tennis calendar

Is Grass Always Greener?

When the new International-level WTA event made its debut this week in Nürnberg, Germany, there was no shortage of quality story lines; although the draw featured no top 10 players, top seed Jelena Jankovic is always a walking headline and four Germans started off in the main draw. Nonetheless, the event has made headlines for completely unexpected reasons. Some have questioned the merit of the WTA holding a clay court event two weeks before Wimbledon, particularly in a country where the grass-court tuneup in Halle always attracts a star-studded ATP lineup.

The idea of arbitrarily placed clay court events on either tour’s calendar is nothing new. The WTA calendar also allocates space for four clay court events in the two weeks following Wimbledon: Budapest, Palermo, Bastad and Bad Gastein. Serena Williams is committed to play the clay-court event in Bastad for the first time in her career, and the event is held the week before her usual US Open Series tuneup in Stanford. Rafael Nadal returned from a seven month injury layoff and prepared for the North American hard court season by playing in Vina del Mar, Sao Paulo and Acapulco…on clay.

With the way that professional tennis has evolved over the years, the grass court season has become little more than a blip on the drawn-out tennis calendar; while players like Alison Riske and Tsvetana Pironkova might’ve found their lives a bit easier if three of the four slams were still contested on grass, career-defining results on grass are not the norm for most players. Is it really to a player’s benefit to waste time (and money) to travel and compete on a surface where she’ll reap such little reward for such a short time?

There is constant clamoring for players to schedule smarter and play the tournaments that are in their best interest. By putting these tournaments on the schedule, the WTA is allowing for that. There was little to no clamor about Nadal returning to action on his most preferred surface to get match play and confidence. This week in Nürnberg, the narrative was quite similar. The saga of Andrea Petkovic and her injuries over the past 18 months is well known. After losing in Roland Garros qualifying to unheralded Yi-Miao Zhou, Petkovic dropped down to the ITF Circuit and won a $100,000 event in Marseille on clay; among her scalps, Petkovic defeated in-form players Monica Puig and Paula Ormaechea, both of whom came off third round showings in Paris. After defeating Sofia Arvidsson in the first round in Germany, Petkovic assured her return to the top 100. Petkovic’s good form continued as she rallied past Annika Beck, her teenaged countrywoman, in nearly three hours to reach her first WTA semifinal since Luxembourg in 2012.

On the other side of the draw, Polona Hercog was making an injury comeback of her own. The Slovenian quietly played just one match this year at the Australian Open before requiring wrist surgery, and made her return to competition at a $50,000 ITF event in France before Roland Garros. No slouch on her beloved clay, where she owns two WTA singles titles, Hercog also fell in Roland Garros qualifying. Hercog’s greatest grass court success came as a junior, when she reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2008. Since then, Hercog has avoided grass like the plague, and rightly so. The Slovenian’s game is far from effective on grass, and it didn’t take her long to figure that out. She’s played just a handful of matches on the surface in her career. Her only career win at Wimbledon came against Johanna Larsson, perhaps the only active WTA player less comfortable on grass than Hercog herself. Instead of moving on to grass, Hercog took the title at a $25,000 ITF event in her hometown of Maribor, reached the semifinals in Marseille and took out the No. 2 seed Klara Zakopalova en route to a quarterfinal showing in Nürnberg. With smart scheduling, Hercog got herself more match practice in a few weeks than she might have for nearly the rest of the year.

In a sport where so much is made of wins and losses, it’s much easier to adapt to an uncomfortable situation when you’re in good form. None of the WTA’s top three are entered in a grass court warmup event, and does anyone believe that this is a hindrance to their title hopes? The difference is that these players perform at a high level nearly every week and are rarely, if ever, short on confidence. Confidence and the ability to adapt comes from winning, and nothing else. Not everyone has the luxury to be able to have and do that on a dime. By holding simultaneous tournaments on different surfaces, both tours are allowing for the highest percentage of their players to succeed.

The Magic of Davis Cup

Tennis is known as a gentlemen’s sport, a well-mannered game where spectators are expected to be on their best behaviour at all times. Other sports are highlighted by audience chants of “DE-FENSE!”, breaking out in song and creative team encouragements. Tennis is all about quiet, please.

Tennis etiquette is thrown out the window for one event during the year, adding a dimension to the sport that is both exciting and refreshing. Davis Cup, the only team event on the tennis calendar, embodies passion, team spirit, national pride and is the ultimate physical and mental test. It brings out the best in players regardless of their ranking and propels them to dig deeper than they ever thought possible.

