By Maud Watson
Hanging it Up
After previously stating that he might give it a go in 2011 and see how both his body and ranking held up, American Taylor Dent has decided to officially call it a day on his career. An exciting serve-and-volleyer who reached a career high ranking of No. 21, his career was unfortunately hampered by multiple back injuries. With his wife and young son Declan, Dent will have plenty to keep him busy in retirement, but he’s already expressed interest in staying connected with the tennis world. No doubt that with his charming disposition, he could make a great addition to Tennis Channel’s commentary booth. Another retirement, albeit less publicized, was that of Czech doubles specialist, Martin Damm. You can expect to see him back on the tennis scene right away, however, as he has already announced that he will be coaching American sensation Ryan Harrison. Harrison wowed audiences at the US Open this past summer, and he’ll be looking to utilize Damm’s expertise to take the next step in his budding career.
Maybe it was the numerous complaints from fans across the country. Maybe it was a more lucrative deal. Whatever the reasoning behind the switch, American tennis fans will be thrilled to note that the Indian Wells and Miami Masters, two of the largest events in tennis, will be broadcast on ESPN2 and ABC in 2011. This is welcomed news after the two tournaments had previously been aired on the affiliates of Fox Sports, which meant poor, haphazard coverage that led to plenty of hate mail and angry postings. Hopefully the change in carriers will also lead to an increase in viewership, participation, and popularity of the sport in the United States
This past weekend, Italy defeated the United States in a repeat of the 2009 final. The title marked Italy’s third championship in just four years. Granted, the United States was fielding a relatively young team that included teenage Fed Cup rookie Coco Vandeweghe, but much credit has to be given to the veteran Italian squad that included both Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone. The victory in particular had to be the icing on the cake for Schiavone, who enjoyed her best season as a professional. Perhaps both of the Italians will be able to channel the positive boost from the Fed Cup title into their play in 2011, much the same way Schiavone did this past year.
Tournament organizers and Parisian fans were disappointed when current World No. 1 Rafael Nadal was forced to pull out of the final Masters event of the season, having cited tendinitis in his shoulder. Hopefully the injury is not a result of the tweaks he has made to improve his serve, and Nadal and his camp will be praying it doesn’t become nearly as problematic as his knees. At the very least, Nadal will be doing all in his power to ensure that he is ready for the final tournament of his season, the ATP World Tour Championships in London. He’s yet to add that impressive title to his long list of accomplishments, and after a poor showing at the same event last year, he’ll be looking to make amends at the end of what has been the best season of his young career.
While much of the United States was focused on its national elections, the WTA had its own election earlier this month. Newly-crowned year-end No. 1 Caroline Wozniaki will be joining the WTA Player Council, replacing Patty Schnyder. In addition to Akgul Amanmuradova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Wozniaki will be joining Schiavone and both Venus and Serena Williams. As Wozniaki’s star has only continued to shine brighter with each tournament she enters, it’s safe to say that hers will be a voice that carries some weight as the Player Council works to continually shape policy and life on the WTA.
*29-year-old world No. 9 Elena Dementieva has shocked the tennis world by announcing that she will retire from the sport following the WTA Championships in Doha. She reached the finals of the French and US Opens in 2004 as well as the semi finals in Australia (2009), Wimbledon (2008, 2009) and at the WTA Chmps. (2000, 2008) whilst also holding both an Olympic Gold (Beijing) and Silver (Sydney) medal. In 2005 she starred for Russia in their Fed Cup triumph and currently stands as their most successful competitor ever in the competition and in 2009 she reached a career-high No. 3 in the world. But she says it was at the beginning of the year she made her decision and that, despite her family’s best attempts, she’s sticking to her guns. “This is my last tournament,” she told the Doha crowd after her group-stage defeat to Francesca Schiavone. “Thank you to all of the people that I have worked with for such a long time. I would like to thank all of the players for an amazing experience. It’s very emotional. I would like to thank all of the people around the world for supporting me through my career. And I would like to thank my family, especially my mum.” For more from Dementieva as well as reaction from her fellow pros visit the BBC Tennis website as well as the WTA site.
*Belgian super mum Kim Clijsters defeated Danish superstar Caroline Wozniacki to lift the WTA Championships for the third time in Doha. The 27-year-old fought to a 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 victory despite having not played since lifting the US Open at Flushing Meadows back in September. “I’m glad I won and it must be disappointing for Caroline, but I don’t know how many more years I’m going to keep doing this,” said Clijsters. “It was just a great battle, great fitness and I think we showed the crowd some great women’s tennis.” Wozniacki said: “This has been a fantastic week for me. Kim just played amazing today and she deserves to win. In the third set it was very close. She played really well, especially in the important moments. Definitely the experience mattered a little bit today.” Gisela Dulko and Flavia Penetta won the doubles.
