Victor Crivoi

Mondays With Bob Greene: Thank God the hard court season is over

STARS

Sony Ericsson Open

Andy Murray won the Sony Ericsson Open men’s singles, defeating Novak Djokovic 6-2 7-5 in Miami, Florida, USA

Victoria Azarenka beat Serena Williams 6-3 6-1 to win the women’s singles at the Sony Ericsson Open

Pablo Cuevas defeated Victor Crivoi 6-1 6-3 to win the Tennis Napoli Cup in Napoli, Italy

SAYING

“The majority of players now play so well from the baseline and both sides, that if you can use some slice and drop shots, some high balls and stuff, it just takes them out of their comfort zone. It’s my way of dictating how the match is getting played. A lot of people might not necessarily think my game looks the most aggressive or offensive, but very few times will I not have the points played how I like them to be played.” – Andy Murray, who beat Novak Djokovic to win the Sony Ericsson Open men’s singles.

“You have to say, ‘Well done.'” – Novak Djokovic.

“That’s the goal. That’s the whole reason I’m playing. I think everybody’s goal is to try to be number one. I’m not going to say, ‘I’m going to be there,’ but I’ll try to do my best.” – Victoria Azarenka, after winning the Sony Ericsson Open.

“It was a little difficult moving to the left and a little bit to the right. A little forward was also difficult.” – Serena Williams, whose movement was hampered in her loss to Victoria Azarenka in the final.

“It’s so important to any country, but particularly to such a small country like Belarus, because it’s certainly going to make the headline of general news tomorrow. It makes me proud. It makes me want to give back to the country that gave me so much. It’s just great. I think Victoria is an incredible story. It’s been a while since we had a female player that’s played at such a high level.” – Max Mirnyi, who won the men’s doubles, helping give Belarus two champions at the Sony Ericsson Open.

“Thank God the hard court season is over. It’s the end of the hard court season. I don’t care anymore. I’m moving over to clay, a new chapter.” – Roger Federer, who is turning his back on his favorite surface after he failed to win a hard court tournament this year.

“Wonderful for the crowd. Terrible for me.” – Rafael Nadal, after losing to Juan Martin del Potro in the Sony Ericsson Open.

“I beat him with my mind and with my game. When we played long points, I was dominating every time.” – Juan Martin del Potro, after upsetting Rafael Nadal.

“I believe we are the best in the world. I enjoy playing Serena because we challenge each other the most.” – Venus Williams, talking about her sister Serena.

“Playing her, it’s like I have to automatically be on a different level, because she’s already playing on a different level. Her balls are harder and her serve is way bigger. And it’s super fun to hit these serves that are like 120 mph. It’s frustrating but at the same time fun.” – Serena Williams, talking about her sister Venus.

“It’s easier if I would have just played terrible the whole time.” – Andy Roddick, after losing to Roger Federer in a tough three-set match.

”I don’t care whether I’m under the radar or on top of the radar. Whatever. I’m just living my life and I enjoy it.” – Svetlana Kuznetsova.

“When you are more behind (the baseline), the courts look smaller and the opponent has more time to think. When you play more inside, you have more chances to have the winner, the court is bigger. So, the sport is really easy. You don’t need to study a lot to know about the tennis.” – Rafael Nadal.

SIXTH TEENAGE CHAMPION

Victoria Azarenka joined a select group when she beat defending champion and top-ranked Serena Williams to win the Sony Ericsson Open women’s singles title. At the age of 19 years, eight months, Azarenka is only the sixth teenager to win the title in the tournament’s history. Other winners were Monica Seles (16 years, four months in 1990), Martina Hingis (16 years, six months in 1997), Steffi Graf (17 years, eight months in 1987), Venus Williams (17 years, nine months in 1998) and Gabriela Sabatini (18 years, 10 months in 1989). By winning, the Belarusian moved to a career-high number eight in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Rankings. Azarenka lost just one set in her six matches. Williams was seeking a record sixth women’s singles title at the Sony Ericsson Open; she currently shares the record of five titles with Steffi Graf. By reaching the final, Serena Williams remained in the top spot in the WTA Tour rankings.

STRANGE ENDING

Rafael Nadal has a way of running away with matches once he gets ahead. That wasn’t true at the Sony Ericsson Open. The top-ranked Spaniard was up two breaks in the final set at 3-0 before Juan Martin del Potro won 12 of the next 14 points. “I played really bad all the time,” Nadal said. “When I have it 3-love in the third, I played worse. It was amazing disaster.” In the tiebreak, Nadal hit a ball that skipped along the net cord before landing in the court for a winner, giving the Spaniard a 3-2 lead. Nadal never won another point.

