Urszula Radwanska

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From Coast to Coast: WTA Carlsbad and Washington Previews

Can Cibulkova make it two straight titles with a Carlsbad defense?

As the Premier Five tournament in Canada looms, four of the top ten women hone their skills at tournaments on opposite coasts.  The resort atmosphere at Carlsbad, long a player favorite, contrasts with the urban surroundings of the national capital.

Carlsbad:

Top half:  World No. 3 Victoria Azarenka has not lost a match away from clay all season.  Of course, Azarenka has played only four matches away from clay since winning the Doha title in February.  Walkovers and withdrawals ended her campaigns at Indian Wells, Miami, and Wimbledon, so attention will hover around her battered knee this week.  Azarenka’s health may attract even more attention than it would otherwise because she faces a relatively mild early slate of opponents.  An all-Italian battle between Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone tantalizes only for nostalgic reasons, and Urszula Radwanska seems little more likely than her elder sister to vanquish Vika.  Among the surprises of the spring was Jelena Jankovic, a semifinalist in Miami and quarterfinalist at Roland Garros.  Jankovic troubled Azarenka in her prime, but the momentum has shifted in that rivalry to reflect their divergent career arcs

The most compelling first-round match in Carlsbad will pit defending champion Dominika Cibulkova against former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic.  Defeating Bartoli to win last year’s title, Cibulkova exploited a much weaker draw in the week of the Olympics.  Still, she will bring plenty of confidence from her title at Stanford, whereas coaching turmoil once again enshrouds the Serb.  The route will not grow much smoother for whoever survives that early test.  Although the second round looks uneventful, Roberta Vinci could await in the quarterfinals.  This crafty Italian has domianted Cibulkova on all surfaces, winning five straight from her, and she has taken her last three outdoor matches from Ivanovic.  The relatively slow surface in San Diego should help Vinci outlast the heavy serve of Bethanie Mattek-Sands before then.

Semifinal:  Azarenka vs. Vinci

Bottom half:  Around this time last year, Petra Kvitova caught fire with a Premier Five title at the Rogers Cup and a semifinal in Cincinnati.  The somewhat slower surface in San Diego may suit her game less well than those events, and North America historically has not brought out her best tennis.   A rematch of her epic Australian Open loss to Laura Robson might await in the second round.  Both women have oscillated wildly in their results this year, suggesting another rollercoaster ahead.  A former Carlsbad champion lurks unobtrusively near eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro, enjoying her best season so far.  That former champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, has revived her career with two major quarterfinals in 2013.  An abdominal injury has sidelined Kuznetsova since Roland Garros, but she should have time to play herself into the tournament.

The fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska reached finals in each of her last two Carlsbad appearances.  Disappointed at Stanford on Sunday, Radwanska wil aim to erase that memory with her second title here.  She should outmaneuver Daniela Hantuchova, whom she has defeated here before, and may not have much to fear from Samantha Stosur unless the Aussie’s form improves dramatically.  Little in Stosur’s dismal performance at Stanford boded well for her chances of escaping a challenging opener against Varvara Lepchenko.  That 27-year-old American lefty could meet Radwanska in a quarterfinal for the second straight week.

Semifinal:  Kuznetsova vs. Radwanska

Final:  Azarenka vs. Radwanska

Washington:

Top half:  Overshadowed by the men’s event at the same tournament, this WTA International event did succeed in luring a top-10 player as a wildcard.  World No. 9 Angelique Kerber has fallen on hard times over the last few months, so a dip in the quality of opposition could prove just what the doctor ordered.  Some of the women who might face her in the quarterfinals exited early at Stanford.  Formerly promising American Christina McHale continues a rebuilding campaign in 2013 against Magdalena Rybarikova.  Her period of promise long behind her, Melanie Oudin hopes to stay somewhat relevant nearly four years after her illusory surge at the US Open.

Like McHale, Rybarikova, and Kiki Bertens in the top quarter, Madison Keys looks to bounce back from a disappointing Stanford loss.  Anchoring the second quarter, she might meet star junior Taylor Townsend in a second-round preview of future matches on more momentous stages.  The reeling but canny Monica Niculescu hopes to fluster Townsend with her distinctive style before then.  More young talent stands atop the section in Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard and France’s Caroline Garcia.  These impressive phenoms must navigate around Australian Open quarterfinalist Ekaterina Makarova, a lefty like Townsend.  Plenty of storylines and suspense will unfold in a very short time.

Bottom half:  Building on her momentum from Stanford, Sorana Cirstea eyes one of the draw’s softer sections.  Home hope Alison Riske looks to prove herself as a threat outside the small grass event in Birmingham, while Heather Watson traces the same trajectory as McHale on the long, slow road back from mononucleosis.  Ending her clay season on a high note, Alize Cornet won an International title in May.  But she threatens much less on hard courts and might well fall victim to the enigmatic Yanina Wickmayer at the outset.

By far the most established of the home threats, second seed Sloane Stephens faces high expectations this summer.  American fans know much more about the Australian Open semifinalist, Wimbledon quarterfinalist, and conqueror of Serena Williams than they did a year ago.  The 15th-ranked Stephens has produced much more convincing tennis at majors than at non-majors, where she barely has cracked the .500 threshold in 2013.  Her sturdiest pre-semifinal obstacle could come in the form of Andrea Petkovic, still producing results more disappointing than encouraging in her comeback from serious injuries.  A relatively minor illness may blunt Petkovic’s injuries this week, though, while compatriot Mona Barthel retired from her last tournament with a sore shoulder.

Final:  Makarova vs. Stephens

The Series Is Open: Previewing WTA Stanford (and Baku)

Can anyone bring Radwanska to her knees at Stanford?

The women’s US Open Series launches in California with one of the oldest tournaments in the WTA.  In the tranquil setting of Stanford University, the Bank of the West Classic a particularly cozy and rewarding tournaments.  Here is a look ahead at what to expect this week at Stanford and at the International event half a world away in Azerbaijan.

Stanford:

Top half:  Rarely do Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka all spurn Stanford.  Their absence this year offers world No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska an opportunity as the only top-10 player in the draw.  The top seed probably still can taste the bitter disappointment of a greater opportunity squandered at Wimbledon.  Radwanska will seek to bounce back on a relatively fast hard court, where she has reached the semifinals before.  She should reach that stage again with no pre-semifinal opponent more formidable than Varvara Lepchenko, just 2-9 away from clay this year.  A potentially intriguing first-round match between youthful energy and veteran cunning pits Stanford alum Mallory Burdette against Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone.

Sandwiched between two unimpressive seeds, Madison Keys should showcase her power on a court suited to it.  American fans will enjoy their glimpse of the woman who could become their leading threat to win a major in a few years.  Keys will look to deliver an opening upset over eighth seed Magdalena Rybarikova en route to a possible quarterfinal against compatriot Jamie Hampton.  Climbing into relevance with an Eastbourne final, Hampton holds the fourth seed and may face another Stanford alum in Nicole Gibbs.  Hampton stunned Radwanska at Eastbourne last month, while Keys took a set from her at Wimbledon.

