tennis season

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

The Final Countdown – Doha

By Rishe Groner

It seems like only yesterday that we welcomed the dawn of the 2010 tennis season by rushing with joy to our seats in Melbourne Park, pushing away the crowds for Presidential seats at Hit for Haiti.

It’s been quite the year, as my aversion to any court that wasn’t bright blue was quelled as my travels enabled me to experience the life of a tennis jetsetter, from gate-crashing the semis at Roland Garros, to combing the streets of Barcelona for tennis during the height of the World Cup, to invigorating Flushing Meadows with my own brand of Aussie as a Smashzone volunteer.

As the WTA season draws to a close, we’ve put the boys on hold for a week consider the ladies, getting hot and sticky in Doha. Doha, for those of you who don’t know, is in Qatar. Qatar, for those of you who don’t know, is a nation that Australia played in a soccer friendly, which was my first ever soccer match. Just sharing the love. So now we have eight ladies left in the game, and they’re going to show us who really did best this season. (In case we still didn’t realise that Caro owns the universe, because she does.)

Love it or hate it, the WTA is unique for its, well, uniqueness. You never know who is going to win from one day to the next, and while some cringe at the unpredictability, others revel in it for the laughs, the dramas, and the gloriously bizarre on-court coaching. This year’s top eight is markedly different from last year’s, which says a lot about the nature of the tour. That’s all I’m going to say – you can read the grown up tennis blogs for all the commentary. But Caro owns the universe, did I mention? And I love Sam.

CARO

The girl played her heart out this year, and deserves every accolade she can get. She’s no Serena in star power, not to mention, well, power, but she has something else that few others in the WTA do: She’s a role model. In a world where girls go gaga over Miley Cyrus, here’s someone who knows where she’s at, works hard, stays fit, smiles and laughs, and does her best.

VERA

Vera first popped onto my radar this year when, falling asleep in a pool of my own drool as Sam battled her way to her first title of 2010, I espied a rather handsome looking young man in Ms Zvonareva’s box. It was the modelistic Sergey, Vera’s coach and essentially, the primary reason you should tune into any of her matches, unless you are like me and also love a good racquet smash. But that aside, this girl has had a helluva year. While the Grand Slams have shown up lots of surprise semifinalists and finalists (hello, Chinese ladies. Petra Kvitova? I’d forgotten about you..) we had Vera showing up at both Wimby and the USO, making it all the way. Well done. You now have Number Two, now go away and let Caro keep number one. I really couldn’t bear another “Slamless Number One” discussion, and I’m not going to defend you this time.

KIM

I love Kim. I really do. She made me very sad earlier this year when she “couldn’t find her racket” playing Nadia in Melbourne, but then all of a sudden it surfaced somewhere from the bottom of Jada’s toybox and she played like the champion she is all over again. Kim is as veteran, she owns the universe (look at her playing record against the rest of the Doha field, for example) and she’s also the grandma of this tourney. Which means she can’t win it, because it belongs to Caro. Did you hear me say, CARO! (Or Sam. But Caro needs the validation.)

FRAN

Wish this woman wasn’t so likeable, because honestly, what she did to me and other Sam fans should have put her on the crap-list forever. Instead, I kinda like her, and seriously how pretty was she at the player party? That’s all I can say about you, Frannie. I know you’re cool, but give me a bit of time to get over the hurt, okay?

SAM

Sam is the best, chuck out the rest. Last season she was all chokey and hadn’t had a few wins in a while, thanking her lucky stars for the top 20 seeding that gave her a decent run into the AO. In January, Channel Seven cut away from her destruction at the hands of Serena to avoid an Aussie embarrassment (we don’t like to realise we’re not good at anything). By June, the Aussie media were singing her praises and giving away free posters of our girl. And seriously, with her brilliant Aussie contingent penning songs to the tune of “Happy Little Vegemites,” how could you not love the girl? (Oh right, the biceps.)

JJ

Stop sulking, Jelena, and go home. We know you don’t want to be here, and there are about 800 women who would kill to be in your place. Let Na Li bounce her ponytail in here and show us her stuff, because you sure haven’t been.

