Toni Nadal

Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova’s Big Changes — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Big(ger) Changes

Champions are frequently known for their stubbornness.  Sometimes it refers to their unwillingness to surrender a loss quietly, but it also often refers to their refusal to re-tool any part of the game that has brought them so much success.  Unfortunately, that refusal can often hamper an athlete’s career, which is something that Roger Federer apparently plans to avoid.  Federer is playing this week in Hamburg with a new racquet.  His new stick features a 98 square-inch frame, which represents a significant change from the much smaller 90 square-inch frame he has used throughout his career.  The larger frame means a bigger sweet spot and additional power, both of which should help him better compete with the young guns on tour.  We’ll see how he fairs during this brief stint on the clay, but if he’s able to make the adjustment to the new racquet quickly, expect him to be right back in the thick of it for the summer hard court season.

Maria SharapovaTrue Grit

One of the more interesting off-court tidbits to hit the news this past week was the announcement of Jimmy Connors becoming Maria Sharapova’s new full-time coach.  The two briefly worked together five years ago but were unable to come to a financial agreement to make it a full-time gig.  Circumstances have changed in 2013, and the two are teaming up to become one of the most intriguing coach/player relationships in the game today.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  Both have strong egos and like to get things done their way, so it could flame out early.  But both also share the same inherit drive.  They’re both fighters who refuse to rollover in a match and will go to virtually any lengths – sometimes perhaps a little over the line of what’s considered proper – to come away with the win.  Both could feed off each other in those respects and prove quite the successful combo.  Sadly, fans will have to wait a little longer for this new partnership to make its debut, however, as Sharapova was forced to withdraw from the upcoming event in Stanford with a hip injury she sustained at Wimbledon.  But make no mistake.  This will be one of the key storylines to watch this summer.

False Hope

The good news is that the USTA has established a potential timeline for putting a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium by August 2016.  The bad news is that you probably have a better shot at winning the lottery than that timeline coming to fruition.  As usual, one of the biggest hurdles to putting a roof over Ashe Stadium stems from cost.  The USTA is already currently in the market for an owner representative for its $500-million expansion plan that doesn’t include a roof, meaning that if they were to shift efforts towards building a roof for Ashe, other projects, such as replacing Louis Armstrong Stadium and the Grandstand would be put on hold.  That’s a scenario that’s all the more unlikely when considering that the other issue facing Ashe is that it may not be able to support the weight of the roof in the first place.  So, while we can appreciate the USTA’s efforts to keep the roof possibility in the discussion, this once again appears to be much ado about nothing.

Egomaniac

At the front part of the week, in an interview with David Nadal, Toni Nadal told to the world that he talks to Rafa during matches and sees nothing wrong with it, because he figures he shouldn’t have to hide anything at his age.  Look, it’s common knowledge that Nadal, like some other players, receives illegal coaching from the stands.  And you could argue that such coaching frequently has little impact on the outcome of a match.  But nobody wins when Toni Nadal announces that he has no problem being a cheat – and as the generally willing recipient of his instructions, one could argue so is his nephew by extension.  Such an admission shows disrespect to the ATP and its rules.  It shows disrespect to Nadal’s opposition.  It teaches young up-and-comers that it’s okay to cheat, and most importantly, it hurts Rafa Nadal.  As previously noted, Rafa is no doubt one of the best in the history of the game, and he doesn’t need to use cheap tricks to accomplish great feats.  Utilizing illegal tactics should be beneath him and his camp, and it shouldn’t be tolerated.  Though unlikely, it would be nice if after this admission, the ATP would enforce some sort of discipline on the older Nadal to show that nobody, no matter how big the star they coach or their age, is above the rules.

Back for More

The terrorizing doll Chucky is making a return to movies, and as it happens, so is the woman Mary Carillo once referred to as Chucky, Martina Hingis.  Whether to promote her relatively recent clothing line, provide a distraction from the cheating allegations leveled at her by her estranged husband, or just for love of the game, the newly-elected Hall of Famer is planning to team with Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia at the Southern California Open.  Hingis continues to show that she has great hands around the net, and veteran Hantuchova has also proven worth her salt in the doubles arena as well.  If this partnership proves successful, perhaps we’ll be treated to a little more enthralling tennis from these two down the road.

ATP Stuttgart: Kohlschreiber to Take on Fognini in Final; Mercedes Cup to Switch to Grass

(July 13, 2013) Another sunny and hot day in Stuttgart began with a fully-packed program off the courts.