STOIC NO MORE

Normally Roger Federer has been the stoic Swiss. These days, nothing is normal for the superstar from Switzerland. He has yet to win a tournament in 2009, and in a three-set loss to Novak Djokovic at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Federer lost his cool. Playing in blustery conditions, Federer had what appeared to be an easy midcourt forehand. He slammed the ball into the net, followed by slamming his racquet onto the court. The shocked audience at first jeered Federer, but soon turned to cheers. “It must’ve been here against Rafa,” Nadal said of the last time he broke a racquet in anger. He was referring to the 2005 Sony Ericsson final when he trailed Nadal two sets to none before coming back to win. “There’s so much wind today, and once you start feeling bad it’s tough to regroup,” Federer said, then added: “But it’s the same for both players.”

SWEDE FINE

Because city officials decided to play a Davis Cup competition behind closed doors, the Swedish tennis federation has been fined USD $25,000 and the city of Malmo has been handed a five-year ban from hosting another Davis Cup tie. The International Tennis Federation’s Davis Cup committee also said Sweden would have to pay an additional $15,000, which it would have received in gate receipts had the March 6-8 match been open to spectators. Malmo officials said they decided to keep the public from the first-round competition to ensure the safety of the Israeli team. Malmo has a large Muslim community. Sweden is planning to appeal the decision because of the security threat that existed around the tie, which Israel won 3-2 to reach the quarterfinals. “The fact that over 1,000 police officers from the entire country had been commanded to Malmo and that equipment and cars had been borrowed from Denmark speaks for itself,” said Henrik Kallen, general secretary of the Swedish federation. “The Swedish federation still considers it irresponsible and unacceptable that individual local politicians have used Malmo’s situation for their own causes.” Other conditions were also placed on Sweden by the committee, including a written guarantee that future ties would be open to the public. The ITF said Sweden would also lose the right to choose the venue if a similar situation occurs in the future.

SEATS FOR SALE

If you want Centre Court seats at Wimbledon for the next five years, you’ll just have to cough up USD $40,700. For one seat, of course. The All England Club is selling up to 2,500 Centre Court seats in five-year blocks. Wimbledon officials say the right to one reserved seat on Centre Court for every day of the tournament between the years 2011 and 2015 will raise about USD $87.3 million. This year’s Wimbledon, which will feature the new sliding roof on the Centre Court, will be held June 22 to July 5.

SWISS-BASED COURT RULES

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has ended Filippo Volandri’s three-month ban for using an asthma drug. The Switzerland-based court also ruled that Volandri should be restored the ATP points and earnings that he lost. The only punishment remaining will be the loss of Volandri’s points and earnings at a tournament a year ago in Indian Wells, California, where he failed a doping test after suffering a first-round loss. Volandri claimed he had a severe asthma attack the night before his match in Indian Wells and was forced to take more of the drug, salbutamol, than the allowed amount. Volandri was suspended by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) on the eve of the Australian Open in January. The ban was due to expire on April 14. “The nightmare is over … Finally I can start playing again,” he said. “I didn’t skip one day of training.”

SPEAKING UP

John McEnroe will be an analyst when ESPN makes its debut televising the US Open beginning in late August. The Hall of Famer will sometimes be paired with his younger brother Patrick, a former player who has been an ESPN analyst since 1995. John will be a busy man at this year’s final Grand Slam tournament. He also will appear on Sports Center, ESPNEWS and ESPN Radio. Plus he will also continue working as an analyst for CBS during the US Open. During his playing career, McEnroe won 77 singles titles, highlighted by seven Grand Slam tournament singles titles, including four US Open championships. He also won 10 more major championships in doubles or mixed doubles. An avid Davis Cup participant, he led the United States to five championships. He also won the NCAA title while attending Stanford.

SPEAKING TO THE STATE

Andre Agassi wants Nevada to take advantage of what he called “a ripe opportunity” to make education system changes in a state that ranks near the bottom nationally in kindergarten-to-12th grade per-pupil spending and graduation rates. Speaking to the Senate and Assembly education committees, Agassi said he understands there is a difficult combination of a revenue shortfall coupled with the challenge of meeting student learning needs. But, he said, the state must help children to succeed. Agassi gave lawmakers a progress report on his Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, a public charter school the former tennis star opened in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2001 to serve at-risk students. The school will graduate its first senior class in June.

