tennis world

MURRAY AND ROBSON TO SLOG THROUGH NEGATIVE BRITISH PRESS

By Melina Harris

Hello everybody, welcome to my new weekly column for Tennis Grandstand, where I will be giving my thoughts on the tennis world surrounded by the inevitable warmth and sunshine of both the weather and the British press in England (well, now and again maybe during Wimbledon when Andy wins!).

I write these words on an unusually sunny morning in a coffee bar overlooking a serene and sparkling Ramsgate harbour in the garden of England, Kent, the location and inspiration for such literary greats as Charles Dickens, T.S Eliot and the master painter Turner. On Sunday, the British public held their breath and the world watched eagerly as two great artists walked onto the tennis world stage in the first Grand Slam final of the year in Melbourne, Australia.

Contesting his 22nd career Grand Slam singles final, world number one Roger Federer played the role of the old master, Turner, creating the final in exactly the way he wanted, wowing the crowds with his honed style and grace, while our British hopeful Andy Murray sprayed the court with touches of his potential brilliance like urban graffiti artist Banksy’s iconic and unmistakable political images on randomly selected walls across London.

However, like a Banksy original crudely painted over by a council worker, Murray’s brilliance was eclipsed and wiped out by the majestic beauty of Federer at his best. The 28-year-old Swiss master dispatched of the young Scot in a closely contested straight set victory, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(11) to land his 16th major title, leaving our gutsy boy choking back the tears in his post match interview (mirroring the feelings of our nation, impatient for an end to our ‘150 thousand’ (Federer) years of hurt) as he tried to sum up his performance in front of the Aussie crowd.

I haven’t yet taken a look at the back pages of the numerous British newspapers for fear of reading phrases such as ‘Scottish choker’ and the ominous rhetorical question, ‘Is Murray yet another Henman?” For a majority of the British public who know very little about tennis, let alone the extreme lengths it takes to achieve Murray and Henman’s obvious greatness, they view what these players have achieved thus far as failure. I can’t count the number of times over the years I’ve heard conversations in pubs, restaurants and coffee bars about how Tim Henman was a ‘rubbish’ player, even though he was consistently amongst the top ten players in the world and Murray, now number three in the world, a sour and miserable Scottish loser whom they hated with a passion (his comments about not supporting the English football team will never be forgotten it seems).

As a player myself, I know just how hard it is to progress through the ranks in British tennis and would like to take this opportunity to praise Tim and Andy for their hard work and determination in the face of such negative press (we are notorious as a nation in building sports stars up just for the pleasure in bringing them back down again). I would urge my international readers to just take a look at the recent John Terry debacle (our English football (soccer) captain, who previous to his extra marital affair was hailed as a hero who has now become the new hate figure in sport) let alone the David Beckham red card affair in the World Cup, where pictures of a replica figure of him hung from a tree engulfed in flames like something from the Salem Witchcraft trials was featured regularly in the press, when he had previously been hailed a national hero.

Of course it would genuinely be fantastic for British tennis if Andy were to go on and win a Grand Slam title, especially at Wimbledon, however why can’t the British public celebrate his performance over the last two weeks and look positively to the future, with rising star Laura Robson posing the mouth watering potential of a female Grand Slam champion instead of always publicly pulling our sports stars to shreds in coffee shops, pubs and most lethally in the British press.

For instance, Robson, who unfortunately lost to Russian Karolina Pliskova  in the girls singles final in Melbourne, couldn’t escape the damaging British press as she was criticized and labeled a moody teenage loser by a Times journalist, who commented  damagingly, ‘I saw a future champion on Saturday. I also saw a loser. I saw someone with exquisite talent and the temperament to go with it. I also saw a player who was error-prone and too flaky to live.  Of course, they were the same person. This was Laura Robson in the final of the junior girls’ singles at the Australian Open in Melbourne.’

I only hope that Laura takes the advice of Cheryl Cole (our nation’s pop star sweetheart and omnipresent judge of the X factor) and never ever buy a British newspaper or nonchalantly google herself, because all she will discover are a bunch of sad old journalists picking out the negatives, predicting failure and gloom; a recipe for disaster if the philosophy of ‘The Secret’ is to be believed, that positive thinking attracts positive results, whereas a whole nation of negative thinking will simply mean the continuation of the misery and failure so many Brits seem to revel in. Perhaps this is the point?

So Murray and Robson may have fallen at the final hurdle in Melbourne, but I urge the British public to stay positive, eradicate the negativity and maybe just maybe we might get the champions we so clearly deserve. To be honest, I think Fred Perry is more likely to rise from the dead and win Wimbledon this year than this actually becoming a reality, however I’m one hundred percent sure that Andy and Laura will make them eat their words by the end of the year and I cannot personally wait to applaud them in my new weekly column at tennis grandstand! Bring it on!