Semifinal:  Radwanska vs. Keys

Bottom half:  The third quarter features another unseeded American hopeful—and another Radwanska.  Stanford’s depleted field allowed Agnieszka’s younger sister, Urszula, to snag the seventh seed, while Christina McHale looks for momentum on the long road back from mononucleosis.  Still elegant as she fades, Daniela Hantuchova brings a touch of grace that should contrast with the athleticism of first-round opponent Yanina Wickmayer.  Often a presence but rarely a threat at Stanford, third seed Dominika Cibulkova has not won more than two matches at any tournament since January.

The only US Open champion in the draw, Samantha Stosur might face a challenging test against Julia Goerges.  This enigmatic German has won three of their four meetings, including both on hard courts, although the last three all have reached a third set.  Of course, a 14-17 record in 2013 does not bode well for her chances of surviving Olga Govortsova in the first round.  The road might not get any easier for Stosur in the quarterfinals, though, where she could meet Sorana Cirstea.  A product of the Adidas training program in Las Vegas, Cirstea upset Stosur at last year’s Australian Open.  None of the women in the lower half ever has reached a final at Stanford.

Semifinal:  Cibulkova vs. Stosur

Final:  Radwanska vs. Stosur

Baku:

Top half:  Not one of these women will hold a seed at the US Open unless their rankings rise between now and then.  Holding the top seed is Bojana Jovanovski, who owes many of her poitns to a second-week appearance at the Australian Open.  Jovanovski has two victories over Caroline Wozniacki but few over anyone else since then.  Former junior No. 1 Daria Gavrilova and fellow Serb Vesna Dolonc offer her most credible competition before the semifinals.

At that stage, Jovanovski might meet Andrea Hlavackova, the runner-up in a similarly weak draw at Bad Gastein a week ago.  Although she has fallen outside the top 100, meanwhile, Shahar Peer will hope to rely on her experience to stop either Hlavackova or third seed Chanelle Scheepers.  The speed of the surface may determine whether a counterpuncher like Peer or Scheepers overcomes the heavier serve of fifth seed Karolina Pliskova.

Bottom half:  Unheralded players from the home nation often play above expectations at small tournaments like Baku.  Wildcard Kamilla Farhad, an Azerbaijani citizen, will hope to echo Yvonne Meusberger’s astonishing title run in Bad Gastein.  Surrounding her are clay specialist Alexandra Cadantu and the stagnating Polona Hercog.  A tall Slovenian, the later woman seems the best equipped to win on hard courts from this section.  Cadantu will need to blunt the explosive serve of Michaella Krajicek to survive her opener.

The 18-year-old Elina Svitolina showed promise in Bad Gastein by reaching the semifinals.  That experience will have served her well heading into another International event with an open draw.  She even holds a seed here, as does another rising star in Donna Vekic.  Nearly two years younger than Svitolina, Vekic already has reached two WTA finals.  A quarterfinal between the two teenagers might offer a preview of more momentous matches in the future.

Final:  Pliskova vs. Vekic

Wimbledon Rewind: Favorites and Fifth Sets (Mostly) Dominate on Day 2

Yes, British tennis does extend beyond Andy Murray.

The first round concluded at Wimbledon today without any seismic shock similar to Day 1 but with many more tightly contested matches than yesterday.  Check out the intriguing events below.

ATP:

Match of the day:  The top-ranked American squared off against the top-ranked Australian in a five-set rollercoaster of two giants.  After Bernard Tomic eked out the first two sets in tiebreaks, he characteristically lost the plot and allowed Sam Querrey to win two routine sets.  But Tomic got the last word, repeating his 2012 Australian Open victory over the American by zoning back into the action for the final set.  When he catches fire, he can ignite a draw.

Comeback of the day:  An Eastbourne semifinalist last week, Ivan Dodig fell behind 16th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber two sets to none and came within a tiebreak of losing in straights.  Dominating that tiebreak, Dodig carried that momentum through the fourth set and reaped the reward of his perseverance when Kohlschreiber retired early in the fifth.

Trend of the day:  The first day featured only one five-setter, but the second day brought fans no fewer than nine.  Five Americans played fifth sets.  In four of those nine matches, one player won the first two sets before letting the opponent back into the match.  None of the nine extended past 6-6 in the final set, however, and two ended in fifth-set retirements, a strange anticlimax.

Symmetry of the day:  On the same day that Tomic defeated Querrey, a different American defeated a different Aussie in the same manner.  Denis Kudla won the first two sets, lost the next two, and then recovered to win the fifth from James Duckworth.  Taken together, those results accurately reflect the superior promise of Australian tennis at the top and the superior depth of American tennis overall.

Gold star:  A three-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist and a champion at Eastbourne, Feliciano Lopez plays his best tennis on grass.  He extended his winning streak to the All England Club by knocking off the tenacious Gilles Simon in straight sets.  The upset recalled Lleyton Hewitt’s victory over Stanislas Wawrinka yesterday, in which an unseeded grass specialist also defeated a seeded counterpuncher.

Silver star:  The volatile game of Florian Mayer does not make the easiest way to settle into a major, especially for a man who had not played a match on grass this year.  In his first match since the epic Roland Garros loss to Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic stood tall as the Wimbledon top seed in dispatching Mayer uneventfully.

Americans in London:  Beyond the previously noted Querrey and Kudla, the stars and stripes produced mixed results on Tuesday.  Ryan Harrison unsurprisingly fell to Jeremy Chardy, although he did win a set, while James Blake unexpectedly dominated Thiemo de Bakker for the loss of just six games.  Bobby Reynolds cannibalized Steve Johnson, who now has lost a five-setter in the first round of every major this year.  Court 9 saw the little-lamented departures of Wayne Odesnik and Michael Russell to a pair of fellow journeymen.

Question of the day:  While rivals Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, and Juan Martin Del Potro all advanced in straight sets, David Ferrer struggled through a four-setter against an unheralded South American.  He also lost his opener last week at the Dutch Open.  Do these struggles suggest an early exit for the other Spanish finalist at Roland Garros, or will Ferrer find his grass groove with time?

WTA:

Match of the day:  Former Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi sought to continue building her momentum in a comeback from a long injury absence.  Home hope Tara Moore sought to justify her wildcard and earn her first main-draw victory at Wimbledon.  The two waged a relentless 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 duel in the confines of Court 17, which ended in hope for Kanepi and familiar heartbreak for Moore.