*The men’s season isn’t quite over yet but time is seriously running out for the remaining hopefuls looking to qualify for the ATP Finals in London later this month. Andy Roddick returned from a three-week layoff in Basel and defeated compatriot Sam Querrey 7-5, 7-6(6) to keep up his finals charge but there was not such good news for Tomas Berdych and Fernando Verdasco. Over at Valencia, Verdasco lost to Frenchman Gilles Simon in just fifty-seven minutes which deals a major blow to his finals hopes. Simon was on fire, winning an astonishing 81% of points off of his first serve. It was even worse for Wimbledon finalist Berdych. He went down 4-6, 1-6 in Basel to German lucky loser Tobias Kamke and now his qualification chances will be severely dented too.
*There’s an early Davis Cup final setback for France as world No. 13 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has withdrawn from the squad to face Serbia due to his recurring knee problems. He ruptured his tendon once more playing at Montpellier last week having only returned to action a few weeks previously. The 2008 Aussie Open finalist will also miss the Paris Masters next week where he would have been hoping to push his way in to the ATP World Tour Finals to be held in London later this month.
*Great scenes in St. Petersburg last week as world No. 88 Mikhail Kukushkin humbled top seed Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 7-6(2) to break his ATP Tour title duck. “For me it’s just incredible, this feeling, because I never think that I can win a tournament right now because I was ranked around 90,” he said. “When I came here I didn’t think I can even play quarter-finals, semis here. I was just concentrating on every match.” It was also his first final on the tour. A full interview with the Kazakhstani star can be seen at the ATP website.
*Caroline Wozniacki of course had already secured her berth as the year-ending world No. 1 but what did Doha mean for the rest? Kim Clijsters’ win has seen her climb back to No. 3 in the world meaning Serena finds herself sat at No. 4 as her injury woes continue. Aussie Sam Stosur finds herself back at No. 6 while much further down the scale, Croatia’s Karolina Sprem finds herself back up to No. 97 in the world having sat at 106 last week.
*The Christophe Rochus doping row has taken the interest of many tennis fans this week and it once again brings tennis in to contact with that horrible term and concept. There is an interesting debate on the issue over at Tennis.com between Steve Tignor and Kamakshi Tandon.
*Ana Ivanovic and coach Heinz Gunthardt have parted ways despite Ana’s recent resurgence. Gunthardt couldn’t commit to a full-time coaching role and Ana has decided to find somebody who will be able to follow her more permanently.
*It’s retirement central currently with American Taylor Dent hinting he may quit if results begin to slip. After overcoming terrible back injuries over the past few years the former world No. 21 has been fighting to climb the ladder again and save his career. “If I feel like I’m making headway, I’ll keep going,” Dent told the Charlottesville Daily Progress ahead of this week’s Charlottesville challenger. “If not—if I’m floundering or taking steps backward—then I’ll make that decision [to retire] sooner rather than later.”
*Another American is talking pipes and slippers, this time Rennae Stubbs. She says she plans to call time on her career in February after the Aussie Open and America’s Fed Cup tie against Italy. “If we win [in] Fed Cup and get to the semis, there’s a small possibility that I’d still like to be a part of that journey, having been on the train for so long,”’ the 39-year-old doubles specialist told the Melbourne Age. “But the plan is that Fed Cup will probably be it.”
*Dustin Brown is now competing under the German flag, having earlier represented Jamaica and expressing interest in representing Great Britain. He has clashed with the Jamaican tennis authorities over a perceived lack of support and famously travelled between tournaments in a camper van to save funds. He was born in Germany to a German mother and Jamaican father.
*There has been a lot of fuss made this past week about the fact that Aussie star Lleyton Hewitt announced the name of his new baby daughter via a paid-for text message service which fans could subscribe too. Hewitt, of course, is defending his “service” available to fans but many of the world’s press think badly of the venture. Although the argument is a little old now, there is a great tongue-in-cheek article on The Star website looking at the whole debacle from a typically Aussie perspective. Check it out, it’s a good read!
By Maud Watson
At the Apex – Dane Caroline Wozniaki has reached the pinnacle of the WTA Rankings, and it will be interesting to see how she is perceived in the weeks to come. Like some of the other recent No. 1’s such as Safina and Jankovic, she has reached the top without a Slam to her name. But while it may not pan out this way, Wozniaki seems as though she’s more in the vein of a Mauresmo or Clijsters, who also reached the top ranking before going on to win their Grand Slam titles. Besides, Slam or no Slam, Wozniaki deserves the No. 1 ranking the same as Safina and Jankovic did when they held it. History will remember more those who won the majors, but finding a way to stay healthy and having the mental fortitude to perform consistently at a high level week in and week out is a great achievement in and of itself, and there should be no qualms if that achievement is rewarded with the top ranking in the game.
