tennis tour

Is Dementieva Continuing a New Sporting Trend?

There is no doubt what the biggest story in tennis has been this week. Elena Dementieva, the Russian Ice Queen, has left us almost as abruptly as she arrived.

Dementieva strove to show us that, after Kournikova, Russian women could actually compete at the top of the game and weren’t there to earn the WTA megabucks in sponsorship and marketing campaigns for their pinups.

And compete she did. She never lifted a major and many of her fans claim she is the greatest player of the last generation not to do so. But she does own an Olympic Gold as well as a Silver and that’s more than many could ever hope to achieve.

But we know how well she has done. We have followed her intense battles with Serena Williams over the years and admired her elegance and shot selection as she graced the worldwide courts in search of fame and glory.

What is very intriguing is her decision to hang her racquet up at 29. She is citing motherhood as her new dream. And few can deny her that wish. But this action hasn’t always been the case, and what does it mean about modern sport and the athletes that compete?

It is a well-argued cliché that the tennis tour has evolved in to a physically and mentally demanding money monster which can suck the life out of the most physically astute of athletes. To keep up with the Serenas and the Rogers you have to fight for every available ranking point and, in the case of many players, play through injury for fear of falling too far behind in the tables and the seedings for the major tournaments.

One shocking statistic following the early exits of Fernando Verdasco and Thomas Berdych this week was that they were both competing in their TWENTY SIXTH ATP Tournament of the year. No wonder they looked exhausted.

It makes it almost impossible for a lady chasing the Top 10 in the rankings to spend near enough as much time with her newborn kids as she would like. Kim Clijsters doesn’t play as many tournaments as she used to for this reason. But then she is good enough to play the big guns without as much practice anyway. Many others are not.

It mirrors the fight between career and family women in the twenty-first century and the usual debates over how to juggle work and children arise once more.

But what about the other factors of modern sport? Dementieva reached two Grand Slam finals, two WTA Championships semi finals and was ranked at No. 3 in the world at her peak. She won 16 WTA Titles, a WTA Championships in doubles and amassed a career record of 575-271 (singles) and 152-85 (doubles). A good record, yet not the greatest. How much did she earn for her troubles in her twelve years on the tour? Answer: $14,117,437. And that was just prize money. She would have earned a bucket-load more through endorsements.

The modern sportsman earns so much in their short careers that they can afford to cut their terms short and not have to worry about their futures. This wasn’t the case even fifteen-twenty years ago where only the best of the best could expect to live over-comfortably after retirement, unless they chose to go in to coaching/punditry/another line of work of course.

In sports like American football, rugby, baseball and football, stars earn obscene amounts of money for a day’s work which makes them millionaires at such tender ages. The stories of when players go wrong are endless but it also means that they can almost pick and choose when to play without having to worry about their finances.

As fans we would never dream of finishing early as all we want is to experience being a top tennis pro for as long as possible. But imagine if you’re knees were starting to give you great pain and you were already sitting on $15m. Would you go on?

In recent years we have seen many early retirements in tennis. And the trend goes back too. From Bjorn Borg to Clijsters and Justine Henin we have been robbed of top talent at an “early age” but what does it say of those three that they later returned?

Now we also have Taylor Dent, James Blake, Rennae Stubbs and Lleyton Hewitt talking of possible quits.

Has Dementieva made a rash decision? Will she regret her choices and look to hit the comeback trail in two years’ time? Of course it will be harder for her being in the 30+ threshold by then but just look at Kimiko Date Krumm and you really do have to think twice about it.

It is not just tennis either. In football, top stars like Carlos Tevez have voiced exasperation at having to adapt to foreign cultures so often and all the travelling involved in modern day sport. They have voiced quit sentiments. Eric Cantona left early to become a film star, as did Vinnie Jones, while Ian Wright quit at the peak of his powers to chase a career in British television. Gavin Henson and Danny Cipriani of rugby fame have recently had spells out of the game to spend time with their celebrity families and chase television ventures. While in Formula One Michael Schumacher left and later returned to the sport.

Is this a trend that will continue as the years go by where stars become disillusioned with life in, and then out of, sport? Will we continue to be left shocked at the sudden departures of our favourites and then relieved later on as they announce their return? Will this make the sport more exciting?

It certainly fits in with the “instant gratification needs” of Western Society in these days of post-modern thinking. Jump in, earn a few million, try to win a Slam, move on to something new. Many tennis purists will argue that it undermines the sport and brings in a sort of circus atmosphere and I’d have to say this is probably my thinking too.

