Auckland last month and storming through the $25,000 event in Mildura last week, had only lost seventeen games in route to the final and looked to be the overwhelming favorite. However, the Aussie right-hander held her nerve in fighting off match points on the Kiwi’s serve to record her second final set tiebreak win of the tournament. Despite the loss, Erakovic’s inspired play will propel her to a career high ranking of #135 this week. With only a handful of points to defend between now and May, she might be able to improve her ranking enough to be able to contest the first Grand Slam main draw of her career at Roland Garros.

On the futures level, Frenchman Nicholas Coutelot took a small step towards reclaiming his former top 100 status by winning the $15,000 event in Torre Pacheco, Spain. The 31 year old also took the futures event in Murcia the week before. Ricardo Hocevar of Brazil is also on a ten match winning streak with his victories in La Habana, Cuba this week and Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico this week before. On the women’s side, Slovenian Polana Hercog is 11-0 on the year after this week after sweeping the two $10,000 events in Mallorca and winning a match in Fed Cup. The 17 year old is entered in some upcoming challenger events and looks poised to begin breaking through at the next level.

The men will showcase the feature challenger tournament of next week as Fabrice Santoro, competing in what will likely be his last year on tour, leads the field at the $100,000 event in Bensacon, France. On the women’s side, Milagros Sequera of Venezuela returns from a six-month injury layoff as the top seed at the $25,000 event in Clearwater, Florida. Anne Keothavong, the current British number one, will also lead the way at the $25,000 tournament in Capriolo, Italy.