title drought

Andy Murray’s Mum Wins Him Prizes – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

No Coach, No Problem – It’s been mere weeks since the news broke that Murray was sacking Maclagan as his coach. The decision didn’t come as a surprise given the relative slump that he’s endured throughout the bulk of 2010. But what did come as a bit of a surprise is the recent resurgence in his game that has come right on the heels of going solo with just a few notes from mum (who does know a thing or two about the game). His most recent results have included a finals appearance in Los Angeles, and more importantly, successfully defending his crown at the Rogers Cup just last week. The young Scot produced some of the best play to come off his racquet in recent memory, taking that Masters 1000 title with wins over the red-hot Nalbandian, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer. It will be interesting to see how he fairs in Cincy, but there’s little doubt that in spite of the fact he’s without a coach, he’s perhaps never looked more ready to end the major title drought for Great Britain.

Swan Song? – Earlier this week, James Blake announced that following the conclusion of the US Open, he would be taking a break from the sport to assess where he is in his career. No one could really find this piece of news shocking based on how his 2010 season has unfolded, which includes a recent thumping by Denis Istomin in the first round of Cincinnati this week. Blake’s ultimate goal is to take off enough time to hopefully recuperate and be able to log in more practice hours in the future, but he has admitted that his patience is being tried, and his career may be over sooner than anticipated. Blake is a nice guy who deserves to go out on his own terms and on a high note, but if you’re in a position to attend the final Slam of the year, you might go see Blake while you still can. This could very well be his last appearance in the Big Apple.

Additions to the WTA DL – After reaching the finals of Cincinnati, Russian Maria Sharapova was forced to pull out of the event in Montreal with a foot injury. The injury was acquired in her finals loss to Kim Clijsters (though hats off to Kim for fending off match points to emerge with the title). No word yet on how this will impact her chances at the US Open. The same goes for Serb Ana Ivanovic, who is suffering from some strained ligaments around the ankle. It’s an unfortunate injury given that Ivanovic was finally starting to make a bit of headway as far as rebuilding her rankings and confidence, but it’s better than the fracture she initially thought she was had. She is still holding out hope of making an appearance this coming week, and hopefully both of these young starlets will be able to wow fans with their presence in New York in just under two weeks time.

Additions to the ATP DL – With just under two weeks to go until the final major of the year, John Isner and Denis Istomin find themselves in a fitness race to be ready to go in the Big Apple. Both men sustained foot injuries in their matches on Wednesday at the Cincy Masters 1000 event. The severity of the injuries is unknown, but Isner wasn’t taking any chances, pulling out of the doubles as well. Isner has put together a nice season and has a real opportunity to raise his ranking even more with a good showing at the Open. Istomin, for his part, is an up-and-comer to watch and might well have been ready for a breakout performance at the last major of the year. Fingers crossed that both men make a full recovery and end the Grand Slam season with a bang.

Out of the Running – Justine Henin is out for the season as a result of the injury she sustained when she fell at this year’s Wimbledon Championships. The Belgian stated that while things are progressing, she won’t even be able to start practicing again until October. This has to be a disappointment, especially when considering the way her season began, but she’s certainly struggled since reaching the finals of the Australian Open. Perhaps this break will give Henin a chance to regroup and wage a more successful, and consistent, campaign in 2011.

THE FRIDAY FIVE: IVANOVIC THE NEW FRAULEIN FOREHAND?

By Maud Watson

The New Fraulein Forehand? – A couple of weeks ago I criticized Serb Ana Ivanovic for appearing to disrupt the balance by focusing on too many off court activities while her tennis career was in a fast downward spiral. Today I must applaud her for once again seeking a full time coach, and a good one at that. Ivanovic has hired Steffi Graf’s former coach Heinz Gunthardt. Granted, each individual player has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, but given the champion player that Steffi Graf evolved into under the tutelage of Gunthardt, there’s reason to believe that Ivanovic may soon find her game back on track.

Career Resurrected – Nearly 7 years ago, Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero was on top of the world. He’d won Roland Garros, reached the finals of the US Open, and achieved the No. 1 ranking. Then, a bad bout of chicken pox and other miscellaneous injuries saw his ranking fall off the map. Nearly the forgotten man, it would be 6 years before he’d break his title drought with a tournament win at Casablanca in 2009. After a shaky start to 2010, El Mosquito has won Brasil and Buenos Aires back-to-back and has put in a good showing in Acapulco. His ranking is now in the top 20, with a realistic chance of being inside the top 10 for Roland Garros. It’s nice to see his hard work pay off, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll add another Slam to his resume before he hangs up the racquet.

Shakin’ with Shakira – While allowing his knee to recuperate, Rafael Nadal had a bit of fun making it on the small screen. The famous Spaniard teamed up with Colombian pop sensation Shakira to shoot a steamy music video for her new single Gypsy, which will be out this coming April. Don’t let too many tongues start wagging, however. Both are in long-term relationships and deny that there is anything going on between the two of them.

