The Tennis Channel Open

Mondays with Bob Greene – The Return of Kimiko Date

14 April 2008

STAR

Maria Sharapova won her first clay court title, downing Dominika Cibulkova 7-6 (7) 6-3 in the Bausch & Lomb Championships in Amelia Island, Florida.

SAYINGS

“It’s not the way I would have wanted to win.” – Nikolay Davydenko, who won his Davis Cup match when Tomas Berdych retired because of an injury, giving Russia an insurmountable 3-1 lead over the Czech Republic.

“These guys are human.” – United States captain Patrick McEnroe after twins Bob and Mike Bryan suffered only their second loss in 16 Davis Cup doubles matches, falling to Frenchmen Michael Llodra and Arnold Clement.

“It is just a great feeling when you do well for your country. Nothing else matters.” – Leander Paes, who, a day after saying teaming with Mahesh Bhupathi was the “worst mistake of my career,” teamed with Bhupathi to win the doubles against Japan and lift India into the Davis Cup World Group playoffs for the first time in three years.

“It was somewhat like football because representing Argentina is something unique, something which you feel in your skin.” – Guillermo Canas, after teaming with David Nalbandian to beat Sweden’s Jonas Bjorkman and Robert Linstedt in doubles.

“What I lived today with my people was very exciting. I gave it all, run all the way to hell and back, and won. That’s why I could not stop the tears.” – A teary David Nalbandian following his 6-4 1-6 4-6 6-4 9-7 win over Robin Soderling to clinch Argentina’s Davis Cup quarterfinal victory over Sweden.

“I had a lot of chances. I missed so many easy shots. I made quite stupid mistakes today.” – Unseeded Dominika Cibulkova, who lost to top-seeded Maria Sharapova 7-6 (7) 6-3 in the final of the Bausch & Lomb Championships.

“I don’t want to be getting (wild cards) into events and taking the place of younger players. That wouldn’t be right.” – Kimiko Date, explaining why she will begin her comeback by playing in satellite tournaments before making a return to the WTA Tour.

SAD DAY

Former Austrian doubles player Daniela Klemenschits lost her battle with cancer. She was 25. Both Daniela and her twin sister, Sandra, were diagnosed with a rare form of abdominal cancer in January 2007, forcing them to retire from the WTA Tour. The sisters won 20 titles on the ITF women’s circuit and were ranked in the top 100 of the WTA Tour doubles in 2005.

SCARY OPPONENT

For the second straight Davis Cup tie, Nikolay Davydenko has not had to finish his tie-winning match. Tomas Berdych twisted his right ankle and retired against Davydenko, giving Russia an unbeatable 3-1 lead over the Czech Republic. In the first round, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic pulled out of his match against Davydenko because of illness, giving Russia a clinching 3-1 lead.

STEFFI STOPPER

Two exhibition victories over old foes convinced Japan’s Kimiko Date to return to professional tennis at the age of 37. Once ranked in the top five in the world, Date retired in 1996 after reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the Atlanta Olympics. When she beat Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova in an exhibition event in Tokyo, Date, now married, decided to try a comeback on the women’s tour, entering a tournament in Fukuoka, Japan, next month.

SPECIAL SAFIN

A surprise starter, Marat Safin repaid the confidence showed in him by coming back from two sets down for the first time in his career to beat Tomas Berdych 6-7 (5) 4-6 6-3 6-2 64 in the opening match of the Davis Cup tie between Russia and the Czech Republic. The Russian had won only one match this year while Berdych was coming off a semifinal finish at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. It was the first time in his career that Berdych has lost a five-set match.

SELLING OUT

The Tennis Channel Open is no more. Tennis Channel is selling the rights to its Las Vegas, Nevada, tournament to the ATP. The television network bought the tournament in 2005, when it was played in Scottsdale, Arizona, and moved it to Las Vegas in 2006.

SURGERY

India’s Sania Mirza has undergone arthroscopy wrist surgery that is expected to keep her off the WTA Tour for a month. The world number 31 has struggled with her wrist problem for over a year. The only Indian player to win a WTA Tour event, Mirza was sidelined for two months following knee surgery in March 2007.

STEPPING UP PRESSURE

Beginning in 2009, players will get ATP ranking points for playing in the Davis Cup World Group. Besides earning points for a win, players can get bonus points for winning a certain number of matches throughout the year. The International Tennis Federation and ATP said they made the decision to award points to encourage more top players to participate in the team event.

STEPPING DOWN

Felix Mantilla has called it quits. Once ranked in the top 10 in the world, the 33-year-old Spaniard retired a year after returning to the ATP Tour following treatment for skin cancer. In 1997, Mantilla won five tournaments, and the following reached the semifinals at Roland Garros.

