th birthday

Kimiko Date-Krumm’s Fairy Tale Run at Toray Pacific Open – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Comeback Cut Short – The much-anticipated return of Juan Martin del Potro and his potential third-round clash with Rafael Nadal were quickly derailed as little Ollie Rochus cut down the big Argentine (who stands a foot taller than the Belgian) in straight sets in the opening round of the PTT Thailand Open 7-6 (7), 6-4. Despite the loss, there was still much to cheer about for Juan Martin del Potro, who was playing his first match in eight months. For those lucky enough to see the match, it was apparent that he wasn’t afraid to go after the ball, as he appeared to be clocking many of his ground strokes with the same ferocity that took him to the US Open title. He wasn’t without his chances either, holding a set point in the opening set, though lacking in match play, he can hardly be blamed for feeling a few extra nerves at those crucial moments. But the biggest positive of all is that Juan Martin del Potro reported that his wrist felt perfect at the conclusion of the match and is looking forward to working in another 5-6 tournaments before the 2010 season is officially in the books.

A Very Happy Birthday – Kimiko Date Krumm has been one of the interesting storylines over the course of this season, but this week, she was truly one of the feel good stories. Playing in her native Japan, Date Krumm collected one of the biggest scalps in her comeback to-date, taking out defending champion Maria Sharapova in three sets on the eve of her 40th birthday. Bouncing back from her grueling victory, she then celebrated her birthday by defeating Daniela Hantuchova when Hantuchova was forced to retire with a shoulder injury down 0-4 in the third set. Sadly, Date Krumm’s fairytale run came to a halt at the hands of 2010 Roland Garros Champion Francesca Schiavone, but keep an eye on the Japanese veteran. The odds are still highly stacked against her, and it’s certainly going to take the right kind of field with a little bit of luck, but Date Krumm may just break Billie Jean King’s record and soon become the oldest female to win a title on the WTA Tour.

Proud Papa – Struggling with knee injuries, the bulk of 2010 has been a nightmare of a year for young Frenchman Gilles Simon, but he’s had much to smile about as of late. He and his fiancée recently celebrated the birth of their first child together, and instead of acting as a further stumbling block to his career, as his fiancée feared it might, the new addition seems to have rejuvenated Simons’ game. He belatedly entered the Metz tournament in his home nation, and with his family there to cheer him on, he rolled to his first title of the season, trouncing Mischa Zverev 3 and 2 in the final. It’s still too early to tell, but hopefully this win means Simon has righted the ship and will once again become the contender he showed promise of over a year ago.

Plight Update – The women of Spain have taken their stand, it appears that the Spanish Tennis Federation has been forced to take notice. In an unprecedented move, the National Tennis Congress stated that there would be an upcoming conference in Pamplona devoted solely to hashing out the issues facing Spanish women’s tennis, including training opportunities for the top players and raising young talents. Of course, it’s too early to see what will or won’t come of this meeting, but it is a positive sign that the Spanish Federation is setting aside the time to seriously take a look at the issues. Given their success in the men’s game, there’s no reason to think that perhaps with a little bit more time and effort, they couldn’t see an increase in success achieved on the women’s side as well.

Injury Report – Foot injuries continue to make headlines as Belgian Kim Clijsters announced that she was forced to pull out of the China Open due to a foot infection she acquired after having a mole removed. This comes on the heels (no pun intended) of Serena Williams also calling off her whole Asian tour as a result of her own foot issues. And on the men’s side, Robby Ginepri will be forced to call off his season early due to a broken arm he sustained from a biking accident. Injuries are never a good thing, but at least these are not related to the length of the season.

FEDERER SHOWING HE’S CLOSER TO END OF CAREER: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Shaky Start – One man who can be glad that Grand Slams are best-of-five is current reigning champ Roger Federer. Federer was expected to cruise through his opening round having defeated Alejandro Falla twice in the last month, but the Colombian had other ideas. Playing a spectacular match for four sets, he nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in history. All credit to the Federer who dug deep and found a way to win, but he was right when he said he was lucky to have won that match. He didn’t look solid in his second-round match either. But nearing his 29th birthday, he is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. All reigns eventually come to a close and Federer’s career is definitely closer to the end than to the beginning. But he is still Roger Federer. He’s still a 16-time Grand Slam champion. He may no longer dominate as he once did, but only a fool would write him off now. He still has the hunger, desire, and heart, and as long as he has that, he still has a few more Grand Slam titles in him.

