tennis greats

Federer After Strong End to Year, Azarenka in for Doha and Rafter to Captain Aussies for Davis Cup Play

*Roger Federer insists he is ready for a strong end to 2010 despite a decidedly off-day at the office when he lost to Andy Murray in the final at the Shanghai Masters. “I’m certainly not yearning for the year to be over,” said the 16-time Grand Slam winner. “I’m very positive for the rest of the season. I had a bit of an off day in the Shanghai final. It’s a pity, but Murray pushed me to that. Mentally I have a lot left for the end of the year.” He added: “I’ve played pretty well since Wimbledon. I hope to go deep into this event and hold up the trophy at the end of the week.” Federer is preparing to play at the Stockholm Open for the first time in a decade and he told BBC Sport how he was looking forward to the occasion.

*According to tennis critics a lot of players have gained from Serena Williams’ injury absence in the latter half of the year and this is true in the case of Viktoria Azarenka who will replace the stricken US star in the WTA Finals in Doha next week. The Belarusian confirmed her place by beating Andrea Petkovic in the first round at the Kremlin Cup.

*Following John Fitzgerald’s retirement after a decade in the role it is Pat Rafter who will take up the reigns as Australian Davis Cup Captain. The two-time US Open winner receives the blessing of “Fitzy” himself and a host of Australian tennis greats coming in to the post. “I am really looking forward to working with the team and helping lift Australian men’s tennis on the world stage,” said Rafter. “We’ve got a lot of young players that have a great opportunity to play for Australia. My standards and expectations are extremely high. This is a great opportunity to be part of something that means a lot to me.” Another Aussie legend, Tony Roche, joins him as coach. For full reaction to the announcement check the ITF website.

*Last week’s HP Open in Osaka was one for the history books. Kimiko Date Krumm (40) shocked the likes of Sam Stosur and Shahar Peer on her way to meeting Tamarine Tanasugarn (33) in what was the final between the oldest competitors ever, with a combined age of 73. By beating Stosur, Krumm also became the first 40-something to ever beat a Top 10 player. Krumm was trying to break the record for the oldest title winner, Billie Jean King having won at Birmingham aged 39 in 1983, but it was Tanasugarn’s day. “I just tried my best and fought as hard as I could,” Date Krumm said. “Nobody wants to lose, so I tried everything. Now I’ll play some ITF events followed by the Asian Games – so I’ll be continuing to play tennis the rest of the year.” Tanasugarn was happy with her performance: “I tried to be more aggressive in the third set and I finally made it,” she said. “Osaka is a great city. This is a great feeling and hopefully I can continue to play like this and get a good start to 2011.”

*Andy Murray says that his win over Roger Federer at Shanghai has once again given him belief that he can lift a Grand Slam. Asked after his shock defeat to Federer’s friend and compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka at the US Open whether he could achieve the feat Murray simply replied: “I’m not sure.” Now things are different. “I need to win tournaments like this,” said Murray. “Beating guys like Roger, beating guys like Rafa (Nadal) gives you confidence that when you do play them in the big tournaments you will beat them. I need to play like I did this week for a whole tournament in the Slams, but it’s pretty simple. I don’t think my game needs to improve so much. I think I have the ability to win them. I’ve been close a few times.” The full interview can be seen at the BBC Sport Tennis website.

*Polish star Agnieszka Radwanska will miss the rest of the season and the 2011 Australian Open after undergoing surgery on a stress fracture in her foot, reports the Polish Times. She is expected to return in February or March.

*Betty Blake, mother of American star James Blake, is releasing her own book on how to be a “tennis mom.” ‘Mix It Up, Make It Nice: Secrets Of A Tennis Mom’ will give insight in how to train and prepare a future tennis star and focuses more on education and family values rather than athletic and tennis training.

*Former world No. 1 Thomas Muster will return to tour-level action as a wildcard at next week’s Bank Austria Tennis Trophy in Vienna. He turned 43-years-old this month but is still hungry to add to the 44 tour-level titles he has already lofted before his retirement following the 1999 French Open, the site of his sole Slam triumph in 1995. “I’m looking forward to it enormously,” Muster told Austria’s Krone. “I want to inspire the crowd with my fitness and fighting spirit. I’m fighting like in the good old times and I will give everything in front of the fans in Vienna.” Muster will now become the oldest player to compete on the tour since Jimmy Connors competed at the same age in Atlanta in 1996.

Pride Over Points; Ana Ivanovic Turns Down Wildcard For Montreal – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

First Time for Everything – One of the big news items this week was the fact that for the first time since the ATP rankings began, no American man is in the Top 10. The United States has always had one of the richest tennis traditions, producing some of the game’s greatest, from Sears, Tilden and Trabert, to McEnroe, Sampras, and Agassi. So, the absence of a rep for the Stars and Stripes in the Top 10 is certainly worth noting, but it’s not the big crisis that some of the national sports pundits make of it. Tennis has become a much more global sport over the last few decades, and there’s no doubt that the depth has greatly increased. The other aspect that needs to be considered is that the United States is still producing world class players…they just don’t always represent the United States. The same Nick Bollettieri Academy that produced tennis greats Andre Agassi and Jim Courier and has also produced other top players like Tommy Haas (Germany) and Maria Sharapova (Russia). Besides, at the end of the day, assuming he’s healthy, the odds are still in favor of Roddick finishing the year in the Top 10, and other guys by the names of John Isner, Sam Querrey and Mardy Fish aren’t doing too shabby either.