SWINGING TOGETHER

Beginning in 2009, the grass-court tournament in Eastbourne, England, will have a combined men’s and women’s field. While Eastbourne has been on the WTA Tour for years, the men will join them after the ATP grass-court tournament in Nottingham, England, folds following this year’s event.

SEAT CHAMPIONS CUP

Two clay court masters – former world number one Marcelo Rios and two-time French Open champion Sergi Bruguera – have a chance at finally meeting on that surface when they compete in the Seat Champions Cup in Barcelona. Rios dominated the senior BlackRock Tour of Champions in 2006, winning six titles, while Brugera won seven senior tournaments last year. Rios has won two of their three previous meetings, but all were on hard courts.

SCORING DAVIS CUP

World Group Quarterfinals

Russia beat Czech Republic 3-2; Argentina beat Sweden 4-1; Spain beat Germany 4-1; United States beat France 4-1

Europe/Africa Zone Group 1 Second Round

Croatia beat Italy 3-2; Netherlands beat Macedonia 4-1; Switzerland beat Belarus 4-1; Slovak Republic beat Georgia 4-1 (Winners advance to World Group playoffs in September)

Americas Zone Group 1 Second Round

Chile beat Canada 3-2; Brazil beat Columbia 4-1 (Winners advance to World Group playoffs in September)

Asia/Oceania Zone Group 1 Second Round

Australia beat Thailand 5-0; India beat Japan 3-2 (Australia and India advance to World Group playoffs in September)

Asia/Oceania Zone Group 1 Playoffs

Chinese Taipei beat Kazakhstan 3-2; Uzbekistan beat Philippines 3-2

Europe/Africa Zone Group II First Round

Denmark beat Luxembourg 5-0; South Africa beat Finland 4-1; Algeria beat Hungary 3-2; Monaco beat Greece 3-2; Ukraine beat Egypt 5-0; Ireland beat Morocco 3-2; Cyprus beat Slovenia 3-2; Portugal beat Tunisia 4-1

Americas Zone Group II Relegation Playoffs

Netherlands Antilles beat Bolivia 3-2; Venezuela leads El Salvador 2-1

Asia/Oceania Zone Group II Second Round

China beat Indonesia 3-2; New Zealand beat Kuwait 5-0

Asia/Oceania Zone Group II Relegation Playoffs

Hong Kong beat Lebanon 3-2; Oman beat Pacific Oceania 3-2

SITES TO SURF

Family Circle Cup: www.familycirclecup.com

Estoril: www.estorilopen.net

Valencia: www.open-comunidad-valencia.com/

Houston: www.riveroaksinternational.com

Fed Cup: www.fedcup.com/

Monte Carlo: http://montecarlo.masters-series.com/1/en/home/

Barcelona: www.openseatbarcelona.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

ATP TOUR

$370,000 Estoril Open, Estoril, Portugal, clay

$370,000 Open de Tenis Comunidad Valencia, Valencia, Spain, clay

$436,000 U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships, Houston, Texas, clay

WTA TOUR

$1,340,000 Family Circle Cup, Charleston, South Carolina, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP TOUR

$2,270,000 Monte Carlo Masters, Monte Carlo, Monaco, clay

FED CUP

(April 26-27)

World Group Semifinals

United States at Moscow, Russia, clay

Spain at Beijing, China, hard

World Group Playoffs

Ukraine at Olbia, Italy, clay; France at Tokyo, Japan, hard; Germany at Buenos Aires, Argentina, clay; Czech Republic at Ramat Hasharon, Israel, hard

World Group II Playoffs

Colombia at Mons, Belgium, hard; Switzerland at Dornbirn, Austria, hard; Uzbekistan at Bratislava, Slovak Republic, clay; Serbia at Zagreb, Croatia, hard

SENIORS

Seat Champions Cup, Barcelona, Spain, clay

Random Ramblings…Aussie Open dates, Wimbledon, Vegas, etc.

Imagine that the tennis world was focused not on Indian Wells and Key Biscayne but on the Australian Open at this time of year. Is this a novel concept? Not really. This was the case during this time frame in 1971 when the Australian Open was played at White City in Sydney, Australia. As documented in the upcoming book On This Day In Tennis History, it was on March 15, 1971 when Ken Rosewall and Margaret Court both won Australian Open singles titles during this uniquely scheduled major. Many people would love to have the tennis schedule altered so the players have more of an off season – and a February/March staging of the Australian Open would be a great way for that to happen – but Tennis Australia officials are too wed to the Australia Day holiday season and the end of the Australian summer season to move the tournament dates to later in the year. It could be worse, however, as the Australian Open used to be held during the Christmas holidays.

