tournament organizers

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

Behind the Scenes at the Rogers Cup: Stenographer Linda Christensen Plays Vital Role

Who’s got the fastest hands on tour? Rafael Nadal or Justine Henin perhaps, or were you thinking of Andy Murray or Elena Dementieva? Try thinking outside of the box, or, more specifically, outside of the court. I’m not talking about the video review operator on center court or Roger Federer’s racquet stringer. Take your search into the players and media area and you will find a woman whose fingers are infinitely faster than any of the above.

Meet Linda Christensen, one of the ATP and WTA Tour stenographers. Able to type between 260-300 words per minute is a regular occurrence for this behind-the-scenes specialist who captures every sound uttered by the players in their post-match press conferences. Employed by ASAP Sports, Christensen gets the transcripts completed within moments of the players leaving the press room and into the hands of reporters and tournament organizers who can then share these valuable moments with tennis fans all over the world. In her spare time she also works as a CART provider (Communication Access Realtime Translation) which specializes in translating classes for deaf children who are in junior high and college.

A tennis enthusiast since the 1970s when her grandmother got her to watch Chris Evert, Christensen was initially trained as a court reporter, a role she fulfilled for 23 years. After years of working in the high-stress environment of the legal world, Christensen, a self-described sports enthusiast, decided to make the transition into the world of professional sports transcribing. Since the fall of 2007 she has covered college football, golf and most recently tennis where she began at the 2008 Australian Open.

I had the chance to talk with Linda last summer while covering the Rogers Cup in Toronto. There were many late nights where the two of us left the press room well past midnight. Getting back to the hotel past 2am is one of the tough realities of her job that she balances with the many positives she described to me one afternoon. Here is a unique behind-the-scenes glimpse into the vital role that Christensen plays in professional tennis.

Q: How does this fantastic process work with the machine and the audio and how do you put it all together?

A: It’s a training where you learn to write phonetically and it’s a different language. So instead of typing one individual letter on a keyboard like your laptop, phonetically we make words and phrases and even whole sentences at a time so that we’re able to take down up to 260-300 words a minute. And then that data is sent wirelessly into our laptop, fed into our database, and it is translated into English.

Q: And phonetically, it’s a hard concept to grasp for someone who is used to just your typical keyboard. But when I look at that machine there, you’ve got far less keys, they’re not labelled at all. So does each key correspond to a sound?

A: A sound. Or combinations of keys. Lets just take the word “much.” If you were on your laptop you would type m-u-c-h. When we write “much” it could be the initial “m” the “uh” and the final “ch” sound so we can write “much” all in one stroke. Or in court if you want to just say commonly used phrases, when an attorney addresses the jury he or she might say, “ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” and we have that in one phrase, one stroke of our shorthand keyboard.

Q: Would you do the same thing in the tennis world then?

A: Yeah. “Backhand,” “cross court,” “hard court,” “grass court,” “clay court” are all pre-programmed in there as one stroke on the keyboard.

Q: Is it conceivable that someone could, with a regular keyboard, keep up with it all?

A: I don’t believe so. I don’t think anybody’s ever been able to type that fast.

Q: What’s your evaluation process like? How are you evaluated or how are you reviewed each year or what kind of process do they have in place for that? Or are you just on your own when you go to tournaments?

A: A little of both I guess. People read our transcripts in the company and we usually work with colleagues. This kind of tournament (Masters 1000 level) we work solo because they’re smaller, but at the Slams we work in tandem with a computer person and a writer. And so we evaluate each other and challenge each other to be faster and more accurate.

Q: How hard is it to pick up? When you started in 1983, how long did it take you to become comfortable with this process?

A: Well, I can say that the attrition rate in court reporting is very high. If I were to say a beginning class, let’s say, is 25, I would be hard-pressed to say that maybe one or two other people that started when I did are still doing it. It’s a very high-stress job. I’m talking legally. And then there’s a whole other part of the business end and dealing with personalities like lawyers and paralegals, and deadlines. If they’re in trial and they need something right away, you have to pull an all-nighter to get that transcript to them. And, you know, with ASAP, we say “When all is said we’re done” – journalists have a deadline to meet and we know we’re under the wire to get them their quotes from these interviews.