Breakthrough – The 2010 season is winding down, and many in the tennis world are already anxiously looking forward to 2011. But for Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, the best moment of his season, and indeed, perhaps of his career, came last week in Bangkok. He recorded his first win over a current world. No. 1, defeating compatriot Rafael Nadal in three sets. Garcia-Lopez showed nerves of steel in his victory, having to save 24 of 26 breakpoints to see himself across the finish line. Impressively, he didn’t suffer the let down that so many do after such a big win, taking out the man from Finland, Jarkko Nieminen, in three close sets to secure the title. This could be a flash in the pan, but such a week could give Garcia-Lopez and his fans even more of a reason to look toward the 2011 season.
Early Exit – More players are calling time on their 2010 seasons in an effort to get healthy going into 2011. Svetlana Kuznetsova has been suffering from an illness that has prevented her from playing at her top form. Unable to practice or work on her fitness, the Russian veteran has smartly opted to close the curtain for the time being in order to allow her body to rest and recharge for next year. The situation for Aggie Radwanska is unfortunately more serious. The young Pole is suffering from a stress fracture in her foot, and as she correctly pointed out, it is a tricky injury. She is unsure if she will be prepared to play the Australian Open next January. Fingers crossed she’s able to make it, as unlike so many of the game’s current stars, Radwanska brings an entertaining game of cunning tactics and touch to the court. As for the elder Williams sister, she is still struggling with a niggling knee injury. Venus hasn’t alluded to the injury being a threat to her chances to go for her first title Down Under, and as a young 30, pocketing another Slam or two isn’t out of the question. Finally, Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero has been forced to undergo both wrist and knee surgery, and will need the next two months to rehab and get healthy. It would be a cruel twist of fate if Ferrero is unable to bounce back from these injuries given the admirable turnaround he has done this year as far as his career and ranking are concerned. Hope to see all of these players in full flight next season.
The Great Compromise – Not so long ago, it was announced that the powers-at-be in the ATP were looking at the possibility of shortening the length of the season by 2-3 weeks. As the starting date of the Aussie Open wasn’t set to move, speculation was that a shortened season would also mean the axing of a few ATP events. But ATP CEO Adam Helfant has put that speculation to rest, stating that no tournaments would be lost should the ATP shorten its season. Undoubtedly some tournament directors are breathing a slight sigh of relief, though no cutting could mean stacking another tournament or two within a week, which means more competition to secure the best field, but it’s better than being wiped off the map completely. Hats off to Helfant if he’s able to find a way to make all parties happy.
Grunt Work – In a study performed at the University of British Columbia and the University of Hawaii, the Public Library of Science put out their findings showing that there’s a good chance that those players who grunt (or shriek as the case may be) actually gain an edge on their quieter opponents. The study’s findings suggest that “the presence of an extraneous sound interfered with participants’ performance, making their response both slower and less accurate.” More research into this subject will have to be done, but hopefully the ITF is taking a hard look at this. Particularly in the case of some of the louder shriekers on the WTA Tour, things have gotten out of hand. It’s an annoyance to the fans and takes away from the game. Plus, given how far things have come since Monica Seles, recent history would also suggest the problem will only get worse as this ugly trend is allowed to continue. One hopes that similar studies to the one conducted by the Universities of British Columbia and Hawaii will give the ITF the evidence that they need to start taking more action.
ATP Tidbits: Djokovic and Starace Modeling, Isner and Wozniacki Flirting, Karlovic Gets Expert Car Advice
This week, the players were enjoying themselves after a busy U.S. Open. They not only flirted on Twitter but got expert advice about car shopping for giants. Two new men took on the art of sophisticated modeling, namely Novak Djokovic and Potito Starace. Let’s jump right into the action!
Isner and Wozniacki, Sitting in a Tree …
What would the tennis world be without Twitter? Actually, I don’t want to know! It seems these days that the funniest conversations between players occurs on the microblogging site and fans, for one, can’t get enough. Think it gives players ammunition to further post funny happenings? Probably so.
Take John Isner for example (@JohnIsnerTennis). Twitter has well-documented conversations between him and Caroline Wozniacki (@CaroWozniacki) endlessly flirting and enjoying the attention. If they wanted to privately chat, they could through ‘direct messages’ but the duo chooses to showcase their 140-character flirting skills to everyone interested.
This past week, Bob Bryan (@BryanBros) tweeted the following:
Clearly, the two are good friends, but Isner took it one step further. He tweeted the following (including the long form URL of the same website Bob had just tweeted) to none other than … you guessed it! Wozniacki herself.
Not convinced that Isner is still flirting with Wozniacki? Bob then cemented the comment everyone was thinking:
Now, remember how everything with an @ mention is visible to everyone? Well, it then seems that Wozniacki got the last laugh:
Oh, sweet Caroline. Fueling the man that asked WWE pro wrestler Maryse Ouellet to the ESPY’s earlier this year, also via Twitter. Think he has a ‘thing’ for platinum blondes? Boy needs a new way of picking up chicks!