During a recent visit to London, I stopped by the All England Club and saw the place in full preparation for the 2008 Championships. Cranes stand next to Centre Court as the retractable roof continues to be installed and ready for the 2009 tournament. It appears a small stadium/bleacher section will be constructed on court No. 13 – in place of the rows of bleachers under the awning. At the Wimbledon Museum, I watched the highlights of the 1973 “strike year” men’s final when Czech Jan Kodes beat the Soviet Union’s Alex Metreveli. In lieu of allegations and controversy of betting in tennis and the allegations of involvement of the Russian mob, it was amusing to hear the commentator’s voice on the highlight tape, in previewing the final, say that “the betting is on Kodes.”

It’s a tough situation for The Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas to go head-to-head with Dubai Tennis Championships on the ATP calendar. No doubt that the appearance fees were aplenty in the Middle Eastern oil and finance capital as most of the top 10 played in the event, while The Tennis Channel Open got the leftovers. Why not make Dubai a larger co-ed event (as it is now, the women play the week before in Dubai) and then move The Tennis Channel Open to a different date? The tennis calendar could have three back-to-back-to-back “mega co-ed” events in Dubai, Indian Wells and Key Biscayne. The Tennis Channel Open could then move to later in the year (and warmer weather in Vegas or another location). The United States sure could use another clay court event (how about another event before or after the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships?).

Speaking of The Tennis Channel Open, how can you not love Sam Querrey? The 20-year-old American won his first ATP singles title in Vegas and seemed as laid back and relaxed as any player I have ever seen. He told The Tennis Channel’s Corina Morariu that he planned to prepare for his semifinal against Guillermo Canas by going “indoor skydiving” but he lost in place in line and the wait would have been too long….Fernando Gonzalez, Julien Benneteau and Lleyton Hewitt all had some great racquet smashing episodes at The Tennis Channel Open. TC commentator Jimmy Arias had a funny line during Hewitt’s smash of his Yonex frame; “You have to give Yonex a little credit there…it took two tries to break the racquet.”

Best investment for tennis fans – the $69.95 for a year subscription to the ATP Masters Series TV broadband coverage on ATPTennis.com. Why channel surf for Fox Sports Net during Indian Wells/Key Biscayne or stress whether you are going to get The Tennis Channel Open for most of the other offered events like Monte Carlo, Rome, Hamburg, etc.? The service offers near wall-to-wall coverage of all the top matches and if your computer has a high quality screen, it’s just like TV. Speaking of the Masters Series TV coverage, Jason Goodall, one of their fine commentary team members, spoke of talking to Igor Andreev in Dubai and asking him whether he would rather be No. 1 in the world or win a Grand Slam. Goodall reported that the Russian responded, “Neither…an Olympic Gold Medal.”

Ask Bill – Bill Mountford

There was speculation that some unseeded entrants in last week’s ATP event in Dubai received appearance fees in excess of US $1 million. Considering that eight of the world’s top ten played the tournament, the total purse (combining appearance fees and prize money) was likely greater than any of the ATP Masters Series events.

The worst example of why things are out of whack between Dubai and the rest of the tour occurred two years ago. In Andre Agassi’s final season, while he was looking to minimize travel, he opted to fly half-way around the world to Dubai in lieu of playing the Tennis Channel Open in his hometown of Las Vegas. Of course he was offered an appearance fee that even he could not refuse. By the way, in 2007 Agassi purchased tickets to attend matches at the Darling Tennis Center. That act showed a lot about Agassi’s character, or it was his penance. Regardless, there are not too many people “in” tennis who opt to pay for tickets when all-access credentials are readily available.

Congratulations to Sam Querrey, who won his first ATP title in Las Vegas. Too young to legally enjoy a celebratory beer, Querrey looks like a sure-fire future Davis Cupper. Forecasting future champions is always risky business, and Sam Querrey is a prime example. The first international junior tournament that he played was at the 2004 US Open (where he extended that year’s champion, Andy Murray, to three sets in the quarterfinals). The Californian was only able to enter this event as a wildcard, based on his winning the Boys’ 16 and under Nationals in Kalamazoo, MI (as a third-year 16s, by the way). He was hardly on the experts’ radar screen at that time, but rather just another good American junior who appeared primed for college tennis.

In Andy Murray’s second round match in Dubai, he let fly several clearly audible obscenities. I have a soft spot for Andy, because he is my son’s favorite player and I love his competitive spirit. But it appears that the point penalty system, which was put in place a few decades ago to essentially reign in John McEnroe, has been relaxed considerably. If these same rules existed back in 1990, then Johnny Mac would have won his eighth major at that year’s Australian Open instead of being unceremoniously defaulted.