Cautious Federer – It’s rare to see the Swiss maestro pull out of an event due to injury or illness, but that’s exactly what Roger Federer was forced to do at Dubai this week. The 16-time Grand Slam winner is suffering from a lung infection. He hopes to be back at Indian Wells, but he’s making no promises. You can’t argue with Federer’s cautious approach. After all, part of what has allowed him to build such a stellar legacy is his relative good health and lack of injuries over the course of his career. That doesn’t happen by accident. He’s nearly always been excellent in setting his schedule and recognizing when his body needs to rest. This time is no exception.

Tomic Makes the Team – Due to a combination of his improving results and Hewitt’s unavailability for Davis Cup duty, Aussie Bernard Tomic has now become the youngest player to be named to an Australian Davis Cup squad. There’s no doubt that Tomic has the talent to make it to the top, but his attitude and meddlesome father have caused him more than his share of troubles in his young career. Perhaps a dose of maturity and a good showing for his adopted homeland will do much to improve his image and serve as a springboard to greater success.

THOMAZ BELLUCCI: MAN ON A MISSION

As the dust settles and the tears dry following Roger Federer’s whitewashing of Andy Murray in Melbourne the ATP marches on.

Last week saw ATP 250 Tournaments held in Zagreb, Croatia, Johannesburg, South Africa and Santiago, Chile. It is testament to the worldwide appeal that tennis holds so strongly.

The giant Marin Cilic took his home title for the second consecutive year and Feliciano Lopez ended his six-year title drought in Johannesburg. But in Santiago, a little-known Brazilian was taking the plaudits following a 6-2, 0-6, 6-4 victory over the Argentinean Juan Monaco.

South American tournaments are always interesting given the political histories between many of the nations crammed in to the vast island and Thomaz Bellucci will revel in the defeat of one of the “old enemy” to lift the title.

Standing at 6 ft. 2 the left hander considers his serve and forehand as his main strengths and has a powerful repertoire of shots to back this up.

The No. 3 seed had an impressive march to the final. He overcame the likes of Nicolas Lapentti and home favorites Paul Capdeville and reigning Champion Fernando Gonzalez as well as beating another Argentinean Eduardo Schwank on route to facing Monaco.

It was a second title in a five-year career for the 22-year-old following his victory at Gstaad last August. It has lifted him to a career-high rank of No. 28 in the world and has made him the first Brazilian since Gustavo Kuerten in 2004 to hold a top 50 ranking.

Thomaz Cocchiarali Bellucci was born on December 30, 1987, in Tiete, Brazil. His father, Ildebrando, was a salesman while his mother, Maria Regina, owned her own business. Bellucci began playing tennis at a young age and started well. Two weeks after turning 17, he reached a career-high juniors ranking of No. 15 in the world in January 2005.

He then began playing the ATP Challenger Circuit where he registered numerous victories to help propel him in to the world Top 100. He began 2007 ranked No. 582 but a meteoric rise saw him end the year No. 202 with his best results two losing final appearances in Challenger Events in Ecuador and Columbia.

The 2008 season was when people began to hear his name more regularly. He picked up four ATP Challenger titles, all clay. He also qualified for the French Open for the first time where he lost to Rafael Nadal. But at Wimbledon, he saw his first Grand Slam match victory, overcoming Igor Kunitsyn in four sets before losing to the German Simon Stadler in round two.

Thomaz opened 2009 well by overcoming former world No. 1 and 2003 French Open Champion Juan Carlos Ferrero in the quarterfinals of the Brasil Open before losing to Tommy Robredo in the final.

But in August he went one better. After qualifying for the Swiss Open in Gstaad he beat local favorite Stanislas Wawrinka, former world No. 4 Nicolas Keifer, and two-time tournament runner-up Igor Andreev on his way to victory. Beginning the tournament ranked at No. 119 in the world he leapt 53 spots to No. 66 as a result of his victory.

In October, he then reached his first hard-court ATP semifinal, losing to Olivier Rochus at the Stockholm Open in four sets, and was by-now an established member of the Brazilian Davis Cup squad.

The 2010 season has again begun well for the Brazilian. He reached the quarterfinals at Brisbane before being edged out 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-7(3) by the Czech Thomas Berdych before losing to Andy Roddick in the second round of the Australian Open, his best record at the tournament to date.

Now ranked at No. 28 in the world following his victory in Santiago, his next goal is to push towards the top 20. He will have high hopes for the French later this year as he considers clay his best surface and he will no doubt have the samba passion of Brazil behind him as they look for the successor to three-time French Open Champion Gustavo Kuerten’s crown.

He will be looking to improve on his 34-37 career win record and adding to a pot already worth nearly $800,000. Look out for the name Thomaz Bellucci in 2010, there could be some surprises in store.