If the USA wins a hotly contested, live, fifth rubber against Brazil, and no one’s there to see it, did it still happen? This past weekend’s first round Davis Cup tie is a fine example of why you can never count on anything in tennis. On paper, the USA should’ve had no trouble dispatching the Brazilians. Not only did they have the privilege of choosing the venue and surface, Team USA has two Top 20 singles players and the best doubles team in the world. Surely it should’ve been no problem to win three matches against a team whose singles players were ranked 36 and 141 and are generally considered clay court specialists. But that’s the magic of Davis Cup.
While the United States rushed to an easy 2-0 lead on Friday, Saturday’s doubles rubber brought the drama. The Brazilian doubles team of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares played lights out in the five set match to keep their team alive. Suddenly Brazilian fans surfaced in the crowd and there was a real Davis Cup atmosphere going in the stadium, complete with drama between the two teams. Could the Brazilians maintain focus and possibly carry their winning momentum into Sunday’s reverse singles?
Sunday had a decidedly more reserved atmosphere, possibly due to the sparse crowd. It was Super Bowl Sunday after all… John Isner had the first chance to clinch the tie for the US and set up a second round tie against 2010 Davis Cup champions, Serbia. After winning the first set against Thomaz Bellucci 6-2, the momentum should’ve been securely with the Americans. They were just two sets away from victory. All of the sudden it looked as if the weight of the world was dropped on the American’s shoulders. He simply didn’t look like a man who intended to win a tennis match. Although, with John Isner that can mean anything. He’s spoken to the fact that his body language is often misconstrued as negative. That wasn’t quite the case here as Bellucci came back to take the second set. Rinse and repeat as the two once again exchanged sets and the match went to the decisive no tie break fifth set. As it would happen Bellucci wouldn’t have needed the tie break anyway, as he broke Isner to take the set 6-3. This was a devastating blow to the US team, who had once had a 2-0 lead in the tie and was now facing a live fifth rubber at 2-2.
John Isner did not mince words about his loss. He was quick to point out his not so stellar five set record, saying, “today was extremely disappointing for me. You know, can’t sugarcoat it with me. My five-set record is atrocious, it’s simple as that. It falls on me 100%. You know, I got to try to get better personally with that. I feel bad. I didn’t come through for the team today.” Isner was clearly pretty devastated by this loss, a match he was not only expected to win, a match that would’ve meant victory for his team. That’s what sets Davis Cup apart from regular tournament play. The players are dependent on each other. No one can win a Davis Cup tie on their own. At the end of his press conference, he was asked about his personal goals for the year and was quick to point out that his first responsibility was to his team in that moment, “I’m not thinking about my personal goals this year right now at all. Sam lost the first set, I don’t know if y’all know that. Got to try to pull him through. I didn’t do my part today, and that’s what’s tough about being on a team. It feels a lot worse than it does had this been a regular tournament.”
The good news was that the lost set Isner was referring to would be the team’s last. Sam Querrey came back to win the next three sets against Brazilian Thiago Alves, who made quite an impressive showing over the weekend. Post match, Querrey also wanted to point out the team effort that goes into Davis Cup, telling reporters, “I was thrilled I could help the guys out. It’s a team thing. We’re all moving on to the next round.” He’s absolutely right. Anyone can have a bad day and that’s what the other guys are there for. As captain Jim Courier put it, “That’s what these teams are all about, catching each other when we fall down, helping each other over the line.”
The Americans face a much tougher foe in their quarter final tie against Serbia, a team which will likely feature world No. 1, Novak Djokovic. The tie will be played April 5th-7th in Boise, Idaho.
The USA Davis Cup squad got off to a quick start on Friday in their first round tie against Brazil. Sam Querrey easily overcame Brazil’s No. 1 player, Thomaz Bellucci, in straight sets. Sam Querrey served very well, but Bellucci definitely handed him a few games. He admitted to being a bit nervous in the first few games, but settled in after the first break.
This is the first home tie for both Querrey and Isner and this was Sam Querrey’s first victory in a live singles rubber. Unfortunately, the crowd for the first match was about as flat as Bellucci’s game. However, the sparse audience did a great job of supporting the home team. When asked about the crowd support, Querrey responded, “they got surprisingly loud there at the end for an arena that wasn’t full.” He also urged fans to come out tomorrow to watch the Bryan brothers, who he unequivocally deemed the greatest doubles team of all time.
The crowd had an easier time getting into the second match, which was surprisingly less one sided than the first. Where Thomaz Bellucci seemed resigned to lose, Thiago Alves maintained a very positive attitude against John Isner, a player ranked 125 spots higher than him. After losing the first set 6-3, Alves hung in there in the second and had plenty of chances against the American. All of the sudden the Brazilian bench was on its feet and Brazilian fans surfaced in the crowd, forcing the US fans to step up their game.
Based on the players’ body language, an onlooker would have easily mistaken the score of the match in favor of Brazil. Alves was fist pumping after every winning point, while Isner lumbered around the court, a point he was quick to address in his post match press conference, saying, ” I don’t realize it when I’m out there, but I guess I am pretty slow and pretty deliberate, especially in a three-out-of-five-set match.” The good news was that the attitude had nothing to do with the knee pain that sidelined Isner during the Australian Open. Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, John Isner stated that he plans to play the reverse singles rubber on Sunday.