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach from London. 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.

RIVALRY RENEWED: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Rivalry Renewed – Australian Open tournament organizers couldn’t have planned it any better if they had tried.  The women’s final will pit current Australian Open Champion Serena Williams against former world No. 1 Justine Henin. Though Serena has never said as much herself, the media has been speculating that the return Henin has provided a new source of motivation for Williams, who may want a piece of the Belgian who was her main rival before Henin shocked the tennis world in 2008 by retiring while she was still at the top of the game. It will be interesting to see how Henin’s nerves hold up in what is just her second event back since returning to the sport, but there can be little doubt that sparks will fly. And one can be sure that this is only the beginning; those sparks are going to get brighter and more intense as the 2010 WTA season unfolds.

A Niggle in the Knee – After a relatively positive start to the season, Spaniard Rafael Nadal had to be disappointed to have to pull out of his semifinal encounter with Scot Andy Murray due to his niggling knee problem. All credit to Murray who played a brilliant match and would have won anyway, but there has to be concern in the Nadal camp going forward in 2010. For a man who bases his game around tracking down every ball and bludgeoning it around the court, a bad knee is a death sentence for his career. He’s going to have to seriously consider overhauling his game, or his career, which started so brilliantly so early, may now well be over.

The Captivating Croat – Put me down for jumping on the bandwagon of Croat Marin Cilic. After putting together a stellar run at the 2009 US Open, he followed it up by going even further at the first major of 2010. He was the tournament’s marathon man, who showed nerves of steel with his five-set victories over Bernard Tomic, current US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro, and American Andy Roddick. He may have bowed out to British No. 1 Andy Murray in the semifinals, but there’s no doubt that this young up-and-comer is going to be a Grand Slam champion in the near future.

Change in Weapon – U.S. Olympic skier Bode Miller has stated that he plans to temporarily trade in his skis for a tennis racquet as he attempts to win a wildcard into the US Open qualifying draw. Miller has reason to think he might be successful, as he is no stranger to the game of tennis. He won the 1996 Maine State Singles, and his family owns the Tamarack Tennis Camp in Easton, New Hampshire. If Miller does make it into the US Open qualifying draw, it could definitely create more pre-tournament buzz than ever before.

The Chinese Charge – For the first time in tennis history, China had two players in the semifinals of a Grand Slam event. Na Li and Jie Zheng gave the world’s largest nation something to smile about as they fought their way into the final four of Melbourne, which included Na Li’s narrow escape from the jaws of defeat against Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. While Na Li and Jie Zheng both lost in the semis (to Serena Williams and Justine Henin respectively), their continuing success bodes well for the future of tennis in China.

CHINA: THE GLOBAL TENNIS FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH

By Melina Harris

With the world’s largest population of 1.3 billion, China’s pedigree and potential as a tennis nation should have matched its economic prowess in the last decade. However, the Communist regime’s strict control over the way players previously managed their careers, with the state run federation denying any international competition and recently taking an awesome 60% of their earnings which was reinvested to fund and manage their coaching, medical treatment and even tournament schedules, has severely restricted their success on a global scale.

The diminutive dynamos Zheng Jie and Li Na’s astronomic ascent onto the tennis world stage during the Australian Open, with both women reaching the semifinals on either half of the draw, has catapulted the country into the limelight, with the possibility of an all Chinese final and has left many wondering what exactly has changed and many nations no doubt secretly pondering, what could we have done better?

Chinese tennis has hugely benefitted from substantial backing from the Beijing government and independent business ventures during the five-year stay of the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai and the run up to the Olympic Games in 2008, with tennis academies sprouting across the country and parents encouraging their children at a much earlier age into the sport, instead of hugely popular table tennis or badminton. Indeed, the passion for tennis has spread like swine flu through the nation and out into the global stratosphere. Sport’s labels across the globe have rushed to cash in on China’s new obsession with the game, with even the All England Club introducing stores across the country. Nevertheless, this massive growth had yet to properly transpire onto the world stage due to the Chinese communist regime’s strict hold they had over tennis player’s careers.

In a recent interview, one of China’s ‘Golden Flowers’, Zheng Jie, who first raised a few eyebrows with her surprise jaunt to the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2008 and recently signed a lucrative deal with Mercedes Benz and ANTA (a Chinese sportswear label) said ‘there is a big change in tennis in our country…we can now play and prepare like the others. It makes a big difference.’ Indeed, since the Beijing Olympics along with Li Na, Jie only has to reimburse 12% of her earnings in return for absolute independence in the way her career is run, a rarity amongst Chinese athletes and the results have been dramatic ever since, especially in the women’s game, most clearly illustrated by the huge influx of Chinese paparazzi in Melbourne.