LENA

Hi, Lena. Remember me? I was that girl screaming like a crazy woman when Justine whipped your butt in Melbourne. I’m that girl who always talks about how good you are, even when we sit there trying to fathom how you’ve hung around for so long and not accomplished that much. Here’s the deal, Lena. You won the Olympics, which means you can win this. Go ahead. Just, like, lose to Kimmy and Caro and Sammy, because they’re my true loves.

VIKA

After a tough year, Vika’s back in the top 10 which is a monumental effort considering the struggles she’s had, including her horrifying collapse on the court in the US Open. Whatever it is making her struggle in the heat, let’s hope it doesn’t resurface in Doha, because this girl’s persistence is going to be good to see in the round robin matches. Cos that’s as far as she’ll go. We’ll see you again next year, Vika.

WTA Stars Create Their Own “Off-Season”

If Serena Williams’ troublesome foot does, in fact, keep her out for the remainder of the tennis season, seven of the world’s top 20 women will have checked out post-U.S. Open due to injury or illness. And there could be more “out-for-the-season” announcements to come.

Already Venus Williams, Justine Henin, Nadia Petrova, Agnieszksa Radwanska, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Maria Sharapova have thrown in the towel, but Na Li and Kim Clijsters have also struggled with injuries lately. With the WTA Championships in Doha and the Bali Tournament of Champions fast approaching, you can bet tournament organizers are hoping to avoid any more withdrawals.

It seems many of the top players are going to take a break whether it’s on the calendar or not. Complaints about the length of the professional tennis season are nothing new, but the women’s schedule is already about three weeks shorter than the men’s (though the ATP is scheduled to vote on shortening theirs as well).

Injuries are unavoidable, but you have to wonder whether some of those seven women would pull themselves together if the WTA year-end championships or the Tournament of Champions in Bali (which includes several more top players) fell under the Grand Slam heading.

Admittedly, the WTA does everything it can to make their season ending event an attractive tour stop. The champion in Doha stands to rake in $1.5 million, which is more than the winner’s earnings in two of the four Grand Slams. But prize money alone can’t create interest from players or fans.

When the U.S. Open wraps up in early September, most casual tennis followers join the injured players and set their sites on next season. So why not shorten the time between the final Grand Slam and the year-end championships? Why not see if it’s possible to ride the wave of U.S. Open interest? Not only would that extend the off-season for the top players, but there would be a greater chance that those invited to participate would tough it out in order to compete.

It wouldn’t be necessary to shorten the overall calendar. Just let the second tier players fight it out through mid-November for prize money and ranking points. Fall is likely their favorite time of the year anyway with many of their toughest opponents having already packed it in. Those players have undoubtedly survived long seasons as well, but consider the difference between Caroline Wozniacki and say, No. 37 Agnes Szavay. Both have played 21 tournaments to date, but the world No. 1 has played 22 more matches.

The problem with the tennis off-season, no matter when it starts, is that players not named Venus or Serena Williams can’t afford (or don’t think they can afford) to take a month or two away from the game when that may be what’s most needed for full physical and psychological rejuvenation.

Professional football and baseball players, for instance, are given training camps to get back in playing shape after their long off-seasons, but tennis requires constant practice. A player can certainly get some rest in November and December, but very few can step away completely without suffering the consequences when tournament play ramps up in January.

As it stands currently, Caroline Wozniacki, Serena Williams (yes, she’s still officially the mix), Kim Clijsters, Jelena Jankovic, Elena Dementieva, Francesca Schiavone, Sam Stosur, and Vera Zvonareva will begin round robin play in Doha on October 26th.

Interestingly, only four of this year’s scheduled competitors (Wozniacki, Dementieva, Jankovic and Williams) played the tournament last year. The handful of new faces could allow for some end-of-season surprises.

An additional eight players including Yanina Wickmayer, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Daniela Hantuchova, Alisa Kleybanova and defending champion Aravane Rezai will compete in the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions in Bali on November 4th. Na Li has also qualified for the tournament, but will earn a spot in Doha if Serena pulls out as expected. Ana Ivanovic, who is just coming off her first title in two years, also gained entry as a wildcard.

By Blair Henley

Wimbledon Survivors Recognized in New “Bud Collins History of Tennis” Book

NEW YORK – Bud Collins, the man who many call the walking encyclopedia of tennis, has released a second edition of his famous tennis encyclopedia and record book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS.