Q: In terms of tennis, who are some of the more difficult players to keep up with or understand and transcribe?

A: At the French Open in 2009 – the Serbians all speak very good English but they’re very fast and fortunately they have a good cadence with how they speak. And Ana Ivanovic can be very quick, very rapid-fire. I was working as the writer for her interview at the French and I had a scopist – meaning the computer person – a young man working with me, and we are able with our software to gauge how many words a minute people talk. Anyway, Ana Ivanovic came in from a win and she just “took off,” and my colleague, after the interview, said that she had at times during the interview gotten to 330 words a minute. She was pretty quick. Others have very heavy accents. Dinara Safina can be very difficult to understand, as is her brother Marat. They have a very heavy accent. James Blake,(laughs) all the journalists know that he speaks very fast. And it’s kind of a joke and he realizes that he’s our nemesis, because he’s even looked at us and said, “I know you hate me.” ‘Cause he just really likes to talk.

Q: Do you ever get to a point where you’re struggling to keep up or has it ever happened to you that you’re falling behind – how do you compensate for that? How do you deal with those situations?

A: Yes, that is difficult. You learn a skill called trailing or carrying where you learn to be behind a sentence or two and you keep it in your mind and you catch up. If we have any questions, everything is also recorded to our hard drive simultaneously, so if we think we might have missed something or misheard, we can listen to that at the time we edit it before we send the final transcript.

Q: Any memorable moments in particular? Particular tournaments or interviews that stand out for one reason or another?

A: Well, yeah, the Australian Open of ’08 my colleague and I – there were just really long matches, and everything for the women went three sets and everything for the men went five. And it being Australia, we took Lleyton Hewitt, he won over Baghdatis, and we took Lletyon’s interview at 5:30am. We stayed up all night waiting for that. And the tennis fans of Australia are true fans. There were kids in the audience and nobody left (early). Last year at Montreal Marat Safin threw in some choice words. He’s funny. He’s very funny. He was retiring and was asked a question about his sister and just held nothing back and let the expletives fly. So that was fun.

Q: Do you have to transcribe those expletives word for word, verbatim?

A: Yes, pretty much.

Q: Any awkward moments between reporters and players

A: I can’t think of a specific. Only when players lose and they don’t like to be asked what they think are seemingly stupid questions. So they get kind of testy.

Q: Favorite tournaments for you in the year and a half that you’ve been doing this?

A: Indian Wells is wonderful, as is the Sony Ericsson in Key Biscayne. The Slams – the French is great, everything is translated and the translators are great. The US Open is gruelling because they have lights that they can start matches very late at night. So last year every other night is 3 to 4 AM into bed, and that gets a little tough after two-plus weeks

Rogers Cup Draw Doesn’t Disappoint

For the second year in a row, the Rogers Cup draw ceremony was held atop Canada’s highest man-made peak. The CN Tower played host on Friday to the number one player in the world as Rafael Nadal filled a decisive role in slotting players into their respective starting positions.

I must admit it was certainly the most impressive location I’ve ever been to for this type of gathering and I tried to ignore my fear of heights as I shot straight up 1700 meters in an elevator above the city of Toronto.

Rafa arrived right on time at 4pm sharp to a healthy round of applause from tournament officials, local VIP’s and members of the media. He seemed to be in quite a good mood, but then again wouldn’t you if you had just won the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back and also watched your country win the World Cup?

After a quick hello from tournament director Karl Hale and a brief generic intro from Rafa himself, the big moment of determining who will play who had arrived.

Nadal and number two seed Novak Djokovic were immediately placed on opposite sides of the draw. Then came the time where third seed Roger Federer and fourth seed Andy Murray were placed as tournament organizers anxiously crossed their fingers for the potential of a Nadal/Federer final. Djokovic might be second in the world now, but let’s be honest – we all want a Nadal vs Federer hard court final, right?

ATP official Tony Cho told Rafa he could pass the pressure of selecting a name to Karl Hale, but the Spaniard seemed to relish the opportunity to select his own eventual fate. Things worked out exactly as many had hoped with Murray ending up in the top half with Nadal and Federer ending up in the bottom half with Djokovic. Thank you tennis Gods!