Saturday’s schedule features Bob and Mike Bryan against Brazilian players Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares. This match gives the brothers a chances to clinch the tie for the United States. The last time the Bryan brothers lost a Davis Cup match was 2008, but their not prepared to write in that “W” quite yet. In Thursday’s post-draw press conference, Bob Bryan said, “we have to go out there and play good tennis, have to execute. This is a team that has beaten us before. They beat us in a big match at the French. We really respect them. We know a lot about them, they know a lot about us.” It’s smart never to take the competition likely, but the Bryans have an impressive 22-2 record in Davis Cup doubles.
Eight first-round Davis Cup ties unfold around the world this weekend. We discuss the key players and themes that might emerge from each of them.
Canada vs. Spain: Without any of their top three men, Davis Cup Goliath Spain finds itself at a surprising disadvantage when it travels to the western coast of North America. Had either Nadal or Ferrer participated in this tie against Canada, the visitors would remain heavy favorites even against a squad spearheaded by Milos Raonic and aging doubles star Daniel Nestor. Instead, Canada now can rely on two victories from their singles #1 against the overmatched pair of Marcel Granollers and Albert Ramos, forcing Spain to sweep the remaining three matches. Among those is a doubles rubber that pits Nestor against World Tour Finals champions Granollers and Marc Lopez, who lost three of their four Davis Cup doubles rubbers last year. If the tie reaches a live fifth rubber, as seems plausible, Spanish champion Alex Corretja might consider substituting Guillermo Garcia-Lopez for Ramos against the net-rushing Frank Dancevic. Buoyed by their home crowd, though, Canada should find a way to snatch one of the three non-Raonic rubbers and send Spain to the playoff round for the first time in recent memory.
Italy vs. Croatia: This tie should hinge on home-court advantage and the choice of ground that it entails. On a fast hard court, the formidable serves of Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig would stifle the less imposing firepower of the Italians. But Croatia faces Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini on the red clay of Turin, a slow surface where the superior consistency of the hosts should lead them to victory. The visitors will face the intriguing choice of whether to substitute their singles stars on Saturday for a doubles pairing almost certainly doomed to defeat. Three straight days of best-of-five matches for Cilic, Dodig, or both would leave them even more vulnerable to the Italian war of attrition, though. At any rate, the contrast of styles between the fearless first strikes of the Croats and the patient baseline rallying of the Italians should provide entertaining viewing.
Belgium vs. Serbia: One might see Djokovic’s name on the schedule and automatically checking off the “Serbia” box, but a few flickers of doubt persist. First, the Australian Open champion may have arrived physically and mentally drained from his recent exploits, and he has struggled against Friday opponent Olivier Rochus throughout his career. Breaking from a long history of Davis Cup participation, Serbian #2 Janko Tipsarevic cannot step into the breach if Djokovic falters. That duty lies in the suspect hands of Viktor Troicki, who endured a miserable 2012, and in the aging hands of Nenad Zimonjic, well past his prime despite his many accomplishments. Serbia thus might find itself in real trouble if they played a team with a notable talent, like Canada. With just the 32-year-old Rochus and the volatile but unreliable David Goffin barring their path, however, they should advance even if their stars underperform.
USA vs. Brazil: Tennis Grandstand will feature more detailed coverage of this tie over the weekend. For the moment, we will note that Team USA stands in promising position with two serving leviathans on an indoor hard court, complemented by the reigning Australian Open doubles champions. While Isner did not win a match in January as he struggled with a knee injury, and Querrey did not impress in Melbourne, both should steamroll the harmless Brazilian #2 Thiago Alves. In the best-case scenario for Brazil, which would feature two victories for their #1 Bellucci, their doubles duo of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares still should fall short against the Bryans. All of these Americans have played some of their best tennis on home soil and in Davis Cup, including on less friendly surfaces, whereas Brazil has accomplished little of note in this competition recently.
France vs. Israel: Across from one team that often proves less than the sum of its talents in Davis Cup stands a team that typically overperforms expectations at the national level. Whereas France will bring two members of the top 10 to this tie, Israel can claim no top-100 threat in singles. The fast indoor hard court should allow the offensive might of Tsonga to overwhelm Dudi Sela and Amir Weintraub, although the latter has developed into a more credible threat over the last several months. In a tantalizing doubles rubber, a battle of all-stars pits Jonathan Ehrlich and Andy Ram against Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra. Underdogs in every singles rubber and arguably the doubles too, Israel can hope for an upset only if Gasquet crumbles under the pressure of playing for national pride on home soil as he has so infamously before. Otherwise, the talent gap simply looms too large.
Argentina vs. Germany: Perhaps the most tightly contested tie, this battle on outdoor red clay will unfold in the absence of Del Potro, who would have given the home squad a clear edge. While Argentina will field a squad of clay specialists, leading Germans Philipp Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer have acquitted themselves well on the surafce and should not find themselves at a disadvantage parallel to Croatia in Italy. Much rests on the shoulders of Juan Monaco, tasked with avoiding the daunting 0-2 deficit after Kohlschreiber likely opens the tie by dismissing Carlos Berlocq. The top Argentine here enjoyed his best season to date last year but did not start 2013 especially well. Lurking in the shadows, as he so often does, is long-time Argentine Davis Cup hero David Nalbandian. Argentina will hope that Nalbandian’s contribution in doubles on Saturday will combine with two Monaco victories to give them the points that they need without reaching a live fifth rubber. There, one would favor Mayer to overcome both Berlocq and the Argentine crowd.
Pick: Er, Argentina?