The 816-page second-edition volume – the most authoritative compilation of records, biographies and information on the sport of tennis – is dedicated to John Isner, Nicolas Mahut and chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani, the three “survivors” from the record-breaking longest match of all-time at 2010 Wimbledon, won by Isner 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68 in 11 hours, five minutes, featuring a record 113 aces from Isner.

“Has the Isner – Mahut match ended yet? You can find out in this book!” quipped Collins.

Collins, the Hall of Fame tennis journalist, broadcaster and personality, is the longtime columnist for the Boston Globe and a 1994 inductee into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. He is covering the U.S. Championships for a 56th time in 2010. He will be signing books at the US Open Bookstore during the duration of the 2010 US Open. Readers can also order the book HERE:

THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS ($35.95, New Chapter Press) is the ultimate compilation of historical tennis information, including year-by-year recaps of every tennis season, biographical sketches of every major tennis personality, as well as stats, records, and championship rolls for all the major events. The author’s personal relationships with major tennis stars offer insights into the world of professional tennis found nowhere else.

Among those endorsing THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS include the two women who hold the Wimbledon record for most total titles – Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King – who both won 20 Wimbledon titles in their careers. Said Navratilova, “If you know nothing about tennis, this book is for you. And if you know everything about tennis—Hah!—Bud knows more, so this book is for you too!” Said King, “We can’t move forward if we don’t understand and appreciate our past. This book not only provides us with accurate reporting of the rich tennis history, it keeps us current on the progress of the sport today.” Also endorsing the book is author, commentator and Sports Illustrated contributor Frank Deford, who stated,“No tennis encyclopedia could be written by anyone but Bud Collins because Bud Collins is the walking tennis encyclopedia—the game’s barefoot professor. The only thing missing about the sport from his new edition is a section about Bud himself. But everything else is there—and it’s easy to open and use for the whole family.” Said Dick Enberg of CBS Sports and ESPN, “Did you ever see an encyclopedia walking? That’s Bud Collins (who sometimes runs, too). Plunge into his book and swim joyfully through the history of tennis. It’s all here.”

Founded in 1987, New Chapter Press is also the publisher of “The Roger Federer Story, Quest for Perfection” (www.RogerFedererBook.com) by Rene Stauffer, “The Education of a Tennis Player” by Rod Laver with Bud Collins, “Acing Depression: A Tennis Champion’s Toughest Match” by Cliff Richey with Hilaire Richey Kallendorf, “Tennis Made Easy” by Kelly Gunterman, “Jan Kodes: A Journey To Glory From Behind The Iron Curtain” by Jan Kodes and Petr Kolar, “Boycott: Stolen Dreams of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games” by Tom Caraccioli and Jerry Caraccioli, “The Lennon Prophecy” by Joe Niezgoda, “Bone Appetit, Gourmet Cooking For Your Dog” by Susan Anson, “The Rules of Neighborhood Poker According to Hoyle” by Stewart Wolpin, “People’s Choice Cancun – Travel Survey Guidebook” by Eric Rabinowitz and “Weekend Warriors: The Men of Professional Lacrosse” by Jack McDermott, among others. More information can be found at www.NewChapterMedia.com.

Ana Ivanovic Snubbed By Rogers Cup – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

The Plot Thickens – Once again, mystery surrounds American tennis star Serena Williams. No doubt she’s injured, and no doubt she is questionable for the final major of the year. But it’s fair to say that there are a number of question marks surrounding how Williams acquired the injury and just how much of a threat is it to her chances of competing at the US Open. First we heard she hurt her foot and would miss the World Team Tennis season. Then we hear she needed stitches and has pulled out of all of her scheduled hard court tune up events. Now we know the World No. 1 has undergone surgery and may not make it to the Big Apple. Throw into the mix the type of injury (deep cuts on the bottom of her foot from stepping on broken glass in a restaurant), and Serena Williams has left many in the general sports world scratching their heads. The good news for Williams is that if she is able to play the US Open, she’ll still be considered one of the heavy favorites. She’s never needed many matches going into a major to post big results, so while not ideal, her lack of preparation will not be nearly as detrimental as it would be to her fellow competitors. And perhaps just maybe this latest injury will work up a little sympathy for the 13-time Grand Slam champion so that others prove less apt to revisit her infamous meltdown in the semifinals against Clijsters last year.