Some of the more interesting first round matches include Gael Monfils the 15th seed against Fernando Gonzalez. David Ferrer the 10th seed has the misfortune of facing a suddenly resurgent David Nalbandian. Meanwhile, Gilles Simon will face 12th seeded Mikhail Youzhny which should also be a good one.

The top eight seeds in the tournament receive a first round bye, meaning they will not play their first matches until Tuesday and Wednesday.

The four Canadian wildcards in the draw received a mixed offering for the opening round. Canada’s best hope, Frank Dancevic always seems to draw tough opponents in his home tournament and this year is no different as he will face Stanislas Wawrinka. Should he get past him he will have the honor of playing against Nadal in the second round.

Pierre-Ludovic Duclos was fortunate to receive a qualifier as his first opponent. The plus side is that whoever he faces will have a lower ranking but on the negative side of things they will have two qualifying matches already under their belt.

Roger Federer’s practice partner in Canada, Peter Polansky, gets 13th seeded Jurgen Melzer for his first match, while 19 year old Milos Raonic will meet Victor Hanescu.

Looking at both halves of the draw is seems to me that the top portion is the stronger battlefield. Nadal will have to get through the likes of Wawrinka, Querrey, Roddick and Murray just to make it to the finals. Others like Robin Soderling, David Nalbandian and Marin Cilic also lurk in the top half.

In the bottom half, Federer has a nice quarter where he could face Wimbledon nemesis in the final eight. Before that however he has a relatively stress-free opening couple of matches. Novak Djokovic should be untroubled advancing to the semi-finals with a struggling Nikolay Davydenko and Jurgen Melzer has his only major threats.

After a month long layoff from any serious tennis it should be a great week of tennis here in Toronto. Stay tuned to Tennis Grandstand as we will be keeping you up to date daily from the Rogers Cup.

Photos by Mike McIntyre.

Ana Ivanovic Snubbed By Rogers Cup – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

The Plot Thickens – Once again, mystery surrounds American tennis star Serena Williams. No doubt she’s injured, and no doubt she is questionable for the final major of the year. But it’s fair to say that there are a number of question marks surrounding how Williams acquired the injury and just how much of a threat is it to her chances of competing at the US Open. First we heard she hurt her foot and would miss the World Team Tennis season. Then we hear she needed stitches and has pulled out of all of her scheduled hard court tune up events. Now we know the World No. 1 has undergone surgery and may not make it to the Big Apple. Throw into the mix the type of injury (deep cuts on the bottom of her foot from stepping on broken glass in a restaurant), and Serena Williams has left many in the general sports world scratching their heads. The good news for Williams is that if she is able to play the US Open, she’ll still be considered one of the heavy favorites. She’s never needed many matches going into a major to post big results, so while not ideal, her lack of preparation will not be nearly as detrimental as it would be to her fellow competitors. And perhaps just maybe this latest injury will work up a little sympathy for the 13-time Grand Slam champion so that others prove less apt to revisit her infamous meltdown in the semifinals against Clijsters last year.

Serbian Snub – One of the more surprising stories of the week was the wildcard snub of Ana Ivanovic for the upcoming Montreal event. Tournament organizers defended the snub, stating that they wanted to ensure Quebec native Stephanie Dubois, whom they felt was an equal, if not bigger draw than Ivanovic for the Canadian crowd, received a wildcard into the event. As Ivanovic never quite reached the popular status of a Maria Sharapova or Williams sisters, it’s difficult to argue with the logic of the tournament organizers who presumably know what their fans want. Playing the qualies could also work in Ivanovic’s favor. Players have talked about the added hunger and mental boost that comes with earning a place in the main draw, not to mention the added advantage of having a few matches under the belt when coming up against an opponent when main draw play is underway. So while already having a ranking that would automatically see her entered in the main draw would have been preferred, qualifying for and playing the Montreal event has the potential to pay dividends later.

Recognition for Martina – The International Tennis Hall of Fame has announced that the 2010 recipient of the Eugene L. Scott Award will be none other than Martina Navratilova. The award is being given in recognition of Navratilova’s contributions to the sport of tennis, which includes her commitment to insightfully and thoughtfully commenting about the nature and state of the sport. It is appropriate that Navratilova receive this award at this stage in the game, given that she has continued to contribute to the sport of tennis in the face of her own battle with breast cancer.