In the morning, the organizers of the Mercedes Cup presented their “Vision 2015”, the year when the tournament’s surface will switch from clay to grass. Themed by “Mercedes Cup serves green”, a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony took place with tournament director Edwin Weindorfer along local politicians, sponsors, guests like Boris Becker and Toni Nadal as well as officials from the ATP and the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, which supports the replacement at the venue with their know-how during the coming years.

Ground breaking Ground breaking II“We were delighted when Stuttgart came very fast out of blocks in terms of expressing their interest in converting the tournament here from clay to grass,” said the club’s Chairman, Philip Brook. “We are very excited as Stuttgart will be a very important tournament ahead of the All England Championships.”

The Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart has been the only candidate so far, where the ATP accepted the tender for the new calendar structure featuring a three weeks grass court season before Wimbledon. Other applicants like the tournaments in Gstaad and Umag have to readjust their candidature.

Laurent Delanney of the ATP congratulated the tournament on their decision: “I think it is a great success for Stuttgart and the fans!” Right after the end of this year’s edition of the Mercedes Cup the alteration work on the first three courts will start.

Delanney CEO ATP EuropeAnother off-court highlight was a tennis practice session for kids on Centre Court under the special direction of Toni Nadal and Andrea Petkovic.

Practice session with Petkovic & NadalThe Spanish coach has attended the entire week here in Stuttgart to take part in a project called “Making of a Wimbledon Champion.” Moreover, a junior tournament took place with a couple of German youngsters in which the 18-year-old Maximilian Marterer took the title. Properly more important for him is the fact that he will be granted a wild card for the 2015 grass court premiere of the tournament.

In match play, the first contest of the day took place between Fabio Fognini and Roberto Bautista-Agut. The Italian, who knocked out top-seed Tommy Haas in the round before, played his 11th career ATP World Tour semi-final of which he only reached three previous finals.

Bautista-Agut played his second career semi-final after reaching the stage of the last four in Chennai earlier this year. Today, both players made a nervous start and the match began with three breaks in a row. Fognini, however, managed to find his rhythm quickly. The Italian had better length in his shots, put more variety in his groundstrokes and became the more dominant player throughout the match.

Fognini gained two more breaks in the fifth and seventh game to close the first set out after 22 minutes. Bautista on the other hand remained to be an unforced error machine in the second frame as well. Consequently the 25-year-old Spaniard lost his first service game and was only able to hold one after 35 minutes in the fourth game of the second set. It was the time when you might have thought that this could work as a wake-up-call for Bautista, as he could gain the break back in the seventh game but still couldn’t stabilise his play in general. Most of the time Fognini just needed to keep the ball in play to win the rallies.

The 26-year-old Italian broke serve in the eighth game to close the match out winning 6-1, 6-3 after 55 minutes. Fognini has joined his countryman Andrea Gaudenzi as only the second Italian to reach the final in Stuttgart since 1994.

FogniniAfter the encounter, Fognini was understandably happy. “During the first days it was difficult with the transition from grass to clay court but I improved day by day,” said the Italian. “Today, I think I played very solid and I hope to play like this in tomorrow’s final.”

He also told his thoughts about playing on grass here in two years time. “It’s strange and I can’t really imagine it by now. When you have a look around everything is red but when I come back in two years it will be on grass and that’s ok, as I like the courts and the hospitality.”

Fognini IIHe also enjoyed playing in front of the German crowd, which seems to like his style of play and supports him, but he was quick to note his next opponent’s advantage. “If I play Kohlschreiber in tomorrow’s final, I think it will change but nonetheless I hope that I can finally win my first title on the Tour”.

In tomorrow’s final Fognini will have to face the German. Philipp Kohlschreiber broke a five-match losing streak against Gael Monfils yesterday and continued his success today defeating Victor Hanescu in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3.

In front of a fully packed centre court with 4,200 spectators, the 29-year-old from Augsburg showed a consistent baseline game, broke his opponent’s service in the fifth and ninth game of the opening set. In the following game, Kohlschreiber had to fight harder and it became an even encounter when Hanescu played up his game.

In the end it was the second seed, who gained the decisive break in the eighth game to eventually close the match out after 80 minutes of play. Kohlschreiber becomes the first German to reach the final in Stuttgart after Tommy Haas did so in 1999.