Serbian Snub – One of the more surprising stories of the week was the wildcard snub of Ana Ivanovic for the upcoming Montreal event. Tournament organizers defended the snub, stating that they wanted to ensure Quebec native Stephanie Dubois, whom they felt was an equal, if not bigger draw than Ivanovic for the Canadian crowd, received a wildcard into the event. As Ivanovic never quite reached the popular status of a Maria Sharapova or Williams sisters, it’s difficult to argue with the logic of the tournament organizers who presumably know what their fans want. Playing the qualies could also work in Ivanovic’s favor. Players have talked about the added hunger and mental boost that comes with earning a place in the main draw, not to mention the added advantage of having a few matches under the belt when coming up against an opponent when main draw play is underway. So while already having a ranking that would automatically see her entered in the main draw would have been preferred, qualifying for and playing the Montreal event has the potential to pay dividends later.

Recognition for Martina – The International Tennis Hall of Fame has announced that the 2010 recipient of the Eugene L. Scott Award will be none other than Martina Navratilova. The award is being given in recognition of Navratilova’s contributions to the sport of tennis, which includes her commitment to insightfully and thoughtfully commenting about the nature and state of the sport. It is appropriate that Navratilova receive this award at this stage in the game, given that she has continued to contribute to the sport of tennis in the face of her own battle with breast cancer.

Two for Two – Rising Hungarian star Agnes Szavay completed two spectacular weeks this past weekend, taking her second title in as many weeks in the Czech capital of Prague. She won the Budapest title the previous week in her native Hungary. Granted, the fields at both of these events were not exactly stacked the way that they are at the top tier tournaments, but Szavay may finally be starting to gain some consistency and deliver on the some of the promise she showed earlier in her career. Her Prague win saw her jump 11 places in the rankings, and she’ll be keen to maintain the momentum and raise that ranking even more over the course of the hard court summer season.

Mixed Bag – In a recent poll of America’s favorite female sports stars, tennis took the cake, with current stars Serena and Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova making the list, as well as Anna Kournikova and tennis legends Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova also earning spots among that elite ten. It was great to see such a wide spread among the tennis stars that appeared on the list, and particularly for someone like Billie Jean King who played a huge role in laying the groundwork for women’s tour, to see women’s tennis so well represented had to be immensely satisfying. On the flip side of all of this, no male tennis player earned a spot among the top ten male sports stars. One could argue they face stiffer competition with the popularity of the NFL, NBA etc., but it was still mildly surprising to not see the likes of Federer or Nadal on the list. Not that either of the European men will be broken up about losing a popularity contest in the United States, but it would still be great to see the men fare a little better in 2011.

Around the Corner: Clay Court Tennis in Stuttgart and Bastad

With the short grass court season already over, the ATP Tour turns to a couple of clay court tournaments in Europe this week.

Stuttgart:

The chance at redemption to a multitude of players who have missed significant portions of the tennis season due to injury is offered at Stuttgart this year.

Russian Nikolay Davydenko is the top seed in Stuttgart and will try to improve on his semi-final appearances here in 2004 and 2005. Ranked sixth in the world, Davydenko is still struggling with his game since returning from a wrist injury in June. After missing three months he returned in time for Halle and Wimbledon and lost both times in the second round on his least favorite surface of grass. Davydenko gets a first round bye and will then play the winner of the Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Jeremy Chardy match. Chardy won his first career title here a year ago but will be hard-pressed to repeat.

Frenchman Gael Monfils is seeded third and has a fairly easy looking quarter of the draw that is littered with qualifiers. Monfils also missed some time earlier in the year with injury issues and has yet to post any significant results in 2010. This tournament offers the perfect opportunity for Monfils to reach his first final of the season.

Fellow Frenchman Gilles Simon could meet up with veteran Juan Carlos Ferrero in the third quarter-final. Simon will be have trouble living up to this seventh-seed status as he too was out of action for three months between March and June with injuries and is not yet where his game is capable of being.