Two for Two – Rising Hungarian star Agnes Szavay completed two spectacular weeks this past weekend, taking her second title in as many weeks in the Czech capital of Prague. She won the Budapest title the previous week in her native Hungary. Granted, the fields at both of these events were not exactly stacked the way that they are at the top tier tournaments, but Szavay may finally be starting to gain some consistency and deliver on the some of the promise she showed earlier in her career. Her Prague win saw her jump 11 places in the rankings, and she’ll be keen to maintain the momentum and raise that ranking even more over the course of the hard court summer season.

Mixed Bag – In a recent poll of America’s favorite female sports stars, tennis took the cake, with current stars Serena and Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova making the list, as well as Anna Kournikova and tennis legends Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova also earning spots among that elite ten. It was great to see such a wide spread among the tennis stars that appeared on the list, and particularly for someone like Billie Jean King who played a huge role in laying the groundwork for women’s tour, to see women’s tennis so well represented had to be immensely satisfying. On the flip side of all of this, no male tennis player earned a spot among the top ten male sports stars. One could argue they face stiffer competition with the popularity of the NFL, NBA etc., but it was still mildly surprising to not see the likes of Federer or Nadal on the list. Not that either of the European men will be broken up about losing a popularity contest in the United States, but it would still be great to see the men fare a little better in 2011.

ROGER FEDERER: PUTTING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE

By Peter Nez

Roger Federer is in Halle, Germany this week playing his typical warm up tournament before Wimbledon (Germany’s only grass court event) where the latest news reports that Roger has signed a lifetime contract with tournament organizers, meaning he is committed to the event as long as he is playing professional tennis. “It’s a sort of marriage,” Roger quipped about the lofty contract with the Gerry Weber Open. And while the entire media world is buzzing over Rafael Nadal’s fifth Roland Garros title he attained last Sunday by smearing the red clay with Robin Soderling’s face, nicknamed Rockin’ Robin, after his blistering ground strokes that sound like cannon fire when struck, who appeared more like a subdued Canary tweeting rather than Rockin’- and big headlines announcing the ‘Return of the King of Clay’ and ‘Rafa is back!’, referring to his reacquisition of the top slot in men’s tennis, there is another king, of another surface, some would say the true king going quietly into the night, preparing for a Wimbledon defense, and maybe something else…


 

One thing that is amazing about Roger, among many other things, is his ability to put things in perspective, and shrug off losses that most players would never be able to bounce back from. Andy Murray comes to mind, whom after losing to Roger in the Australian Open final this past January, hasn’t been the same player since. Novak Djokovic, another top player, who won his first slam in 2008, has been hampered by uncharacteristic losses and henceforth hasn’t been able to muster a similar run at any of the subsequent slams. Andy Roddick, after losing to Federer in the epic 2009 Wimbledon final, lost to John Isner in the following slam (US Open) in a startling fashion. After attending the Annual ITF awards dinner in Paris, following his defeat to Soderling in the quarterfinals of the French Open a week ago, which garnered stunned faces by reporters, participants, attendees, and Gustavo Kurten himself (guest of honor), as to his appearance after a loss like that, “Nobody expected him to show,” Mary Joe Fernandez commented; a salivating press contingent swooned to get some time with the great one, and Roger was blasted with the usual doubts, speculations on his demise, questions as to his game, ect. He answered, in his usual candid demeanor, full of cool, that he was grateful for the past year where he won the French Open and Wimbledon back to back, about the birth of his daughters, and the magnificent summer, and the Australian Open victory this year, without a shade of despondency, or any signs that he was worried in the least. He exemplified gratitude, and emitted a perspective that was just thankful to still be playing, and healthy, and with a huge smile on his face, was looking forward to grass, where, let’s face it, the records speak for themselves, he is the King. I only wish that the media and fans alike had this propensity to put things in perspective.

All I read about now, and hear about in the rumblings and byways of the tennis realm, is Rafa this, and Rafa that, and Rafa is the one to beat, and Rafa is the usurper and all of that. I have no qualms with Rafael Nadal. I think he is a fantastic player, a true ambassador, and a great role model. But, when I read things like Roger can’t beat Rafa, and that Roger has never beaten a fully healthy Nadal, and things of this sort, there is an obvious upset in the balance of things; people are not looking at the big picture, and least of all adopting any sort of sensible perspective on matters.