The Ailing American – It was Andy Roddick’s departure from the Top 10 that sparked the bit of panic about the status of American men’s tennis, but the worries for Roddick are far from being about the ranking. After suffering an early exit in Washington, the American admitted to feeling lethargic and stated he would be undergoing some testing to try and discover the possible problem. He has since pulled out of the Toronto Masters citing his being too ill to play, though no word yet on the health issue that may possibly be plaguing him. It’s hard not to feel a little sympathy for Roddick. After one of his better spring seasons that seemed to hint at a possible resurgence, the American has suffered a steady decline that now sees him at one of his worst lows in recent memory. The fingers are crossed that he can reverse this trend at what has historically been one of the most successful junctures of the season for him and give the people back home something to cheer about.

Nalbandian on the Rise – A man on the flip side of what Roddick is experiencing is David Nalbandian. Though just really starting to fully come back from his long injury layoff, it hasn’t taken the Argentine long to polish the rust off his game. He looked in devastating form as he stormed his way to the title in Washington, and he’s continued his ruthless play this week in Toronto. He’s spent a lot of time out of the game, and for sure playing best-of-three vs. best-of-five makes a big difference. But if Nalbandian continues is form of late, and you factor in his records against both Nadal and Federer, it’s hard to not label him one of the outside dark horses to make a deep run at the US Open.

Pride over Points – The offer of a wildcard, one initially denied to the struggling Ana Ivanovic, was put on the table earlier this week, but the young Serb refused it. Her reason? She didn’t like what tournament director Eugene Lapierre had to say in The Montreal Gazette regarding his initial reasons for denying the wildcard to her earlier this summer. There’s right and wrong on both sides of the equation in this one. Lapierre raised many valid points in his reasons for initially denying the wildcard, but Ivanovic was right to think that he certainly could have been more diplomatic in presenting those points, and definitely a little more discreet as far as stating the number of reasons he initially denied her the wildcard other than that she’s “not Canadian.” With Ivanovic playing Cincinnati and also scheduled to play New Haven (through a wildcard), skipping Montreal most likely works in her favor anyway. But I have to applaud Ivanovic for having the guts to stick to her own personal principles instead of taking the tempting wildcard and the potential to earn some needed points at one of the most prestigious events on the WTA calendar.

Sponsorship Terminated – In order to comply with the laws in several countries which put heavy restrictions on tobacco advertising, the Davidoff Swiss Indoors tournament will be enjoying its swan song in 2010 as the tobacco company will be forced to end its 17-year sponsorship of the popular indoor stop. This is out of the ATP’s hands, and the current global trend to reduce the amount of tobacco and tobacco-related products advertising is understandable for obvious reasons. But this was still a bit of a head shaker given how hard it can be for tournaments to find title sponsors, and in this specific case, we are talking about a sponsor who didn’t just step in for a few years, but had been faithfully sponsoring the tournament for nearly two decades. Unfortunately, those are the breaks that come with being at the 500-level. Hopefully given the quality of the field that tends to show up in Basel year after year, the Swiss Indoors won’t find it too much of a struggle to find a replacement sponsor.

rg2009: no trophies were bitten in the making of this record-tying feat

fed-win-rg

Congrats to Roger Federer for getting that clay monkey off his back; up until this morning, he lacked a mini Coupe des Mousquetaires* in his overflowing trophy case, which put his place among the tennis greats into question. But now that he’s filled that French Open void in his record — with a 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-4 performance over an overwhelmed (and likely exhausted)Robin Soderling — Federer can play out the rest of his years with a clear mind. He’s achieved pretty much everything: a prolonged stay at the top of the rankings, an Olympic gold (albeit in doubles), and singles trophy from all four majors. (Has he won all of the Masters Series events?). Nothing is stopping him from surpassing Pete Sampras’s record in bagged Slam titles and becoming the GOAT of his generation. Unfortunately, Roger could also get a boost from his greatest rival, Rafa Nadal, if the Spaniard starts to sputter because of bad equipment; Nadal’s deteriorating knees have forced him out of this year’s Queen’s Club draw and makes a Wimbledon title defense uncertain.

Props to Soderling for his week, btw. Too bad he couldn’t push Federer to four or five sets. But after bulldozing Nadal, Nikolay Davydenko, and Fernando Gonzalez on the way to the final, something had to give. Also, the Swede gave one of the most sincere and gracious speeches I have heard in recent years. For as much as we hear that he’s disliked by other players for gamesmanship and such, he had a very cheery attitude as he received his runner-up platter.

*funny observation by Pierre, who commented on Bodo’s blog that mentions of the CdM had overtaken terre battue as le mot de l’année

(image via Getty Images)