Everything that makes Davis Cup so special was on display this weekend during the final between two tennis powerhouses, Spain and Argentina, in Seville. On paper, it seemed Spain had a distinct advantage given that they had their hometown fans and the king of clay, Rafael Nadal on their side. The Spaniards jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Friday and seemed well on their way to another Davis Cup title. David Nalbandian, Argentina’s Davis
Cup stalwart, teamed with Eduardo Schwank to cut the deficit in half after a masterful performance in Saturday’s doubles rubber. Argentine hopes rested on the shoulders of Juan Martin Del Potro who had to recover from a gruelling five set loss to David Ferrer on Friday to try and pull off a monumental upset against Nadal to keep the tie alive for his country.

The much-anticipated duel certainly lived up the hype and captured all that is magical about Davis Cup during more than four hours of tennis bliss. Del Potro came out like a man on a mission to take the opening set and get an early break in the second. Urged on by the Spanish faithful, Nadal turned the matched around as Del Potro seemed to tire with each passing point. Trailing two sets to one and down a break in the fourth with both of his thighs heavily wrapped, the Argentine somehow found another gear. He pummelled forehands, played inside the baseline and found himself serving for the fourth set. But, the final momentum shift of the match went the way of Nadal and his tenacious defense. The Spanish hero once again played the part as he hit a forehand winner down the line on match point to allow his country to taste Davis Cup glory once again.

The fourth set, in and of itself, was something to behold. The compete level on every point was remarkable. Play was halted on several occasions because fans for both teams broke into spontaneous chanting and applause. Emotions were high, the fist pumping was fierce and the celebrations were incredibly heartfelt. Seeing grown men break down in both tears of joy and anguish showed just how much it means to play for your country.

Over the past few years, the Davis Cup format has come under heavy scrutiny and rightfully so. The competition may be difficult to follow, but this year’s final reminded us all that is right about this one-of-a-kind tennis event that can be experienced in nations around the world.

Pete Sampras and Jim Courier on players’ union, longevity of tennis players

There have been plenty of opinions voiced lately by players, media and fans alike about how the men’s ATP tour calendar needs to change and what can be done to alleviate the tension felt between players, tournaments, and sponsors. And now we can add two more players’ thoughts to the mix: legend Pete Sampras and current Davis Cup captain Jim Courier.

The most recent verbal outpouring on the topic resurfaced at the U.S. Open where players such as Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal expressed concern over scheduling woes and even threatened to strike. There have been talks of a possible players’ union to address their issues, but will any party ever be fully happy with a deal? It’s an endless argument that has only brought minimal change in the past and on a time scale that moves very slowly. It has taken several years to finally move the ATP World Tour Finals to two weeks earlier in the calendar (starting with next year), but is that really enough to quiet the conflict?

Ideas such as decreasing the number of mandatory events for players, introducing a second off-season after Wimbledon, and players simply needing to be better managers of their own tournament scheduling have all emerged as an attempt to solve this problem. But what do past players who have fought these same battles in their time believe? I had a chance to chat with Pete Sampras and Jim Courier last Friday during the Washington, D.C. stop of the Champions Series and got their opinions on the matter.

Romana Cvitkovic: “Recently, a few players have vocalized their desire to form a players’ union. What is your take on the situation and do you think it could change the sport?”

Pete Sampras: “I don’t know if it will change the sport. I think if the players want to get things done, they all have to get in the same room, the top ten guys, they all agree upon one thing, and they walk out of that room with a definite decision, that’s the only way things will get done. Everyone is complaining about the schedule. In Davis Cup, even when I was playing and before, [the scheduling] didn’t work, we complained about it, but nothing really got done. If the top ten guys agreed upon one thing, like on the schedule of the U.S. Open with the Saturday semifinals and Sunday finals, they could change that if they wanted to. The top guys have so much power, they have all the power. It’s a name-driven sport. If Nadal, Murray, Djokovic and Federer don’t play something, or threaten to do something, it will get done, trust me. I know these promoters, they want [these players’] names [in their tournaments].

In reference to the same question, Courier commented on how players have an influence on the development of the sport, especially with the forthcoming appointment of a new CEO for the ATP men’s tour.

Jim Courier: “I think we’re in for an interesting time period in the next few months because the players’ association, which I was a member of, changed into a union between the tournaments and the players. So ‘union’ is maybe not the right word, ‘association’ may not be the proper word here for the players to form, to have more of a unified voice, because right now they are in a joint venture with the tournaments. So they are in a 50/50 partnership as opposed to having full representation. And there’s a new CEO that is going to be announced at some stage here in the coming months, for the ATP, and [the players] can influence his mandate. Because they are the ones who are hiring him; he is working for them. But if [the players] want to make some impact, now is the time. And we’ll see. But let’s be clear, that everyone in this sport, since Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith fought for Open tennis, we’ve all been overpaid, grossly overpaid, for what we do. So let’s be clear that this not a pity party, but I don’t think that player representation is necessarily a bad thing.”

Courier elaborated with an interesting transition to today’s game, the heavy physicality of the sport, and how we should preserve our players.