Comeback of the day:  The pugnacious Barbara Zahlavova Strycova refused to fade after dropping a tight first set to Magdalena Rybarikova.  Over the next two sets, the Czech yielded one total game to the Slovak who had reached the Birmingham semifinals (and won that tournament before).  Compatriot and Birmingham champion Daniela Hantuchova also fell to a Czech opponent in Klara Zakopalova as the western half of the former Czechoslovakia held their neighboring rivals in check.

Upset of the day:  Not the highest-ranked player to lose today, Nadia Petrova suffered the most surprising loss in falling to Katerina Pliskova in two tepid sets.  Petrova owes her top-15 status to a series of strong results last fall, but she could not consolidate them this year and now has little margin for error in the second half.

Gold star:  Thorny draws often have awaited Laura Robson at Wimbledon, and this year proved no exception with world No. 10 Maria Kirilenko awaiting her on Court 1.  The leading British women’s hope delighted her compatriots with her second victory over a top-ten opponent at a major this year.  Robson now eyes a relatively open draw after that initial upset, although she cannot relax her guard.

Silver star:  Both of last year’s finalists advanced with ease, Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska losing six games between them.  But perhaps even more impressive was the double breadstick that Li Na served to Michaella Krajicek, a player whose massive weapons could threaten on grass.  Li has struggled for most of the spring, and she has not shone on grass since 2010, so this victory might raise her spirits for the challenging road ahead.

Wooden spoon:  A quarterfinalist at Wimbledon last year, Tamira Paszek fell in the first round this year to the anonymous Alexandra Cadantu.  She has dropped nearly 1,000 points in two weeks, combining Eastbourne with Wimbledon, and will plummet from the top 30 in May to outside the top 100 in July.

Americans in London:  Outside Serena, most of the main American threats are (or were) in the other half of the draw.  Two youngsters suffered contrasting fates on Tuesday, Madison Keys dismissing British talent Heather Watson and Mallory Burdette falling short in a tight three-setter to Urszula Radwanska.  The only other American woman in action, Birmingham semifinalist Allison Riske, earned an upset of sorts over clay specialist Romina Oprandi when the latter retired in the third set.

Question of the day:  It’s grass season, which means that it’s Tsvetana Pironkova season.  The willow Bulgarian, twice a quarterfinalist or better at Wimbledon, routed top-25 opponent Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for the loss of just one game.  How far can Pironkova’s grass magic carry her?

Roland Garros Rewind: Federer, Serena Shine on Day 1; Venus Falls

Roger Federer's outfit was dull, but his play was scintillating on Day 1.

Today marks the first in the series of brief daily recaps that will keep you updated on several of the key storylines at Roland Garros.  Roland Garros Rewind will be followed by Roland Garros Fast Forward each day, a preview of the next day’s notable matches.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Defending fourth-round points in Paris, Andreas Seppi brought little momentum here after staggering through a miserable clay season.  His opening match against unheralded Argentine Leonardo Mayer showed plenty of the reasons for his 2013 woes, but the Italian finished strong to win in five after several momentum shifts.

Comeback of the day:  Gilles Simon never had rallied to win a match after losing the first two sets, so things looked grim after he won just four games in two sets against Lleyton Hewitt.  On the other hand, he had not lost in the first round of a major since this tournament five years ago.  That statistic endured as the other disappeared when Simon eked out a 7-5 fifth set after blowing a 5-0 lead.

Surprise of the day:  None.  All of the men’s seeds won their matches, most much more comfortably than Simon.  Marcel Granollers did end the day in a spot of bother against compatriot Feliciano Lopez, suspended for darkness before starting the fifth set.

Gold star:  Pablo Carreno-Busta had sparked plenty of chatter among tennis fans for his success earlier this clay season and long winning streak at ITF events.  Roger Federer showed him no mercy in conceding just seven games on Court Philippe Chatrier, the first Grand Slam match of the qualifier’s career.  The combination of opponent and setting proved too much for the youngster to overcome.

Silver star:  David Ferrer took care of business efficiently too, meeting little resistance from Marinko Matosevic.  Ferrer has a very promising draw this tournament as he seeks his fourth semifinal in the last five majors.

American in Paris:  Aided by a severely slumping Lukas Lacko, Sam Querrey won just the second match of his Roland Garros career and did so handily.  In other words, the USA avoided the ignominy of its top-ranked man losing in the first round of a major.

Question of the day:  Three tall men won today:  Milos Raonic, Kevin Anderson, and Querrey.  Who will go the furthest this year?

WTA:

Match of the day:  In over three hours filled with tension, Urszula Radwanska upset Venus Williams for arguably the most impressive victory of her career.  Urszula easily could have faded when Venus slipped away with the second set in a tiebreak, but her youth may have helped her outlast a fading veteran troubled by back injuries this spring.  An all-Radwanska match could end the first week.

Surprise of the day:  The Puerto Rican phenom Monica Puig knocked off 11th seed and former Roland Garros semifinalist Nadia Petrova.  Granted, Petrova has not accomplished much this year, building her ranking upon two hard-court titles last fall.  Puig still deserves a tip of the hat for rallying from a one-set deficit despite her lack of experience.

Comeback of the day:  The first step often has proved the last for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova this year, as it had in Madrid and Rome.  Déjà vu lurked just around the corner when Andrea Hlavackova served for the match against her in the second set and came within two points of the upset in the ensuing tiebreak.  Pavlyuchenkova not only held firm at that tense moment but managed to hold serve throughout a tight third set, a good omen for her future here.

Gold star:  What a difference a year makes.  Gone in the first round last year to Virginie Razzano, Serena Williams sent home Anna Tatishvili with a gift basket of a bagel and a breadstick.  The world No. 1 looked every bit as intimidating as she had in her dominant Rome run.

Silver star:  The last woman to lose at Roland Garros last year was the first woman to win at Roland Garros this year.  Now the fifth seed rather than an unknown dirt devil, Sara Errani responded well to the target on her back by conceding just three games to Arantxa Rus.

American in Paris:  In her first main-draw match at Roland Garros, Mallory Burdette started her career here 1-0 with an impressively convincing victory over teenage talent Donna Vekic.  Nerves surfaced when Burdette squandered triple match point as she served for the match, but she saved two break points before closing it out.

Question of the day:  Ana Ivanovic started proceedings on Chatrier with a bizarre three-setter that she could have won much more easily than she did.  Should we chalk up her uneven performance to first-round nerves on the big stage, or is it a sign of (bad) things to come?

See you shortly with Day 2 previews.

 

Roland Garros Fast Forward: Federer, Serena, Venus, Headline Day 1

What difference will a year make for Serena?

Today features the first edition of a daily Roland Garros preview series that offers a few notes on the next day’s most interesting matches.  After each day ends, moreover, a recap of similar length will guide you through the key headlines.