I have no desire to list off all of the accolades of Mr. Federer, for they should be automatic by now, and need no mention. Let us take the notion of Roger never beating a healthy Nadal, especially on clay. First of all, the health of your opponent is out of your control, can we at least agree on that? Second, if the running statement that Roger can’t beat a healthy Nadal stands on any significant grounds, how about the vice versa? Let’s take a look at the 2008 Wimbledon final, touted as the ‘Greatest Match of All Time’. If we have a short term memory, many may not remember that Mr. Federer was battling a year long bout with Mononucleosis that started just prior to the Australian Open and, maybe didn’t subside until the end of that same year. That would mean that not only was Federer “unhealthy” but it took a super healthy, super confident, super momentum filled man in Rafael Nadal to beat Roger, and it took everything he had, all the way to an epic fifth set finale. Nobody speaks of that of course. On top of that, does anyone fail to see that Rafa has an outstanding record against Roger maybe because most of their head to head matches have taken place on clay? And there is little argument as to who is the greatest of all time on clay. Also, has anyone commented on why there are so many masters’ series tournaments on clay, and why the clay season is the longest on tour, and why there are only two tournaments on grass each season, and no masters series tournaments on grass? I’ve never heard mention of this either. Let us take a look at Federer’s legacy as far as slams go: Roger has reached a staggering 23 of the last 24 slam semi-finals, a staggering 19 out of the last 21 finals over the past six years, and 16 grand slam titles and counting. Who beat Roger in the last six years? Well, let’s see: Rafael Nadal, the king of clay; Novak Djokovic, a top four player, playing a not so healthy Roger (2008 AUS Open); Marat Safin, in the 2005 AUS Open, playing his absolute best tennis; Del Potro (2009 US Open) and Soderling (2010 French Open) who defied physics with their pace for over two hours of play. Do you ever hear Roger justifying himself, as is his right, about any of all the talk and doubt and scrutiny? No. He talks about one thing: moving forward. And what is ahead? Grass. The king returns to the holy grounds where he has set up his palace shrine for the past seven years. Maybe after he wins another Wimbledon will things finally be put in perspective… I doubt it.

SAFIN, CHAMPIONS SERIES TENNIS A HIT IN RIO

The 2010 Champions Series tennis circuit started Friday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where Marat Safin made his tour debut only 17 weeks after last playing on the ATP World Tour.

Safin said his appearance on the champion’s circuit so soon after leaving the main tour was “almost comical.” Perhaps even more startling is the fact that he lost in the first round of the eight-man Rio event Friday night to Wayne Ferreira.

The loss shows two things – Safin has probably played very little tennis since November when he played his final ATP event at the Paris Indoors and the guys on the Champions Series circuit can really still play. Safin just turned 30 years old while his conqueror, Ferreira, is eight years older, but showed he is still in great shape and playing fine tennis. There is prize money on the line in each match on the Champions Series and Ferreria earned him at least another extra $10,000 for his win. Ferreira went on to finish third in the event and pocketed $25,000.

Fernando Meligeni of Brazil was the surprise tournament winner, boosted by the local fan support. He defeated Mark Philippoussis in the championship match to win his first Champions Series title and $60,000.

Here are some photos of the event provided by tournament organizers.

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POLITICS AND PEER PRESSURE IN DUBAI

By Melina Harris

A year on after the political tumult in 2009 caused by the refusal to admit Israeli Shahar Peer, even with the correct visa to enter the United Arab Emirates to compete in the Barclay’s Dubai Tennis Championships and the subsequent debate over whether to also exclude the men’s doubles player Andy Ram, both tournament and player overcame the political ‘Peer’ pressure to succeed in a continuing hostile political climate.

This year’s tournament played just a couple of hundred yards from the hotel where the senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed last month was still able to amass crowds of tennis fans to watch the WTA event and World number 22 Peer, showed extreme strength of character to reach the semi finals under the constant threat of violence on and off court, for she played her four singles and two doubles matches on an outside court at the insistence of the Dubai State Police for security reasons while all spectators were forced to pass through airport-like metal detectors before entering.