KohlschreiberKohlschreiber was glad that he was able to stick to his game tactic. “I played aggressively with a lot of spin in my shots,” said the German after his win. “That’s what (Hanescu) obviously didn’t like. I’m really satisfied with my performance today and that I could win the decisive points.”

About his opponent in the final he added, “Fognini has played a strong season so far this year, in particular on clay where he reached the semis in Monte Carlo amongst others. I think there will be no favourite in tomorrow’s final.”

Kohlschreiber also mentioned the Mercedes for the champion with a smile, “Maybe the possibility of winning the car might be the right incentive for me.”

In the second doubles semi-final Facundo Bagnis & Tomaz Bellucci defeated Dustin Brown & Paul Hanley winning 6-7, 6-4, 10-6 after one hour and thirty minutes of play.

Bagnis & Bellucci

Andy Roddick’s New Gig; Toni Nadal Stirs Roland Garros Controversy — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Greener Pastures

Though Roland Garros has yet to get underway, some of the game’s biggest stars are already dreaming of the green lawns of the All England Club. Both Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro suffered major blows when they were forced to withdraw from the French Open. The decision by both to skip the second slam of 2013, though sad, is hardly a shock. Murray had already hinted last week in Rome that due to his bad back he was more apt to be absent in Paris than present. As for del Potro, his withdrawal came courtesy of an unfortunate respiratory virus that plagued him earlier in the clay court season and developed into a nasty case of bronchitis. He’s wisely opted to listen to his medical team and skip the French Open in order to put himself in the best possible position to finish the second half of the season strongly. Both men will be missed, but both made the right decisions when it comes to the bigger picture.

New Gig

Andy Roddick hasn’t been retired for a full year, but the American is already set to trade in his racquet for a microphone as he prepares to delve into the world of sports broadcasting. Roddick won’t be covering just tennis either. He’s going to be a co-host of Fox Sports Live – Fox Sports’ answer to ESPN’s SportsCenter – which will debut on Fox Sports 1` on August 17. It will be a full-time gig for Roddick, who will appear on the show 4-5 nights a week. The American sounds excited about his new job, and he has the right attitude with his willingness to put in the hard yards and learn what it takes to become a top notch broadcaster. It’s hard to envision a scenario where this doesn’t work out well for Roddick. He’s always been a candid individual, and he’s generally been quick witted, be it at a press conference or clowning around in an exhibition. He’s bound to prove a natural and provide fans with plenty of enjoyment once again.

Running Scared?

It’s a dangerous business to question the legitimacy of a player’s withdrawal when he or she cites illness. It’s arguably even more dangerous when that player is Maria Sharapova, who is known for being one of the fiercest competitors on the WTA. But there’s no denying that Sharapova’s abrupt pullout from Rome last week deserved a few raised eyebrows. The Russian withdrew before her quarterfinal match against Sara Errani citing an illness she claimed she’d first had in Madrid and that suddenly reared its ugly head again Thursday night. Over the course of the two premiere events, however, Sharapova showed no signs of a physical ailment. In fact, she was all smiles as she wrote a birthday message to boyfriend Dimitrov after thrashing Stephens the evening before she withdrew. Could it be she really wanted to avoid potential meetings with nemesis Azarenka, or more likely, her personal bogeyman Serena? Based on Sharapova’s track record of competitiveness, it’s worth giving her the benefit of the doubt her withdrawal was rooted in illness and not fear. Even if it were just a hint of queasiness, with a major around the corner – one where she’s defending champion – she can be forgiven for wanting to rest. But her premature departure from Rome certainly provided food for thought and only makes the likelihood of her turning around her dismal record against Serena seem all the more remote.

Off Switch

Another member of the Nadal Camp made headlines this past week, as Rafael Nadal’s uncle and coach, Toni Nadal, named his favorites for the French Open. In contrast to his nephew’s absurd insistence that he’s never the favorite for anything, Toni wisely named Rafa as one of the top picks to leave with some hardware. But what had some up in arms was not only Toni Nadal’s insistence that Federer was not a favorite, but that players like Ferrer and possibly Berdych or even Dimitrov had better odds. Granted, Federer is not going to be a heavy favorite, and at this stage in his career, he’s going to be more susceptible to the early upset. But he’s in with just as much of a chance, if not more so, than many of the guys Uncle Toni named, especially if they all reach the business end of things. Toni Nadal’s comments also mark the second time in three months that he’s taken what can arguably be construed as a dig at the Swiss No.1. It’s times like these when it would be nice if Rafa would put a muzzle on his uncle. Peter Bodo wrote an article on Tennis.com suggesting just that. He referenced how over the course of Rafa’s career, it seems it’s the “machine” (aka, Uncle Toni) controlling the man, rather than the other way around. It’s time for Rafa to take control and sit on his uncle. Toni Nadal’s comments only detract from his nephew. No other coach feels the need to elaborate the way he does. Perhaps he should take a page out of their books and go back to just focusing on the x’s and o’s where his charge is concerned.