Jim Courier: “But there are probably some things that could create longevity for the players which would benefit everyone. I played Jimmy Connors last night and there is so much appreciation and love for Jimmy. Jimmy lasted so long on the ATP circuit. And there’s Andre [Agassi] – he lasted so long, played until he was 35. If you could extend the careers of Serena [Williams], and you could extend Roger [Federer], and you can extend Rafa [Nadal], these brand names, it would help the sport. Tennis doesn’t have the Capitals, the Redskins. Those don’t exist in tennis. You don’t have people who were born an Andre Agassi fan, and their kids will be Agassi fans and their grandkids. You don’t have that legacy; you have to build it every time with players. So, the longer you can have those players be in the sport, the healthier and the better it is for the sport. That’s really where the focus needs to be. It’s not about the immediacy of ‘we want this’ or ‘we want that because we need immediate gain.’ In my view, it’s the long view of how do we make the sport better for the players and therefore better for the fans and for everyone that surrounds the sport. And the off-season is a no-brainer, it needs to happen, but we’ve been saying that for thirty years and it hasn’t happened.

Courier concluded by remarking on today’s players having “arguably more” respect for the game than his generation of players, particularly with the current struggles.

Jim Courier: “If you look at players on the men’s side and their sense of responsibility for the sport, I think we’re seeing [this respect] right now, with what they’ve been discussing with players getting a little more representation … When you look at Andy Roddick and these other players standing up, understanding that they’re lucky and wanting to protect the sport, and also protect themselves at the same time. I think we’re in a golden era of tennis.”

(For my USA Today piece on the Champions Series, please go here.)

Soderling lifts first title of year, Clijsters back on form and Wozniacki laughs off criticism

*Swedish star Robin Soderling has paid tribute to new coach Claudio Pistolesi after overcoming Andy Roddick to win the Brisbane International 6-3, 7-5. The victory means that the Swedish No. 1 will climb above Andy Murray to No. 4 in the world and secures him the fourth seeding at the upcoming Australian Open. “We’ve only worked together for a couple of weeks, this is the first tournament, and it’s working pretty well, no?” said Soderling, who is looking to improve on a dismal record of never reaching the third round at Melbourne Park. “I’m playing really well and what makes me really happy is I never really played well in Australia before. It gives me a lot of confidence for Melbourne.” American star Roddick rued his inability to combat Soderling’s serve: “He served too well, it seemed like any time I had a look, he came up with one of those big serves,” said the American No. 1. “I’m normally at the other side and it’s better on that end of the serve.”

*Despite recent talk of a second retirement the Belgian Kim Clijsters has exploded on to the 2011 tennis calendar. In her opening match of the year at the Sydney International she took only 62 minutes to register a 6-1, 6-2 victory over the young Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru. The No. 3 seed won the first eleven points of the match and the first five games. “I was feeling very comfortable out there, said the three-time US Open winner. “It’s a nice feeling to have when you play your first match. I was really focused on trying to place my serves well and not give Alexandra a lot of second serves to attack. When I started back on the WTA I was working on my consistency – my best game was there but then I’d lose it for three or four games,” Clijsters added. “The last few months I’ve been focusing on that and reading myself better, and realizing when I lose that intensity, pick it up again as soon as possible.” Full reaction to the day’s play can be viewed at the WTA website.

*World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki has laughed off criticism after being stunned by Dominika Cibulkova in the second round in Sydney. “You need to learn from the losses,” said the 20-year-old, who is aiming to break her Grand Slam duck in Melbourne. “I’m confident for Melbourne I’ll be OK, there are positives I can take.” It was Cibulkova’s first win over the dominant Wozniacki in six attempts. And the Dane admitted there was room for improvement: “At the start of the new season you need to get into match play. I didn’t feel I was playing great tennis out there,” Wozniacki added. “Now I just need to get some training matches, head to Melbourne and get ready for the Australian Open. Last year I had the same start, so hopefully slow start, good finish.” The young Cibulkova was understandably delighted: “I think I’ve beaten No.2, No.3, No.4, No.5 and everybody, just not No.1,” said the Slovakian. “So I’m really happy about it. The most important thing today was I went on the court and saw myself like a winner from the first point until the last point. So it wasn’t a surprise for me – I just played my game. I had my plan. I knew it was going to work if I just stuck to my plan.” Full reaction can be seen at the WTA website.

*World No. 1 Rafa Nadal is back on his feet after the bout of flu which badly affected him during his semifinal defeat to Nikolay Davydenko at the Qatar Open and has flown to Melbourne to continue his preparations for the Australian Open. The Spaniard is hoping to dethrone his great rival Roger Federer and hold all four Grand Slams simultaneously for the first time in his career. “Going by plane sometimes makes you worse and at the same time I don’t have anything to do right now in Australia,” the 24-year-old told the NZHerald. “With my condition right now I think the more reasonable thing to do is rest a few days and have less risk of injuries, less risk of everything.”

