tournament of champions

WTA Stars Create Their Own “Off-Season”

If Serena Williams’ troublesome foot does, in fact, keep her out for the remainder of the tennis season, seven of the world’s top 20 women will have checked out post-U.S. Open due to injury or illness. And there could be more “out-for-the-season” announcements to come.

Already Venus Williams, Justine Henin, Nadia Petrova, Agnieszksa Radwanska, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Maria Sharapova have thrown in the towel, but Na Li and Kim Clijsters have also struggled with injuries lately. With the WTA Championships in Doha and the Bali Tournament of Champions fast approaching, you can bet tournament organizers are hoping to avoid any more withdrawals.

It seems many of the top players are going to take a break whether it’s on the calendar or not. Complaints about the length of the professional tennis season are nothing new, but the women’s schedule is already about three weeks shorter than the men’s (though the ATP is scheduled to vote on shortening theirs as well).

Injuries are unavoidable, but you have to wonder whether some of those seven women would pull themselves together if the WTA year-end championships or the Tournament of Champions in Bali (which includes several more top players) fell under the Grand Slam heading.

Admittedly, the WTA does everything it can to make their season ending event an attractive tour stop. The champion in Doha stands to rake in $1.5 million, which is more than the winner’s earnings in two of the four Grand Slams. But prize money alone can’t create interest from players or fans.

When the U.S. Open wraps up in early September, most casual tennis followers join the injured players and set their sites on next season. So why not shorten the time between the final Grand Slam and the year-end championships? Why not see if it’s possible to ride the wave of U.S. Open interest? Not only would that extend the off-season for the top players, but there would be a greater chance that those invited to participate would tough it out in order to compete.

It wouldn’t be necessary to shorten the overall calendar. Just let the second tier players fight it out through mid-November for prize money and ranking points. Fall is likely their favorite time of the year anyway with many of their toughest opponents having already packed it in. Those players have undoubtedly survived long seasons as well, but consider the difference between Caroline Wozniacki and say, No. 37 Agnes Szavay. Both have played 21 tournaments to date, but the world No. 1 has played 22 more matches.

The problem with the tennis off-season, no matter when it starts, is that players not named Venus or Serena Williams can’t afford (or don’t think they can afford) to take a month or two away from the game when that may be what’s most needed for full physical and psychological rejuvenation.

Professional football and baseball players, for instance, are given training camps to get back in playing shape after their long off-seasons, but tennis requires constant practice. A player can certainly get some rest in November and December, but very few can step away completely without suffering the consequences when tournament play ramps up in January.

As it stands currently, Caroline Wozniacki, Serena Williams (yes, she’s still officially the mix), Kim Clijsters, Jelena Jankovic, Elena Dementieva, Francesca Schiavone, Sam Stosur, and Vera Zvonareva will begin round robin play in Doha on October 26th.

Interestingly, only four of this year’s scheduled competitors (Wozniacki, Dementieva, Jankovic and Williams) played the tournament last year. The handful of new faces could allow for some end-of-season surprises.

An additional eight players including Yanina Wickmayer, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Daniela Hantuchova, Alisa Kleybanova and defending champion Aravane Rezai will compete in the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions in Bali on November 4th. Na Li has also qualified for the tournament, but will earn a spot in Doha if Serena pulls out as expected. Ana Ivanovic, who is just coming off her first title in two years, also gained entry as a wildcard.

By Blair Henley

Tennis in the Commonwealth – Katie O’Brien New British No. 1; Alicia Molik Ends Retirement

By Leigh Sanders

* Andy Murray of Great Britain has picked up his sixth title in 2009 after he defeated Russian Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 6-2 in the final of the Valencia Open. The top seed was playing his first tournament for six weeks after recovering from a wrist injury and he will be delighted to have returned to the court in such style. Murray broke the Russian early on in the first set and never looked back, taking his fourteenth career title. It serves as perfect preparation for the upcoming ATP World Tour Finals in London, England, later this month. Along the way, he saw off local favorite Fernando Verdasco as well as seeing through a tricky encounter with the Argentine Leonardo Mayer.