Kazakhstan vs. Austria: In a tie without a singles star of note, the opportunity beckons for someone to seize the spotlight in a way that he could not at a major. The most likely candidate to do so would seem Austrian #1 Jurgen Melzer, the only top-100 singles player on either side. His opponents can produce better tennis than their current rankings suggest, though, and Andrey Golubev already has started the tie in promising fashion with a straight-sets victory over Andreas Haider-Maurer. The doubles edge probably belongs to Austria with the greater expertise of Alexander Peya and Julian Knowle, specialists who will allow the 31-year-old Melzer to rest for Sunday. Excluded from the initial lineup is top-ranked Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin, whose absence will force #211 Evgeny Korolev to win a best-of-five match for the hosts to survive.
Switzerland vs. Czech Republic: While Tomas Berdych is the highest-ranked man in this clash between nearby nations, the most intriguing role goes to opposing #1 Stanislas Wawrinka. After he came far closer than anyone to toppling Djokovic at the Australian Open, the latter may suffer a hangover in a competition where he has struggled lately. Moreover, Switzerland leans on Wawrinka to win both of his singles matches and contribute to a doubles victory on the intervening day, an enormous challenge for the sternest of competitors when the last of those matches involves Berdych. The Czech Republic will not enlist the services of Radek Stepanek, a rare absentee this weekend like Tipsarevic, but singles #2 Lukas Rosol intimidates much more than anyone that Switzerland can throw at him. In the Federer/Wawrinka era, no Swiss team ever has presented the united front that the defending champions have behind Berdych. The medium-slow hard court should not trouble the broad-shouldered world #6 unduly.
Pick: Czech Republic
Rajeev Ram beat Sam Querry 6-7 (3) 7-5 6-3 to win the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island, USA
Agnes Szavay won the GDF Suez Grand Prix, beating Patty Schnyder 2-6 6-4 6-2 in Budapest, Hungary
Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez beat Caroline Wozniacki 7-5 6-4 to win the Collector Swedish Open Women in Bastad, Sweden
Julia Goerges beat Ekaterina Dzehalevich 7-5 6-0 in Biarritz, France, to win the Open GDF Suez de Biarritz
Karol Beck won the Open Diputacion Ciudad de Pozoblanco in Pozoblanco, Cordoba, Spain, beating Thiago Alves 6-4 6-3
World Group Quarterfinals
Czech Republic Argentina 3-2; Croatia beat the United States 3-2; Israel beat Russia 4-1; Spain beat Germany 3-2
Americas Zone Group 1 Playoff: Peru vs. Canada; Group 2 Second Round: Venezuela beat Mexico; Dominican Republic beat Paraguay; Netherlands Antilles beat Jamaica; Bahamas vs. Guatemala
Asia/Oceania Zone Group 1 Second Round Playoffs: Kazakhstan beat Thailand 5-0; Korea vs. China; Group 2 Second Round: Philippines beat Pakistan 3-2; New Zealand beat Indonesia 5-0; Group 2 Playoffs: Hong Kong-China beat Oman 5-0; Malaysia beat Kuwait 4-1
Europe/Africa Zone Group 1 Playoffs: Belarus beat FYR Macedonia 4-1; Group 2 Second Round: Slovenia beat Lithuania 5-0; Latvia beat Bulgaria 4-1; Finland beat Monaco 3-2; Cyprus beat Ireland 3-1; Group 2 Playoffs: Egypt beat Georgia 5-0; Hungary beat Moldova 3-2; Denmark beat Montenegro 3-2; Portugal beat Algeria 5-0
“It’s a beautiful way to celebrate my career. … I wish my dad would have been here today, but I know he’s here in spirit because without him I wouldn’t be sitting here today.” – Monica Seles, on her installation into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
“These days don’t come around very often unless you’re (Roger) Federer or (Rafael) Nadal. There’s definitely pressure. … Winning tournaments is not normal on the tour for 99 percent of us.” – Rajeev Ram, after beating fellow American Sam Querry in Newport to win his first ATP title.
“I’m sorry I spoiled your (birthday) celebrations, but I promise I will buy you something instead.” – Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain, after beating Caroline Wozniacki on the Dane’s 19th birthday.
“For the first time I have absolutely nothing to say, usually I just can’t stop talking, and I started to cry like a little boy.” – Andy Ram, after teaming with Jonathan Erlich to win the doubles and clinch Israel’s first semifinal berth in Davis Cup competition.
“It was a great fight. At the end I was just fighting like a tiger. That was the difference, I think. It wasn’t about the tennis in that match. I was so close to losing.” – Agnes Szavay, after beating Patty Schnyder in the final in Budapest.
“I was so embarrassed to be with them that I called everybody sir. Those players have won Wimbledon, Davis Cup, Forest Hills, French Open, and I have one trophy, Monte Carlo.” – Andres Gimeno, who joined Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad and others on the pro tour before he won his only Grand Slam tournament title, the French Open, in 1972.
“It shows how important Andy is for the team. Being on the No. 2 spot is less pressure than playing on the No. 1 spot.” – James Blake, losing both of his singles matches after being forced to play No. 1 when Andy Roddick pulled out of the United States-Croatia Davis Cup quarterfinal tie with a hip injury.
SWEET DAY INDEED
In a string of circumstances, Andy Roddick’s hip injury may have been the catalyst that led to Rajeev Ram winning his first ATP title. When Roddick pulled out of Davis Cup with the injury, he was replaced by Mardy Fish, the top seed at the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island. Knowing he would get a spot in the main draw because of Fish’s leaving, Ram withdrew from his final round of qualifying, then became the tournament’s “lucky loser.” With rain curtailing play on Tuesday and Wednesday, Ram played eight matches over the last three days of the tournament as he became just the third player on the ATP World Tour this year to win both singles and doubles at the same event. He downed fellow American Sam Querrey 6-7 (3) 7-5 6-3 for the singles title, then teamed with Austria’s Jordan Kerr to beat Michael Kohlmann of Germany and Dutchman Rogier Wassen 6-7 (6) 7-6 (7) 10-6 (match tiebreak) in the doubles. Ram, playing in his fist ATP final and ranked 181 in the world, is the lowest ranked player to win a tournament this year. Until the Newport tournament, he had won a total of six career ATP matches.