I am a hopeless sporting romantic and love the stories of hard graft and achievement against the odds. I love seeing the emersion of the likes of Roger and knowing there is greatness to come. I love the Goran Ivanisevic’s of the wildcard world winning Grand Slams and I love reading up on the stories of the likes of Ernests Gulbis coming from small towns in struggling countries escaping to fame and glory.

Will it ruin tennis? I don’t think so. But it will certainly mean a demise in the long-staying Champions of the Martina Navratilova ilk. Watch this space to see if Elena returns to us. That will give us an indication of if the trend is a bad thing or not.

Dementieva’s Retirement: Foreshadowing What’s to Come?

After the final round robin match of the Doha Championships, all of the players gathered on the court for a special announcement. Elena Dementieva, a stalwart of the women’s tennis tour, was about to upset the delicate balance of the tennis world by announcing her retirement, effective immediately. In a very touching ceremony, Elena thanked her supporters while the audience, her mom, Vera, and the other YEC competitors looked on. Everyone, even stony faced Sam Stosur, looked a bit teary eyed by the end Elena’s speech.

Elena’s abrupt departure set the tennis world abuzz. Were there more high profile retirements on the horizon? Later that day, Kim Clijsters announced that she would wrap up her career, for the second time, after the 2012 Olympics. Thanks for the warning Kim, but you’re at least a year ahead of yourself. Talk about the longest goodbye tour ever.

The way I see it, neither extreme is the way to go. I’m not a huge fan of Elena Dementieva, but even I felt jilted by her sudden exit. I wanted a farewell tour damn it, but not two years worth of farewell. We’ve seen both mistakes before. Justine Henin almost retroactively announced her retirement even though she was the world number one at the time, depriving fans of a proper goodbye. On the other hand, Marat Safin, a former number one player, gave us a full season’s notice, and by the end of the season he’d been asked so many retirement questions that the actual day couldn’t come fast enough. If you want my suggestion, the best time for a player to announce their retirement is before the last major event they plan to play. Clearly there are exceptions to any rule, but this allows the player a proper farewell in front of a large crowd and gives fans enough time to accept the inevitable.

As much as I hate to say it, I think the next couple of years are going to be full of these tearful goodbyes. Many of our favorite players are pushing 30 and for tennis players, that’s just about ancient. Here are a few of my best guesses as to who will be trading in their racket for retirement in the coming years.

The Honor Roll

My honorable mentions go out to players who will almost certainly retire Slamless, but who have given us a great deal of entertainment and heart over the years.

Tommy Haas

Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be seeing Tommy play anymore tennis, which is unfortunate because he deserves a nice send off. This former top 10 player is already 32 years old and his ranking has dropped down into the 300s after undergoing hip surgery earlier this year. Nothing’s out of the question, but the chances of Tommy coming back strong at this point are slim.

James Blake

This 30 year old New Yorker has had recurring knee issues and lackluster results this year. I attended James’ 3rd round match against Novak Djokovic at this year’s US Open and I couldn’t help but think of it as a kind of last hurrah. I wouldn’t be surprised if Blake pulls the plug any minute now.

Nikolay Davydenko

Davydenko broke his wrist earlier this year, which kept him out for the majority of the season, but his ranking has stayed high. The 29 year old has often been considered a contender for a major title but has always fallen short, way short, when it comes to the Grand Slams. I’m basing this one solely on age, not performance. If he stays in shape and avoids more injuries, Nikolay could prove me wrong.

The Cum Laude Society

Venus Williams

I may not shed a tear over this one, but I know someone will. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Williams sisters, an opinion based purely on behavior, not talent. However, I also don’t really know how to picture the tennis world without Venus and little sister Serena. Venus turned 30 this year and underwent knee surgery after this year’s US Open. She actually posted great results at the Slams this year, reaching two quarterfinals and a semifinal, but I question how much longer she can keep it up. I have a feeling Venus will let us know pretty early on when she plans to retire. She strikes me as the type that wants a long farewell tour.

Lleyton Hewitt

This one will be a little bit tougher. Lleyton Hewitt’s a pretty likeable guy, so I’d imagine fans will be sad to see him go. I mean who can resist the Aussie accent? Hewitt was once number one in the world but his career has been riddled with injuries. Lleyton’s career peaked early on when he became the youngest man ever to be ranked number one at the age of 20, the same year he picked up the US Open title and the World Tour Finals. He followed up those results by winning Wimbledon in 2002 and defending his WTF title. I wouldn’t exactly say that things have been downhill since then, but a man who’s won two Grand Slam singles titles does not aspire to be ranked 50th in the world and very rarely making an appearance in the second week of a major. Lleyton’s wife recently gave birth to their third child and I have a feeling that this 29 year old’s tennis days are numbered. I hope that Hewitt gives us a little notice and decides to wrap things up at the Australian Open. He deserves a good hometown send off.