Marathon Men – The first week is coming to an end, and already it has been a Wimbledon to remember.  One of the biggest stories in sports this week (aside from World Cup drama), was the marathon match between Frenchman Nicolas Mahut and American John Isner. An 11-hour contest that shattered a multitude of records, it will undoubtedly be the match of the tournament. And as cliché as it sounds, in this case, I’ve never felt it more true that it was a shame someone had to lose. Both men are to be commended for the heart they showed, particularly Mahut who successfully stepped up to serve to stay in the match over 60 consecutive times before finally cracking to lose the match 68-70. Some will view this match as a case for instituting a fifth set tiebreak or making the first week of a major best-of-three, but I’m inclined to disagree. There weren’t necessarily a ton of rallies, but it was high drama. It got everyone talking about tennis. And at the end of the day, when you see how this unfolded, it would have been a shame to see all of that wiped out by a single tiebreak, something that more often than not gives the edge to the bigger server and could be decided by one errant backhand.

Downward Spiral – In case anyone missed it, James Blake and commentator Pam Shriver had a bit of a tiff during his first-round loss to Robin Haase. Blake could overhear Shriver’s courtside commentary, and he made it known to Shriver that he didn’t care for what she had to say. I sympathize with Blake to a point. It is a distraction if you can hear the courtside commentary and the fact that he was losing couldn’t have helped matters any. I also understand he’s dealing with what may ultimately be a career-ending knee problem, and he’s a former top player who has seen his ranking slip to outside of the top 100. Not much is going right for Blake at the moment. But I don’t think there’s any denying that he overreacted to Shriver (and had he been winning at the time that he overheard her, I doubt he would have even acknowledged hearing her commentary). It’s also not the first time he’s overreacted in a match. Earlier in the year, he went ballistic on a chair umpire, accusing the chair umpire of possibly costing him $25,000 due to his poor officiating, which he felt was attributing to his losing the match. Blake has always had the reputation for being one of the classier competitors on the ATP World Tour. If the game is no longer fun and Blake can’t keep his emotions in check, then he is right to seriously consider hanging it up. It would be a shame to see him tarnish his reputation at this stage in the game.

Tough Transition – Paris elation didn’t carry over to London for either Francesca Schiavone or Sam Stosur. While Schiavone has enjoyed some good results at Wimbledon, her early exit wasn’t a shocker, but that of Sam Stosur was. With a huge serve and a great all-around game, the Aussie’s strokes should have translated well to the lawns of the All England Club, but it was not to be. Hopefully this is just a minor blip and not a hangover from the loss in the French Open final. Sam has had such a great first half of the year, and it would be a travesty to see her lose her footing and confidence now.

Royal Audience – The grounds were abuzz with the fact that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II attended Wimbledon Thursday, the first time she had attended since watching Virginia Wade win the title in 1977. The tournament organizers did their part, scheduling Andy Murray as the first match on Centre Court. Much credit should go to Murray, who has been struggling with his form ever since reaching the finals of the Australian Open. He played one of his best matches in recent memory, and hopefully this is a sign of good things to come.

USTA Pays Tribute To Pancho Gonzalez

FLUSHING, N.Y., September 2, 2009 – The USTA announced today that actor Benjamin Bratt will host a tribute to former U.S. Championships winner Pancho Gonzalez on-court in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the Night Session on Saturday, September 5.  The tribute will celebrate Gonzalez on the 60th anniversary of his second consecutive victory at the U.S. Championships, and members of the Gonzalez family as well as a number of former players and Hispanic community leaders will be in attendance.

