stuttgart

The Fed Cup Dilemma

The argument about whether tennis belongs in the Olympic Games has been hotly debated in tennis and sporting circles for the past decade. For athletes in most other sports, the Olympics is the pinnacle of their careers. To an outside observer, however, this might not seem to be the case for tennis players. Four times a year, they have a chance to contest in the biggest tournaments in their sport; winning multiple slam titles etches their names into the tennis history books much more than Olympic gold.

Despite having either their flag or their country code etched next to their name on every tournament scoreboard, the only other time players theoretically get the chance to represent their country is in Fed Cup. Some crack under the pressure; Lesia Tsurenko, Ukraine’s new No. 1, lost all three of her matches en route to a 3-2 defeat to Canada. Tsurenko made a staggering 91 unforced errors in a three-set loss to Sharon Fichman, a match she and a tie Ukraine was heavily favored to win.

Others rise to the occasion. Australian wunderkind Ashleigh Barty defeated Stefanie Voegele in her Fed Cup singles debut to send Australia into the World Group in 2014. Roberta Vinci delivered the clinching 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-3 win over Lucie Safarova to send Italy into the Fed Cup final; on the other side of the world, Ekaterina Makarova capped Russia’s stunning comeback against Slovakia by rallying from 4-2 down in the final set against Daniela Hantuchova to knot the tie at 2-2. She and Elena Vesnina later rallied from a set down in the doubles to put Russia into the finals against Italy.

In an individual sport like tennis, where so much emphasis is placed on singles achievements, players still rate playing for their country incredibly high. But does this national success come at a cost?

Samantha Stosur, who has been carrying the remnants of a calf injury since Indian Wells, went 2-0 in her Fed Cup ties for Australia; she lost in the opening round in Stuttgart to Jelena Jankovic. Vinci, Italy’s heroine, looked listless in a 6-4, 6-2 opening round defeat to Yaroslava Shvedova in Stuttgart as well; the top seeds in the doubles event, she and Sara Errani later pulled out of the doubles event due to Vinci’s shoulder injury. Vesnina slumped to a shocking 6-0, 6-4 defeat to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Makarova dueled with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, her Fed Cup teammate, in the opening round; Makarova slipped up from a winning position, and seemed to run of gas late in the third set.

In Marrakech, Dominika Cibulkova was set to take a wildcard and be the top seed in the event; however, she apparently picked up an injury after playing three rubbers against Russia and was forced to withdraw from the event anyway. As rain wreaked havoc in Chiasso, the Australia-Switzerland tie did not commence until Monday; Romina Oprandi, Switzerland’s No. 1, was scheduled to compete in Marrakech but she also withdrew before play began.

Granted, not every player was negatively affected by her participation in Fed Cup this week. Ana Ivanovic is into her first clay-court quarterfinal since Rome in 2010. Angelique Kerber, who went 1-1 in Fed Cup, is also into the quarterfinals in Germany. Carla Suarez Navarro led Spain back into the World Group and knocked off Caroline Wozniacki in the first round in Stuttgart. Shvedova, who was mired in a dreadful slump, advanced to the quarterfinals at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.

There have been murmurs that players are largely unhappy with the increase in mandatory Fed Cup participation for the next Olympic cycle. These players put so much heart, effort and passion into playing for their countries, yet are still put in a bind because of the scheduling issues. In a sport where players are constantly representing their nations, it seems like they still end up with the short end of the stick. In certain instances, it’s almost as though a player needs to choose between national glory and individual success.

Sharapova Win Gives Hope for WTA Rivalry

For what seems like years, fans of women’s tennis have been looking for a legitimate rivalry at the top of the game. They may finally get their wish with the compelling rivalry emerging between the top two players in the world, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova.

It was difficult to label head-to-head a rivalry given Azarenka’s dominance of Sharapova this season. However, the Russian finally turned the tables this weekend , for one match at least, in the final at Stuttgart to capture her 25th career title to match the birthday she celebrated a few weeks ago. The two had met twice already in championship matches this year and at least one of them has played for the title at all of the major tournament thus far in 2012.

Sharapova’s run to the Stuttgart crown was rather impressive, particularly on clay. She defeated Samantha Stosur, Petra Kvitova and Azarenka in consecutive matches, including a dominant 6-1, 6-4 victory over the World No. 1.