*2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin del Potro insists he is happy with his current comeback from injury following a shock 2-6, 5-7 defeat to the German Florian Mayer in the second round of the Sydney International. Missing much of 2010 saw del Potro fall to No. 259 in the world but having an injury protected ranking means he will compete at the Australian Open next week. “Of course I want to play and win a tournament,” he said following the match. “When you lose, it’s hard, but now it’s different, I have different sensations. I lost but I have another tournament in three days. I have my wrist in good shape. That’s good. Mayer played better than me but it’s normal. I am very far off my good game but I did my best. It was shorter, but I tried.”

*British No. 1 Andy Murray has denied that his decision to play in un-ranked events leading up to the Australian Open has harmed his chances of success. His decision to attend the Hopman Cup alongside Laura Robson last week coupled with Robin Soderling lifting the title at Brisbane means that the Scot will slip below the Swede and enter the Aussie slam ranked and seeded fifth. “I was seeded five for the Australian Open last year, so I don’t think it makes a big difference,” said Murray, who reached the final in 2010 before being outclassed by Roger Federer in straight sets. The full interview can be read at The Guardian website. Murray has also announced that he will return to Davis Cup play for the first time since 2009 after discovering that some play is required in order to compete at the 2012 Olympics. “I didn’t know about the Olympics situation until December,” he told the Daily Mail. “But I said to Leon [Smith, Davis Cup captain] before that I would be able to play and we should keep speaking. I will sit down and talk with him in Australia and see if he wants me to play in March or if it would be good for the other guys to have another match. I will definitely play, probably one or two [ties].”

*British teen sensation Laura Robson will miss both the Australian Open and Britain’s upcoming Fed Cup tie in Israel after injuring her hip in the Hopman Cup last week. Marcos Baghdatis is now a doubt for the men’s draw after withdrawing from this week’s Sydney International, where he was defending his 2010 title, with a groin injury.

*Young Aussie hopeful Bernard Tomic has vowed to mend his ways after receiving one of the final four wildcards in to this year’s Australian Open. Aussie Davis Cup coach Todd Woodbridge had previously told the talented 18-year-old to start making more of his gifts and Tomic seems firmly in agreement. In response to some questioning whether he deserved preferential treatment he said: “Look, it’s their decision at the end of the day. I can’t decide if I’m going to get it or not. I can only try to play tennis as much as I can. Yes, I had a bit of a strange December, but now it’s January. I mean, it’s their opinion. Everyone has got their own opinion; I’ve got mine. You don’t think about those things. You just play tennis. I think the wild-card that they gave, they gave for a reason.” Tomic’s full reaction can be read at The Australian’s website. Carsten Ball, Sally Peers and Sophie Ferguson were the other recipients.

*Former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt believes he is ready for a strong run at his home slam Australian Open despite not playing a ranked warm-up tournament for the first time. “I feel like I’ve done the hard yards,” said the 2005 finalist who did compete at the Hopman Cup last week and is currently taking part in the Kooyong exhibitions. “There’s no stone that’s unturned for me, and I can go out there and know that I’ve had the best preparation possible for myself and my body. Obviously I won’t be seeded next week, so [it’s] a little bit in the hands of the Gods where you get put in the draw, but I feel capable that I can go out there and cause some upsets.” Sam Stosur also believes she can bring home glory for her flood-ridden country despite an early loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova in Sydney as well as an early defeat to compatriot Jarmila Groth in Brisbane last week. “I’m going to go in there thinking I can [win],” said the 26-year-old. “But there’s a long way from thinking you can do it and playing a first-round [match] to holding the trophy at the end…Even though it’s two second-round losses, I’m actually quite happy with the way I’m playing and think I’m in a good spot for Melbourne and still looking forward to obviously the Australian Open. If I could look back on this time last year to now I’m feeling 100 per cent better than I was.”

*In her latest attempts to find a new coach the Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova has begun working with Carlos Cuadrado.

*Former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo has been named the joint director of her home town tournament the WTA Paris Open. The Wimbledon and Australian Open Champion won the event three times during her career and said the challenge was “too good to turn down.”

*Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams will find out next month whether they are the 2011 victors of the Laureus Sports Awards in Abu Dhabi. Nadal faces Formula One’s Sebastien Vettel, boxer Manny Pacquiao, basketball star Kobe Bryant and footballers Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. Serena faces fellow tennis stars Caroline Wozniacki and Kim Clijsters, skier Lindsey Vonn, British track star Jessica Ennis and high jumper Blanka Vlasic.