Peer insisted that ‘I’m not here to play politics’, but surely the mental effects from last year’s events must have fuelled her desire to perform well at this year’s tournament. She has won a huge amount of respect from her fellow competitors for her grit and determination earning $88,000 in beating the in-form Wozniaki convincingly en route to her semi final loss against Venus Williams, ironically the player who during her acceptance speech at last year’s final spoke passionately in defense of the Israeli, earning her an award from the Jewish community in New York.

Last year, tournament organizers defended their decision to exclude Peer from the tournament as they maintained Peer’s presence ‘would have antagonized our fans who have watched live television coverage of recent attacks in Gaza’ believing that ‘the entire tournament could have been boycotted by protesters’. This argument provoked a strong reaction, not only from Williams, Andy Roddick also famously refused to play the men’s event on moral grounds.

The lucrative tournament was nearly cancelled by the former chief executive of the WTA Tour, Larry Scott, who forcibly refused to concede that the effects of a three-week Israeli offensive in Gaza, which caused the death of 1,300 Palestinians allowed the organizers enough evidence to ban an Israeli from competing, which led to the tournament being fined a record $300,000, raising the issue of sport and politics to the foreground of much media debate.

Despite the media frenzy surrounding Peer’s reintroduction, Stacy Allaster, Scott’s successor insisted that ‘what happened last year is over and the chapter is most definitely closed’ and went on to say:

‘We will always stand by our insistence no host country can deny a player the right to compete at any event on the tour for which she has qualified by ranking. We took our stance by imposing the largest fine imposed in our history and requiring the tournament to put up a letter of credit for the prize money. We also insisted that any Israeli player would receive a visa well in advance of this year’s event. The tournament met all of those obligations and we are 100% happy with the way things have been.’

For Peer, who also suffered cruel jibes at the Australian Open, where anti-Israeli protestors held up placards of her in uniform with a Palestinian baby on her racket, the mental scars have clearly not healed. She revealed in an interview, ‘it hurt mentally and professionally, because I was playing very well. I was on a good run and I was ready for the tournament. It was a big tournament and I couldn’t go, so it really stopped my momentum. To be barred from a country is not a nice feeling. I think there’s no place for that in sport. I actually think that sport can make it better and help political situations, not make it worse.’

She also recently reflected before competing in this year’s event ‘it was a difficult time but sport should be outside of politics, so obviously I want to come and play here. We all need to be equal. I really wanted to win here, not only because of tennis, but because I want to make a statement that politics and sport should not be mixed.’

Can sport ever be truly separate from the political world climate? Can it, like Peer suggested, be a harmonizing force, making political situations better, rather than worse?

There have been numerous incidents across the sporting world where politics and sport have collided causing catastrophic effects, the most notorious being when terrorists attacked a bus carrying Sri Lanka’s cricket team in the Pakistani city of Lahore in 2009. It is a terrible shame that sport’s stars should sometimes live in fear of their lives while playing the sport they love, but unfortunately it is a reality that sport and politics will always be inextricably linked.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter. She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.

RIVALRY RENEWED: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Rivalry Renewed – Australian Open tournament organizers couldn’t have planned it any better if they had tried.  The women’s final will pit current Australian Open Champion Serena Williams against former world No. 1 Justine Henin. Though Serena has never said as much herself, the media has been speculating that the return Henin has provided a new source of motivation for Williams, who may want a piece of the Belgian who was her main rival before Henin shocked the tennis world in 2008 by retiring while she was still at the top of the game. It will be interesting to see how Henin’s nerves hold up in what is just her second event back since returning to the sport, but there can be little doubt that sparks will fly. And one can be sure that this is only the beginning; those sparks are going to get brighter and more intense as the 2010 WTA season unfolds.

A Niggle in the Knee – After a relatively positive start to the season, Spaniard Rafael Nadal had to be disappointed to have to pull out of his semifinal encounter with Scot Andy Murray due to his niggling knee problem. All credit to Murray who played a brilliant match and would have won anyway, but there has to be concern in the Nadal camp going forward in 2010. For a man who bases his game around tracking down every ball and bludgeoning it around the court, a bad knee is a death sentence for his career. He’s going to have to seriously consider overhauling his game, or his career, which started so brilliantly so early, may now well be over.

