Steffi Graf

Bartoli Ends Azarenka’s Win Streak

With the result of the match no longer in question, tears began forming in Victoria Azarenka’s eyes. There would be no magic escape from defeat this time around.

Marion Bartoli, ranked a career-high No. 7, beat world No. 1 Azarenka 6-3, 6-3 in a convincing fashion to end the Belarussian’s 26-match win streak. The 27-year-old Frenchwoman kept Azarenka on her heels all night and won six out of 10 break points. As the match wore on, it was evident that the 22-year-old Azarenka was running out of steam. She finished the match with 16 winners to Bartoli’s 27.

“I honestly never seen her play that well,” said Azarenka, who owns an 8-3 head-to-head edge over Bartoli. “But, I mean, all the credit to her. She did an amazing job today.”

Bartoli will play fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska next in the Sony Ericsson Open semifinals. She is through to the final four in Miami for the second time (2010) and is aiming for her first final at the WTA Premier Mandatory event.

“I think the main key for me was the belief and really to step up on the court trying to win the match,” said Bartoli, the 2007 Wimbledon runner-up. “Not only thinking about how well she’s playing and everything, but really go on the court, having a game plan and try to go for my shots.”

Azarenka has been the dominant player on the WTA Tour this year. She has won four titles, including her first Grand Slam – the Australian Open – to become the top ranked player in the world. But in the quarterfinals against Dominika Cibulkova in Miami, Azarenka was forced to dig deep and fought back to emerge with a 1-6, 7-6, 7-5 victory, keeping her 2012 win streak alive. It was the longest win streak to start a year since Steffi Graf began the 1990 season with 25 wins. Five-time Grand Slam winner Martina Hingis holds the record for the longest season opening streak at 37 wins.

“What I’ve done in the last couple of months, I have to be really proud of myself,” said Azarenka. “For sure, you know, I could have maybe played better today, that’s for sure, but I gave it all I had. Physically I was just not able to do anything today. It was just not possible. You know, I’m a human, not a super woman, and I wish I could be but I’m not (smiling).”

While Azarenka will get some time to rest, Bartoli will be getting ready for Radwanska, a player she has not defeated in six tries.

“I know the stats (smiling),” said Bartoli. “But I think a first is always to happen, so maybe it’s going to be my first tomorrow. But I know it’s not going to be easy. That’s for sure. I know I will have to run a lot, a lot more forward, because I know she’s going to make a lot of dropshots. I’m going to be ready.”

Maria Kirilenko on sharks, her best friends on tour, and hitting with Steffi Graf as a 9-year-old


Russian tennis player and current world #22 Maria Kirilenko may best be known for her beauty, but tennis fans know her as one-half of the best women’s match of the 2011 U.S. Open when she played eventual champion Sam Stosur. On the court, Maria is fierce and competitive, but off, she is feminine, charming and engaging. I had the opportunity to chat with Maria during the Sony Ericsson Open about the time she hit, as a 9-year-old, with Steffi Graf, how she was almost a ballet dancer, and sharks. (Photo gallery at bottom)

What is your most memorable moment on court?

Of course, when I win! There are so many matches … the first tournament that I won was Beijing and that was a big one. There are so many matches. (Smiles) I won twice against [Sam] Stosur, [Maria] Sharapova,[Jelena] Jankovic when she was #3.

What is the best part of being a tennis player?

The best is that you can compete at a good level and that people come and watch you. You play in front of – I don’t know how many people, 10,000 maybe more – it’s the greatest.

If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be?

Difficult to answer, I don’t know. (Smiles)

Do you have any hobbies on the side?

I mean, before tennis, I was a ballet dancer, and I was good as well. I had a partner and we won first place. So I would be a dancer, maybe. But I like tennis more. (Smiles)

If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?

It would be nice to play against Steffi Graf, because when I started to play [pro], she already finished.

Did you ever have a chance to hit with her?

Yes. I was, I think, 9-years-old and she came to Moscow and did a kids’ clinic. They chose the best little girls and that was me as well, so I had a chance to hit with her then.

That was the last time?

Yes, it was the last time! Didn’t happen again yet.

If you are hosting a party, what three tennis players would you invite and why?

Three tennis players? (Smiles).Of course, I’m going to invite my girls, Elena Vesnina, Nadia Petrova, and Victoria Azarenka. We are good friends.

What are two things that you couldn’t live without?

Um, my phone. Yea, the phone is important. (Smiles) And the second … maybe my credit card?! It’s tough to live without. (Laughs)

What is one thing that scares you?

I’m very afraid of sharks. (Smiles)

Do you like swimming in the ocean?

I like, but every time I go to the ocean or sea, I am so afraid. (Laughs)

I’m the same way. When I was little, I used to think there were sharks in the pool.

Oh yea? (Laughs) I have this in my mind as well! It’s silly. (Smiles)

(Sony Ericsson Open photos courtesy of Rachel Vinson of OnTheGoTennis; other photos courtesy of Neal Trousdale. For more photos from the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open by Neal, check out his full gallery on Flickr.)

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Fun Q&A With Sam Stosur


Australian and current world number 5 Sam Stosur has been riding high since winning last year’s U.S. Open, and she has cruised through her first match here at the Sony Ericsson Open. With her game still soundly developing and her mental strength peaking, Sam is on course to potentially be a multiple-slam champion. Only time will tell, but in the meantime, enjoy the Q&A I did with her in Miami. We talk about her most memorable moment, Steffi Graf and flying.