The next top 22 players are strictly supervised by 17 coaches, eight doctors and copious sports scientists, nutritionists, psychologists and trainers in a new national program. Semifinalist, Li Na looked to the future in a recent interview saying ‘I still believe more and more Chinese players will come through. There are many juniors playing here and others in the qualifying competition. Right now it’s step by step’ and also commented on her individual ambitions after beating Grand Slam champion, Venus Williams 2-6, 7-6, 7-5 in the quarterfinal, revealing ‘getting into the top ten was the goal my coach set me for the whole year. Now I have already done it in January. Now I will dream about the top five, why not?’

While the Chinese population have gone wild watching the live matches of their blossoming protégés, the women’s success in Melbourne has not come as a surprise to Gao Shenyang, a director at China’s sports commission, who told Chinese media: ‘Given the competitive form of Zheng Jie and Li Na, what they have achieved in Melbourne is not surprising to us. Their success shows that Chinese tennis players can find their rightful place in the tennis world.’

After beating a flurry of lower ranked seeds such as Maria Kirilenko, Marion Bartoli, Alona Bondarenko and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez in her run to the semi final, Zheng Jie now faces the steep task of halting Justine Henin’s formidable comeback, while Li Na has to overcome yet another Williams’ sister to reach the final. I’m not a much of a gambler, but I think I might put a sneaky bet on one of the pocket dynamos to cause an outrageous upset. Watch this space!

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach from London. 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.

Roger Federer Becomes A Father Of Twin Girls

GENEVA — Roger Federer became a father of twin girls after his wife Mirka gave birth Thursday.

In a statement released on his personal Web site and Facebook page, tennis’ world No. 1 said the girls have been named Charlene Riva and Myla Rose.

“I have some exciting news to share with you,” Federer’s Facebook page said.

“Late last night, in Switzerland, Mirka and I became proud parents of twin girls.

“We named them Myla Rose and Charlene Riva and they are both healthy, and along with their mother they are doing great.

“This is the best day of our lives.”

The names of the Federer children go slightly against how Roger himself was named. According to Rene Stauffer, author of the book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.rogerfedererbook.com), Roger’s parents – Robert and Lynette Federer – named their son Roger “because it could also be pronounced easily in English. Roger’s parents, even in the first hours of his life, felt that one day it could be beneficial for their son to have a name that was easy to pronounce in English.”

Writes Stauffer of the family name, “The name Federer was already familiar in Berneck before 1800, but it is ac­tually an extremely uncommon clan name in Switzerland. The most famous Federer up to that point was Heinrich Federer, a priest turned poet who died in 1928. In 1966, on his 100th birthday, he was immortalized on a Swiss postage stamp.”

The Federer twins are the first children for the couple, married in April.

Earlier this month, Mirka sat courtside through the nerve-racking Wimbledon final in which Federer beat American Andy Roddick 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14 to clinch his 15th grand slam title, breaking the record held by Pete Sampras.

The 27-year-old Federer met his wife-to-be — born Miroslava Vavrinec in Slovakia — in 2000 when they were competing for Switzerland in the Sydney Olympics.

Mirka, 31, emigrated with her family to Switzerland as a small child, and after playing on the WTA Tour and retiring prematurely due to injury, she became one of Federer’s managers.

Bump, Set, Tweet?

tennistweets

Serena Williams and Andy Murray are leading the charge of top-level players who are using their Twitter accounts as means for communicating with their fans.

Last week, Williams created a stir when one of her Tweets complained about a ‘new rule’ in the locker room regarding no food. Wimbledon officials went on the address the situation, but it marked one of the first times in the tennis world that Twitter has been used a means of unofficial communication, giving the social networking site even more power on the web.

TennisTweets.com is a free online service that offers Twitter users and non-users alike to follow professional tennis players. Players such as Andy RoddickAmer DelicSabine Lisicki and Laura Robson are constant Tweeters, while others like retired commentator Jim CourierMurphy Jensen and Justin Gimblestob also use the service.

The Twitter craze has reached such a height on the pro tour that even the ultra-private, introverted Venus Williams has signed up this past weekend. Her first Tweet: “Just won my 2nd round singles match and 1st round doubles match at Wimbledon!”

And speaking of Wimbledon, the tournament itself is the most addicted of all, Tweeting match scores, updating fans on weather, inside gossip and the like. Oh, and don’t forget to add TSF to your Twitter after you add all those A-List tennis folks. Can’t forget the little Tweeters in life!

But who’s most popular of all in the tennis-Tweeting world? That would be Serena, of course, with over 487,000 followers.

(screen grab from Twitter.com)