Game of Inches

Look at a monstrosity like Arthur Ashe Stadium, and tennis players appear to have an abundance of room in which to run and hit. But when you really look at the game of tennis, it all boils down to mere inches. That was definitely the case in the quirkiness surrounding Virginia’s upset win over top seed UCLA to take home the NCAA men’s title. The win came courtesy of Mitchell Frank’s come-from-behind win over Adrien Puget. The pivotal point – a match point for Puget – occurred when Puget was called for touching the net. It turned out to be a costly touch, especially since Frank’s pass on that match point missed in the wind. Momentum switched to Frank, and that was all she wrote. Afterwards, Frank was quoted as saying, “I’m glad he touched the net. A couple of inches can make the difference.” No truer words were ever spoken.

Toni Nadal on Being Tough on Rafa; Believes Jerzy Janowicz Can Be Future No. 1

April 7, 2013Toni Nadal, the uncle and long time coach of Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal, was the distinguished guest speaker at a tennis coaches’ conference today. The Babolat-sponsored  event was held in the city of Katowice as part of the BNP Paribas Katowice Open stop of the WTA Tour.

“Uncle Toni” — as he’s adoringly known to the tennis world — addressed subjects from junior tennis, to being a tough coach on his nephew Rafa, and even gave his thoughts on Polish tennis player Jerzy Janowicz‘s ascension.

Toni began by addressing the age he believes kids should begin playing tennis, despite his own nephew starting at a younger age.

“The optimal age to start tennis training is 5 or 6 years old. That way the kid has a lot of options and time to learn the game,” he stressed. “I started to work with Rafael when he was three years old. However, you don’t need to necessarily start that early. Rafael was always willing to train, I never had to force him. He’s just passionate about sports. With that same desire, he liked to practice soccer and now – when he can – also golf.”

Tennis fans are familiar with Uncle Toni’s tough coaching ways with his nephew, but just how hard was he on Rafa and did it ever interfere with home life?

“I was tough on him, but not excessively so,” stated Toni. “It didn’t matter that I was his uncle. Actually, it’s even better that way as I could afford doing certain things that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do if I wasn’t (family) … There were also difficult times for both of us. But our close kinship (as player and coach) never did and still hasn’t interfered with our personal relationship. We have a great relationship in the family.”

The first of Rafael’s 53 titles coincidentally came in the city of Sopot, Poland in 2004, and it was a revelation for the family.

“I remember it perfectly, because Rafael was fighting for a long time with injury before this tournament,” stated Toni. “His victory was unbelievable.”

According to Uncle Toni, Rafael started playing professional tournaments at the tender age of 16 and because he “had to compete against players that were much stronger, he did  a lot of running around the court.” It wasn’t until he was 19-20 years old that Rafa really “began to make his own decisions,” said Toni. But despite this increased independence, Toni still dictates numerous parts of his nephew’s game: “Now I demand that (Rafa) be much more aggressive than he used to be.”

But don’t be fooled. “(Rafa) is well aware of what he has to do to stay at the top,” concluded Uncle Toni.

He then shifted gears and commented on breakout Polish player who currently ranked 24th in the world, Jerzy Janowicz. Last October in Paris, the 22-year-old shocked the competition as he reached his first Masters final while ranked 69th in the world.

“There have been no changes at the top of (men’s) tennis the last few years. The same players play in the finals of all the big events. But I saw (Jerzy) Janowicz during the tournament in Paris. He’s a young and talented player. I believe that he is among the group of players who in the future, may become the world number one.”