In the final quarter, clay-court specialist Albert Montanes the fifth seed will likely meet up with second seeded Jurgen Melzer if they can get through the opening two rounds. Melzer is experiencing the season of his career thus far at the age of 29 by making it to the semi-finals at the French Open and the fourth round at Wimbledon. The Austrian had never before advanced past the third round of a Grand Slam.

Bastad:

In Bastad, Sweden, local hope Robin Soderling will look to defend his title from a year ago. Soderling was the first Swede to win the singles title in Bastad since his current coach, Magnus Norman, did it in 2000.

Third seeded David Ferrer won the title in 2007 and is still capable of strong results on clay. This year he has won the title in Acapulco, made the finals of Buenos Aires and the Masters-Series tournament in Rome as well as the semi-finals of four other tournaments.

Nicolas Almagro is seeded fourth and is an able clay-court player. His section seems quite routine and he should be able to find his way deep into the draw.

The bottom quarter features two tough players from Spain in veteran Tommy Robredo, who has won the Bastad title twice before (2006, 2008), and second seeded Fernando Verdasco. Robredo holds a 23-7 career record at this tournament and has a 4-4 head-to-head against Verdasco.

One interesting note when looking at the list of former doubles champions is that Sweden’s Jonas Bjorkman won here on seven separate occasions and with six different partners.

HALL OF FAMER BOOK SIGNINGS IN INDIAN WELLS

Rod Laver and Bud Collins were doing a lot of book signing this week at the BNP Paribas Open. The two Hall of Famers collaborated on Laver’s memoir THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER back in 1969 and reunited to work on an updated, newly released version that will officially re-launch on April 1.

THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.NewChapterMedia.com) is Laver’s first-hand account of his 1969 Grand Slam season, capped off by his 7-9, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 win over fellow Australian Tony Roche in the final of the U.S. Open on September 8. Laver also writes about his childhood and early days in tennis, his 1962 Grand Slam and offers tips on how players of all levels can improve their game. He also shares some of the strategies that helped him to unparalleled success on the tennis court.

“I am delighted that THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER is back in circulation and available for a new generation of tennis fans,” said Laver. “Winning the Grand Slam for a second time in 1969 seems just like yesterday and this book brings back a lot of memories of the great matches and exciting times. I hope people enjoy reading my story.”

Collins also signed his signature book, his tennis encyclopedia, THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS ($35.95, New Chapter Press, www.NewChapterMedia.com). The 784-page tome is the ultimate compilation of historical tennis information, including year-by-year recaps of every tennis season, biographical sketches of every major tennis personality, as well as stats, records, and championship rolls for all the major events. The author’s personal relationships with major tennis stars offer insights into the world of professional tennis found nowhere else.

Here are some photos, courtesy of Anita Klaussen, of Rod and Bud this week in Indian Wells.

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MARIA KIRILENKO IS LOOKING SWELL AT THE AUSSIE OPEN!

So is it a surprise that the ever swell looking Maria Kirilenko has reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open? To me it is. I never expected her to reach the second week of the first Grand Slam tournament of the year.  But like I wrote in my “I’ll supply the love: Maria Kirilenko” post and I quote:

I have high hopes for her this upcoming tennis season. I am actually hoping she will grab at least one title and make it into the fourth round of any Grand Slam tournament.

And she has exceeded my expectations already by reaching the quarter finals of the AusOpen 2010. Now it’s time for her to be consistent and I hope that she will be throughout the rest of the 2010 season. Just one step at a time. There is no need to rush.

When asked what she is going to do for her birthday she replied with the following:

Q. I believe it’s your birthday in an hour.

MARIA KIRILENKO: That’s true.

Q. What are you going to do?

MARIA KIRILENKO: I mean, I don’t know. When I was a kid, I had a dream, you know, to be in a Grand Slam main draw in Australia when I have a birthday. I think my dream comes true.

Q. Do you get to have champagne or do you not have that because you’re still in the tournament?

MARIA KIRILENKO: No, I don’t want to get drunk before my next match (laughter). It’s going to be difficult for me to play then. But, yeah, maybe after when I finish with my tournament I will celebrate with the girls from the locker room, with all my friends.

Anyway I am sure you have enough of my ramblings and so here we go with the photos:

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WILL MELBOURNE HAVE A SPANISH FLAIR IN 2010?