One of the more easy-going WTA players, she came across friendly and eager to participate.

What is your most memorable moment on court?

Definitely the U.S. Open last year — the final, the whole last two weeks was fantastic. And I remember every match but, of course, the final was the standout one.

Looking back on it with what happened with Serena Williams, does it overshadow your victory or anything?

Not in my eyes, no! (Laughs) I don’t even think about that point in time. Obviously, it was a big point in the match and that could have really turned it, but that’s not something I look at and it doesn’t make anything with it sour.

What player do you least like to face on court and why?

I don’t know. There’s a few players I have never beaten before, I guess. So probably those. There are lots of players you like playing against and you like the way they play and the way the ball comes off. And then there’s others that you definitely don’t [like to face on court].

Any particular players?

I won’t name names but you can see who I’ve never beaten before and put them in. (Laughs)

*Editor’s Note: On a quick search, Sam is 0-6 against Victoria Azarenka, 0-5 against Kim Clijsters and 0-4 against Flavia Pennetta.

If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?

Probably Steffi Graf. She was my idol growing up and I loved the way she played, loved her forehand, her demeanor court, everything. She’s got to be one of the greatest players that’s ever played, so I would like to play her.

Have you ever had a chance to hit with her?

No. I met her once though so that was pretty cool. I was probably more nervous meeting her than playing most of my matches. (Laughs)

If you were hosting a party, what three tennis players would you invite?

There are some fun ones on tour … [Francesca] Schiavone, Na Li, Alicia Molik – she’s retired now, but you can put her in. (Laughs)

What are two things you can’t live without?

Lip balm and maybe a computer.

Are you online a lot, staying in touch with family/friends that way?

It fills in time, doesn’t it? (Laughs)

Do you watch movies on your laptop?

Yup.

What’s the most recent good one that you have seen?

Good one that I’ve seen? I haven’t watched too many good ones recently. (Laughs) The last one I downloaded was “The Help” but I haven’t watched that one yet.

It’s good, I enjoyed it – made me cry.

(Laughs) I will probably cry too then.

Last question, what is one thing that scares you?

Flying.

Flying, really?!

Yea, I don’t like flying. (Laughs)

You’re a tennis player and you have to travel so much?

I know, it’s a really bad combination!

(Photo courtesy of Neal Trousdale. You can view his full Flickr gallery here.)

Sabine Lisicki on Brad Pitt, Roger Federer and her Wimbledon Semifinals Run

After a resurgent 2011, German beauty Sabine Lisicki is sitting pretty in the WTA Tour rankings at a career-high number 13. I had the opportunity to sit down with Sabine at the Sony Ericsson Open and chat about her most memorable moments on court, Roger Federer, legends she has hit with, and the three famous people she would most want to have dinner with.

During the course of the interview, Lisicki could not have been more gracious and involved in the questions, laughing and/or giggling a total of eleven times. I would bet that her and Ana Ivanovic could compete in a “giggle-off” and see who the nicest WTA player is – it would be a tough call! But alas, I digress. On to the questions and get ready for some laughs!

What is your most memorable moment on court?

There are several. Obviously, my first grand slam in Australia [in 2008]. But from last year, a very emotional moment was winning the title in Birmingham and beating Na Li at Wimbledon, on center court, with a full house. That meant a lot to me, especially after coming back from an injury.

If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be?

(Laughs) I hate that question! (Laughs) I honestly don’t know, because tennis was always what I loved and what I always wanted to do and I feel very lucky that I have the opportunity to do what I love.

Do you have any hobbies on the side that you enjoy?

There are things that I might do after tennis, because I’m interested in design/fashion, but also in the human body, so some medicine-type of thing, because we go through so many health issues and we learn a lot about our body and I’m just curious to learn more, so I’ll see which direction I’ll go. The human body is veryinteresting, so you can always discover more.

If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?

(Long pause) The ones I would love to play against, I’ve practiced with them already! (Laughs)

Is this like Steffi Graf?

Steffi and Andre, I’ve played with both and I’ve practiced with Mary Pierce and Martina Hingis, so all the idols. I would love to hit with Roger [Federer] one day.

What are two things that you couldn’t live without?

Friends and family.

If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who would they be and why?

Living or dead? (Laughs) Ok, a fun one, Brad Pitt. (Laughs) An interesting one would be the pilot who landed the plane on the Hudson River. I would love to hear from him what he thought in those moments, because he was so under pressure having so many passengers and landing the plane. And the third one, Drew Brees (NFL Quarterback).

Understanding the Tennis Fan

There’s always a point of no return.

For Brad, it was seeing Steffi Graf’s ponytail fly up and hit her in the face when she hit her forehand in a 1990 match against Jennifer Capriati. For Chris, it was watching a teenage Andy Murray at the 2005 Wimbledon stand up to then 14th seed Radek Stepanek by mocking his lucky net-cord kiss. For Kelly Padgett, it was stumbling upon one of  Andrea Petkovic’s infamous videos on youtube, and laughing as Petkovic pretended to pay Novak Djokovic for an interview.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the psyche of tennis fans lately. What is about this sport and the people that play it that makes us rearrange our schedules, worry for days on end, and get up at all hours of the night to watch a fuzzy yellow ball be hit back and forth from one side of the court to the other? Why do we care so much? Why does it matter?