In the biggest shocker of the Davis Cup weekend, Israel advanced to the semifinals of the World Group for the first time by upsetting Russia 4-1. The Israelis clinched the tie when Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich bested Marat Safin and Igor Kunitsyn to win the doubles and give their side an unassailable 3-0 lead over the two-time Davis Cup champions. “I actually can’t describe how I feel. … I am so proud to be an Israeli today, to be a part of this team, so proud to be part of this sport and Davis Cup tennis, it was a classic tie,” said Israel team captain Eyal Ran. Israel took a surprising 2-0 lead on the opening day when 210th-ranked Harel Levy upset Igor Andreev before Dudi Sela beat Mikhail Youzhny. Israel will take on defending champion Spain in the semifinals on September 18-20.
The other semifinal will pit two other surprising teams against each other. The Czech Republic edged Argentina, last year’s Davis Cup finalists, 3-1, while Croatia defeated the Andy Roddick-less United States 3-2.
The singles winners at the US Open will pocket at least a record USD $1.6 million. The two champions also can earn an additional USD $1 million in bonus prize money, which could help in building a new garage on their home since they will also receive a new 2010 Lexus IS convertible vehicle. The USTA announced that the total US Open purse will top USD $12.6 million, making it the third consecutive year that the prize money has increased by USD $1 million. In addition to the base purse of USD $21.6 million, the top three men and top three women finishers in the Olympus US Open Series may earn up to an additional USD $2.6 million in bonus prize money. And just in case that’s not enough to make ends meet, the US Open winners – like all the other players in the field – will receive per diem payments to help with the cost of accommodations and other expenses during their New York City stay.
Andre Agassi is returning to the US Open. Twice a champion in the year’s final Grand Slam tournament, Agassi will headline the opening night ceremony on August 31 as the US Open celebrates charity work by athletes. Agassi, who began the Andre Agassi Foundation in 1994, ended his 21-year career by retiring at the end of the 2006 US Open. His foundation has a charger school in Las Vegas, Nevada, which graduated its first senior class in June, sending all 34 students to college.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
The marathon Wimbledon final in which Roger Federer outlasted Andy Roddick was the most-watch All England Club men’s final in the United States in 10 years. NBC said an average of 5.71 million people tuned in to watch Federer win his record-setting 15th Grand Slam title, the most since Pete Sampras beat Andre Agassi in the 1999 final. The 3.8 rating and 10 share was the best for a men’s final since Sampras defeat4ed Patrick Rafter in 2000, and surpassed last year’s five-set battle between Federer and Rafael Nadal by nine percent. The fifth set of the Federer-Roddick match was the longest in major final history.
While in Newport, Rhode Island, to attend his colleague Donald Dell’s induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Ray Benton told the story about how he once advised Ivan Lendl that if he showed how much he enjoyed playing tennis it could help the bottom line. Benton, Lendl’s agent, theorized that if the stoic-looking Lendl just smiled and acted happy after he won matches, it would result in the player earning an additional USD $1 million dollars a year in endorsements. Benton said Lendl pondered the idea for a few moments, then said, “It’s not worth it.” Lendl, who won 94 singles titles in his career, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.
SOMETHING TO PLAY FOR
The top mixed doubles team in the Advanta World TeamTennis Pro League will be playing on the big stage come this August. The mixed doubles team that finishes at the top of the WTT Pro League rankings will receive a wild card into the 2009 US Open mixed doubles tournament. More than 50 players are competing in the Advanta WTT Pro League this month for 10 franchises throughout the United States. “World TeamTennis has long featured some of the best players in the world, especially in doubles,” said WTT commissioner Ilana Kloss. “We are very excited to work with the USTA to provide our players with this opportunity to be rewarded for their high level of play.” World TeamTennis matches feature three sets of doubles – men’s, women’s and mixed – along with one set each of men’s and women’s single. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) is a minority owner and promotional partner of World TeamTennis.
Spain reached back into the past to gain a victory in their Davis Cup tie against Germany. When Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer both pulled out of the World Group quarterfinal because of injuries, Juan Carlos Ferrero was added to the team. Then Spanish captain Albert Costa replaced Tommy Robredo with Ferrero in the decisive fifth match, and the former world number one bested Andreas Beck 6-4 6-4 6-4. It was the first time since 2005 against Italy that Spain won a fifth match to determine the outcome of a tie. It was Ferrero that time also who came away victorious. “It’s amazing what I felt on the court today,” Ferrero said. “It’s a long time I didn’t play Davis Cup competition and this tie for me was very special. To come back and play the last point, I felt amazing on the court.”