The week following Andy Roddick’s victory in San Jose, Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated criticized the popular American for some unseemly, and certainly unsportsmanlike, behavior. There was a marked improvement in the way Roddick carried himself in Dubai. I suspect that a member of the Roddick team – and perhaps Andy himself – read this SI.com article. I feel Wertheim is comfortably growing into the position that the late, great Gene Scott once held: the conscience of tennis. There was nothing unfair about the opinions he shared. It was nice to see Andy enjoy his best victory in a few years, and behave honorably. In fact, commentator David Mercer referred to his semifinal win over Novak Djokovic to be “the highest quality in sport and sportsmanship.”

I watched 50,000 Balls, an interesting documentary about the lives of four top-ranking 12 and under American players from the summer of 2006. In Hoop Dreams fashion, it will be fascinating to see the sequel 500,000 Balls when these boys reach the 18s! Hopefully, a prominent Film Festival will show the project.

Serena Williams edged ahead of big sister Venus in their career head-to-head record (8-7) with a third set tiebreak win in the semifinals of Bangalore, India on her way to her 29th career title. This match could have been a preview of the 2008 Olympic Games gold medal match for women’s singles.

Congratulations to Wayne Bryan for being named the 2008 Professional Tennis Registry’s Professional of the Year. Wayne reminds me of the Grateful Dead. As was frequently said about this legendary band, Wayne is not only the best in the world at what he does, he is the only one in the world who does what he does. Every coach, and every parent for that matter, ought to have a copy of his book The Formula: Raising Your Child to be a Champion in Athletics, Arts, and Academics.

Joel Drucker wrote a nice piece on Wayne’s boys, Bob and Mike Bryan, who continue battling to make professional doubles relevant. The Brothers are relentlessly nice young men, and a credit to the tennis profession.

Monica Seles has announced her retirement, and she is a shoo-in for induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. A player must be inactive on the main tour for five years to be eligible for induction. Well, Seles’s last professional match was played in 2003 during Roland Garros. While the class of 2008 has already been announced, her retirement announcement gives our sport the opportunity to do right by one of the greatest champions of all-time by fast-tracking her induction.

The buzz that the Federer-Sampras exhibition created was wonderful for our sport. “Cheap” tickets were scalped for over $1,000. George Vecsey of the New York Times wrote a wistful article previewing this match and Harvey Araton, also from the NY Times, wrote an interesting post-match commentary. In previous eras, these cross-generational challenge matches were common. Bill Tilden played Ellsworth Vines, Vines played Don Budge, Budge played Bobby Riggs, Riggs played Jack Kramer, Kramer played Pancho Gonzalez, Gonzalez played Rod Laver, Laver played Jimmy Connors, etc. Before tennis went “open” in 1968, the only (and the best) way champions had to earn money was through playing in exhibitions against previous champions.

Getting psyched up to play against Roger Federer in a sold out Madison Square Garden is more manageable for the 36-year-old Sampras then the prospect of grinding out Tour matches (or even of having to win seven matches in 13 days at Wimbledon). It is times like this when I really miss the New York sports talk radio stations!

Roger Federer’s less than gracious post-match comments about Andy Murray were likely taken out of context, but his follow up comments that Murray is more talented than Novak Djokovic seemed really out of character. Rafael Nadal disturbs Federer, and John Yandell wrote fascinating articles about this topic on www.TennisPlayer.net, but Djokovic apparently really gets under Federer’s skin. Last week, the Serb opined that he expected Murray to win and that Federer is essentially losing his aura of invincibility. Hmmm…

The announcement that Roger Federer was sick with mononucleosis must have surprised Pete Sampras, who holds Federer in the highest regard. Pistol Pete won his seventh Wimbledon title on a broken foot and his fifth US Open title with stomach ulcers. Sampras has always talked about how he admires the way Federer carries himself, and these champions obviously share unique experiences. Here’s hoping that they grab a beer together and discuss the time-honored Aussie code that both men respect: If you’re fit, then you take the court; if you take the court, then it means you’re fit.

There was a great trivia question a few years ago: Who was the last man to win a tour-level event while using a wood racquet? Hint: he was the only player to beat Mats Wilander in a major back in 1988. Well, here is a modern era trivia question: Who was the last man to win a tour-level title WITHOUT using polyester strings? Polyester strings have had as great an impact on the way tennis is played professionally as larger head-size, graphite racquets had 25 years ago.

I am looking forward to watching the Indian Wells coverage on EuroSport next week. Please feel welcome to send questions, comments, criticisms, requests, and jokes each week.