Andy Roddick

I’m dreading this, a lot. Andy has always been one of my favorite tennis players and I’ve always felt he had the talents to win several Grand Slams. Roddick triumphed at the 2003 US Open against Juan Carlos Ferrero, but in every subsequent Grand Slam final he’s been thwarted by Roger Federer. The current total is at four, three Wimbledon and one US Open. Most recently, in what I consider to be one of the most heartbreaking matches of all time, Andy lost to Roger Federer in the 2009 Wimbledon final 16-14 in the deciding set. As much as I would love to see Roddick keep playing for years to come, Andy has said that he will not overstay his welcome in the tennis world. If he cannot maintain a high ranking, Andy will retire. Lucky for us, Andy is currently still in the top 10 and on course to appear in his eighth consecutive World Tour Final, so maybe we’ll get a few more years.

Roger Federer

Honestly, I don’t even want to discuss this. Roger Federer is my favorite tennis player and really the reason I fell in love with tennis. I think he’s the greatest ambassador the sport has ever had and an incredible example of what a star athlete should be. For me, Federer’s retirement will leave a gaping hole in the tennis world. Even if you’re a Rafa fan, you should be able to appreciate that the famous rivalry has helped make both players as great as they are today. Luckily, Federer is on a quest for the one trophy that has eluded him, an Olympic gold medal. Although, he did recently say that winning one more Wimbledon is actually more important to him than the Olympic gold. Roger has confirmed that he will definitely continue playing through the 2012 Olympics, but after that all bets are off. I personally believe Fed is not done winning Grand Slams and would love to see him go out on a high note (maybe a late career title at Wimbledon, I think that would be fitting.) However, if he’s not winning, I can’t imagine Roger will stick around. Currently he possesses a record 16 major titles and is ranked number two in the world. If his ranking starts to slip and he starts losing to nobodies, you can count on his retirement. Finally, Roger better not pull any of this surprise retirement crap. I have yet to see Federer play live and I fully intend to do so before he retires, so I’m going to need plenty of notice.

MARTINA HINGIS TRAINING AT ROLAND GARROS

We managed to obtain a few snapshots of Martina Hingis training with French talent Camille Pin at Roland Garros. This is a pleasant surprise. Hingis recently announced that she and Anna Kournikova are going to play at the Wimbledon Legends tournament.  The return of the Spice Girls will surely generate a lot of publicity.

Hingis will also participate in doubles with Lindsay Davenport on the WTA Tour. The veterans have yet to announce their schedule however.

More Hingis news. Hingis will also play the World Team Tennis tour this July and a few exhibitions such as Nottingham.

It’s nice to see Hingis back in tennis. I won’t lie, I have always been a huge fan of her style of play and I hope that  she will grace the courts for a little while longer than she did back in 2007.

Enjoy the photos!

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MURRAY RUNNING OUTTA LOVE

Rather than pick one topic to rant at/praise today, I have decided to produce a post of some random aspects of tennis I have noticed recently.

However, what cannot be ignored was Andy Murray’s revelation this week that he has “fallen out of love with tennis.” Following on from his horrific 4-6, 4-6 defeat to American Mardy Fish he looked like a lost individual, a man gripped in a mid-life crisis.

Following on from that soul-destroying tennis lesson from Federer in the Aussie Open final in January, Murray really hasn’t had things all his own way. And as noted by fellow columnist Melina Harris he may be beginning to believe his own hype.

But to come out and declare this? It screams of spoiled brat syndrome. But read on:

“I need to start enjoying my tennis again. This has been going on for a few weeks now,” he said. “I’ve been very happy off the court but just not on it, and that’s where I need to be happy because that’s my career, this is what I do. It’s only me who can figure it out.

“People think sportsmen are different to other people but we’re not – we all go through bad patches. I’ve got to get back to how I felt in Australia at the start of the season.”

Still feel the same way readers? You can understand him. The tennis tour is now so complex and all-encompassing that there is no escape without a prolonged break that can heavily disadvantage your ranking. So players may feel the need to continue regardless of their health and happiness in fear of losing ground on their rivals.

It’s a very sorry state for a young man who was being declared as the best in the world after taking the Miami title this time last year.