To try and make sense of it all, I asked for volunteers to answer some questions for me about their experience being a tennis fan. Overall, I received thirty-one completed “fandom surveys” from fans of twenty-one different players. I laughed and cried as I scoured through them for days, re-reading the candid stories and over-analyzing the similarities and differences between them. I was overwhelmed by the honesty and poignancy. At the end of the day, I’m not sure if I solved any great mysteries, but I did come away with a deeper understanding of the power of our sport.

 

THE LOYAL

 

Melissa has been a Xavier Malisse fan since 1998- fourteen long years of ups and downs. “I just started following him, and never stopped,” she said. “Once I start following a player, I support him through good and bad times, even if that is sometimes hard.  I don’t abandon a player because of negative results.”

Ruby, a Marcel Granollers fan, feels the same way. “Pathetically enough,” she told me, “I almost see it as my ‘job’ to stick by him.”

Melissa and Ruby are far from the only loyal tennis fans out there. Thirty of the fans I surveyed said that there was nothing they could imagine (besides a flippant mention of manslaughter) that would make them stop being a fan of their favorite player.  Y. Jones, a Kei Nishikori fan, was the lone exception.  She told me that she’d have to re-think her commitment to Nishikori if he ever got his ear pierced. “I just cannot stand a male figure wearing (an earring) in general,” she confessed.

Of course, a loyal tennis fan usually endures more lows than highs.  Linda started following Flavia Pennetta in 2006, and became a die-hard fan when she saw an injured Pennetta enthusiastically cheering on her teammates in the Fed Cup Final that year.   She couldn’t have picked a worst time to start being a fan. Between “the wrist injury, the struggle to come back, the breakup with Carlos Moya, and the struggle to recover from that,”  Linda describes the events of 2006-2007 as “twelve months of horror” for Pennetta.  But Linda stuck by the fiery Italian, and her loyalty paid off.   She got to experience the joys of Pennetta’s two wins over Venus Williams, and her incredible run in the summer of 2009 when Pennetta won Palmero and L.A. back to back and became the first Italian woman to enter the Top-10. Linda describes the entire summer as “magical”.

As an Andy Murray fan, Hannah has been on a roller-coaster ride, but it’s how Murray has reacted during the low points that has secured her as a fan for life.  She started following him during the 2010 Hopman Cup, but after his 2010 Australian Open Final loss to Roger Federer, there was no looking back. It wasn’t necessarily his play on-the-court that she admired, but rather his heartfelt display on the podium afterwards that made an impression. “Oh that speech.”

Similarly, Hannah was deeply impacted by how Murray acted after withdrawing from the World Tour Finals in London last November.  “I was waiting for him (after his press conference announcing his withdrawal), just wanting to wish him luck for the next season and a fast recovery from that groin injury. As he walked out the venue, he was clearly very disappointed with not being able to play. However, he was still kind enough to give fans his autographs and thank everyone there for waiting and cheering him on.”

“His decentness as a guy is just admirable,” she concludes.

Curtis, an Ana Ivanovic fan, can relate.  He recalls being “on cloud nine for an entire month” after (Ivanovic’s) 2008 French Open win, and has stuck by her through all the tough times since.  “I have always considered myself a bigger fan of Ana Ivanovic the person, than Ana Ivanovic the tennis player,” he said.  “While her results on court have changed over the years, she hasn’t changed as a person, which I really admire. She never let her fame or her struggles change the person who she was. That’s not easy to do. That’s why I keep coming back.”

In order to “keep coming back”, even in the rough times, most tennis fans maintain a delicate balance between their hopes and expectations. Charlotte, an Andy Roddick fan since 2003, realistically expects him to just win a few more minor tournaments, but deep down lets herself  hope that he will “win many slams and beat Roger Federer as many times as he damn well likes.” Linda says that she’s learned the hard way to “never really have high expectations for (her) favorite players. The lower your expectations, the smaller you chance is of being disappointed!”

 

THE SPOILED

 

There are rare occasions when hopes and expectations merge together. For fans of players such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic, this happens more often then not.

Freelance sportswriter Matt Zemek became a Federer fan in 2004. “(Federer) played a brand of tennis that was more eye-pleasing and stylish than anything I had seen before.” He vividly recalled the first breakthrough moment he witnessed as a fan, Federer’s 2004 U.S. Open Quarterfinal against Andre Agassi. “When Agassi forced a fifth set in very windy conditions on that Thursday afternoon – the second day of the match – the American had the advantage. Federer somehow found a way to turn the tide in the fifth set and play particularly focused tennis. When he won, he let out a particularly primal roar and tore at his shirt. (He’s not Djokovic, so he didn’t succeed in tearing the shirt!)  Federer seemed to know right then that he had conquered New York and all of its distractions. Sure enough, he didn’t lose another U.S. Open match until 2009.”

After such an immediate and long-term payoff, it’s no surprise that Zemek calls becoming a fan of Federer, “the most rewarding fan investment of (his) life.”

Zemek’s experience is unique.  Most of the time becoming a fan, even of the greatest players, isn’t instantly rewarding. Aleksa became a fan of Novak Djokovic in 2005. “I first saw him play Marat Safin that year in the first round of the Australian Open,” she remembered. “He was crushed, of course. He was just a baby with porcupine hair.  Six years and six months later he won Wimbledon.”