“I had lost the last few previous encounters with Victoria, so I was extremely motivated today,” Sharapova said. “When I got the chance to go out and play her again I knew I had to change a few things. Before I was maybe a little bit impatient and went for a bit too much sometimes, but this time I was really patient. I was aggressive but consistent when I had to be against her. “

If Sharapova can continue to keep up her end of the bargain, women’s tennis could have its version of the ATP’s Djokovic-Nadal rivalry. The potential is certainly there for many reasons. One of which is their match ups have risen in intensity. They brushed shoulders while crossing the net during a changeover in the Stuttgart final, drawing a small reaction from both, but exchanged a civil handshake at the match’s conclusion. Both are fierce competitors and currently at the top of their game which are important ingredients in any rivalry. They also have players like Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Serena Williams pushing them to be better.

Azarenka is the emerging star while Sharapova is a legend of her sport, both on and off the court. Azarenka wins matches with her natural athletic ability while Sharapova uses exquisite ball striking and a burning competitive desire to will herself to victory. The contrasts and similarities are there, so is the motivation and after Sunday’s somewhat unexpected result, anticipation is building already for their next encounter and the numerous one that are sure to follow.

The Ladies Hit the Dirt Hoping for Feats on Clay

What promises to be a thrilling spring and summer of tennis for the WTA begins this week for the ladies in Stuttgart for the start of the clay court season.

This much-anticipated segment of the calendar begins with a bang as 17 of the Top 20 players in the world are entered in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. Madrid and Rome will also host Premier events during the month of May as preparation for the second Grand Slam event of the year at Roland-Garros.

Over the past few years, the expectations and results on the red dirt for the women have been highly unpredictable and 2012 will be no different. Gone are the days of dominant clay court specialists on the WTA like Justine Henin or Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. Instead, today’s Tour is all about parity making it anyone’s game, especially on clay. Case and point, the French Open has crowned a different champion each of the last four years. It will be interesting to see if World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka can continue her dominance this season on a different surface or whether Maria Sharapova will finally breakthrough with some titles after finishing as the runner-up at the three biggest tournaments of the year so far. Can Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova kick-start her season after a slow start? Will Caroline Wozniacki claim that elusive Grand Slam crown? Can Na Li repeat in Paris? Will a resurgent Ana Ivanovic be a threat again on a surface that brought her Grand Slam glory in 2008? All of these questions will be answered over the next few weeks with a few unexpected twists thrown in for good measure.

Don’t be surprised if a player outside of the Top 10 makes some noise at the big tournaments and look for Agnieszka Radwanska to make a serious run at her first Grand Slam title at Roland-Garros. Her all court game is well-suited for clay. Not to mention, she is enjoying the best season of her career.

It’s impossible to discuss a pending Major without throwing the name of Serena Williams into the mix. She played the Australian Open on one ankle, but comes into the clay court season in much better shape especially after rolling through the draw in Charleston a few weeks ago to win her 40th career title. Williams is driven to continually overcome health obstacles for another opportunity to add to her Grand Slam tally. The expectations may be low heading into Roland-Garros considering her recent results at the Majors and the fact clay is her worst surface. However, tennis fans have learned over the years to never discount Serena and it would be very much her style to triumph in Paris when everyone least expects her to.

A Joyful Tennis Summer With Hingis And Kournikova

If you were a tennis fan in the late 90s then you surely must have heard of Anna Kournikova and Martina Hingis. Those two were my favorite players back then. Anna , who is underrated by most tennis fans, never won a singles title but did  win two Grandslam Doubles titles. Martina Hingis has won many titles including three Grandslam titles (the US Open 1x, Wimbledon 1x,  Australian Open 3x) and nine Grandslam Doubles titles. And she was the number one of the world for 209 consective weeks.

So when I read that the two of them were returning to play the WTT tournaments this summer I was more than happy. Why? Because it meant I’d get to see photos of them playing.  Things were even better when they entered the Wimbledon Legends doubles tournament.  It was the return of the Spice Girls all over.

Fans and pundits from all over the world were elated to see Hingis and Kournikova team up again for doubles and play singles.  Ofcourse this also ignited rumors that Hingis may make a return to the WTA Tour. She told the press that she may play a few doubles games with Lindsay Davenport.  But we haven’t heard much of that ever since.  As a fan I keep hoping that Hingis will return for at least more doubles tournaments.