Great Britain will be hoping Murray pulls through and doesn’t drop out of the sport a la Borg, or a certain Mister Tim Henman may need to get out the old tennis shoes again.

*Is it me, or is tennis becoming more and more ‘showbiz’ by the day? I think during the recent matches in Miami we have had more players’ box shots of model girlfriends and celebrity chums than ever before. Gwen Stefani got more TV time in Federer’s box at the US Open last year than any participating player. And it is always a curse during Wimbledon fortnight when we have to watch Cliff Richard’s perma-tanned, beaming, puppet-like face every day for two weeks.

*That hugely cringe worthy confrontation between Sampras and Agassi at the HitForHaiti event recently – does anybody else agree Federer should look at a career taking over from Jerry Springer when he hangs his racquet up?

*I, for one, am disappointed to see Sam Querrey failing to live up to his fantastic year in 2009. The boy is a true gentleman and could well be a great ambassador for the sport for many years to come. The saying has always been that “nice guys finish last” but in Querrey’s case I really hope this is not true. Another sporting cliché: “form is temporary, class is forever.” I think that’s a better one to keep in mind.

*One for British readers: am I the only one who likes to use the red interactive button to view matches so I don’t have to listen to the Sky commentators? Their constant attempts to make each other’s careers look laughable are very tiring. If you don’t have anything interesting to say during breaks in play please keep your traps shut.

*What a joy it has been watching Marin Cilic in Miami. Despite losing to Fernando Verdasco in straight sets the man’s game continues to improve following his marathon-esque court time Down Under. He now looks more and more like his coach, and the further he progresses the more we get to see and hear from fan-favourite Goran Ivanisevic about his protégé. Goran is never one to disappoint.

*I, for one, will be screaming Mikhail Youzhny on in his upcoming Miami quarter-final with the pantomime villain Robin Soderling. There are many players I love in the modern game, and none I love to hate more than Robin.

*With Murray, Federer and Djokovic falling by the wayside early on Miami gives Rafa Nadal a real chance to put a troubled year behind him. A win here could give him the confidence he so desperately needs and imagine a rejuvenated Rafa going in to the clay-court season. It’s not going to be easy but a few lucky breaks he hasn’t received recently and this could be a real turning point.

*Finally, I should really stop making predictions! Those who read last week’s blog will have noted how wrong I was yet again with my quarterfinal picks. However my late prediction that this tournament would be a goodun has come true, so I can take small consolation in that!

MARTINA HINGIS: SHINE ON YOU CRAZY DIAMOND

I woke up this morning, enjoying my cup of tea, reading the sports news on Yahoo! when a headline caught my eye. Martina Hingis to play the World Team Tennis. I was baffled by this news. I have been a fan of Hingis since 1998. When she won, we won. When she lost, we lost. When she cried, I usually turned off my tv or switched channels.  But Hingis won a lot. She continued to win.  Held top ranking on the WTA Tour for 209 weeks in a row.

And then came the sad news that she was forced to retire.

We wouldn’t be able to enjoy her marvelous tactical game that graced the courts anymore. We wouldn’t be able to get into chat rooms and cheer her on as any Hingis fan would. Or post on forums, from results to opinions. We panicked, who would we cheer on now?  There is no greater champion than her.

With her gone, I lost interest in the WTA Tour for a while. There was nobody to cheer for in my opinion. The WTA Tour felt dead, black and empty without her.

Until November 29, 2005.  That was the day Hingis announced her return to the tour.  Fans and pundits worldwide cheered her come back.  The media frenzy that followed made sure that there was no way around letting you know that the “Swiss Miss” was back on the tour.

The chatrooms were filled again with fans. People who kept live scores  updated us throughout the matches that followed.  And new friends were made.  This went on for about a year and a half.

It was great to be part of the community again.

Then on November 1, 2007  Hingis announced her second retirement from the game. She failed a drug test as cocaine was detected in her system. She denied the allegations but was banned by the ITF for two years. Two years would pretty much be the end of her career. According to a lot of fans.  While the chatrooms ran empty, the forums were less visited we never forgot the one player who made us smile when she smiled.

So today I open my browser, drink my tea and read that Hingis will make a return to World Team Tennis tour. I am baffled.

She told the press that she has watched a lot of Australian Open this year.

“Of course it makes you think. Tennis was all my life, and the most natural thing is that it makes you think. It would be sad if it didn’t make me think, don’t you think?” Hingis said.

“Tennis is still my life. Well, part of it,” she continued. “But my life is very comfortable, on the other hand. Tennis gave me a lot of things and sometimes you have to put things behind. It’s a lot of sacrifice, as well. I wouldn’t want to risk it anymore.”