Anna became a Novak Djokovic fan a little later- in 2010 to be exact.  She hoped that he would win another Grand Slam or two, but she never saw the 2011 season coming. “I felt constant surprise, joy, and elation. Never in my wildest dreams did I think he’d pull off all of that,” she said. While Anna admits that she does “hope that (Djokovic) wins all the Grand Slams from now on”, she realizes that is unrealistic. She is going to have to start managing her expectations again, keeping her hopes in check. Angela, a Rafael Nadal fan, is having a hard time doing just that. “Though (Nadal) has accomplished so much already, I would like him to have even greater successes,” she admitted.  Angela does, however, realize that he may never reach the same heights he did in 2010, and says she will “deal with it as it comes.”

That’s the thing about reaching the top of the tennis world, whether as a player or as a fan- eventually, there will be a decline.

Siva, a Federer fan since 2001, is trying to come to terms with this. “Decline is the one constant in the game. I am fairly certain that Federer is declining. I am not sure I am prepared to deal with it.” Zemek disagrees. “Watching Federer handle tennis mortality is something to relish, not cringe at (for now),” he says.

Lawrence, another Federer fan, sides more with Zemek. “If (Federer) doesn’t become number 1 in his professional career again the Earth will still twirl around the Sun. Yes. It doesn’t matter.”

 

THE  INSPIRED

 

Aisha has been an Ana Ivanovic fan since 2005 when she was a ball-girl during her match against Nicole Vaidasova in Miami. Throughout the match Aisha recalls that Ivanovic “was an absolute sweetheart.”  Aisha has stuck by the Serbian through the thick and the thin past seven years, but sometimes the losses are hard to take.  When Ivanovic lost to Petra Cetkovska at Wimbledon last year, Aisha momentarily lost control and smashed her iPhone to bits. (Luckily she works at Best Buy and was able to get a replacement one quickly.)

Romi Castagnino promised herself that if her favorite player, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, ever won a Major that she would go sky-diving.  Mattek-Sands won the Australian Open Mixed Doubles Championship with Horacia Tecau last month.  Castagnino is rapidly trying to overcome her fear of heights.

Though the above examples are extreme, it was clear after reading through the surveys just how strong of an affect tennis players have on their fans.  I was expecting to read about the loss of sleep, the occasional (or not-so-occasional) skipped class, and the general emotional highs and lows of fandom, but it became apparent that the influence runs deeper than that.

Many fans have drawn messages of hope and fortitude through their relationships with their favorite players. Maureen has learned about toughness by watching Maria Sharapova battle through matches and injuries. “I’ve learned not to give up easily,” she reflected.  Christy has taken similar lessons from David Ferrer. “He has shown me that perseverance can overcome almost anything,” she told me. “Just because you’re ‘too short’ or whatever, doesn’t mean you can’t reach (your goals).”  Karen Williams added, “Becoming a fan of Venus (Williams) has made me realize personally that through times of adversity you can accomplish much.” Suman has tried to adopt Roddick’s “never-say-no attitude”.

For Hannah, being a Murray fan has made her a much more independent person. She has traveled, often alone, all around the United Kingdom (and beyond) to see him play.  For Lawrence, the impact Fed has had on his life is simple. “Be yourself.  Stay cool.”

For some, the connection runs even deeper than that. Besides being pushed to face her fear of heights, Castagino has been inspired by Bethanie Mattek-Sands comeback from injury. “This was extra inspirational for me because around the same time she had her injury I broke my psoas muscles and it was pretty serious thing. I am still in rehab but seeing Bethanie come through her injury gives me extra motivation to push harder and keep my mind positive.”  Similarly, a Rafael Nadal fan (who chose to remain anonymous), also found inspiration in Nadal’s transition from knee problems in 2009 to three-time Grand Slam Champion in 2010 . While struggling with personal matters during the time of his Wimbledon and U.S. Open triumphs she reflects that, “it was Rafa who got me through the bad days, the ones where I felt there was no hope.”

Most of the time in sports, you become a fan by default. You root for a team because you were born in a certain state, or went to a certain school, or were brought up a certain way.  Being a tennis fan is different. It’s a relationship. It’s personal. It’s intimate.  We don’t become fans of groups of people, states, or organizations- we become fans of human beings.

Sometimes we choose the players we are going to be fans of. Other times, the players choose us. Whether there’s something about them that we relate to, or something about them that we aspire to become, once the connection is made it’s virtually unbreakable.  It’s why we get worked up when our favorite player is insulted. It’s why we get anxious for the matches, sad for the defeats, and exuberant over the victories. It’s why we do care. It’s why it does matter.

If I’ve learned nothing else from reading the stories of thirty-one passionate tennis fans, it’s that our favorite players aren’t just an extension of us, they’re an integral part of us. Most of the time, that’s a good thing.

 

 

(Eternal thanks to all those who took the time to fill out a survey and help me with this article: Curtis @curtos07, Charlotte @crystaleyesd,  @eternal_elenea, Angela @4allsurfaces, Rhian @rosso_neri, Kelly Padgett, Siva, Lawrence, Chris @scoobschris, Matt Zemek @mzemek, Kelly @mikomonstr, Jane @jb10is, Géraldine, Suman, Karen Williams, Christy @triplebagel, @thriding, Melissa, Sarah @thetennisstorm, Aisha @Isha312, Brad @bradhunter, Maureen @drewsmama, Dianne @champingthebit, Anna @anna_tennisfan, Romi Castagnino, Ruby @ficcanasa, Y. Jones, Brooke, Hannah, Linda, and Aleksa.)