*Roger Federer is looking to expand his charity exhibition CV by hosting an event in aid of the flood victims in Queensland on Sunday in Melbourne. The 16-time Grand Slam winner is in the city preparing for the Australian Open and said on his Facebook page: “The floods here in Australia are devastating! I am on my way to practise now and am going to speak with Tennis Australia to see if we perhaps can organise something on Sunday to help raise some funds for the people of Queensland who have been affected. Stay tuned as it would be great if the sport of tennis can help out right before the Australian Open begins.” Federer has previous when it comes to this type of thing and his ‘Hit For Haiti’ fundraisers were a massive hit on the 2010 circuit. Andy Roddick and Aussie star Sam Stosur promised $100 for every ace they hit in Brisbane last week with Roddick handing over $10,800 following his loss to Robin Soderling in the final. The ATP and WTA have also made the same pledge covering last week’s and this week’s tournaments as well as the Australian Open.

*Fresh for 2011 Tennis People has decided to introduce a new weekly feature to chronicle the ongoing battle between the greatest player of all time, Roger Federer, and his great rival Rafa Nadal: The GOAT Race. Unfortunately, this won’t see the world’s top two players hurtle down a Welsh mountainside atop a buccaneering billy goat gruff, but will keep track of their on-court achievements this term. With Rafa’s injury problems and Roger’s off-court duties as a father to contend with, both players will be awarded ten points for entering a tournament. They will receive a further 25 points for a quaterfinals appearance, 50 for a semifinal and 100 if they reach the final. Every title lifted will earn them 200 points. These will be doubled for Grand Slam competitions. So, after the first tournaments of 2011 came to a close R-Fed’s victory in Qatar makes him our early leader with 210 points after that 6-3, 6-4 win over Nikolay Davydenko. That’s ten for entering, and 200 for lifting the title. Rafa picks up 60 points after losing that flu-hit semi to the diminutive Russian.

Roger: 210   Rafa: 60

2011 Set For a Cracker

With the dust still settling in our memories over the stunning year that was 2010 the new tennis calendar is already upon us. It seems not too long ago that Federer was dismantling a shattered Rafa Nadal at London’s o2 Arena in the ATP Tour Finals. But with Christmas coming and going with its ever-rapid characteristics Down Under has opened its tennis season with aplomb.

Everyone has their favourite star and their own pantomime villains. And everyone has an ideal year mapped out in their mind with their top men and women coming out trumps at all the major tournaments, myself included.

So, as a year-beginning blog I have decided to look ahead to the 2011 men’s tour and predict, not entirely seriously, what may (or probably not) happen throughout the year ahead…

January

The early hard court season jumps in to life at Brisbane, Chennai and Doha building up to the first slam of the year in Australia. Andy Murray falls in the second round blaming the heat and a low-flying seagull and promptly sacks his coach. Juan Martin del Potro is still suffering with his troublesome wrist but plays his way to the quarter finals using only his good hand. The final is slightly predictable with Rafa and Roger battling their way there but to spruce things up after their recent exhibition exploits on water, centre court is flooded and the pair do battle in full scuba gear. Roger comes out as winner in four sets. As January winds down in Santiago, Chile, Juan Ignacio Chela wins the Movistar Open and is touted as this year’s big hope to challenge Rafa in the clay season.

February

As the early hard season slowly slides in to clay, Thomaz Belluci lifts his home Brasil Open title while Gael Monfils dances his way to the Open 13 in Marseille where he celebrates with a perfectly executed Moonwalk across court. Four Americans reach the semifinals at Memphis and again at Delray Beach. Wayne Odesnik wins both tournaments which causes mass outrage throughout the sport. He is touted for a Davis Cup call but Jim Courier decides to take a seething Mardy Fish instead.

March

The first Masters events of the year begin and fresh off Davis Cup victory Andy Roddick, Fish, The Bryans and John Isner are on fire. A sulking Sam Querrey falls early in both. Andy Murray comes out on top at Indian Wells beating Roddick in the final but then typically falls early at Miami and promptly sacks his coach. Nadal faces Robin Soderling in the final who has been slating the ‘Big Two’ all year. Rafa takes it with two bagel sets bringing tears and tantrums from the egotistical Swede.

April

April begins with Rafa rubbing his hands and licking his lips at the prospect of another clay season. Young Yank Ryan Harrison takes the title at Houston and is the latest star to be labelled ‘the next Sampras.’ Rafa takes Monte Carlo as expected with a straight set win over Fernando Verdasco in the final. Most notably throughout the tournament he seems to be multitasking while on court, even seen filing his nails whilst rallying with his compatriot. There is no real sign of Chela. Novak Djokovic again takes the Serbia Open in Belgrade and is installed as ruler of the nation for his achievements. He decides to sit out the rest of the 2011 season to concentrate on his new role.