India’s Sania Mirza is making headlines for reasons beyond her tennis. In the latest incident, two engineering students have been arrested and accused of stalking her. All of this comes as she is being engaged to family friend Sohrab Mirza, whose father owns Universal Bakers chain in Hyderabad, India. The 23-year-old Sohrab is reportedly heading to the United Kingdom to pursue an MBA degree. Police said Ajay Singh Yadva was apprehended as he tried to barge into the tennis player’s house, apparently to profess his love. He was taken into custody when he refused to leave. Yadav’s arrest came a day after another student threatened to commit suicide if the engagement was not called off. Last month, the Andhra Pradesh state government found that a man had secured a white ration card showing Sania Mirza as his wife, complete with photos of the tennis star. White ration cards are meant for people living below the poverty line. The 22-year-old Mirza became the first Indian woman to climb into the top 40 in the rankings. At one time, the Muslim player was assailed by conservative elements of the Indian community for competing in short skirts and sleeveless shirts.
Former junior Australian Open champion Brydan Klein has been banned from the game for six months for racially abusing South African Raven Klaasen during an ATP event in England last month. The 19-year-old Australian also will undergo a racial sensitivity course and was fined USD $10,000 by the ATP. Australian media said Klein called Klaasen a “kaffir” and spat at his coach and another player. Klein earlier had been fined USD $13,290 by Tennis Australia, which suspended him from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and cut off his funding grants. “I sincerely regret my error in judgment in using the language I did and I am deeply sorry for the offense caused,” Australian Associated Press (AAP) quoted Klein as saying in a statement. “I am accepting the ATP’s ruling and am now looking to put the whole incident behind me. I will undergo a racial sensitivity course and am determined to learn from this mistake.” The suspension covers all ATP World Tour and ATP Challenger Tour events. The final two months of the suspension and extra fine will be waived if Klein successfully completes the racial sensitivity training course.
Jelena Dokic’s ailment has been diagnosed as mononucleosis. The illness has plagued Dokic since the end of the French Open. Blood tests taken after she lost at Wimbledon revealed the illness. She was told by doctors to do nothing but rest for at least two weeks. “I am disappointed to have to pull out of a couple of events, but I am also relieved to finally know what was wrong,” said Dokic, who once was ranked as high as fifth in the world before dropping off the tour with personal problems. “It has been so frustrating since the French. My natural work ethic is to get on court and train hard with intensity. I just haven’t been able to do that, and until now I didn’t know why.”
Todd Woodbridge is Australia’s new Davis Cup coach. A 16-time doubles Grand Slam tournament champion, Woodbridge has been appointed national men’s and Davis Cup coach in an expanded full-time role. Tennis Australia made the move in an effort to reverse the country’s flagging fortunes in the competition, which they have won 28 times, second only to the United States. Woodbridge is Australia’s longest serving Davis Cup player and was a member of the 1999 and 2003 Davis Cup winning teams. The country currently has only one player ranked in the top 100 in the world, Lleyton Hewitt. It ended its 2009 campaign by forfeiting a regional group tie against India earlier this year, claiming security concerns on the sub-continent.
SOME HELP NEEDED
Being that tweeting while playing is against the rules, Justin Gimelstob needed help to tweet during his doubles match at the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island. Gimelstob would write notes and give them to a ball girl who would run over to the side of the court where another person would post them on Gimelstob’s Twitter account. Some times he would mouth a few comments for the intern to post in between points. Most of the twittering was standard play-by-play recaps. “There’s so much competition for the entertainment dollar,” Gimelstob explained. “Fans want to know what goes on behind the scenes. Fans want to know what goes on in the players’ heads.”
The death of French tennis player Mathieu Montcourt has been attributed to cardiac arrest. Montcourt, who had just begun a five-week ban from tennis for gambling on other players’ matches, was found outside his apartment in Paris after he spent the evening at the home of Patrice Dominguez, technical director of the French Tennis Federation. Ranked 119th in the world, Montcourt was cleared of influencing the outcome of any of the matches he had bet on. He also had been fined USD $12,000 for the offense, which he called ridiculous since he had only bet a total of USD $192.
NH Hoteles has extended its sponsorship of Davis Cup by BNP Paribas for an additional three years. Originally a Spanish brand, NH Hoteles has grown to 348 hotels in 22 countries in Europe, Africa and the Americas. The International Tennis Federation (ITF), in making the announcement, noted that since NH Hoteles joined the Davis Cup family in 2004 as an international sponsor it has added 106 hotel properties to its portfolio.
Newport: Rajeev Ram and Jordan Kerr beat Michael Kohlmann and Rogier Wassen 6-7 (6) 7-6 (7) 10-6 (match tiebreak)
Bastad: Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta beat Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez 6-2 0-6 10-5 (match tiebreak)
Budapest: Alisa Kleybanova and Monica Niculescu beat Alona Bondarenko and Kateryna Bondarenko 6-4 7-6 (5)
Biarritz: Yung-Jan Chan and Anastasia Rodionova beat Akgul Amanmuradova and Darya Kustova 3-6 6-4 10-7 (match tiebreak)
SITES TO SURF
Bad Gastein: www.matchmaker.at/gastein/
Los Angeles: www.latennisopen.com/
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
$600,000 Catella Swedish Open, Bastad, Sweden, clay
$600,000 Mercedes Cup, Stuttgart, Germany, clay
$125,000 Bogota, Columbia, clay
$220,000 Internazionali Femminili di Tennis di Palermo, Palermo, Italy, clay
$220,000 ECM Prague Open, Prague, Czech Republic, clay
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$1,500,000 Bet-at-Home Open, Hamburg, Germany, clay
$600,000 Indianapolis Tennis Championships, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, hard
$220,000 Banka Koper Slovenia Open, Portoroz, Slovenia, hard
$220,000 Gastein Ladies, Bad Gastein, Austria, clay
Mondays With Bob Greene: I shocked myself with some of the winners I played, was near perfect tennis
Dinara Safina beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1 6-3 to win the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, Japan
Vera Zvonareva won the TOE Life Ceramics Guangzhou International Women’s Open in Guangzhou, China, by defeating Shuai Peng 6-7 (4) 6-0 6-2
Florent Serra beat Albert Montanes 6-4 6-3 to win the Pekao Open in Szczecin, Poland
Nuria Llagostera Vives beat Tsvetana Pironkova 6-2 6-3, winning the ITF women’s event in Sofia, Bulgaria
Stefan Edberg won the Trophee Jean-Luc Lagardere in Paris, France, by beating Sergi Bruguera 3-6 7-5 10-5 (match tiebreak)
“Today I play an almost perfect match and it is very, very exciting. Today I played very well. I shocked myself with some of the winners I played, was near perfect tennis.” – Rafael Nadal, after beating Andy Roddick 6-4 6-0 64 and giving Spain an unbeatable 3-1 lead over the United States in the Davis Cup semifinals.