ATP:

Pablo Carreno-Busta vs. Roger Federer:  This qualifier reeled off a long winning streak at lower-level events over the last year and reached the Portugal semifinals, also as a qualifier, with victories over Julien Benneteau and Fabio Fognini. Carreno-Busta also upset defending champion Pablo Andujar in Casablanca, shortly before the latter stormed to the Madrid semifinals, and won a set from Stanislas Wawrinka in Portugal.  Paris is not Portugal or Casablanca, though, nor is it even Bordeaux, where Carreno-Busta lost in the first round of a challenger.

Gilles Simon vs. Lleyton Hewitt:  This tournament might mark Hewitt’s final appearance at Roland Garros.  If it does, a match on a show court against a fellow grinder, likely with a strong crowd, seems a fitting way to go.  Simon has flown under the radar for most of the year, stringing together some victories at small events and upsetting two top-ten opponents.  He reached the second week at the Australian Open despite largely unimpressive form, so he should muddle through here too.

Andreas Seppi vs. Leonardo Mayer:  The Italian must defend fourth-round points at Roland Garros, where he won two sets from Novak Djokovic last year.  Seppi’s 14-14 record this year does not bode well, and he has survived his first match at only one of six clay tournaments.  Fortunately for him, Mayer lost his only clay match this year.

Marcel Granollers vs. Feliciano Lopez:  A quarterfinalist in Rome, Granollers owes Andy Murray twice over in recent weeks.  First, the world No. 2 retired from their match there, allowing the Spaniard to gobble extra ranking points.  Then, Murray’s withdrawal nudged Granollers into a seeded position at Roland Garros.  He should take advantage of it against the fading serve-volley specialist Feliciano Lopez, although matches between two Spaniards often get trickier than expected.

WTA:

Serena Williams vs. Anna Tatishvili:  Everyone remembers what happened to Serena in the first round here last year.  Nobody remembers it more clearly than Serena does.  Expect her to put this match away early, exorcising Razzano’s ghosts.

Urszula Radwanska vs. Venus Williams:  Both of these women must cope with being the second-best women’s tennis player in their respective families.  Hampered by a back injury, Venus has played just one match on red clay this year, losing routinely to Laura Robson.  Urszula is not quite Robson at this stage, but she recorded clay wins over Dominika Cibulkova and Ana Ivanovic this year.  Venus should pull through in the end after some edgy moments.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Andrea Hlavackova:  When Pavlyuchenkova gets through her first match, she has reached the semifinals at four of five tournaments this year, winning two.  The problem is that she has lost her first match no fewer than seven times against opponents of varying quality. (Azarenka and Ivanovic are understandable, Lesya Tsurenko and Johanna Larsson less so.)  Since reaching the second week of the US Open, Hlavackova has won one main-draw singles match,  over the hapless Melanie Oudin. Surely Pavlyuchenkova won’t double that total?

Kiki Bertens vs. Sorana Cirstea:  Their big weapons and questionable movement would seem better designed for fast-court tennis.  But both of them have found their greatest success on clay, Cirstea reaching the Roland Garros quarterfinals four years ago and Bertens winning her only WTA title so far at Fes last year.  This match looks among the most evenly contested of the day with plenty of heavy groundstrokes to go around.

Mallory Burdette vs. Donna Vekic:  One of the top American collegiate prospects, Burdette left Stanford last fall to turn pro and has reaped some solid results.  Her victims so far include Lucie Hradecka, Ksenia Pervak, and Sabine Lisicki as well as fellow American rising star Madison Keys.  Burdette will train her vicious backhand on Croatian rising star Donna Vekic, who reached her first WTA final last year as a qualifier.  Vekic has not accomplished much above the challenger level since then, losing her only clay match this year to Chanelle Scheepers in Madrid.

Ayumi Morita vs. Yulia Putintseva:  Is Paris ready for Putintseva?  The volatile French crowd pounced on fellow pocket rocket Michelle Larcher de Brito, but the distant venue of Court 7 should take some of the scrutiny off the strong-lunged youngster.  Putintseva took Serena to a first-set tiebreak in Madrid but will have her work cut out with Morita’s double-fisted strokes.  Unlike Coco Vandeweghe, the Japanese star will win points with more than her serve.

Opening the Magic Box: WTA Madrid Draw Preview

Serena didn't feel blue on the blue last year.  Will she see red on the red?

Rare is the non-major that features every woman in the WTA top 10, but Madrid can lay claim to that honor this year.  In another rare quirk, all of the top three women arrive there on winning streaks.  Only one of those streaks can survive Madrid.  Whose will it be?  Or none of the above?  We take a look at each quarter of the draw.

First quarter:  Clearly the best women’s player of the last decade, Serena Williams won this title on blue clay last year but has not reached a final on red clay since she completed the career Grand Slam in 2002.  With her world No. 1 ranking somewhat at stake, Serena has landed in the more challenging half of the draw.  Her first two rounds should allow her to find some rhythm on the surface, for the green clay of Charleston offers only partial preparation for the European terre battue.  Seeking her third straight title, Serena could meet Maria Kirilenko in the third round, or perhaps Klara Zakopalova.  Both of those counterpunchers have troubled her on clay before, each extending her to three sets at Roland Garros.  Stiffer competition will arrive in the quarterfinals, though, where the draw has projected her to meet Stuttgart finalist and 2011 Roland Garros champion Li Na.

The fifth seed must overcome a few notable obstacles of her own to reach that stage, such as a second-round match with Serena’s sister.  Not at her best on clay, Venus Williams still should have plenty of energy at that stage, but she has lost all three of her career meetings with Li.  Surrounding world No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki are heavy hitters Yaroslava Shvedova and Mona Barthel.  If neither of those knocks off the Dane, who lost her Stuttgart opener, she could attempt to build on her victory over Li last fall.   While Serena has dominated her head-to-head meetings with both Wozniacki and Li overall, she often has found them foes worthy of her steel.  On red clay, Li’s counterpunching talents and ability to transition from defense to offense could prove especially dangerous.

Semifinalist:  Li

Second quarter:   Returning from yet another of her injury absences, Victoria Azarenka barely has played since winning the Doha title from Serena in a memorable three-set final.  That February achievement preceded a shaky effort at Indian Wells curtailed by a sore ankle, so Vika enters Madrid with less match play than most other contenders.  Her bid for a third straight final here will take her through the teeth of some formidable early tests, including Portugal Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in her opener.  The Russian took sets from Azarenka in two of their three previous meetings, while second-round opponent Lucie Safarova took her the distance here two years ago and impressed in a three-hour loss to Sharapova at Stuttgart.  Twice a finalist and once a champion at Roland Garros, Francesca Schiavone should pose less resistance to the third seed as her consistency has dwindled.  Nevertheless, an unexpected title in Marrakech might carry Schiavone to their projected clash in the fourth round, for the higher-ranked Marion Bartoli tends to struggle on clay.