The 2010 tennis season is now getting in to full swing with the first Slam of the year, the Australian Open, underway in Melbourne this week.

The usual names are being touted for Grand Slam glory this year but question marks are being placed over the head of Spanish giant Rafael Nadal after his injury ravaged 2009 ended with some pretty poor displays by his own high standards.

The man is one of the few things keeping tennis competitive as his rivalry with Roger Federer has meant R-Fed hasn’t led a Pete Sampras-like domination over the sport this past decade.

Nadal’s native Spain has been in fine form during the “noughties,” lifting the Davis Cup on four occasions in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2009. They had never won the prestigious tournament before.

So is Nadal Spain’s only chance of Grand Slam glory this year? Many would say no.

Juan Carlos Ferrero is a former world No.1 with the French Open title (2003) and a U.S. Open final (also 2003) under his belt. However, 2009 started badly for him with early exits, including the Australian Open, seeing him drop outside the world’s Top 100 for the first time in ten years.

However the grass courts saw a mighty resurgence and only the aggression of Andy Murray halted his progress at the semifinals of the AEGON Championships and the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. His ranking climbed from 90 to 37 in a month.

From there he kicked on and looked to be getting back to his best tennis. Age is against him now and this could be his last major push to add to that solitary Slam.

Then there’s Tommy Robredo. The 2009 season was a good one for the Girona boy with career-best-equaling performances at the French, Wimbledon and US Open.

Another clay-court specialist, it is often his performances against the top ten players which let him down. In 2009, it was Andy Roddick who knocked him out in Australia, then Juan Martin del Potro in Paris before Roger Federer ousted Robredo on his way to the US Open final.

But at the Hopman Cup a couple of week’s ago he led Spain to victory with partner Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. It was his dominating play against Britain’s Andy Murray in both their singles and mixed doubles rubbers which got tongues wagging and if he can keep that sort of performance up against the top seeds then the latter rounds of the Slams won’t be far out of reach.

The Spanish youngsters look promising too. The success of eight-time Grand Slam champion Nadal has seen tennis flourish again in the Mediterranean and there are some big hitting youngsters to look out for too.

Nicolas Almagro is looking to build on his quarterfinal appearance at the French in 2008 while Marcel Granollers and Daniel Gimeno-Traver both posted career-best results at three of the four Slams in 2009.

Add David Ferrer, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco to that mix and Spanish fans are rightfully licking their lips at the bevy of talent they have to cheer on throughout the season.

But there is one name in particular that will get the imagination racing and will pull on the heartstrings as they chase one final hurrah.

Along with Roddick, Federer and Lleyton Hewitt he is one of only four stars currently playing to have wracked up over 500 ATP level wins. He graced the final of the Australian Open in 1997 and went on to lift the French in 1998, his only Grand Slam thus far. Ravaging injuries and a loss of form mean he has not reached a quarter final since the 2007 French and US Opens but after taking a hiatus to recover from injured tendons and ischium in his hip Carlos Moya has returned to the tennis circuit.

A hit with fans in all countries his style of play is loved by the male fans while his style and rugged good looks keep the females in tow too.

A first round exit to Janko Tipsarevic at the Chennai Open last week may not have been the return he would have been dreaming of but it takes time to regain that match practice.

How is it looking for the Spaniards in the Australian Open draw (seedings in brackets)?

Ferrer (17) faces a first-round encounter with Federico Gil of Portugal while Verdasco (9) faces home-boy Carsten Ball. Ferrero (23) has to overcome Croatia’s Ivan Dodig while Moya faces Illya Marchenko of Ukraine.

Gimeno-Traver will have to overcome third seed Novak Djokovic if he wants to see the second round while Robredo (16) faces Columbia’s Santiago Giraldo. Almagro (26) and Granollers face Xavier Malisse and Robin Soderling respectively.

In the bottom half of the draw Feliciano Lopez faces Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas while Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka awaits Garcia-Lopez. Second seed Rafael Nadal yesterday (Monday) was the first Spaniard to play and he quickly overcame local boy Peter Luczak 7-6(0), 6-1, 6-4, a good omen?

With thirteen Spaniards overall in the draw there is a high chance of a competitor in the final. And how many betting men are brave enough to go against Nadal? It’s now up to the players to live up to the hype. Watch this space!