I even dug up some videos of the two of them interviewed by Harry Cicma for World Tennis Magazine.

Enjoy the photos and videos.  The photos are Anna Kournikova at the St. Louis Aces Vs Newport Beach Breakers match and Martina Hingis at the World Team Tennis tournament at Villanova University. Check the guy Martina Hingis is talking to. Rumor has it that he is her new beau.

I have also added extra bonus pics of Anna Kournikova At The Laureus Charity Gala At The MBB In Stuttgart.

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GISELA DULKO GOES PORSCHE

A few years ago I talked to a guy who ran the Gisela Dulko website.  It was a site in plain HTML and lots of pics and in three languages. They had several editors and newsposters. Which was quite unique actually for a website at that time. It’s become more and more regular now. But that aside. It was also the time where I just fell in love with Gisela Dulko.

Last week our photographer Ralf Reinecke  was in Stuttgart and I asked him to send me some extra pics of Gisela Dulko. And he came through. So here we go: Gisela Dulko pics of her solo and with doubles partner Flavia Penetta.

Enjoy!

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HENIN WINS FIRST TITLE SINCE COMEBACK

Justine Henin has won her first title since her return to the courts. And that’s on clay and three weeks before the start of the French Open.  Ralf Reinecke provided us with photos of the final at the Porsche Grand Prix, Stuttgart. Enjoy the pictorial!

“It’s very emotional to be back here because one year ago at this time I never expected to be back,” Henin said. “It’s been a fantastic week, everything was just perfect.”

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THREE DAYS OF PORSCHE GRAND PRIX, THREE DAYS OF PHOTOS

Our photographer Ralf Reinecke is still in Stuttgart covering the tournament and providing you with the top of the notch photos.  Ralf Reinecke provided us pics of Dinara Safina’s birthday, Anke Huber presenting the new Porsche Grand Prix award and matches. Ofcourse many many matches that include Justine Henin, Gisela Dulko and Li Na.

The Gisela Dulko photos were a special request from the guys at GiselaDulko.net. If we can fill in request then we will. So there you go, guys! Enjoy the Dulko pics.

Other than that the tournament so far has been exciting with many surprise upsets. Caroline Wozniacki, I have to note that she is injured, Victoria Azarenka out and the most surprising exit is Dinara Safina’s. But I really hope that she remained injury free this week and found back her mojo. So that she can keep playing tennis. I mean let’s be real here: What would the WTA Tour be without her?  You let me know by commeting down below.

Now here we go with the photos of Stuttgart.  Credit to Ralf Reinecke.

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JELENA JANKOVIC BEATS GISELA DULKO, AND WE GOT THE PICS TO PROVE IT!

Jelena Jankovic beat Gisela Dulko in the first round of the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart 6-2, 6-2.  Our photographer Ralf Reinecke was on the scene to capture some of the best shots of that match.

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AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA DEFEATS ANA IVANOVIC IN STUTTGART

Ana Ivanovic continues her free fall by losing in the first round of the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart. But saying that would mean not giving credit to a well deserved victory for Agnieszka Radwanska.

In another first-round match, fifth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland defeated former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic of Serbia 7-6 (4), 6-4.

Radwanska led 4-1 before Ivanovic pulled even to force the tiebreaker. But the less error-prone Radwanska won it and also took the second set. Ivanovic has dropped to No. 57 in less than two years since winning the French Open.

Photos by our photographer Ralf Reinecke.

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If it’s good enough for Michelle Obama…

Jelena Jankovic moved away from the baby doll dresses she and clothing sponsor ANTA dreamed up for the beginning of 2009, choosing Miami as the event to debut this faux one-shoulder kit (hey, if it’s good enough for Michelle Obama, it’s good enough for Ms. Jankovic!).

Jelena crashed out of that tournament, unfortunately (losing to Gisela Dulko in the second round after a bye), but she bounced back the week after with a title win at the Andalucia Tennis Experience. Following that, she had three quarterfinal losses at Stuttgart, Roma, and Madrid.

What’s in store for Paris? We here at TSF eagerly await what she’ll wear while playing on the terre battue of Roland Garros (which begins next week). Judging from her choices so far, I don’t think she’ll disappoint…

More: A few more pictures during Janks’ Madrid Open run — including the white/blue sneakers and the blue mascara she paired with her blue warm-up.