Relatively open is the lower area of this quarter, where Sara Errani looks to rebound from an early Stuttgart exit.  Last year’s Roland Garros finalist will appreciate the absence of a powerful shot-maker in her vicinity, allowing her to slowly grind down opponents vulnerable to erratic stretches.  Rising stars Urszula Radwanska and Sorana Cirstea fit in that category, as does enigmatic German Julia Goerges.  Eranni has faced doubles partner Roberta Vinci in two key matches over the past several months, a US Open quarterfinal and a Dubai semifinal, emerging victories both times on those hard courts.  Clay could prove a different story, especially with Vinci’s recent fine form.  But Errani’s veteran compatriot will meet last year’s Madrid quarterfinalist Varvara Lepchenko in the first round a few months after losing to her in Fed Cup.

Semifinalist:  Azarenka

Third quarter:  In the section without any of the WTA’s three leading ladies, the eye pauses on two unseeded figures who could produce deep runs.  One of them, 2009 Roland Garros champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, submitted indifferent results in Portugal last week and has played little since a strong start to the year.  This Russian has collected many of her best victories on clay, including Roland Garros upsets of Serena and Radwanska, building on the affinity of her athletic, forehand-centered game for the surface.  Less impressive is Kuznetsova’s focus, which undermined her in a fourth-round match in Paris against Errani last year and could cost her in a third-round meeting with Angelique Kerber.  While the indoor clay of Stuttgart differs significantly from outdoor clay conditions, the world No. 6 still may have gained confidence from nearly reaching a final on her worst surface.  The eleventh-seeded Nadia Petrova has generated few headlines of late, and slow-court specialist Alize Cornet rarely makes a statement in a draw of this magnitude.

The other unseeded player of note here, former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic, burst back into prominence when she reached the Miami semifinals this spring and backed it up with a finals appearance in Charleston.  Jankovic defeated no opponent of note there or in her Bogota title run a month before, but she did win a set from Serena and generally looked at ease on her favorite surface.  Looming for her is yet another clash with her compatriot and fellow former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, who also showed encouraging recent form by defeating Kerber in Fed Cup and testing Sharapova in a Stuttgart quarterfinal.  The Serbs have split their two meetings on red clay, both of which lasted three sets, but Ivanovic prevailed comfortably in their only encounter from the past two years.  Scant reward awaits the winner, aligned to face fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in a matchup that has befuddled both of them through long losing streaks to the Pole.  Like Kerber, Radwanska would consider clay her worst surface, so a quarterfinal between them could tilt either way.

Semifinalist:  Radwanska

Fourth quarter:  The majors, Premier Mandatory tournaments, Premier Five tournaments, and year-end championships form a group of fourteen elite events that overshadow the WTA calendar.  Accustomed to (literally) overshadowing her opponents, Maria Sharapova has reached the final at thirteen of those—all but Madrid.  This year’s draw offers the world No. 2 some assistance in correcting that omission, for only one player who has defeated her in the last twelve months appears in her half.  And that player, grass specialist Sabine Lisicki, hardly poses a formidable threat on clay.  By contrast, potential third-round opponent Dominika Cibulkova has defeated Sharapova on this surface before and seems a more plausible candidate to end her red-clay streak.  Injuries have troubled Cibulkova during her most productive time of the year, however, whereas Sharapova has evolved into a far more dangerous clay threat since that 2009 loss.

One of two one-time major champions stands poised to meet Sharapova in the quarterfinals, but their uneven form this year opens this section for one of its several unseeded talents.  A champion here two years, eighth seed Petra Kvitova could meet ninth seed and 2010 Roland Garros finalist Samantha Stosur in the third round.  Troubled by a leg injury in recent weeks, though, the latter faces a difficult opening assignment in rising Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.  This clay specialist with an Henin-esque one-handed backhand will bring momentum from reaching the Portugal Open final, while Stosur fell to Jankovic in her Stuttgart opener.  Mounting a comeback from injury is 2012 Roland Garros quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi, who also produced solid results last week.  Flavia Pennetta’s comeback has progressed less promisingly, but she too has plenty of clay skills.  Meanwhile, can Sloane Stephens rediscover some of the form that took her to the second week in Paris last year?  Many questions arise from this section that only matches can answer.

Semifinalist:  Sharapova

Final:  Li vs. Sharapova

Champion:  Li Na

Check back tomorrow for a preview of the ATP draw in Madrid.

Quarters for Our Thoughts (II): Australian Open Women’s Draw Preview

Who gets to kiss Daphne this year/

After the mega-preview of the Australian Open men’s draw appeared yesterday, we take the same type of look at the women’s draw.

First quarter:  Like fellow defending champion Djokovic, Azarenka cruised through the first week of last year’s tournament.  Also like Djokovic, she should do so again this year against an early slate of opponents that features nobody more remarkable than Radwanska’s younger sister.  Urszula Radwanska recently lost to Wozniacki, which should tell you all that you need to know about her current form, and her sister can offer her little advice on how to solve Azarenka’s ruthless baseline attack.  The world #1 has taken the sensible position that this year’s tournament is a new opportunity for triumph rather than a chunk of territory to defend, an attitude that should help her advance deep into the draw.  While the quirky game of Roberta Vinci might bemuse her temporarily, Azarenka probably has less to fear from any opponent in her quarter than from the Australian summer heat, which has proved an Achilles heel for her before.

Among the most plausible first-round upsets in the women’s draw is Lisicki over the reeling, tenth-ranked Wozniacki.  The world #1 at this tournament last year, Wozniacki continued her 2012 slide by losing two of her first three matches in 2013, while she has failed to solve the German’s mighty serve in two of their three meetings.  Lisicki usually lacks the steadiness to string together several victories in a marquee draw away from grass, but Brisbane finalist Pavlyuchenkova might build upon her upward trend if she escapes Lisicki in the third round.  Although the seventh-seeded Errani reached the quarterfinals here last year, she fell to Pavlyuchenkova in Brisbane and might exit even before she meets the young Russian to the veteran Kuznetsova.  The most intriguing unseeded player in this section, the two-time major champion showed flashes of vintage form in Sydney and eyes an accommodating pre-quarterfinal draw.  She could battle Pavlyuchenkova for the honor of facing Azarenka, who would feel intimidated by neither Russian.

Semifinalist:  Azarenka

Player to watch:  Pick your ova between Pavlyuchenkova and Kuznetsova

Second quarter:  In a sense, all that you need to know about this section is that it contains Serena.  Case closed, or is it?  Conventional wisdom would say that a player of Serena’s age cannot possibly sustain the brilliance that she displayed in the second half of 2012 much longer, but she has built a reputation upon defying conventional wisdom.  An intriguing third-round rematch with Shvedova beckons just two majors after the Kazakh nearly upset her at Wimbledon, the tournament that turned around Serena’s comeback.   Mounting an inspired comeback herself last year, Shvedova has stalled a bit lately while suffering some dispiriting three-set losses.  Serena can outserve, outhit, and generally out-compete players like Kirilenko and Wickmayer with their limited range of talents.  Last year, though, Makarova delivered the shock of the Australian Open by ambushing her in the fourth round, reminding us that underdogs sometimes can jolt Serena before she settles into a tournament.