Novak Djokovic Models Sergio Tacchini
Novak Djokovic is the face of tennis brand Sergio Tacchini. And while they outfitted him in some flaming outfits and hats at this year’s U.S. Open, their Fall/Winter 2010 Collection takes the cake. In preparation for their new collection’s launch, the brand teased us with several photos of Djokovic in casual wear. I like. I like very much. It brings the rugged mature side out from him.
The only criticism I have is that his eyes seem droopy in two of the photos. In the words of Tyra Banks: Smile with your eyes, Nole. Smile with your eyes!
Are they trying to make his giraffe-neck look shorter here? Because they failed. Still hot, though.
Potito Starace in Caster Bleige
Know how to correctly say ‘Potito Starace?’ Know who he even is? Well, take lessons in Italian and tennis and you’ll be good to go. Or, you know, cheat by going to the ATP World Tour site and get this hint: ‘po-Tee-tow stah-RAH-che.’ Makes sense? Now, on to the important business: he’s also modeling his sponsor, Italian brand Caster Bleige. And he’s look mighty smooth – take a look at the collection below. (Tip from http://twitter.com/TSFtennis .)
Ivo Karlovic asks for Car Advice
Croat Ivo Karlovic may not have a lot of followers on twitter like Fernando Verdasco or Andy Roddick, but he knows how to reach out to his fans. His biggest obstacle this week? Looking to buy a car he actually fits into. Why is this an ‘obstacle’ exactly? Karlovic is no Federer or Nadal. He’s nine inches taller than either player and comes in at a skyscraping 6’10”. Now you understand the dilemma of purchasing a luxury car for a giant. Karlovic, of course, wanted expert advice so he took to his Twitter account.
He got some answers from friends and fans, even a teasing remark from a past ATP employee citing a Volkswagen Beetle as his car of choice. Others threw out the Porsche Panamera and BMW M3 or M5. Karlovic’s response? A sad “can’t fit” or “too small.” In the end, it looks like Karlovic made up his mind … mostly.
Personally, the Mercedes would fit his alter ego, the rapper, better. Imagine seeing Karlovic cruising down Ocean Drive in Miami with his gold chains dangling from his neck.
By Maud Watson
A Familiar Face & a First – When the last ball was struck at the final major of the year, the fans at Flushing Meadows saw two of the game’s biggest stars crowned the victors in what was an historic US Open. On the women’s side, Kim Clijsters secured her third consecutive US Open title, putting on a clinic as the pre-tournament favorite easily brushed aside Russian Vera Zvonareva without even breaking a sweat. Hopefully Clijsters will be able to use this experience and find her way to another major title at one of the other three Grand Slam events. But as great as Clijsters’ championship run was, the bigger praise has to go to Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard had a mediocre summer by his lofty standards, but he saved his best for when it really counted. His win in New York saw him complete the career Grand Slam, and at the age of just 24, he’s the youngest to have accomplished the rare feat. The standout player of 2010, fans can only look forward to seeing what he’ll do for an encore in 2011.
Second Fiddle – While few ever remember those who finished second, it’s worth recognizing the efforts and accomplishments of both US Open singles finalists Vera Zvonareva and Novak Djokovic. Many thought that Vera Zvonareva’s run to the Wimbledon final was a fluke, but her finalist appearance in New York seems sure to suggest that she has officially put it together and is a legitimate threat to win a Slam. As for Djokovic, he’s essentially been the forgotten man for the better part of the year, despite his ranking always being within the top 2-4. With his captivating win over Federer in the semifinals and new-found fighting spirit, he’s reminded the rest of the tennis world that he is a major champion, and a second championship title may not be too far around the bend.
Double the Fun – In what has to be described as the best summer of their careers, the Bryan Brothers ended the Grand Slam season where they began – in the winner’s circle. They took their ninth major doubles title (3 behind the all-time leaders of Newcombe/Roche, and 2 behind Open Era leaders the Woodies) over the highly-praised pairing of Pakistani Aisam-Ul Haq Qureshi and Indian Rohan Bopanna. Still the top-ranked doubles duo, odds are good that they may yet break the record for most majors as a team. On the women’s side, the less known combination of American Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan triumphed in their second straight major, dismissing both of the top two seeded teams en route to the title. So while American fans may be lamenting the state of tennis in the United States, there appears to be plenty to still smile about in the doubles arena.
Best Few have Seen – Many are aware of the multitude of streaks compiled by the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, Justine Henin, etc., but even the longest of win streaks by any of these stars pales in comparison to what Dutch player Esther Vergeer has managed to accomplish. The sensational wheelchair tennis star defeated Daniela di Toro love and love to not only win her fifth US Open Championship, but her 396th consecutive match! Her incredible run has done much to continue to raise the profile of this fascinating sport, and if you haven’t had a chance to see it, take the first opportunity that you can to do so. These athletes are truly an inspiration to all.