*World No. 1 and 2 (doubles) players Daniel Nestor of Canada and Nenad Zimonjic ended their recent run of early round defeats to win the Davidoff Swiss Indoor doubles championship in Basel. It is the third time Nestor has won here, having done so with long-time partner Mark Knowles in 2003 and 2006. They ended the hopes of Pakistani Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and the American James Cerretani in round two and the final saw them comprehensively beat the formidable Bryan brothers 6-2, 6-3. Australian Paul Hanley was eliminated in the first round with his partner Simon Aspelin of Sweden.

*The doubles is also underway in Paris with huge interest for Commonwealth tennis fans. Canadian Daniel Nestor and his partner Nenad Zimonjic are set to face the French pair Arnaud Clement/Michael Llodra in round two after a first-round bye was given to all seeded teams. India’s Leander Paes and partner Lukas Dlouhy also had a first round bye and line up against Jordan Kerr of Australia and the American Travis Parrott after they defeated Martin Damm and Jonathan Erlich 6-3, 6-4 in round one. Fifth seeds Wesley Moodie (South Africa) and Dick Norman prepare for a second round encounter with Spanish duo Marcel Granollers and Tommy Robredo after they overcame US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro and Fernando Gonzalez 7-6(2), 6-2 in their first round match. Another Aussie, Paul Hanley, and his Swedish partner Simon Aspelin claimed a huge first-round scalp as they overcame the French pairing of Jeremy Chardy/Gilles Simon. They now face the third seeds Mahesh Bhupathi (India) and Mark Knowles (Bahamas) as they enter the action. The only Commonwealth player to taste defeat at the first hurdle was South Africa’s Jeff Coetzee who, with partner Marcelo Melo, went down 3-6, 4-6 to the home-grown pair of Julien Benneteau and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

*Australia’s Samantha Stosur failed to progress past the group stages of the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions in Bali, Indonesia, after winning one and losing one of her Group B round robin matchups. She was narrowly edged out of her opening encounter 7-6(4), 7-5 by Spaniard Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. Despite then beating Agnes Szavay, Martinez Sanchez’ victory over the same player condemned Stosur to elimination. The tournament was won by Aravane Rezai of France after Marion Bartoli retired through injury after one set in the final.

*There were Commonwealth representatives in the doubles too at Valencia but they unfortunately saw little success. Ross Hutchings of Great Britain and Australia’s Jordan Kerr fell at the first hurdle while South African Jeff Coetzee and another Australian, Stephen Huss, lost in round two to the eventual champions Frantisek Cermak and Michal Mertinak.

*The race for the final two berths at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, England, hots up this week as seven contenders battle it out at the Paris Open to secure a place. Nikolay Davydenko is favorite for one slot and his first round 6-2, 6-1 thrashing of German Benjamin Becker means he’ll make it as long as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Robin Soderling or Fernando Verdasco don’t win the tournament. Tsonga looked set to miss the finals after retiring from his first match at Valencia last week with a wrist injury but he’s also through to the second round this week and will face compatriot Gilles Simon. Verdasco’s progress ends the slim qualification hopes of Radek Stepanek and Maran Cilic while Soderling faces Ivo Karlovic for the right to face Davydenko and end the hopes of one of his rivals.

*Lukasz Kubot and Oliver Marach have become the fifth team to qualify for the doubles at the ATP World Tour doubles Championship. The final three berths will also be decided at Paris this week.

*This week’s ATP World rankings (09/11) sees a two-place drop for Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt who now lies in No. 22. His compatriot Peter Luczak climbs a place to 79 while Canada’s Frank Dancevic (123) is now above India’s Somdev Devvarman (124) after the latter dropped eight places this week.