Five ‘Encore Performers’ Djokovic Could Try to Emulate in ‘12

They say one of the hardest things to do in sports is repeat—a task Novak Djokovic will try to accomplish 10 times in 2012. Coming off one of the best tennis seasons of all time, questions abound on whether the Serbian will be able to go “back-to-back” performance-wise. He’s not the first player to have to prove their career year was a fluke. Here’s a look at five stars that pulled off some of the best repeat performances in the Open Era.

Steffi Graf

Great Year: 1988. Graf became the only player—male or female—in the game’s history to win the “Golden Slam”; that being all four Majors plus an Olympic title.

The Follow-Up: In 1989, “Fraulein Forehand” won the Australian Open to start off the year in Grand Slam play, and then advanced to the finals at the French Open. She shockingly fell to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, but rebounded to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, bringing her two-year Slam record to 55-1.

Jimmy Connors

Great Year: 1974. Connors only happened to go 99-4 during his breakout season, winning three Grand Slam singles titles that year: Wimbledon and the Australian and U.S. opens. He missed out on the French, mainly due to the fact that he didn’t even play the event.

The Follow-Up: Connors repeated his final-round efforts at the three Majors he won the year prior. However, he lost in all three of them. Still, he won nine titles over the course of the season and made three other finals besides the second-place finishes at the Slams.

Roger Federer

Great Year: 2004. This is the season when Federer first reached number one in the rankings, and it was years before he ever looked back. He won three Majors in a year for the first time and 11 titles overall.

The Follow-Up: While he “only” won two Slams in 2005, Federer fell one match shy of equaling John McEnroe’s record for winning percentage set in ’84. Federer won 11 titles again and of his four losses on the year, none came before the quarterfinals.

Pete Sampras

Great Year: 1993. It had been some time since Sampras’ breakthrough win at the 1990 U.S. Open. He only made one other Slam final—at the 1992 U.S. Open—before ’93. That loss to Stefan Edberg in the finals lit a fire under the American and he went on to win his first Wimbledon crown, as well as the U.S. Open.

The Follow-Up: Among a lot of dominant years in his career, this one might be the most complete. Sampras captured his first Australian Open, making it three Slams in a row won, then repeated at Wimbledon. Overall, he won 10 titles, which included the year-end championship and three Masters crowns—the most impressive and unexpected of them being the Italian Open, the second-biggest clay-court event in the game.

Venus Williams

Great Year: 2000. Younger sister Serena beat her to the punch as far as winning a Grand Slam singles title. When Venus finally did win one at Wimbledon in 2000, it was as if a great weight had been lifted and she went on to win the U.S. Open, too, keeping the New York-based Major in the family after Serena won in ’99. Big sis also captured Olympic Gold, too.

The Follow-Up: Venus started off 2001 by reaching her first Australian Open semifinal. And aside from an opening-round loss at the French, the Majors were good to her as she successfully defended her Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles. She also wrapped her career Slam in doubles by winning the Australian with Serena.

Agassi in Hall of Fame, Federer’s Charity Drive and Murray’s Emotional Scotland Return

Agassi Rightfully takes his Place amongst Tennis Royalty:

Very few inductions in to the International Tennis Hall of Fame have ever quite been anticipated as eagerly as this one. American superstar Andre Agassi, the eight-time Grand Slam winner and an Olympic gold medallist, was inducted in the bright Rhode Island sunshine as he took his place amongst the elite of the famous old sport after his distinguished and controversial career. Visibly emotional, he thanked all those who had helped him along the way and touched upon many aspects of his career that fans remember so vividly. “I’ve stood at this podium twice before,” he said. “Once was to introduce my beautiful wife, Stephanie Graf. I was so much more comfortable that day because I felt the recipient to be far more worthy. The second time was in my father’s imagination, in his mind’s eye. From the day I was born, my father Mike saw this day in my future and described it to me many times.”

Federer going Back to School:

World No.3 Roger Federer has announced that his foundation will provide $3.3m to put 54,000 kids in Malawi in to school over the next ten years. The foundation is aiming to build 80 community-based childcare centers around the country that will provide education, play areas, supplies and meals. Over half the nation (13 million) is said to live below the poverty line with over 3 million children under the age of eight out of school. “As the father of two little girls, I observe every day how incredibly fast children learn if their environment is a stimulating one,” Federer said in a statement. “It is a great privilege for me and my foundation to help give children in Malawi the chance to reach their full potential.”

Home Comforts Too Much for Murray:

An emotional Andy Murray broke down in tears after helping Great Britain to a straightforward victory over Luxembourg in their Davis Cup tie in Glasgow last weekend. The 24-year-old, who secured the first triple bagel of his career in the singles rubber against retired tennis pro turned coach and lawyer Laurent Bram, defeated Gilles Muller in his other singles rubber before breaking down emotionally in front of his adoring home crowd. “Davis Cup is just different to all the other tournaments and that showed today,” he said. “(The Scottish crowd) makes a difference, it was the first time in a long time that I got the chance to play in Scotland.”

“We Want Nadal,” says Ferrer:

Spain’s David Ferrer insists his country would love to see world No.2 Rafael Nadal back playing with them despite comfortably seeing off the USA last weekend in their Davis Cup quarterfinal without the reigning French Open Champion. “It would have been better to win with Rafa,” Ferrer said. “He is very important to us. We won the final in Argentina (in 2008) without Rafa, but we wouldn’t have gotten there without him playing in the other rounds. He is a player we need.”