Raise the Roof – A hurricane wasn’t the culprit this time around, but for the third straight year, the men’s final was postponed to Monday. To make matters worse, Monday’s final suffered yet another lengthy rain delay that forced it to a second television network in the United States, and very nearly a third. Needless to say, there have been further grumblings about the need for a roof. Rumor has it that the USTA is looking at the possibility of building a new stadium with a retractable roof, and tennis enthusiasts around the globe sincerely hope that the USTA will see this through. It can’t afford more of these Monday finals, nor can it afford to lag behind the other majors.
By Maud Watson
Notable Performances – There have been a number of great matches at this year’s US Open, and as predicted, some of the biggest stars in the game have lived up to their billing to reach the latter rounds of the year’s last major, while others have had some outstanding breakout performances. But a special tip of the hat has to go to Swiss No. 2 Stanislas Wawrinka. A talented player with a relatively versatile game, he’s struggled to really find his footing in the Slams. It now seems those days could potentially be behind him, as Wawrinka finally took out one of the Top 4 at a major, defeating Andy Murray in four sets in the third round of the 2010 US Open. Though he nearly faltered at the next hurdle against Sam Querrey, he found a way to follow up his big win by grinding to a 5-set victory over the American. Look for him to hopefully build on his US Open performance going into 2011, especially with the solid coaching he is getting from Federer’s former man, Peter Lundgren.
Relinquishing the Helm – Over the course of Labor Day Weekend, Patrick McEnroe announced that he would be stepping down as captain of the United States Davis Cup squad. The move stemmed from McEnroe’s desire to spend more time with his family, as well as in his other job with the USTA in developing elite players. No word yet on who will replace the younger McEnroe, but he himself had suggested that both Jim Courier and Todd Martin would make excellent candidates for the job. Whoever takes the job will have their work cut out for them, but at least there is the assurance that there’s a young and talented crop of Americans eagerly willing to step up and represent their country in the international team competition.
Back for More? – Once again Hingis is toying with the idea (and the tennis world) with the possibility that she may be coming back to the WTA Tour to strictly play the doubles circuit. Hingis has stated her decision will be based primarily on whether or not her heart is in it, as well as if she can find a steady partner. Davenport had suggested playing with Hingis but wanted to return sooner than Hingis was ready to. Curious to see if Cara Black would be interested in teaming with the Swiss Miss given that she has tried out a few different partners since she split with Liezel Huber (she’s played with four different partners at each of the 2010 majors this year). They wouldn’t bring a lot of fire power to the court, but they would be no less formidable to any opponent.
Eggs in One (Promising) Basket – Paul Annacone has opted to cut short his time working with the British LTA after being named the full-time coach of Roger Federer. The reasoning behind his immediate resignation was the potential for a conflict of interest, given that his charge could meet British No. 1 Andy Murray in the latter rounds of any tournament on any given week. Given the current state of British tennis, the move has to be a welcomed one for Annacone, particularly given the talent and prestige of some of his past clientele.
At Long Last? – On Wednesday, Chief Executive of the ATP Adam Helfant announced that the ATP would be looking at increasing the offseason by two to three weeks, and that he expects a formal decision on the matter no later than the last board meeting of the year, which takes place in mid-November. A longer offseason is well overdue, but it will be interesting to see if action is finally taken, and if so, how smoothly it will go. Currently there is no talk of moving the Australian Open start date, which seems to imply any changes to create the longer offseason would have to come from tweaking the ATP tournament calendar, and depending on the nature of those changes, it could be a bumpy road ahead.
Back on Track – Last week in Cincinnati, Roger Federer righted the ship, going one better than he did in Canada to take the coveted Masters 1000 title. Not surprisingly, many of the pundits have quickly jumped back on the Federer bandwagon, with several of them declaring him the man to beat in Flushing. There’s little doubt that Federer is starting to play the brand of tennis that won him his 16th major earlier this year, and of the top four players in the world, he had the best overall two weeks across Canada and Cincy (though admittedly, he had an easier road than the other three in Cincinnati thanks to a retirement and walkover). So while Federer may not be deserving of the heavy favorite status that was due to him the last few years going into the Open, one would be a glutton for punishment to bet heavily against him winning his 17th Grand Slam singles title in a few weeks time.
The Great Dane – Heading into the US Open where she achieved reaching her first Grand Slam singles final just a year ago, life is looking very good for Danish sensation Caroline Wozniaki. She showed great patience and steady nerves as she waited out the rain to take out Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semis and Vera Zvonareva in the finals (dropping just five games in each match!), to take the top tier Roger Cup title. As an added bonus, Wozniaki will enjoy her first stint as the top seed at a Slam, with the honor coming as a result of Serena Williams being forced to pull out of the US Open. While many are still tipping the likes of No. 2 seed Kim Clijsters as more of a threat to take the title, keep an eye on this Dane. With a positive attitude, a steady game, and a great work ethic, a major title could be very near on the horizon.