When asked what she missed the most about tennis she replied with the following:

“What I miss is probably … the winning moments—when you hold up the trophy and you know you are the best in the world and you end up winning Grand Slams. That is probably the moment an athlete is most happy,” Hingis said.

“You miss that, but you know that getting to that point takes a lot of years, a lot of hard work, a lot of practice. It doesn’t come from heaven,” she added. “You never forget how much work, how much pain, you go through to get there.”

Now let’s hope that she hungers for those moments and makes a return to the tour. If Lindsay Davenport, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin can do it then why not her?

Ma Clijsters Continues Hot Play at US Open

NEW YORK –Ma Clijsters took another giant step for motherhood Sunday and moved closer to regaining her women’s singles title at the US Open.

Playing in her first Grand Slam tournament since giving birth to her daughter, Kim Clijsters out-gunned Venus Williams 6-0 0-6 6-4 to advance into the quarterfinals of America’s premier tennis event.

“I’m not trying to get carried away with it all,” Clijsters said of her surprising run into the second week of the year’s final Grand Slam tournament. “Just trying to focus on what I have to do because the tournament’s still going. I just want to keep focusing on my tennis without having to worry too much about what’s going on around.”

Two years ago, Clijsters retired from the sport. She got married to an American basketball player and gave birth to their daughter. Earlier this year, she decided she wanted to return to the tennis tour and is playing the US Open for the first time since she captured the title in 2005. She was injured when the 2006 US Open came around, and retired the following year.

This is her third tournament back since retirement, and it’s as if she had never been away. She reached the quarterfinals at Cincinnati and the third round in Toronto, losing in the latter to Jelena Jankovic.

“Although I lost to Jankovic, it really helped me a lot knowing that I was capable of taking her to a 5-3 in that third set,” Clijsters said. “That’s where after Toronto I felt like, OK, I feel at this moment I can compete with those best players. … I had a good feeling that I can have a chance against these girls. That’s something that I didn’t have before I went to Cincinnati.”

She was almost perfect in the opening set against the third-seeded Williams, a two-time US Open champion, but the last title coming in 2001. Williams turned the table in the second set, needing only 23 minutes to run through the six games, allowing Clijsters to win just nine points.

“I just said to myself, OK, forget about what happened this last hour,” Clijsters said. “You start from zero and just make sure that you stay aggressive, keep serving well, and it worked.”

The mother broke Williams in the third game of the final set, then held on to hold her own serve for the rest of the match. In the final game, Williams won three of the first four points before Clijsters, pounding the ball deep into the recesses of the court, won the final four points to grab a spot in the quarterfinals.

Clijsters is trying to become the third mother to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open Era, after two Australians, Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong.

Clijsters will next face 18th-seeded Li Na, a 6-2 6-3 winner over Italy’s Francesca Schiavone. Li is the first Chinese player to reach the quarterfinals at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

The other quarterfinal in the bottom of the draw will pit second-seeded Serena Williams against No. 10 Flavia Pennetta of Italy, who staved off six match points before beating No. 7 Vera Zvonareva 3-6 7-6 (6) 6-0.

Williams is 0-6 in her career after losing the first set at love. The last time she lost a 6-0 set at the US Open was in the final in 1997 against Martina Hingis.

Serena Williams began Sunday’s play by crushing Daniela Hantuchova 6-2 6-0, winning the last 10 games of the match.

“I traditionally play well in fourth-round matches,” Serena said. “I want to keep this level, stay focused and play well my next match. I enjoy every moment. I enjoy walking out there and I like to battle.

“I’m blessed to be in this position, to travel the world, play tennis and do something I love every day.”

Third-seeded Rafael Nadal grabbed a fourth-round spot in the men’s singles in an early match, beating Nicolas Almagro 7-5 6-4 6-4.
In other early third-round matches, seventh-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Julien Benneteau 7-6 (4) 6-2 6-4; No. 11 Fernando Gonzalez ousted No. 17 Tomas Berdych 7-5 6-4 6-4; No. 13 Gael Monfils advanced when Jose Acasuso retired with a left knee injury while trailing 6-3 6-4 1-0; No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro beat Daniel Koellerer 6-1 3-6 6-3 6-3; No. 24 Juan Carlos Ferrero upset No. 9 Gilles Simon, who retired with a right knee injury while trailing 1-6 67-4 7-6 (5) 1-0; and No. 16 Marin Cilic stopped Denis Istomin 6-1 6-4 6-3.