Tomic set for Kuala Lumpur:

Current ATP flavour of the month Bernard Tomic has signed up to play the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur, beginning September 24. The 18-year-old Aussie looks to have turned his troublesome early career around and he wowed the London crowds at this year’s Wimbledon where he eventually fell to the champion in waiting Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. He had already stepped past Nikolay Davydenko, Robin Soderling, Igor Andreev and Xavier Malisse. “I am thrilled to have Bernard playing the Malaysian Open Kuala Lumpur once again and to be able to welcome him back as well as his father and coach John,” said tournament director Nick Freyer. “I know the tournament is touched that he enjoyed the Malaysian hospitality enough to make an early decision to come back and play here.”

Isner makes Correct Call over Hall of Fame Championships:

John Isner has revealed that he missed his brother Nathan’s wedding last weekend in order to compete in the final of the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships at the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum in Newport, Rhode Island. It proved a wise decision. Isner triumphed 6-3, 7-6(7) over Olivier Rochus to lift his second ATP Tour title and become the first top seed to triumph at the championships since its inauguration in 1976. It was also the 100th win of Isner’s career. “I told myself that I was going to take the wild card here and the only way I was going to miss the wedding was if I got to the semi-finals,” he said. “But it definitely turned out to be a great decision and I owe a huge thanks to [Hall of Fame CEO] Mark Stenning for the wild card. It’s the perfect start to the summer and I really feel like my best surface is the hard courts in the US so I’m going to have a lot of confidence from this.”

Kafelnikov has Olympic Ambitions:

The Russian press reports that the two-time Grand Slam champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov is attempting to qualify as a golfer for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro. “There are five more years before the start of the Olympic Games at Brazil,” said the 37-year-old Kafelnikov, who won a gold medal in tennis at the Sydney Games in 2000. “This period is long enough to reach serious playing level. I’m not completely sure I will be able to earn an Olympic qualification, but I seriously want to try my skills in golf. I made this decision after my recent win at the Russian golf championship. I proved I’m capable of playing golf by winning the national title. However, I understand it’s clear I have to practice for hours every day to reach a professional level.”

Monfils Single Again:

France’s Gael Monfils has ended his three-year stint with Australian coach Roger Rasheed. The two had worked together since July 2008. Under Rasheed, the 24-year-old Frenchman became a top-10 player, reached the semifinals of the 2010 US Open and the quarterfinals of Roland Garros last month. “We decided to stop our collaboration by mutual agreement,£ Monfils told reporters after France’s victory over Germany in the Davis Cup quarterfinals. “We had reached the end of a great story. I owe him a lot, I learned a lot with him. It went very well. We talked, we had a good discussion. We’re still very good friends.”

Montanes Fast Tracks Success:

As part of the ongoing MercedesCup currently taking place in Stuttgart some of the stars on show were taken to the nearby Mercedes-Benz test track at their factory in Sindelfingen. Sergiy Stakhovsky, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Radek Stepanek and defending Champion Albert Montanes all took the new SLK roadster for a spin with the Spaniard Montanes coming out on top in the time trials. An omen perhaps? All the players finished within 2 and a half seconds of each other on a track used to test vehicles that very few outside of the company get to experience. “We as players love the cars, love the speed,” said Czech ace Stepanek. “To have this chance to have the track for ourselves, try to do the crazy stuff, it’s definitely special and we’re all enjoying it.”

Rankings Watch:

Czech ace Tomas Berdych has moved up to No.8 in the world in this week’s South African Airways ATP World Rankings at the expense of Mardy Fish, but that is the only movement in the Top 10. John Isner’s Newport title moves him up 10 places to No.36 in the world while Belgian Steve Darcis’ title at Scheveningen sees him jump 23 to re-enter the Top 100 at No.95. Polona Hercog is the only Slovenian in the Top 200 of the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings, and having conquered Bastad last week she is now at a career-high No.37 in the world after her first career title. The girl she bested, Swedish No.1 Johanna Larsson, cracked the Top 50 for the first time at No.46. There were also another three personal bests. American Bethanie Mattek-Sands is now the highest ranked American at No.30, Roberta Vinci’s Budapest title now makes her the world No.23, while the losing finalist Irina-Camelia Begu is the new world No.60.

GOAT Race:

Neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal were in action last week, leaving the GOAT race scores as we were.

Roger: 955 Rafa: 1665

Wozniacki year-end No. 1, Courier new US Davis Cup Captain, Cash backing Rafter

*Caroline Wozniacki has capped a fantastic 2010 by ending the year as the world’s No. 1 star after she defeated Franchesca Schiavone to qualify for the semifinals in Doha. Her 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 victory ensures she will stay ahead of Vera Zvonareva in the rankings no matter what happens from hereon in. She will be disappointed not to have broken her major duck and the old debate about “worthy” number ones has re-arisen, but she can’t have too much to complain about from this calendar year. She becomes the 10th woman to finish the year as No. 1 since the rankings began in 1975 and is the fourth youngest, behind Martina Hingis, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles, to do so. She had some words for her “worthy” doubters too: “It’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was a little girl and I’m really happy and really proud about what I’ve achieved this year,” she said. “To be honest, there will be always sceptics. There are always people saying you’ll never reach the top 10, never reach the top five and you’ll never win a big tournament. If you win a Grand Slam, people will say it was a lucky shot or an easy draw. For me, the most important thing is that I know I had a great season.” Zvonereva has also become the fifth Russian, after Anastasia Myskina, Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Dinara Safina, to crack the Top 2.