Gonzalez, who taught himself how to play tennis at the age of 12, was considered one of the most talented tennis players of his generation and was a fan favorite on the professional tour throughout the 1950s and 60s.  Early in his career, which spanned four decades, he won back-to-back titles at the U.S. Championships in Forest Hills, N.Y. at the ages of 20 and 21.  He also won two matches to help the U.S. defeat Australia to capture the 1949 Davis Cup title.  His passion and intensity led to an illustrious career as the world No. 1 for an unequaled eight years.  As a 40-year-old in 1968, he reached the semifinals at Roland Garros and the quarterfinals of the inaugural US Open.  The following year, Gonzalez played Charlie Pasarell at Wimbledon in a five-hour match that spanned two days and led to the advent of the tie-break.  Gonzalez also became the oldest player to ever win a professional tournament when he won the Des Moines Open just shy of his 44th birthday.  Gonzalez was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame while still an active player in 1968.

“The USTA is proud to celebrate the life and legacy of such a great champion as Pancho Gonzalez,” said Lucy Garvin, President and Chairman of the Board, USTA.  “Pancho was a true pioneer in the sport of tennis and this tribute will shed light on the importance of Pancho Gonzalez to the game and its history.”

“Pancho Gonzalez was a trailblazer, not only in tennis, but across the greater American cultural landscape,” said Bratt.  “He was a role model for a generation of Hispanic-Americans, and this tribute will rightly call attention to his important and lasting legacy.  I’m proud to be a part of this celebration to honor a true legend.”

Members of the Gonzalez family will be in attendance, along with students from the Pancho Gonzalez TennisAcademy in Washington, D.C., one of whom will conduct the pre-match coin toss.

Hispanic dignitaries attending include:

  • Benjamin Bratt, actor
  • Lynda Baquero, NBC4 New York
  • Dr. Jane Delgado, CEO, National Alliance for Hispanic Health
  • Tim Garcia, judge, New Mexico
  • Danny Haro, producer/director, 2006 Pancho Gonzalez Documentary
  • Augustin Martinez, President, United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
  • Martha Montoya, President, Los Kitos Entertainment
  • Charlie Pasarell, former tennis champion
  • Bobby Perez, former tennis champion
  • Tony Plana, actor
  • John Quiñones, ABC Primetime
  • Alfred Rascon, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient
  • Pancho Segura (“Little Pancho”), former tennis champion
  • Jimmy Smits, actor
  • Andrew Valdez, judge, Utah
  • Eduardo Xol, TV personality
  • Al Zapanta, CEO, U.S. – Mexico Chamber of Commerce

The 2009 US Open will mark the culmination of the Olympus US Open Series, the six-week summer tennis season linking all major ATP and Sony Ericsson WTA Tour tournaments in North America to the US Open.  The US Open is the highest-attended annual sporting event in the world.  In 2008, Roger Federer won his fifth consecutive US Open title, defeating Andy Murray in the final.  In the women’s singles final, Serena Williams defeated Jelena Jankovic to capture her third career US Open title.

The 2009 US Open will be held Monday, August 31, through Sunday, September 13.  Tickets for the 2009 US Open can be purchased four ways:  1) at USOpen.org; 2) by calling Ticketmaster at 1-866-OPEN-TIX; 3) at all Ticketmaster outlets; or 4) at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center box office.  American Express is the Official Card of the US Open.

Newest Boston Red Sox Pitcher: Mats Wilander

The Boston Red Sox may be looking for a new pitcher during its bid to reach the Major League Baseball Playoffs. Could that pitcher be tennis Hall of Famer Mats Wilander? The Swede threw out the first pitch at the Pawtucket Red Sox game Thursday night to promote the $150,000 Hall of Fame Champions Cup at the nearby International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. Wilander lost to Pat Cash 7-5, 6-4 Friday in the quarterfinals of the event, and is celebrating his 45th birthday in Newport on Saturday by playing in an exhibition doubles match along with Mikael Pernfors, Jimmy Arias and Wayne Ferreira. Red Sox pitching ace Tim Wakefield pitched for Pawtucket on Friday night as he looks to return to form after injury and return to Boston during their playoff run. For more info on the Outback Champions Series, go to www.ChampionsSeriesTennis.com.

Photos courtesy of the International Tennis Hall of Fame