(Translation from Polish provided by @Rob_pal)

Let Rafael Nadal’s tennis do the talking; US Open prize money increase — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Cut the Bull

Rafael Nadal’s fans had plenty to celebrate last weekend (and rightfully so) as their man won the prestigious Indian Wells title. But count me among the number of fans that were left feeling a little frustrated at how things unfolded. It wasn’t that Nadal won. He thoroughly deserved it. He played phenomenal tennis, chasing down balls that would have been winners against most players, and he moved around that backhand beautifully to bully his opponents with his legendary forehand. The problem is, we were constantly told he couldn’t do that yet. Leading up to and throughout Indian Wells, Nadal and his camp harped on the knee and his layoff, insisting that he wasn’t capable of producing such a high level of tennis even as match after match proved quite the opposite. It was particularly annoying to hear him essentially use the knee as a preemptive excuse should he lose to Federer in their quarterfinal clash, even though it was obvious Federer was the more hobbled of the two. This brings us to Toni Nadal’s most recent controversial comments. Nadal’s uncle and coach felt the need to insist that his nephew has been in more pain in losses he’s suffered to Federer than Federer was in his loss to Nadal last week. (How would Toni know?) Then there was his ludicrous notion that Ferrer was not only more of a favorite to win Roland Garros than Federer, but a favorite at all. (Ferrer himself doesn’t believe he can win a major.) One can only assume Toni’s comments are meant to make Rafa’s most recent victories over these opponents seem bigger than they were, but none of this is necessary. Nadal is one of the greatest to have played the game. Deflecting the pressure by bringing up injuries is nothing but a copout. It’s a disservice to the fans that can clearly see how he’s playing, and judging by the comments of some of his fellow peers, they’re also getting a little tired of the injury talk. That’s why just once, it would be nice if Nadal and his team would cut the bull and let Nadal’s tennis do the talking. They’d find it more than sufficient.

Knocking at the Door

Lost in the hullabaloo of Nadal’s title run was the respectable tournament that Juan Martin del Potro put together at the year’s first Masters. The Argentine defeated Murray and Djokovic back-to-back to reach the final and very nearly did the same to Nadal in the championship match. Del Potro showed signs of returning to his 2009 form at the end of last season, but it’s looking more and more like he’s ready to make another move with his play at Indian Wells. He still isn’t able to go after the backhand as much as he’d like thanks to a suspect wrist, but it’s getting better. He’s also using more variety, as he recognizes that it will take more than just brute force if he’s to break up the Big 4. If Del Potro can continue is upward trend, men’s tennis is about to get even more interesting with the Argentine’s game a tough matchup for any of the guys ranked ahead of him.

Progress at Last

It’s taken a lot of grumbling, patience, and “spirited discussions”, but it seems that the USTA is ready to listen to the demands of the players. The USTA has finally come to accept that the “Super Saturday” format is no longer compatible with the modern game, and beginning in 2015, the US Open’s scheduling will fall more in line with that of the other three majors. In order to make this possible, the USTA has also agreed to stage the opening rounds of the men’s event over the course of just two days, instead of three. Equally important to the scheduling is the welcomed news that the USTA plans to increase their prize money to $50 million by 2017. This should go a long way towards appeasing the players’ complaints that they don’t currently receive a satisfactory share of the profits. Now, if only we could get a roof over Ashe Stadium – something unlikely to happen any time soon due to cost, but something the USTA is starting to realize may be a possibility down the road. One can dream!

Following Suit

Shortly after the announcement pertaining to the US Open’s prize money increase, Roland Garros also came out with the welcomed news that they, too, intend to increase their prize purse. Though not as much as the $50 million put forth by the USTA, Roland Garros Tournament Director Gilbert Ysern assured everyone that they will increase prize money “spectacularly” between 2013 and 2016. It’s unclear if players are happy with the extent of the change. Justin Gimelstob, an ATP Board Member, stated the players would review the increase along with the French Open’s expansion plans, as they may feel that some of the money being directed towards expansion should instead be going into players’ pockets. Of course, money may not need to be directed towards expansion any time soon, with a Paris judge putting the current plans on hold over concerns that they don’t meet environmental regulations. So, this isn’t over, but at least as far as the prize money is concerned, it’s a step in the right direction.

History Repeating

It’s no secret that Jennifer Capriati had a troubled childhood, and now it seems those problems have carried well into adulthood. On Wednesday in Florida, the 2012 Hall of Fame Inductee was charged with stalking and battery. She allegedly punched her ex-boyfriend, Ivan Brannan, on Valentine’s Day while he was working out at a gym. In addition to punching him, Brannan is claiming that she has stalked him since they broke up in 2012. If the charges prove to be true, they will mark another sad chapter in the American’s life. Depending on how it all shakes out, it may also be interesting to chart whether or not there are calls to revoke her place in the Tennis Hall of Fame.