*Jim Courier has been named the new US Davis Cup captain. The 2005 Hall of Fame inductee follows Patrick McEnroe who stepped down in September after ten years in the hotseat. “I definitely thought that being the captain would be something that I’d enjoy and now I get to see if I will,” said the two-time winner as a player. He also lifted both the French and Australian Opens twice. “There’s been a great camaraderie amongst the guys playing for Patrick over the past decade, and if we can keep that same spirit, I think we’ll have a great chance to win,” he continued. “There’s a lot of diversity in the squad. You’ve got veteran players, with Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish, the Bryans, and hopefully James Blake can get back in the conversation.”

*1987 Wimbledon winner Pat Cash has given his full backing to the appointment of Pat Rafter as the Aussie Davis Cup captain in his bid to lead Australia back to the World Group. “It came as a surprise to me because I didn’t even know Fitzy was moving on,” Cash told the AAP in an interview from China. “It’s always been Fitzy’s job, but I’m sure Pat will do a great job. I’m sure he’ll get the best out of his players. He played a lot of great Davis Cup matches and put his heart and soul into it and it’s always been a great Australian tradition to have great Davis Cup players as captains.” For the full interview, including his views on Australia’s reliance on Lleyton Hewitt, visit The Sydney Morning Herald website. Rafter also gives his views on the challenges facing him at Tennis.com.

*Roger Federer is now tied with Pete Sampras at fourth in the all-time ATP titles list after beating Germany’s Florian Meyer to lift the Stockholm Open. The world No. 2 said: “It’s amazing that I’m there where Pete’s ended his career.” He still has some way to go to be the best ever though. Jimmy Connors holds the record with 109 titles ahead of Ivan Lendl (94) and John McEnroe (77). That was also his 50th win of the year, making him the fifth man since the Open Era began in 1968 to achieve this feat in at least nine straight years. “Early on, I think that feeling of wanting to prove yourself to the world and all the doubters is a very strong one,” the Swiss continued. “So you’re very aggressive in your ways of winning and not enjoying them. Today it’s much more of the enjoyment part because I don’t need to prove myself to anyone anymore, except to myself.”

*Britain’s top doubles pair, Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski, have announced they are splitting to “freshen things up” following a disappointing end to 2010. They entered the world’s Top 50 earlier in the year after reaching the final at Eastbourne but things have not gone so well since. However they have not ruled out playing doubles for Great Britain in Davis Cup. Fleming said: “We’ll always be friends but it will be best for both of us to freshen things up. We came through Futures and then Challengers to win two ATP titles, play all four Grand Slams and represent Great Britain in Davis Cup.” Skupski added: “Colin and I decided it was best if we got a fresh start with someone new in 2011. We have had a lot of success over our time together and we really have enjoyed it. Things have been tough for us over the past few months and we thought it was the best move for both our careers.” For reaction to the news check out the Lawn Tennis Association website.

*Juan Martin del Potro, Tommy Haas and James Blake have added their names to the list of confirmed stars for the 2011 SAP Open in Northern California. World No. 7 Fernando Verdasco, No. 15 Gael Monfils and current US sweetheart Mardy Fish are already confirmed as are Aussie pantomime villain Lleyton Hewitt, Sam Querrey and Japanese No. 1 Kei Nishikori. It has also been confirmed that two-time SAP Open winner Pete Sampras will return to play a special one-off singles exhibition against Monfils. “We are thrilled to welcome James Blake, Tommy Haas, Juan Martin del Potro and Pete Sampras back to the 2011 SAP Open,” said Tournament Director Bill Rapp. “Each of these players has had a tremendous amount of success here in San Jose and we look forward to having them back in the Bay Area.”

*Russian pinup Maria Sharapova and Sasha Vujacic of the LA Lakers have announced their engagement. It was confirmed by Sharapova’s agent; Max Eisenbud.

*Strange injury alert. Andy Murray has strained a tendon in his hand playing Playstation, according to the Daily Express. “I just lost 1 match to dani [Vallerdu] at the new pro evolution and I think I broke my hand!” Murray wrote on his Twitter account. “Icing the hand… over playstation [-] time to grow up andy!” Murray was at home in Dunblane where he was acting as best man at older brother Jamie’s wedding to his fiancée, Alejandra Gutierrez.

*Roger Federer has revamped and re-launched his official website with clearer images and a more user-friendly interface. www.rogerfederer.com is hugely popular with over 310,000 registered members and almost 3.5m visitors so far during 2010. “It is fantastic to have such a great fan following in the ‘real’ world as well as on the web,” said Federer. “It is because of this that I decided that it would be important for me to give my loyal fans something new and exciting,”

*Austrian former world No. 1 Thomas Muster’s return to the ATP Tour after 11 years was short, but certainly not very sweet. The 43-year-old French Open winner (1995) went down 2-6, 6-7(5) to by the world No. 157 and party pooper Andreas Haider-Maurer. “I don’t want to define my goals,” he said afterwards. “There is no pressure of getting into the top 10. It’s about enjoying tennis. In ’99, I hated tennis, now I love it.” He seemed to struggle at times on the hard court having achieved most of his success on clay but he added: “There was more in it if I could have played more aggressively in the first set. In the second, I managed to dictate the pace of the game sometimes.”