May

Madrid and Rome are again taken by Rafa who now appears to be growing bored on court. Whilst dismantling Marcos Baghdatis in the final in Rome he appears to give interviews to Spanish television during the match. As everyone arrives in Paris the shocking news emanates that Rafa has decided he is bored of lifting the French Open with such ease and has decided to umpire the tournament instead to see who else can win it. With the new celebrity chair the French players really kick on in the race to be crowned their nation’s new hero. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retires from his first round match injured while Michael Llodra comes through an epic five set semi with R-Fed to face Monfils in the final. The marathon man then takes Monfils through six hours of stupendous Gallic play and the greatest French Open final of all time ends with Monfils on the floor in a tantrum pounding the floor with his fists. Llodra is crowned the saviour of France.

June

As the ATP Tour comes to Britain tennis stars snap up as much Royal Wedding memorabilia as they can get their hands on as the traditional Wimbledon plate is switched for a porcelain edition bearing the faces of beloved Wills and Kate. Andy Murray takes both Queens and Eastbourne and is believed to be a dead cert for Wimbledon. But he crashes out in round three and promptly sacks his coach. John Isner and Nicolas Mahut somehow weave their way to the final and the tents are brought out in preparation for the impending marathon. Isner wins in three sets. Roger Federer makes some possible unsavoury comments about Mahut after he overcame the Swiss God in the semis and the world’s media call him unsporting and a scurvy dog for the next six months before involving him in another betting scandal claiming he and Rafa betted on many of the matches the Spaniard had chaired at the French Open.

July

Serbia’s Davis Cup title defence ends at the quarter final stage and King Djokovic has the entire team executed for letting their nation down. Federer re-hits form late on again by taking Bastad and Gstaad while Roddick is doing well by taking Hamburg and Los Angeles. The Americans work themselves in to a fervour over the home prospects for the US Open and many pundits are with them because of the top form of A-Rod, Harrison and Isner. David Nalbandian wins in Atlanta and everyone once again remembers who he is. There is talk of a possible push in New York. Surely not…

August

Nalbandian again wins at the Legg Mason Classic. He takes a marathon final against Baghdatis, his other eternally injured friend. Andy Murray loses in the second round in Montreal and sees his title slip away. He again blames a lack of love for tennis and promptly sacks his coach before announcing his retirement from the sport. Roger takes the title before losing the Cincinnati final to Roddick. America is literally on the edge of its seat. Rafa ruptures the tendons in both knees in the third round at Cincy against Ernests Gulbis and will miss the rest of the season.

September

The final Slam of the year in New York explodes in to life with the partisan crowd firmly behind Roddick. He finally puts all the pain behind him by overcoming Federer at last in the semis in five sets. Federer is immediately written off by the world’s media, again. In the other semi Soderling falls to a resurgent Nalbandian and America gears itself up to crown Roddick their new leader. But he falls apart. His serve leaves him, his ground strokes are erratic and Nalbandian triumphs in four to become the second Argentine in three years to silence Arthur Ashe court. He quickly sees his title switch from the best player of the last decade not to win a major to the sixth best player of the last decade to win one.

October

With no Rafa, Murray or Djokovic to compete with Federer once again silences his critics by beginning a clean sweep of the late tournaments. He takes the China Open, Shanghai, the Kremlin Cup, Vienna and Basel without losing a set. Over in Valencia David Ferrer shoots to the final after a quiet year where he meets the marathon man Llodra. Ferrer takes the final in five much to the delight of the home fans. Murray decides he was wrong to be so hasty and announces his return to tennis, promising he will win that first Slam in 2012. Djokovic declares that all Serbian children will take karaoke lessons as well as practice tennis at school as of 2015.

November

In Paris, Federer finally runs out of steam and drops a set against Brian Dabul. Critics are again on his back saying he is finished. He manages to reach the quarter finals where he falls to Ryan Harrison. The American youth then falls to Del Potro in the semi who in turn loses to Soderling in the final. The Swede moves to No. 3 in the world and says he is ever so close to breaking the Top 2 but nobody is listening anymore. The ATP Finals kick off with a somewhat decimated lineup. Federer, Soderling, Roddick, Del Potro, Nalbandian, Isner, Ferrer and Verdasco do battle in London with the eyes of the tennis world watching on. Ferrer, Verdasco, Nalbandian and Roddick fall at the group stage leaving Soderling and Federer to battle it out in the final after overcoming Del Potro and Isner respectively. Federer triumphs in straight sets and the Swede storms off court refusing to take part in the ceremony, predictions in tatters. The USA take the Davis Cup home after defeating Russia in the final and it is seen as a victory for politics rather than tennis.

Well, stranger things have happened!

London Ready for Grand Tennis Finale

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was dragging myself out of bed nice and early ready and eager for the Australian Open to kick off. Ten months later and the 2010 tennis season is ready to draw to a close.

There is much talk at the moment about the shortening of the tennis calendar. In return for a longer winter break to recuperate, many tournament organisers want a halt put to the money-spinning off-season exhibitions which many stars partake in.