By the quarterfinals, the American usually has accumulated a formidable tide of momentum that compensates for the spiking quality of competition.  Considering the eighth-seeded Kvitova’s recent struggles, the quality may not spike so dramatically.  But Kvitova, who has lost seven of her last ten matches, may not reach that stage and may have her work cut out against Schiavone in the first round or ambitious American teen Sloane Stephens in the third round.  Stephens broke through at majors last year by reaching the second week of Roland Garros, just as British teen Laura Robson did by reaching the second week at the US Open.  An early upset of Kvitova, perhaps even by Robson in the second round, would result in an intriguing battle between these two rising stars with a berth in the second week at stake.  There, they could meet the evergreen veteran Petrova, who becomes dangerous just when one discounts her.  Kvitova’s compatriot Safarova also lurks in this area but blows too hot and cold to produce a deep run.

Semifinalist:  Serena

Player to watch:  Stephens

Third quarter:  The ultra-steady Radwanska finds herself surrounded by an array of stunning talents with a penchant for getting in their own way.  Leading the pack is the sixth-seeded Li Na, who has reached the semifinals or better twice at the Australian Open.  Although she won a home title in Shenzhen, Li played generally shaky tennis during her week in Sydney before an error-strewn loss to Radwanska that ended her 2012 momentum against the Pole.  Close behind Li in ranking and self-destructive potential is Stosur, who already has imploded twice on Australian soil this year.  The ninth seed probably deserves some forgiveness for those losses in view of her recent ankle surgery, but the fact remains that she has lost six of her last seven matches at home in an illustration of her frailty under pressure.  Stosur narrowly avoided an early date with Cirstea, her nemesis in the first round last year, and may meet Zheng Jie in the second round a week after she lost to her in Sydney.  For her part, Li must hope to reverse her loss to Cirstea at Wimbledon last year if that third-round meeting materializes.

Nearer to Radwanska lies another opponent of the same model as fellow one-time major champions Li and Stosur:  the charming and charmingly fragile Ivanovic.  Five years after her trip to the Melbourne final, she has not reached the quarterfinals there since.  The former #1 might face the other former #1 from her own country in the third round, resuming her sometimes bitter rivalry with Jankovic.  Although both Serbs accumulated success against Radwanska earlier in their careers, neither has conquered her as they have declined.  The fourth seed thus will feel confident of extending her nine-match winning streak from titles in Auckland and Sydney deep into Melbourne.  Perhaps she can follow in the footsteps of Sydney champion Azarenka last year, or in those of Sydney champion Li the year before.

Semifinalist:  Radwanska

Player to watch:  Li

Fourth quarter:  When Sharapova entered the Melbourne field without any match practice last year, she showed no signs of rust in sweeping to the final.  In the same situation, she will aim to produce the same result on a surface where the high bounce suits her playing style.  Sharapova could face Venus Williams near the end of the first week, assuming that the American survives the heat and her spells of uneven play to that point.  Away from grass, she has accumulated a far better record against the elder than the younger Williams, and one would favor her in that matchup considering the relative conditions of each career.  Either of these tall women would hold a significant advantage in power and serve over Dominika Cibulkova, the Sydney finalist who devoured three top-eight opponents before eating a double bagel in the final.  Rarely at her best in Melbourne, she faces an intriguing opener against local prodigy Ashleigh Barty but otherwise looks likely to enter the second week.

Somewhat more uncertain is the identity of this section’s other quarterfinalist, for Kerber looked only moderately convincing in Brisbane and Sydney.  A heavy hitter can outslug the German or frustrate her, a role that second-round opponent Lucia Hradecka could fill with her thunderous serve.  Principally a threat on grass, Tamira Paszek remains unpredictable from one week to the next and could meet Sydney sensation Madison Keys in a second round.  A 17-year-old with precocious poise, Keys may vie with Stephens for the brightest star in the future of American women’s tennis.  The eleventh-seeded Bartoli opens against Medina Garrigues, who played inspired tennis at the Hopman Cup, and will hope to break away from a series of unremarkable efforts in Melbourne.  While Kerber defeated Sharapova early last year, the world #2 squashed her in their other three meetings, nor has any of the other players in this section often threatened her.

Semifinalist:  Sharapova

Player to watch:  Venus

Final:  Serena vs. Radwanska

Champion:  Serena Williams

Excited for the start of the 2013 Australian Open?  I will run a live chat during many of the matches at newyorkobservertennis.com.  Check it out if you want to chat with me, some of my colleagues, and fellow fans while you watch the action in Melbourne.

Estoril Open: Juan Martin Del Potro survives first round scare

Juan Martin Del Potro

By Luís Santos

Women’s Defending Champion Out! Mixed Fortunes For Portuguese

Sun-grilled after a day at the Estoril venue, the biggest news in the women’s field was the departure of defending champion Anastasija Sevastova.

Under soaring temperatures for spring in Lisbon, Urszula Radwanska went toe-to-toe with 2010 champion Sevastova but it still wasn’t enough as the Latvian put an end to the first set 7-5. Second set was pretty much the same story with Sevastova finally gaining the edge to go up 6-5 on her serve. But it wasn’t to be as the younger Radwanska broke back and went on to claim the tiebreak 7-5. A deflated Sevastova had little in her tank to withstand the increasingly confident Polish and eventually lost 6-1.

Radwanska will now play Johanna Larsson of Sweden in the second round.

Also struggling today but managing to emerge victorious was Greta Arn.

The German was the 2007 winner and today faced off Portuguese wildcard Maria João Koehler. On paper it should have been a walk in the park but Koehler has stormed through the ITFs. The result? A three set tussle.

The German was solid during the first set as Koehler sprayed balls everywhere and eventually claimed the set 6-2.

After remaining close through the first four games, MJK finally started gearing up and went up 5-2. Arn closed the gap to 5-3 but after a highly disputed game, Koehler ended the rally with a dropshot to take the set 6-3.

As the third set rolled on, Arn stepped up as MJK lost steam. Arn went up 3-1 as the Portuguese complained of cramps to her legs and committed an array of errors. Koehler still managed to level proceedings at 3 all but from there on the Portuguese started misfiring repeatedly and Arn took her chances to win 6-2 3-6 6-3.

Next for the German will be clay court specialist Anabel Medina Garrigues who surprisingly stopped Romanian Simona Halep in two tiebreaks.

Also moving on was Jarmila Gajdosova who after a slow start, took eight games in a row to clinch a 6-4 6-0 winner over Czech Renata Voracova. Gajdosova now meets countrywoman Casey Dellacqua for a place in the quarterfinals.