The Captivating Croat – Put me down for jumping on the bandwagon of Croat Marin Cilic. After putting together a stellar run at the 2009 US Open, he followed it up by going even further at the first major of 2010. He was the tournament’s marathon man, who showed nerves of steel with his five-set victories over Bernard Tomic, current US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro, and American Andy Roddick. He may have bowed out to British No. 1 Andy Murray in the semifinals, but there’s no doubt that this young up-and-comer is going to be a Grand Slam champion in the near future.

Change in Weapon – U.S. Olympic skier Bode Miller has stated that he plans to temporarily trade in his skis for a tennis racquet as he attempts to win a wildcard into the US Open qualifying draw. Miller has reason to think he might be successful, as he is no stranger to the game of tennis. He won the 1996 Maine State Singles, and his family owns the Tamarack Tennis Camp in Easton, New Hampshire. If Miller does make it into the US Open qualifying draw, it could definitely create more pre-tournament buzz than ever before.

The Chinese Charge – For the first time in tennis history, China had two players in the semifinals of a Grand Slam event. Na Li and Jie Zheng gave the world’s largest nation something to smile about as they fought their way into the final four of Melbourne, which included Na Li’s narrow escape from the jaws of defeat against Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. While Na Li and Jie Zheng both lost in the semis (to Serena Williams and Justine Henin respectively), their continuing success bodes well for the future of tennis in China.

The Friday Five: Hingis ban has been lifted

By Maud Watson

WTA Woe in Tokyo – As one of the Premier events on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, the Toray Pan Pacific Open drew a great field, including 9 of the current top 10 players.  Fans and tournament organizers alike should have been able to pencil in some mouth-watering quarterfinal match-ups.  But as it seems has happened so often throughout the year, the draw fell apart, with 7 of the top 10 seeds losing before the third round.  Like ‘em or hate ‘em, the WTA needs some players with consistency, who show up week in, week out, and win Majors.  One hopes the nation of Belgium might soon be providing such competitors…

Great Panes – This past Monday, American up-and-comer Sam Querrey suffered what has to be considered among one of the most freak accidents in the world of sports.  After his practice session at the PTT Thailand Open, Sam sat on a glass table, which he fell through, resulting in him badly cutting his forearm and requiring emergency surgery.  He is expected to be out 4-6 weeks.  As one of the great hopes for American tennis and a player who has really turned it on over the past couple months, I hope to see Sam back in action sooner rather than later.

The Comeback Bug Continues – Perhaps not as notable as the return of both Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, two other players making their comeback appearances earlier this week were Paradorn Srichaphan and Joachim Johansson.  Srichaphan ended a two-and-a-half year absence from the tour by pairing up with fellow countryman Danai Umdomchoke.  Though the pair lost in their opening match (and a successful Srichaphan comeback is unlikely), it was still nice to see one of the players so largely responsible for helping to put Asian tennis on the map have another go at it.  I was more excited about the return of big Swede Joachim Johansson in Malaysia.  With an impressive win over Lleyton Hewitt and a relatively tight three-set loss to Richard Gasquet, Johansson proved he still has game.  And at the age of 27 with his big serve, there’s no reason he can’t still do some damage on the ATP World Tour.

Rafa Ready – Contrary to some of the news you might have read in recent days, Rafael Nadal has declared himself fit and ready to go, and with the absence of Swiss maestro Roger Federer in Shanghai, Rafa will be looking to regain some of the ground (and aura) he lost over the summer.  More importantly to him, Rafa is prepared to represent his country in the Davis Cup final to be played in Spain against the Czech Republic December 4-6.  All I know is, I don’t envy the tough decisions Spanish Davis Cup captain Albert Costa is going to face!

The Ban is Lifted – This is a story that might fall through the cracks, but this past Wednesday marked the end of the two-year Martina Hingis was forced to serve, which effectively ended her comeback and her career.  I personally hated to see the ban slapped on her, because she brought a craftsmanship to the game that few of her peers could, not to mention the fact that the foundation of the case against her was suspect.  Her ban seemed even harsher and more ridiculous when Richard Gasquet got off with a mere two-month ban for essentially the same offense.  Hopefully the powers-at-be will learn from this miscarriage of justice, and hopefully Martina will continue to contribute to the sport in a myriad of other ways.