If such plans go ahead, then these ATP Finals will become THE final say in the tennis season, but maybe at an earlier date. As it is, mid-November is the time for the top eight players from the last forty-odd weeks to battle it out for the final big scalp of the year.

While many argue that the lineup picks itself, there is always a surprise and who would have placed David Ferrer or Tomas Berdych in the mix at this point last year? We take a look at the eight hopefuls and run the rule over their chances of finishing the year on the highest of highs.

Group A:

Rafa Nadal:

Finished the year as the world No. 1 and waded in to the “GOAT” debate after finalising the career Grand Slam with victory, at last, at Flushing Meadows. He has nine Majors, has reached the semi finals of this tournament in 2006 and 2007 and holds an Olympic Gold from Beijing.

He is many people’s favourite for London and rightly so. However, his form has been a little erratic since that victory in New York and many still question his ability compared to Federer’s on the hard courts.

However, doubt Rafa at your peril. The man also equalled Andre Agassi’s record of 17 ATP Masters titles this year and is more than adept at bringing his A-game when it really matters. But the bookies acknowledge that Rafa has never won this tournament so he is installed as 3/1 second favourite.

2010 Titles: Monte Carlo, Rome, Madrid, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open, Tokyo

2010 Finals: Doha

Novak Djokovic:

The nearly man. Since that 2008 Australian Open it just hasn’t quite happened for the Serb who has often been derided for his collapses on court and his perceived exaggeration of injuries to escape tricky opponents early.

While his on-court manner has undoubtedly toughened and the tears and early exits are becoming less of a problem he still has not secured that second major. His big enemy continues to be consistency. That dramatic victory over Federer in the US Open semis succeeded by a rather empty performance in the final against Rafa due to fatigue.

The two-time French Open finalist won this tournament in 2008 and after a relatively quiet period following Flushing Meadows maybe he is rested enough to quietly negotiate his way to a second triumph, leading to perhaps that second major? He is the 4/1 third favourite.

2010 Titles: Dubai, Beijing,

2010 Finals: US Open, Basel

Tomas Berdych:

Despite complaining about the increased pressure which followed his Wimbledon finals appearance it has been a great year for Czech star Tomas Berdych. The 25-year-old reached a career-high No. 6 in October as well as that first Slam final at SW19.

He also reached the semifinals at the French and is debuting in the end-of-year Championships. His fast pace and aggressive play is sure to delight the locals that got behind him back in the summer although winning this may be a step too far.

The only man here not to lift a title in 2010, Berdych is available at 25/1, placed last alongside Ferrer.

2010 Titles: none

2010 Finals: Miami, Wimbledon

Andy Roddick:

It has been a fairly difficult year for A-Rod who has battled with losses of form as well as illness throughout the season. But the 2003 US Open winner looks back to full fitness and with three semifinals placings in these championships he is somebody with the experience to repeat that feat.

With the likes of John Isner, Sam Querrey and a rejuvenated Mardy Fish challenging his placement as America’s No. 1, Roddick will have to remain at the top of his game to keep ahead of the pack and what better way to do that than victory here?

However, he only qualified due to Verdasco’s end-of-year collapse and lost some big matches to the likes of Soderling and Federer who he would need to beat here if he was to see success. Roddick is available at 20/1 with only Berdych and Ferrer below him.

2010 Titles: Brisbane, Miami

2010 Finals: San Jose, Indian Wells

Group B:

Roger Federer:

With critics questioning his temperament after squandering five match points against Gael Monfils at Paris it is up to R-Fed to shut them up as he has continually throughout his glittering career.

Statistically the greatest of all time, Federer lifted the Australian Open in January but has failed to reach a Grand Slam final since. But who would be stupid enough to bet against the man who has 16 Grand Slams and four ATP Finals to his name?

However, Federer hasn’t won this trophy since 2007 which shows the competition at the top of the sport. Even so, he is still the favourite with the bookies at 5/2. Could it be a return to form?

2010 Titles: Australian Open, Cincinnati, Stockholm, Basel

2010 Finals: Madrid, Halle, Toronto, Shanghai

Andy Murray:

The wait for the Grand Slam continues as he defeated Federer in two of the three finals they met in this year but the important one, Australia, was taken by the Swiss.

Murray made the semifinals of this tournament in 2008 and will hope to go one better, but the latter half of 2010 has not been too good for the Scotsman. A shock loss to Stanlislas Wawrinka at the US Open has been followed by some not-too-flattering results across Asia and Europe, Shanghai aside.

But with the home crowd behind him you cannot dispel him as the British public have helped roar him to two Wimbledon semifinals before this. Murray is available at 9/2.

2010 Titles: Toronto, Shanghai

2010 Finals: Australian Open, Los Angeles

Robin Soderling:

The pantomime villain of tennis, nobody can argue with Soderling’s ability on a court. Always there or thereabouts in the major tournaments nobody likes to play him.