“God knows how far I can get! I’ve played the best tennis I’ve ever played this week.” – Dinara Safina, after winning the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, her fourth title this year.
“I had the confidence to do this, and as we say in Russia, ‘If you don’t take risks, you don’t drink champagne.'” – Svetlana Kuznetsova, after upsetting Jelena Jankovic.
“I played well at the US Open and it is challenging to keep the intensity up after such a big event.” – Jelena Jankovic, after losing to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Pacific Open quarterfinals.
“One of my goals has always been to get as close as possible to the top and to make it to the Sony Ericsson Championships. Making it to Doha just shows me that I’ve been doing a few things right this season, so I am just very happy about my qualification.” – Elena Dementieva, after becoming the fifth player to qualify for the eight-player, season-ending Championships.
“It was an annoying call for me and I just asked him to change them, that’s all I did. Who knows, maybe I overreacted, but I was so irritated by the call because for me it was such an obvious call.” – Roger Federer, asking that the line judges be removed during his Davis Cup match against Belgium’s Kristof Vliegen.
“If Roger himself is complaining about the people, with the umpire and the line umpires … that is a really good sign to me that I was not the only one.” – Kristof Vliegen.
“That point was crucial. I hit a nice shot (on the replayed point), I felt different in the tiebreak, and I could turn it around.” – David Nalbandian, who got a break on a controversial call and went on to defeat Igor Andreev in the opening match of Argentina-Russia Davis Cup semifinal.
“It’s not only we who have the pressure. The chair umpire has the pressure of the crowd as well, and sometimes they make the wrong decision, but he is an experience umpire. I have to call it bad luck for me, but it did change the game.” – Russia’s Igor Andreev, who lost to Argentina’s David Nalbandian after a controversial call in the first-set tiebreak changed the momentum of their Davis Cup match.
“We’re looking for other partners. It’s a shame because we worked hard to try to make it work. It just didn’t quite click.” – Jamie Murray, on the breakup of his doubles partnership with Max Mirnyi.
“Everything you learn can also help you on faster courts and help you change strategies mid-match. I am looking forward to developing Australian youngsters into top tennis players.” – Spain’s Felix Mantilla, who has been hired to teach clay-court tennis to young Australian players.
“The only sport I do follow is tennis. Tennis is much more civilized, and civilization is something I search for in everything, every day.” – singer Tony Bennett.
Dinara Safina won her fourth Sony Ericsson WTA Tour singles title of the year by beating fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1 6-3 in the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, Japan. Since beginning the season with an 11-10 record, Safina has posted a 41-5 mark, reaching seven finals in nine events. With the win she becomes only the fifth Russian to crack the top three in the rankings, joining Anatasia Myskina, Maria Sharapova, Kuznetsova and Nadia Petrova. It also was the fifth all-Russian WTA Tour final of the year.
SHADOW FROM THE PAST
Kimiko Date-Krumm, who has returned to tennis after a 12-year hiatus, will compete in the AIG Japan Open Tennis Championships later this month. Once ranked as high as number four in the world, Date-Krumm turns 38 on the eve of the tournament. She has been playing on the ITF women’s circuit in Japanese tournaments only and her ranking has risen to 264th in the world.
Ivo Karlovic had 39 aces and 70 winners in his 7-6 (5) 6-4 6-7 (6) 7-6 (4) win over Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci, a victory that returned Croatia to the World Group for 2009. Roko Karanusic earned his first Davis Cup victory in his fourth attempt, beating Brazil’s Thiago Alves 7-6 (4) 4-6 7-6 (5).
In a rare show of frustration, Roger Federer asked that the line judges be changed after he felt he received a bad call in a Davis Cup match, leading to his losing serve and falling behind Belgium’s Kristof Vliegen 2-0 in the second set. The team of nine officials stayed on court until the next changeover, and they were booed by the partisan Swiss crowd as they left. After the new line judges were brought on, Federer won the next five games to take the set en route to his 7-6 (1) 6-4 6-2 first-day victory.
A controversial line call in another Davis Cup semifinal helped Argentina’s David Nalbandian defeat Russia’s Igor Andreev 7-6 (5) 6-2 6-4 in the opening match of the tie. Andreev was leading 4-2 in the first-set tiebreak when Nalbandian’s forehand hit the net cord and was called out. Andreev walked up to the mark in the clay and ringed it, but umpire Carlos Bernardes came down from his chair, inspected the mark and agreed with the line call. Instead of Andreev leading 5-2 with two minibreaks, they replayed the point, which Nalbandian won. The Argentine went on to win four of the next five points and the opening set.