Number three seed Klara Zakopalova was also among the winners on sunny Tuesday as she dispatched Beatriz Garcia Vidagany.

Other winners on day two included Kristina Barrois, Anastasia Yakimova and American Sloane Stephens. Stephens played compatriot Melanie Oudin but the latter was never in control of the match. Stephens and Oudin would methodically enroll in baseline duels with Oudin taking the initiative to go for the winner. Stephens, however, would slice, dropshot or make a blasting stroke to reset the point or gain advantage. As the match wore on Oudin was out of sorts and the less mediatic American won 6-2 6-1.

Gil advances. Pedro Sousa Out

After the departure of crowd favorite Koehler early on, all eyes were on Frederico Gil, who took the court mid-afternoon.

The Portuguese never looked unsettled during the 87 minute contest as he brushed aside Flavio Cipolla of Italy 6-3 6-2. Next up for the Portuguese will be the mighty Fernando Verdasco, the second seed this week.

Worst Luck had young prodigy Pedro Sousa. Despite battling it out with Juan Martin Del Potro for almost two hours, the Argentinian proved too good in the end. Even so, the Portuguese number 488th claimed the second set to the former US Open champion, losing a mere nine points on serve. In the end experience mattered most and Del Potro took the match 6-2 3-6 6-3.

Next up for Del Potro is Colombian Alejandro Falla who won after his opponent Pablo Andujar retired with a lower back injury. The score was 4-6 6-1 4-4.

Mixed results for the Brazilians as well. While Thomaz Bellucci defeated Frederik Nielsen 7-5 6-1 after being down 2-5, Marcos Daniel wasn’t so lucky as he went out to qualifier Eduardo Roger-Vasselin of France.

Rising star Milos Raonic was also in action today as he took on Igor Andreev on Centralito. Raonic was impeccable on serve winning 75% of the points with the first serve and saving all eight break points against him. Andreev faltered once each set to hand the Canadian a 6-4 6-4 win 1 hour and 24 minutes.

Other winners today in the men’s side included Carlos Berlocq and Pablo Cuevas. Berlocq will meet fourth seed Gilles Simon while Cuevas will take on third seed Joe-Wilfrid Tsonga on Centralito.

Mondays With Bob Greene: Andy Murray edges Novak Djokovic

STARS

Andy Murray edged Novak Djokovic 7-6 (4) 7-6 (5) to win the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters at Cincinnati, Ohio

Dinara Safina won the Rogers Cup in Montreal, Canada, beating Dominika Cibulkova 6-2 6-1

Caroline Wozniacki beat Vera Dushevina 6-0 6-2 to win the Nordic Light Open in Stockholm, Sweden

Filippo Volandri beat Oscar Hernandez 6-3 7-5 to win the Zucchetti Kos Tennis Cup in Cordenons, Italy

Dudi Sela defeated Kevin Kim 6-3 6-0 in Vancouver, Canada, to win the Odlum Brown Vancouver Open men’s singles

Urszula Radwanska won the women’s singles at the Odlum Brown Vancouver Open by beating Julie Coin 2-6 6-3 7-5

Patrick Rafter beat Michael Stich 6-3 7-6 (4) to win the s-Tennis Masters in Graz, Austria

SAYINGS

“Since I was a young girl it has been my dream to become number one in the world. When you get older, at least one day you can say you were number one and no one can take that away from you. You are in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour history books, and it’s a great achievement.” – Jelena Jankovic, who will take over the number one spot on August 11.

“Right now I know I’m going to be number one and I’m very, very happy to be number one. It’s a present for a lot of work in the past.” – Rafael Nadal, who will replace Roger Federer as number one on August 18.

“I secured the world number one ranking spot. I’ve never been number one in the world before, so finally I made that.” – Michael Stich, who replaced Goran Ivanisevic atop the BlackRock Tour of Champions rankings.

“It’s huge to win your first sort of major tournament, and to do it in a match like today makes it more special … I put in a lot of work off the court to be able to win these sort of tournaments, and it makes it all worthwhile.” – Andy Murray, after beating Novak Djokovic to capture the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters in Cincinnati.

“He was playing a lot of slice and changing pace to my forehand. I just lost the rhythm. Overall I wasn’t really happy with the way I played today. I could have played better.” – Novak Djokovic, after losing to Andy Murray.

“It’s the first time in my life I’ve won back-to-back tournaments. I used to win a tournament then lose first round the next week. But now I’m always just taking it one match at a time. It’s a new experience for me and really just amazing.” – Dinara Safina, after winning the Rogers Cup in Montreal.

“This was a great experience. Every round I beat a better player than me. I played really well in this tournament. Hopefully in my next final I will be more relaxed and not be scared about it.” – Dominika Cibulkova, after losing to Dinara Safina in Montreal.

“It’s been a fantastic week. But it wasn’t as easy as it looked. I was a little bit nervous in the second set when she came back.” – Caroline Wozniacki, after winning her first WTA Tour title, the Nordic Light Open, in Stockholm, Sweden.

“We’re going into the Olympics playing, I think, the best we have all year. To beat a great team like Andy (Ram) and Jonathan (Erlich), who have had a tremendous year, it bodes well.” – Mike Bryan, after he and his brother Bob won the doubles title in Cincinnati.

“It hurts me so much to miss the Olympics and the U.S. Open, you have no idea.” – Maria Sharapova, a three-time Grand Slam tournament winner who has been sidelined by a shoulder injury.

“Rainer Schuettler claims that he should be allowed to compete in the Games, considering that he has been entered by the German NOC [National Olympic Committee] and that he is eligible as a result of his position in the ITF computer ranking, due to the withdrawal of some players who were qualified for the Olympic tournament.” – Court of Arbitration for Sport, in a statement.

SET FOR NUMBER ONE – 1

Even though his match win streak was ended, Rafael Nadal will replace Roger Federer on top of the ATP rankings. He just has to wait a little bit for his crown. Nadal, who spent a record 158 weeks as the world’s number two player, assured himself of the top ranking when he beat Nicolas Lapentti in the quarterfinals of the Cincinnati Masters. But because he lost to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals, Nadal won’t move ahead of Federer until August 18, the day after the Beijing Olympic tennis ends. Federer has been ranked number one in the world for a record 235 consecutive weeks. Nadal’s loss to Djokovic snapped his 32-match winning streak, but he will become the 24th player in the history of the ATP rankings to hold the number one spot. He also will be the third Spaniard to be number one, joining Carlos Moya (1999) and Juan Carlos Ferrero (2003).