Return of a Champion – It’s not as early as she and many in the tennis world had hoped, but Serena Williams has announced that she intends to make her comeback later next month in Tokyo at the Pan Pacific Open. Both fans and Serena will get a chance to see how quickly she finds her game after the injury layoff, with eight of the world’s top ten currently entered into the star-studded field. Irrespective of what you feel about her, there’s an undeniable added buzz when she’s in the competition. So enjoy the Open but look forward to what could shape up to be a competitive fall and exciting end to the 2010 WTA season.
In a Flash – The woes of James Blake in 2010 are many and well known, but for one brief match, everything went right for the veteran American. Blake took young Spaniard Pere Riba out of the Pilot Pen in New Haven with the loss of just a single game in what was the fastest match on the tour this year. And while Riba is a man who currently has predominantly made his living on the challenger circuit and is most at home on the dirt, there was some hope that the 35-minute clinic Blake put on in his win over Riba would instill more confidence as he went on to face Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine. Unfortunately, the wheels came off for Blake in that match, but at least there was something positive to take away from this week. And while it is unlikely that Blake will need any extra motivation as he prepares for the US Open, a venue where he has enjoyed some of his most spectacular moments as a professional, it would be wonderful if he could channel this small positive in New Haven into some vintage Blake play that sees him end 2010 on a respectable high as he heads into what could be a permanent hiatus from the game.
Great Idea – Hats off to the people behind getting the US Open draw televised on ESPN2 with live streaming available on ESPN3.com. The concept of the US Open Series has been a phenomenal hit, with ratings continuing to be strong, and this latest wrinkle only enhances the fan experience leading into Flushing Meadows. Can’t wait to see what feature they incorporate next!
By Maud Watson
Was it really worth all that hype?
The super-duo of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic crashed out of the Rogers Cup in the first round late last night at the hands of Canadians Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil.
The mostly unheard of Raonic/Pospisil pairing came back to win the match 5-7, 6-3, 10-8 in front of an electric opening night crowd at the Rexall Centre.
At only 19 and 20 years old respectively, Raonic and Pospisil defied the odds and somehow managed to avoid the nerves that must have accompanied sharing a court with the two top ranked players in the world.
Serving at 8-2 in the Super tie-break, Raonic and Pospisil appeared to have won the next point which would have given them six match points. Instead the chair umpire called Pospisil for touching the net prior to the point ending, thus giving the point to Nadal and Djokovic. The call seemed to temporarily rattle the Canadians as they allowed their more experienced opponents to bring the match all the way back to 9-8 with still one match point to try to capitalize upon. On that point they made no mistake and an authoritative Pospisil volley ended the match and allowed the two to walk out with their heads held high.
The Nadal/Djokovic partnership marks the first time since 1976 that the world’s top ranked singles players have joined forces in doubles on the ATP Tour. Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe were the last to do it and after last night’s result I wonder if it might be another 34 years before we see it again.
While it certainly created quite a buzz both here in Toronto and around the tennis world at large, the fact that the number one and two players joined forces is perplexing in many ways. Obviously Nadal and Djokovic get along quite well, as was further evidenced by their multiple practice sessions together here this week, but in an individualistic sport such as tennis you’d think teaming up with your greatest competition is a bit too close for comfort.
Roger Federer mentioned in his pre-tournament press conference yesterday that he never would have teamed up with Nadal during the height of their intense rivalry. Even though those two also got along reasonably well, the press had created such a build-up with their quest for Grand Slam glory and the number one ranking that it basically negated any possibility of a doubles partnership.
“Well, Rafa asked me a few years ago to play doubles in I think it was Madrid indoors…but then I think our rivalry was so intense, I just felt it was the wrong thing to do,” Federer revealed.
“It would have been great for the game, but I think it would have been a bit of a curveball for everybody. I don’t think the press would have enjoyed it so much. They want to put us against each other, not with each other.”
Nadal and Djokovic are in the infancy of their relationship as the best two players in the world and there is no guarantee it will last very long. Djokovic’s lead over Federer and Murray in the rankings is slim and he hasn’t had the most consistent year on tour. Maybe if their chase for the top ranking was narrower they would have thought twice before teaming up in Toronto.
Regardless, their experiment has ended prematurely and will now allow them both to concentrate on their singles play. For Nadal, he will open Wednesday night against the winner of the Frank Dancevic/Stan Wawrinka match that will close out the evening on Centre Court today. Djokovic will play Julien Benneteau of France tomorrow during the day session.
This week has been exciting for the tennis world with announcements from players, a few Spanish winners sprinkled in between, and a match between Andy Roddick and John McEnroe. Yes, you read that right. Roddick vs. McEnroe. Let’s check out this week’s Top Moments in the Weekly Debrief.