*Readers of AskMen.com have voted Rafa Nadal the second most influential athlete in the world. More than 16 million readers visit the website monthly and Nadal was voted 15th in their Top 49 Most Influential Men poll for 2010. Only New Orleans’ Superbowl-winning Quaterback Drew Brees (6th) was higher. Nadal finished above actors George Clooney (18th) and Leonardo DiCaprio (43rd) as well as even the US President Barack Obama (21st). The complete roster and nominee profiles can be found at www.askmen.com.

GET WELL SOON MARTINA

I am sure I am joining millions of tennis fans worldwide in showing my utmost sympathies for Martina Navratilova following her recent revelations in that now infamous People Magazine interview.

In February, she was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) which is confined to the milk ducts so has luckily not spread to the surrounding tissue.

As reported, Martina has revealed that the prospects look good as it was caught at such an early stage.

She has described that fateful day as “my own personal 9/11,” and that receiving the news brought her to tears. She also says that this battle has been severely harder than any she faced on-court against the likes of Chris Evert, Steffi Graf or Monica Seles.

One who has not gone through such a meeting with their physician can only imagine what must have been going through her head on receiving the news but as somebody related to so many sufferers over the years I have seen the struggles first hand.

While there is no circumstance in which you would wish such an affliction on any human being this has proved to be another case where somebody who doesn’t deserve to face such trauma has been dealt an awful hand.

I had the great fortune of meeting Martina last summer and she came across as a tremendously graceful individual who didn’t make you feel a lesser person in any way stood next to her hugely talented self.

My heart sank at discovering the news earlier today as she unfortunately joins a long list of sportsmen over the past few years who have suffered from similar setbacks.

“I feel so in control of my life and my body,” said Martina. “And then this comes and it’s completely out of my hands.”

That statement makes a lot of sense considering the amount of time sportsmen and women spend over their lives fine tuning and perfecting their physiques. To then be faced with a problem they can do nothing to prevent or cure must be a worrying scenario for somebody who is used to a brisk treatment from the physio and hard training.

However she must take relief from her physical conditioning when undergoing the radiology she is due to start in May. A couple of lower league footballers playing in England who have recently undergone similar treatment for their fights with cancer both agreed their peak physical condition helped with the speed of progress.

Usually taking routine mammograms Martina admits she had “let it slide” by leaving a four year gap between her last two. She readily admits another year’s delay could have spelt serious trouble.

Being a fitness spokesperson for AARP she has spoken about the utmost importance for people to keep up regular checks in a bid to prevent themselves from receiving such terrible news.

Good news for Martina has come from British cancer charity Cancer Research UK who say anybody treated for DCIS is almost certainly cured of the disease. We hope that this is again the case.

So with deepest sympathies and a rallying cry for Martina to keep fighting I would like to take this opportunity to wish her the best of luck from everybody here at TennisGrandstand and that we one day wish to see her take her rightful place on court once more.

Get well soon Martina.

THE FRIDAY FIVE: IVANOVIC THE NEW FRAULEIN FOREHAND?

By Maud Watson

The New Fraulein Forehand? – A couple of weeks ago I criticized Serb Ana Ivanovic for appearing to disrupt the balance by focusing on too many off court activities while her tennis career was in a fast downward spiral. Today I must applaud her for once again seeking a full time coach, and a good one at that. Ivanovic has hired Steffi Graf’s former coach Heinz Gunthardt. Granted, each individual player has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, but given the champion player that Steffi Graf evolved into under the tutelage of Gunthardt, there’s reason to believe that Ivanovic may soon find her game back on track.

Career Resurrected – Nearly 7 years ago, Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero was on top of the world. He’d won Roland Garros, reached the finals of the US Open, and achieved the No. 1 ranking. Then, a bad bout of chicken pox and other miscellaneous injuries saw his ranking fall off the map. Nearly the forgotten man, it would be 6 years before he’d break his title drought with a tournament win at Casablanca in 2009. After a shaky start to 2010, El Mosquito has won Brasil and Buenos Aires back-to-back and has put in a good showing in Acapulco. His ranking is now in the top 20, with a realistic chance of being inside the top 10 for Roland Garros. It’s nice to see his hard work pay off, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll add another Slam to his resume before he hangs up the racquet.

Shakin’ with Shakira – While allowing his knee to recuperate, Rafael Nadal had a bit of fun making it on the small screen. The famous Spaniard teamed up with Colombian pop sensation Shakira to shoot a steamy music video for her new single Gypsy, which will be out this coming April. Don’t let too many tongues start wagging, however. Both are in long-term relationships and deny that there is anything going on between the two of them.

Cautious Federer – It’s rare to see the Swiss maestro pull out of an event due to injury or illness, but that’s exactly what Roger Federer was forced to do at Dubai this week. The 16-time Grand Slam winner is suffering from a lung infection. He hopes to be back at Indian Wells, but he’s making no promises. You can’t argue with Federer’s cautious approach. After all, part of what has allowed him to build such a stellar legacy is his relative good health and lack of injuries over the course of his career. That doesn’t happen by accident. He’s nearly always been excellent in setting his schedule and recognizing when his body needs to rest. This time is no exception.

Tomic Makes the Team – Due to a combination of his improving results and Hewitt’s unavailability for Davis Cup duty, Aussie Bernard Tomic has now become the youngest player to be named to an Australian Davis Cup squad. There’s no doubt that Tomic has the talent to make it to the top, but his attitude and meddlesome father have caused him more than his share of troubles in his young career. Perhaps a dose of maturity and a good showing for his adopted homeland will do much to improve his image and serve as a springboard to greater success.