Gigi Fernandez and Wendy White Prausa are among the four newest members of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Women’s Hall of Fame. Also inducted were Alice Luthy Tym, the former head coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and Janice Metcalf Cromer. Tym started the women’s team and served as its captain while an undergraduate at the University of Florida before playing internationally. Fernandez won 17 Grand Slam tournament doubles titles and two Olympic gold medals, while Prausa is the only women’s tennis player to turn pro during college and still graduate on time. Cromer was the first woman to play on the men’s team at the University of Redlands, helping lead the team to NAIA national championships in 1973 and ’74.
Jelena Jankovic keeps missing that top rung of the WTA Tour rankings. The Serb was ranked number one in the world for the first time in her career on August 11, but stayed there for only one week. She had another chance at the US Open, but lost the final to Serena Williams, who took over the top spot. The second-ranked Jankovic would have replaced Williams if she won the Pacific Open in Tokyo. But she lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova 2-6 7-5 7-5 in the quarterfinals.
SPOT IN DOHA
Elena Dementieva is the latest player to qualify for the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha, Qatar. Others who have qualified for the November 4-9 event are Jelena Jankovic, Serena Williams, Dinara Safina and Ana Ivanovic. The top eight singles players and top four doubles team will compete for the Championships title. Dementieva, the Olympic singles gold medalist, was a semifinalist at the US Open and is currently ranked number five in the world.
Alexander Peya defeated Britain’s Alex Bogdanovic 2-6 6-4 6-4 6-2 in the decisive fifth match to return Austria to the World Group for the sixth straight year. The tie was played at Wimbledon and it was Pey’s first Davis Cup win on grass in four attempts. Andy Murray had leveled the tie for Great Britain when he began the final day with a 6-4 5-7 6-4 6-1 win over Austria’s Jurgen Melzer.
Thiemo De Bakker lifted the Netherlands back into the World Group for the first time since 2006 by beating South Korea’s Woong-Sun Jun 6-2 6-1 6-3 in the decisive fifth rubber. Korean veteran Hyung-Taik Lee had leveled the tie 2-2 in the first reverse singles by stopping Jesse Huta Galung 1-6 6-1 7-6 (5) 6-2.
The doubles partnership of Jamie Murray and Max Mirnyi has ended after winning just one ATP title, that coming at Delray Beach, Florida, in February when they beat brothers Mike and Bob Bryan. The team of Murray and Mirnyi had a 15-17 record for the year, including first-round losses at three of the four Grand Slam tournaments.
The country that produced Rod Laver and Margaret Court among many tennis stars in the past is turning to Spain for its future. Tennis Australia has hired Felix Mantilla of Spain as a clay-court coach to work with its young players. The governing body also will add a clay-court facility in Barcelona, Spain, to its training bases in Canberra and London. Lleyton Hewitt and Chris Guccione are the only Australian men currently ranked in the top 100, while number 48 Casey Dellacqua and number 73 Samantha Stosur are the country’s top women.
The United States government’s takeover of American International Group Inc. won’t affect the sponsorship of the AIG Japan Open tennis tournament in Tokyo. AIG is the title sponsor of the men’s and women’s event that offers nearly USD $1 million in prize money. The US government received 80 percent of AIG’s shares in the USD $85 billion deal to rescue America’s largest insurer by assets.
The International Tennis Federation and Wilson Racquet Sports have extended their sponsorship agreement to include Wilson as the Official Ball of Davis Cup, Fed Cup and other ITF initiatives in a multi-year deal. Wilson has been involved in Davis Cup since 2002. Under this expanded agreement, Wilson will be the official ball for Davis Cup, Fed Cup and the ITF’s junior team competitions at the under-14 and under-16 level. In addition, Wilson will be the exclusive supplier of tennis rackets, shoes, clothing and accessories to the ITF Development Coaching Team.
The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) is breathing much easier now that AEGON has signed on to sponsor the sport over the next five years. The Scottish pensions and life assurance company has acquired the naming rights to tournaments in London, Eastbourne and Edgbaston. Beginning next June, the combined men’s and women’s event at Eastbourne will be renamed the AEGON International. Queens Club, formerly the Stella Artois, will be renamed the AEGON Championships, while the AEGON Classic will be played at Edgbaston.
Romanians Irina-Camelia Begu and Laura-Iona Andrei are doubles partners and opponents. And they’re successful at both. The 18-year-old Begu beat the top-seeded Andrei 7-5 6-1 to win the singles title at a recent USD $10,000 ITF tournament in Budapest, then teamed with Begu to win the doubles. Begu successfully defended her singles title and joined with Andrei to win the doubles at another ITF women’s event the week before in Brasov, Romania. In fact, Begu has won the doubles in her last five tournaments, teaming with Andrei at Budapest, Brasov and Bucharest, Romania; pairing with Elora Dabija at Hunedoara, Romania, and playing with Ioana Gaspar in another Bucharest tournament. All have been USD $10,000 clay-court events.
Three fans have been charged with riotous behavior and assaulting police at the Australian Open in January. According to police, the three men became aggressive when police attempted to remove one of them for shouting obscenities at Chile’s Fernando Gonzales during his match against Konstantinos Economidis of Greece. One of the men, a 24-year-old from a Melbourne, Australia, suburb, was also charged with resisting arrest and discharging a missile. The confrontation in the stands caused the match to be suspended for 10 minutes.