You never know which Soderling is going to turn up though and every great defeat can be matched to a despairing loss throughout his career. He will be hoping the former turns up as he did in Paris last week.

The two-time French Open finalist has also reached the semifinals here and will be looking to go one further. Soderling is available at 10/1.

2010 Titles: Rotterdam, Paris

2010 Finals: Barcelona, French Open, Bastad

David Ferrer:

As he showed by turning up in a grey suit to Downing Street while everyone else wore black you just cannot ignore David Ferrer. As this year’s last minute late surger in to the finals everybody will be looking elsewhere for a winner. But as a successful 2010 clay season showed he can beat anyone.

Spanish players are so many that they have to perform at the highest level consistently to remain above the parapet. Ferrer has done so. While only reaching one Grand Slam semi final he lost the 2007 ATP Tour Final to Roger Federer and nobody will relish playing him.

Placing him at 25/1 alongside Berdych shows the bookies have little faith in him but this will not bother the diminutive star one bit.

2010 Titles: Acapulco, Valencia

2010 Finals: Rome, Beijing

WHERE ARE THE WOMEN IN THE PROPOSED TENNIS WORLD CUP?

By Melina Harris

An exciting new proposal to introduce the first ever World Cup to the already packed tennis calendar (replacing the outdated Davis Cup format) has one glaring fault as far as I’m concerned; it’s men only and there has been no mention of a female equivalent. According to the Times of London Tennis Correspondent Neil Harman on Wednesday, “although the idea for a World Cup is in its formative stages, it has already been presented to leading tennis administrators and television executives, who believe that a men-only competition would attract a larger audience.”  Who are these ‘leading tennis administrators and television executives’ I wonder? Much like Will Carling noted about the Rugby Football Union, probably ‘fifty seven old farts’ of the middle aged male variety.

This represents yet another snub to both professional and amateur female players alike. Wimbledon only relented on equal pay in 2007 as Sir Richard Branson a member of the WTA Tour global advisory council quite rightly noted ‘Women players have every right to feel strongly about the issue of equal prize money at Wimbledon. The outdated position adopted by the All England Club tarnishes the good name of the world’s greatest tennis tournament and sends a completely negative signal to women everywhere.’

Equal pay and coverage for women has always been an issue with nearly every sport across the globe; why can’t tennis be progressive and put forth an innovative mixed World Cup event including players from both gender? Admittedly, this would be impossible for team games such as football and rugby, however with the nature of tennis, the International Tennis Federation could easily pioneer this event, with individual singles matches for men and women, men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles events all scoring points for their respective nation giving equal coverage to both men’s and women’s tennis globally. This would create a real buzz for the game, rather than simply providing male role models for the younger generation.

It’s hardly surprising that we’ve heard Andy Murray’s view; ‘I am a great fan of the Davis Cup, but if a decision was taken to drop it, or something else could change in the calendar, then a World Cup is a fascinating idea’ and the thoughts of Novak Djokovic (One of the Vice Presidents of the ATP Tour’s player council) who said ‘nothing has been decided, we didn’t decide to put anything on official terms because we have to consider other sides as well.’ I wonder if one of those ‘sides’ is the possibility of a mixed World Cup? I doubt it very much, so hurry up Venus and Serena, step up and start campaigning before the fifty old farts decide for us!

WTT names Mountford Senior Vice President

New York, N.Y. (September 3, 2009) — World TeamTennis has named tennis industry veteran Bill Mountford as senior vice president. Mountford, who will be based in WTT’s New York City headquarters, will oversee staff in several key areas of operations including marketing, communications, Recreational League and Pro League.

Mountford, who joined WTT in November 2008, will also maintain his current responsibilities of business development, long-term planning and contributing to industry and USTA relations. He will report directly to WTT CEO/Commissioner Ilana Kloss.

“Bill brings a tremendous amount of industry experience and relationships to World TeamTennis,” said Kloss. “His knowledge and leadership will be a great asset as we continued to grow WTT as an innovative brand.”

“WTT has long been an integral piece of the international tennis calendar and as we move forward it will only grow in significance,” said Mountford. “From youth to adults to the top pros, WTT touches every corner of the sport and I’m excited to be on the team. I am equally excited about the overall impact WTT has, and will continue to have, on the American tennis landscape. ”

Prior to WTT, Mountford worked for Great Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association as a member of the executive leadership team, and was responsible for coaches and competitions in the U.K., including pre-Wimbledon and professional events. Before his stint in England, Mountford worked for the United States Tennis Association for a number of years as Director of Tennis at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the country’s largest and business public tennis facility, and was also Director of Player Operations at the US Open.

Mountford is a 1989 graduate of Boston University with a B.A. in English. He and his wife Catherine, reside in New York City with son Jack and daughter Riley.