SET FOR NUMBER ONE – 2

Jelena Jankovic will take over the number one ranking in women’s tennis, replacing countrywoman Ana Ivanovic. The switch will occur on August 11 when Jankovic will have 3,620 points – eight more than Ivanovic, the French Open champion. Ivanovic was the first player from Serbia to be ranked number one. Now Serbia will have back-to-back number one players. While Jankovic will become the 18th player to be ranked number one in women’s tennis, she will be the first to reach the top without ever having played in a Grand Slam tournament final. Besides Jankovic and Ivanovic, others to be ranked number one are Chris Evert, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Martina Navratilova, Tracy Austin, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Jennifer Capriati, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Monica Seles, Amelie Mauresmo, Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport and Maria Sharapova.

SWEDE ENDING

Caroline Wozniacki needed two victories on the final day to capture her first WTA Tour title. Because rain washed out the semifinals on Saturday, the fourth-seeded Dane began Sunday in Stockholm, Sweden, by upsetting top-seeded and defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4 6-1. Wozniacki then completed the best week of her career by crushing Vera Dushevina 6-0 6-2 to win the Nordic Light Open. Wozniacki didn’t lose a set in her five matches as she became the first Danish player to win a WTA Tour singles title. Tine Scheuer-Larsen of Denmark won seven doubles titles in the 1980s and 1990s.

SHOULDER PROBLEM

Maria Sharapova will miss both the Beijing Olympics and the U.S. Open because of two small tears in her right shoulder muscle. An MRI revealed the tears after she withdrew from the Rogers Cup in Montreal. Doctors said time would heal the injury. The Russian righthander won the U.S. Open two years ago and was ranked number one in the world going into the French Open in May. She has since dropped to number three in the rankings. Sharapova has played in each of the past 23 major championships, winning

Wimbledon in 2004 and the Australian Open in January as well as the U.S. Open.

SITTING HOME

Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina and Stephanie Vogt of Liechtenstein are the latest withdrawals from the Olympic tennis tournament because of injuries. Chela was replaced by countryman Agustin Calleri, while Vogt was replaced in the women’s singles by Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand.

SPOT FOR SCHUETTLER?

Rainer Schuettler wants to participate in the tennis competition at the Beijing Olympics. Ranked number 33 in the world, the German has asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport to order the International Tennis Federation to enter him in the men’s singles competition at the Beijing Games. The ITF used the ATP and WTA rankings as a guide to determine who gets the 56 direct spots in the men’s and women’s singles competitions. Six of the remaining eight spots in each tournament were given out by the ITF’s Olympic Committee. Each country, however, is limited to a maximum of six players in each tournament, with up to four competing in singles and up to two teams in doubles.

SMASHING FOR CHARITY

Andre Agassi, Lindsay Davenport and James Blake will be among those playing at a charity event hosted by America’s top doubles team. The Bryan Brothers’ All-Star Tennis Smash will be held in Los Angeles on September 27 and will benefit local and national charities. “We were thrilled when Andre committed to play at our event,” Bob Bryan said. “On the court, he’s of course long been a hero of ours. Off the court, he’s been a mentor to us as we’ve watched him build the Andre Agassi Foundation.”

SHARING SPACE

Roger Federer and Bjorn Borg will team up for a special doubles event on November 20 in Macau. The two five-time Wimbledon winners will face John McEnroe and either Rafael Nadal or James Blake at The Venetian Macau Tennis Showdown in a Tour of Champions event. McEnroe’s partner will come from the country that loses the Davis Cup semifinal between the United States and Spain in September. The Showdown will also feature two singles matches – a one-set match between Borg and McEnroe, followed by a best-of-three sets between Federer and either Nadal or Blake.

SAFINA STREAK

Dinara Safina just keeps winning. The Russian right-hander won her third tournament title in her last six events by crushing Dominika Cibulkova 6-2 6-1 at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. Safina, the sister of two-time Grand Slam tournament champion Marat Safin, improved her record to 27-3 since the start of May. Nine of those victories have come against top ten players, including handing Justine Henin her career-ending loss.

SHOULDER WOES

With the key part of the hard court season beginning, Andy Roddick has been felled by a shoulder injury. Roddick was forced out of the Cincinnati Masters because of the injury, which he said he got from sleeping in the wrong position. The American decided to skip the Beijing Olympics so he could prepare for the year’s final Grand Slam tournament, the U.S. Open. But Roddick has suffered a series of disappointing results this summer, including a second-round loss at Wimbledon.

STICH-ED

His match interrupted at times by torrential rain and lightning storms, Pat Rafter nevertheless captured his first BlackRock Tour of Champions title in Graz, Austria. The Australian produced some impressive serve-and-volley tennis to beat Michael Stich 6-4 7-6 (4). Despite the loss, Stich, by reaching the final, moved to the top of the South African Airways rankings, replacing Goran Ivanisevic as number one.

STILL WINNING

Kimiko Date-Krumm ran her winning streak to three straight tournaments when she captured a $25,000 International Tennis Federation tournament in Obihiro, Japan, beating Suchanun Viratprasert of Thailand 6-3 7-6 (5) in the final. The 37-year-old Date-Krumm also won two other titles in Japan in recent weeks, in Myazaki and Tokyo.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Cincinnati: Bob and Mike Bryan beat Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram 4-6 7-6 (2) 10-7 (match tiebreak)

Montreal: Cara Black and Liezel Huber beat Maria Kirilenko and Flavia Pennetta 6-1 6-1

Stockholm: Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova beat Petra Cetkovska and Lucie Safarova 7-5 6-4

Cordenons: Marco Crugnola and Alessic Di Mauro beat David Skoch and Igor Zelenay 1-6 6-4 10-6 (match tiebreak)

Vancouver: Eric Butorac and Travis Parrott beat Rik De Voest and Ashley Fisher 6-4 7-6 (3)

Vancouver: Carley Gullickson and Nicole Kriz beat Christina Fusano and Junri Namigata 6-7 (4) 6-1 10-5 (match tiebreak)

SITES TO SURF

Los Angeles: www.countrywideclassic.com

Segovia: www.teniselespinar.com

Vale do Lobo: www.grandchampions.org

Cincinnati: www.cincytennis.com

Olympics: http://en.beijing2008.cn/

Olympics: www. Itftennis.com/Olympics/

Washington: www.leggmasontennisclassic.com

Bryan brothers: www.bryanbrosfoundation.org/invite/

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$525,000 Countrywide Classic, Los Angeles, California, hard

$125,000 Open Castilla y Leon, Segovia, Spain, hard

WOMEN

$100,000 ITF event, Monterrey, Mexico, hard

SENIORS

Vale do Lobo Grand Champions CGD, Vale do Lobo, Portugal, hard

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

Olympics, Beijing, China, hard

$483,000 Legg Mason Tennis Classic, Washington, DC, hard

$100,000 ATP Challenger, Istanbul, Turkey, hard

WTA TOUR

Olympics, Beijing, China, hard

$175,000 Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open, Cincinnati, Ohio, hard

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