The Maria Sharapova Foundation Scholarship for Youth from the Chernobyl-Affected Areas of Belarus will award five-year scholarships to 12 students so they can study at two leading universities in Belarus. The program is a joint initiative of the tennis star’s foundation and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), where she serves as Goodwill Ambassador. Sharapova’s foundation has already contributed USD $100,000 to youth-oriented projects in the regions of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine that were affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident. Three incoming students will be awarded scholarships each year over an initial four-year period. The first scholarship recipients will begin their studies in September 2009.
Known for its shoes and clothing, Adidas is getting ready to include racquets in their line of tennis goodies. The first of the three racquets, the Adidas Barricade, will go on sale in February. The other two are called Response and Feather, as all three are named for the company’s tennis shoes. The three racquets will provide a racquet for every player level: tour player, club player and recreational player.
Tokyo: Vania King and Nadia Petrova beat Lisa Raymond and Samantha Stosur 6-1 6-4
Guangzhou: Mariya Koryttseva and Tatiana Poutchek beat Sun Tiantian and Yan Zi 6-3 4-6 10-8 (match tiebreak)
Sofia: Maret Ani and Renata Voracova beat Lourdes Dominguez-Lino and Arantxa Parra-Santonja 7-6 (4) 7-6 (9)
Szczecin: David Marrero and Dawid Olejniczak beat Lukasz Kubot and Oliver Marach 7-6 (4) 6-3
SITES TO SURF
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
$576,000 Thailand Open, Bangkok, Thailand, hard
$524,000 China Open, Beijing, China, hard
$120,000 ATP Challenger Trophy, Trnava, Slovakia
$600,000 China Open, Beijing, China, hard
$145,000 Hansol Korea Open, Seoul, Korea, hard
The Citadel Group Championships at the Palisades, Outback Champions, Charlotte, North Carolina, hard
Viviam Victory Challenge, Black Rock Tournament of Champions, Luxembourg, Luxembourg, hard
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$832,000 AIG Japan Open Tennis Championships, Tokyo, Japan, hard
$416,000 Open de Moselle, Metz, France, hard
$125,000 Ethias Trophy, Mons, Belgium, hard
$650,000 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, Stuttgart, Germany, hard
$175,000 AIG Japan Open Tennis Championships, Tokyo, Japan, hard
$145,000 Tashkent Open, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, hard
AFAS Tennis Classics, BlackRock Tournament of Champions, Eindhoven, Netherlands, carpet
NEW YORK – Despite flashes of flaws in his once-perfect game, Roger Federer moved a step closer Friday to his fifth consecutive US Open title.
Federer, playing in his first Grand Slam tournament in more than four years as anything other than as the number one seed, defeated Thiago Alves, a qualifier from Brazil, 6-3 7-5 6-4.
Friday produced yet another big upset in the women’s singles as Katarina Srebotnik knocked off third-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3 6-7 (1) 6-3. That came a day after the top seed, Ana Ivanovic, fell to qualifier Julie Coin.
“I think she served better than I did,” Kuznetsova said of Srebotnik. “She served so many aces. I had many chances, especially in the first set, but somehow I overdid it.”
Although Federer has moved into the third round on the hard courts of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center without dropping a set, against Alves he was shaky on his volleys and committed a bundle of unforced errors.
“I wasn’t comfortable at net from the start,” Federer said. “And in the second set, when it got tough, he dug out some shots and everything seemed to go against me on those break points.”
Against his outclassed opponent, Federer hit 54 winners. But he also had 46 unforced errors as he repeatedly missed the mark with his ground strokes and found the net with his volleys.
At times Federer appeared hesitant and his play was sloppy. He was caught in no-man’s land several times, and time and again found the net with his shots. He had problems closing out service breaks, allowing his opponent, a qualifier playing in only his second US Open, to stay around longer than most of the fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium had expected.
But when he needed a point, Federer showed he still is the player who has won 12 Grand Slam tournament titles. He never looked as if he was in trouble, and for the most part he held serve easily, using his well-placed serve to gain easy points.
“I was never really in danger, so it was actually pretty good for me,” he said. “I knew the longer the match would go the more tired he would get, so it was a good match for me.”
On match point, Federer whipped a half-volley forehand cross-court that landed on the sideline near the far corner. As the tournament’s defending champion raised his hand in triumph and the umpire began to intone “game, set and match,” Alves challenged the call and, smiling broadly, appeared to apologize to Federer for doing so.
The two stood at the net and watched together as a replay showed the ball landed squarely on the line. Federer again waved to the crowd. And again the crowd responded with a cheer.
“After everything I’ve got through already, these are the early round matches, so it will only get better from here,” Federer said. “Yeah, so I’m really happy to be playing well. Everybody’s cheering me on, so it’s a nice feeling.”
Federer says he’s not worried about his game, despite what he reads and hears in the media.
“I guess we’re talking about it today, and if I win the title you forget about it again. That’s usually how it goes,” he said.
Keeping pace with Federer was third-seeded Novak Djokovic, who advanced to the third round with a 7-6 (8) 6-4 6-4 victory over hard-hitting Robert Kendrick. Federer and Djokovic could meet in the semifinals.
Among the other early winners Friday included fifth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko, Fernando Gonzalez, Nicolas Almagro and Dmitry Tursunov.
In some of the other women’s singles played Friday, second-seeded Jelena Jankovic stopped China’s Zheng Jie 7-5 7-5 for a spot in the fourth round. She was joined by fifth-seeded Elena Dementieva, a 6-3 6-4 winner over Britain’s Anne Keothavong 6-3 6-4; Li Na of China, who ousted Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova 6-1 4-6 6-2; and Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, who eliminated 14th-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-4 6-4.