1. Thought we were done with the clay court season after Roland Garros? Think again. Two ATP tournaments were in full swing this week. First up, the SkiStar Swedish Open in Bastad saw its winner Nicolas Almagro triumph over defending champ and country hero Robin Soderling in a contested three-set battle. Almagro has proven he is an immense clay court player as he beat Soderling in Madrid in May of this year as well. But don’t expect him to be a big threat at the upcoming US hard court season as his biggest wins have been mostly on clay.
This photo of Almagro hoisting up the winner’s trophy as Soderling watches on is priceless.
2. Over in Stuttgart, Germany, the MercedesCup saw a less-than-stellar final as Gael Monfils was forced to retire against Albert Montanes with an ankle injury he sustained in the first set. Montanes’ name may sound familiar if you happened to catch him sending Federer crashing out of the Estoril Open earlier this spring in Portugal. Montanes not only won his fifth career title and a nice fat check for close to $94,000, but also a new Mercedes convertible, pictured below.
3. Across the Atlantic Ocean, World Team Tennis (WTT) was taking place all over the United States this past week. WTT is a professional coed tennis league that takes place during the summer months and typically lasts three weeks. Although some may argue that WTT doesn’t offer the high-caliber tennis we see at regular season tournaments, it’s nevertheless, a way of attracting fans on a more local-level. It offers intimate settings with tennis stars of old and new showcasing their skills as well as their personalities.
In the most interesting match-up to date, 51-year-old legend John McEnroe playing for the New York Sportime took on 27-year-old Andy Roddick playing for the Philadelphia Freedoms. The event took place just outside of New York City on Randall’s Island, the future site of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy. Roddick himself even asked McEnroe if he could get a scholarship to train there.
Joking aside, Roddick and McEnroe took to the court and played a competitive set that saw Roddick come out on top winning 5-4 (5-4 in a sudden death 9-point tiebreaker). Once a point was in play, Roddick had sufficient problems putting McEnroe away, and McEnroe further exposed Roddick’s inability to pass him with his flat backhand. And while true that this is no five-set encounter, McEnroe’s quickness, precise volleys and pressure he is able to put on an opponent half his age even in today’s game is nothing short of brilliant. To follow WTT news and see if a match is being played in your city, check out: http://www.wtt.com/
McEnroe (white) and Roddick (black) played a WTT match on Randall’s Island, New York.
4. How would you like to go home $1.7 million wealthier? That’s the minimum worth of this year’s US Open winner’s check. That is an increase of nearly 7% from a year ago. With an additional $1 million possible bonus from winning the Olympus US Open Series, singles champions can walk away with a cool $2.7 million. In what amounts to be the biggest payout in tennis history, the tournament also saw an increase of its total purse to top $22.6 million. It’s good to a tennis player!
5. Swiss #2 and former top-10 player Stanislas Wawrinka formed a new coaching partnership with Peter Lundgren this week. Lundgren, himself reaching a ranking of 25 in singles in 1985, also has an extensive coaching resume including Marcelo Rios, Marat Safin, Marcos Baghdatis, and Grigor Dimitrov. Most impressively, he coached Roger Federer to win his first major title at Wimbledon in 2003. Lundgren had this to say on his new pairing with Wawrinka: “When I asked what he wanted help with, he said he wants to return to the top 10. It’s what you want to hear as a coach … I’m going to try to get Stan to become more aggressive.” The two will begin working together at the upcoming Gstaad event next week.
6. And in the most cheerful news of the week, Juan Martin del Potro may be expected to recover from his wrist surgery quicker than anticipated. Del Potro took the US Open by storm last September when he came back from almost two-sets down against Roger Federer to win the title in a tremendous battle. He has been securely planted in the top 10 even while playing only five tournaments since his breakthrough performance in New York last year. The star announced on his new twitter account that a post-surgery medical examination by his doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota showed positive strides: “The doctor is happy with the progress. Now we have to keep strengthening [the wrist] and then be ready for the racquet.”
Del Potro originally stated months ago that he would not be back until at least November, but he is now hopeful that he may be ready in time for Argentina’s Davis Cup semifinal against France in the week after the US Open. There is also speculation that he may even be ready to defend his title in Flushing Meadows: “Davis Cup is a good date for returning to the tour, I hope I can come back sooner,” del Potro stated last week.
That’s it for this week’s Debrief. Just stop by anytime you want a recap of the ATP tour. We’ve got you covered!
If you thought Andy Murray was uncharacteristically erratic in Monte Carlo on Wednesday, the whole match served perfectly as a metaphor for the strange behavior of Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) in recent weeks following the findings of the government’s report. The appointment of Murray’s former mentor Leon Smith as the new Davis Cup Captain has certainly raised a few eyebrows within the tennis world, with many left wondering if the experience of mentoring the Scot during his undoubtedly temperamental teenage years is enough to merit entrusting the 34-year-old with the future of British tennis? No doubt it must have taken some strength of character to handle 13-year-old Murray in a strop, but does he have the charisma to stir the team to victory and lure his former apprentice, the black sheep of British tennis, back into the fold?