*The ATP doubles rankings sees no movement in the top 25 ranked players in the world this week (09/11). Below that, Paul Hanley of Australia drops a place to 27 and fellow Aussies Jordan Kerr (31), Ashley Fisher (41), Carsten Ball (58) and Chris Guccioni (62) also see dropped rankings. Rik De Voest (South Africa) drops a place to 47 and Great Britain now occupies 51-3 with Ross Hutchins, Ken Skupski and Colin Fleming while Jonathan Marray continues his climb in to the Top 100 with a nine-rank jump to 91. Pakistan’s Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi climbs five to 66 while India’s Rohan Bopanna drops one to 95.

*In this week’s WTA singles rankings (09/11) Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak has dropped a place to 35, seeing her as the highest place Commonwealth player to see a change in their ranking this week. Katie O’Brien now finds herself the new British No. after climbing from 90 to 88 and compatriot Elena Baltacha fell to 89. Anne Keothavong is now ranked 100 and faces dropping out of the top 100 in the World as she continues to recover from injury.

*In the WTA doubles rankings (09/11), Marie-eve Pelletier of Canada climbed a place to 66 while her compatriot Sharon Fichman narrowly hangs on to her top 100 status as she now finds herself ranked 99. Brit Sarah Borwell fell one to 76.

*British No. 5 Dan Evans is through to the second round of the Caversham International AEGON Pro-Series Event in Jersey with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Austrian Martin Fischer. Dan Cox fell at the sword of the top seeded German Florian Mayer in their first round match.

*Former world No. 8 Alicia Molik of Australia has cut short her retirement from tennis after only 12 months and has secured a wild card for the main draw of the 2010 Moorilla Hobart International. She has formerly won two Grand Slams in doubles (France and Australia) and represented Australia in both the Fed Cup and the Hopman Cup.

*Electrical goods giants Panasonic have signed a new three-year deal as the main sponsors of the Australian Open, the Medibank International Series and the Brisbane International which commences in January 2010.

*Former Australian Davis Cup legend Colin Long has sadly passed away aged 91.

Andy Roddick: A Sporting Gesture

Andy Roddick may have performed his best act when he married Sports Illustrated model Brooklyn Decker last month, but his act of sportsmanship at the 2005 Italian Open would rank high as well. The following excerpt from the May 5 chapter of the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennishistorybook.com) details what happened.

May 5

2005 – Andy Roddick performs one of the greatest gestures of sportsmanship on a tennis court when he overturns an apparent double-fault – that would have given him the match – and eventually loses to Spain’s Fernando Verdasco 6-7 (1), 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the round of 16 of the Italian Open in Rome.  Roddick is leading 5-3 in the second set and has triple match point with Verdasco serving. Verdasco’s serve appears to land just wide and is called out by the linesperson. Roddick, however, says the ball was in after checking the mark on the clay court and concedes the second serve ace to Verdasco. “I didn’t think it was anything extraordinary,” says Roddick. “The umpire would have done the same thing if he came down and looked. I just saved him the trip.”  Famed American sports journalist Frank Deford say on National Public Radio of the gesture, “In one moment with victory his for the taking – no, not for the taking – is given, is assumed, Andy Roddick went against the way of the world and simply instinctively did what he thought was right. Once upon time we called such foolish innocents sportsmen.”

1981 – New Yorkers John McEnroe and Vitas Gerulaitis are eliminated from the WCT Tournament of Champions at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, N.Y. McEnroe is defeated by Brazil’s Carlos Kirmayr 5-7, 7-6 (7), 6-2 in a second-round match, while Gerualitis is defeated by fellow American Fritz Buehning 7-5, 7-5. McEnroe holds a match point in the second-set tie-break but is unable to convert, while Gerulaitis loses the last six games of the match after taking a 5-1 lead in the second set. ”Inexcusable,” says McEnroe of the loss. ”He ran me around like a yo-yo and he deserved to win.”