Smith’s appointment signifies a distinctly strange choice for the LTA to make considering Greg Rusedski, an experienced Davis Cup player and popular choice amongst the players, was in the running for the job. It must be noted that great players do not always make the best of coaches, but still the decision symbolized one of Murray’s wild forehands out of court, rather than a safe topspin drive two feet within the baseline for the governing body. What is interesting is the motivation for this decision.
Smith described the appointment as “a huge honour and an irresistible challenge for me,” and went on to say, “I know the players, and I know that together we can get Britain back to winning ways in the Davis Cup.” Despite only reaching junior county level tennis for the West of Scotland and never coaching anyone over the age of 16, he has been appointed LTA head of men’s tennis following the recommendations of a review carried out by LTA player director Steve Martens, along with the accolade of Davis Cup Captain. Perhaps I should have applied for the job considering my similar levels of playing and coaching experience!
Martens commented, “Leon is the perfect fit for this important role, at this stage in the development of British men’s tennis. He’s a young British coach full of energy and passion, who’s already proved he’s a quick learner, and has the respect of the players” but was it simply a case of bowing to peer pressure from Murray?
It has appeared in recent weeks that the LTA can’t seem to make an independent decision of their own, with high profile employees delegating decisions left, right and center, while the appointment of Smith looks significantly as if they were blindly following the consensus of Murray who vocalized his opinions on Rusedski and the type of coach he would want as captain, although he has gone on record stating he had not named Leon Smith personally as his choice to the LTA. They were publicly criticized for the acquisition of high profile coaches such as Brad Gilbert, but once again this would suggest a knee jerk reaction to public opinion in appointing a relative unknown, a stab in the dark rather than a reasoned choice; only time will tell whether they have made yet another mistake.
Public opinion of the governing body cannot have been improved following their president, Derek Howorth’s erratic and strange public performance at The National Premier Indoor Tennis League’s official dinner, when reportedly during his speech, instead of politely commenting on the event, he took the opportunity to tear the British press to shreds, celebrated the LTA’s achievements and commented weakly that all will be put right eventually, clearly unconvinced that there is anything wrong with his beloved institution. Unsurprisingly, like a horrendous contestant on the X-factor, he was heckled by a lady in the audience. I have an idea what Simon Cowell might have said.
Indeed, it is clear the cracks are starting to appear deep in the armour of the establishment. According to reports in The Times, the LTA made another embarrassing bloomer, when their sports journalist was the one to point out that the LTA had got their entry procedures wrong for the ITF junior tournament in Nottingham – oops! The LTA should have submitted a top 75 ranking list to the appropriate authorities, but this was not carried out thus leaving the selection to be random, leaving out a number of top British juniors. Suffice to say, there were a number of seriously annoyed parents sulking across the country, shaking their heads in disbelief. The LTA’s response was: “New regulations were introduced for 2010 allowing national associations to submit a list of nationally ranked players after players with an ITF ranking. Communication on this new rule was not picked up in time to be implemented for the first two events in GB for this year. To cater for this, any relevant players adversely affected were considered by the national coaches for wild cards into qualifying.” The LTA admitted, “We didn’t apply the regulations as in effect per January 2010. This is unfortunate and, hands up, we made a mistake. The wild cards that were given out in qualifying could cater for a large group of the players without an ITF ranking but with a good domestic ranking; however this is not perfect”. Surely with a 60 million turnover, someone could have noticed and implemented this rule change?
This echoes with my own experience as an LTA ranked junior player aged 15, when results were not put in from a ratings tournament in which I embarked on a run so impressive that I faced Britain’s former No. 1, Anne Keothovong in the final, only to be told the points I had amassed from the tournament had not been added to my junior rating. This meant that my rating did not go up to where I belonged that year and when trying to rectify the situation, my mother was faced with the same kind of ‘closed shop’ treatment as the government, who recently commented that had the LTA been more open as an organization, the report would have been much easier to compile. It’s not a coincidence that my enthusiasm for the game dropped like a deflated helium balloon as I chose the safer option to pursue higher education, rather than a career as a professional tennis player.
Unfortunately, it is clear the chasm does run deep into the junior ranks and it is of no shock that this ripple effect over the years caused the tsunami of that infamous Davis Cup loss and the subsequent earthquakes of media attention the president is so obviously riled up about. So where is the solution? Well Mr. President, perhaps a look into the pool of unemployed graduate talent could be a start as replacements for the incompetent employees missing crucial rule changes and being about as decisive as a kid in a candy shop? Now, there’s a thought. Hopefully he’ll start ranting about me next!
Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter. She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.