SIGNING FOR $$$$

With her surprising run to the Australian Open quarterfinals in January, Jelena Dokic is now reaping the financial awards. Dokic recently signed an endorsement contract with French sportswear company Lacoste believed to be potentially worth close to USD $4.4 million over three years. Represented by IMG, Dokic has also entered into a lucrative agreement with Australian budget airline Jetstar. Her racquet deal with Wilson is soon due for renegotiation. Before this year, Dokic had not won a Grand Slam tournament match since 2003.

SINGED

Upset with a magazine article, Lleyton Hewitt and his wife Bec say their marriage is stronger than ever. New Idea magazine in Australia claimed there was a “new man” in Bec’s life, and they published a picture of Hewitt’s wife with a man identified as “Minder Mark” and the Hewitts’s two young children. Lleyton and Bec identified “Minder Mark” as Bec’s brother, Shaun Cartwright. “Our marriage has never been stronger,” the Hewitts said. Bec Hewitt is demanding the magazine issue an apology and print a correction. The couple reportedly have started legal proceedings against the magazine. Describing the article as a “calculated deception” of the Australian public, the Hewitts said the magazine set out to increase sales by creating a non-existent love interest for Bec Hewitt. “This is not the first time that New Idea has fabricated articles concerning the Hewitt family,” they said.

SHARAPOVA INC.

Although she has played only one doubles match since last summer, Maria Sharapova is riding a way of commercial explosion unprecedented in women’s sports. Perhaps surprisingly, none of her sponsors are seemingly worried about her lack of playing time because of a shoulder injury. She just signed a USD $2.5 million-a-year deal with a shampoo maker and reportedly earns up to USD $30 million annually, most of it coming from endorsements. Since turning pro in 2002, Sharapova’s on-court winnings have totaled USD $10.2 million. Four of her sponsors are Tag Heuer, Cole Haan, Sony Ericsson and Canon cameras.

SAD NEWS

Sixteen-year-old Aaron Marion collapsed and died while practicing for his high school tennis team in Brooklyn, New York. “This was his first lesson, first practice,” said Clarice Sylvester, the youngster’s stepmother. After Marion collapsed, the tennis coach began CPR until medics arrived six minutes later. But neither they nor the doctors could save the teenager, who was known to have had seizures for the past year. The stepmother told reporters that Marion had been given clearance to play tennis by both the family doctor and a neurologist.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Miami (men): Max Mirnyi and Andy Ram beat Ashley Fisher and Stephen Huss 6-7 (4) 6-2 10-7 (match tiebreak)

Miami (women): Svetlana Kuznetsova and Amelie Mauresmo beat Kveta Peschke and Lisa Raymond 4-6 6-3 10-3 (match tiebreak)

Napoli: Pablo Cuevas and David Marrero beat Frank Moser and Lukas Rosol 6-4 6-3

SITES TO SURF

Casablanca: www.frmtennis.com

Houston: www.mensclaycourt.com/

Ponte Vedra Beach: http://mpsgroupchamps.net

Marbella, Spain: www.andaluciatennis.com

Torhout: www.koddaertladiesopen.be/

Monte Carlo: http://montecarlo.masters-series.com/1/en/home/default.asp

Charleston: www.familycirclecup.com

Barcelona: www.bcnwta.com

Davis Cup: www.daviscup.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$550,000 Grand Prix Hassan II, Casablanca, Morocco, clay

$500,000 US Men’s Clay Court Championships, Houston, Texas, USA, clay

$114,000 Status Athens Open, Athens, Greece, clay

WTA

$220,000 MPS Group Championships, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, USA,. Clay

$220,000 Andalucia Tennis Experience, Marbella, Spain, clay

$100,000 Koddaert Ladies Open, Torhout, Belgium, hard

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$600,000 Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, Monte Carlo, Monaco, clay

$100,000 Soweto Men’s Open, Johannesburg, South Africa, hard

WTA

$1,000,000 Family Circle Cup, Charleston, South Carolina, USA, clay

$220,000 Barcelona Ladies Open, Barcelona, Spain, clay

Mondays with Bob Greene: It is not crucial that we immediately get Nadal, Federer or Murray to play

STARS

Cedric Pioline beat Greg Rusedski 6-7 (4) 7-6 (3) 11-9 (Champions tiebreak) to win the BlackRock Masters Tennis in London, England

SAYING

“I took my chances and it worked. It was really close and it came down to a few points and I think at the end maybe I just returned a little bit better than him.” – Cedric Pioline, about winning the BlackRock Masters in London, England.

“I was just one or two points short. I had one match point in the second-set tiebreak, but Cedric played great and I think he’s a deserving champion.” – Greg Rusedski, after losing to Pioline.

“I think Roger’s going to break (my) record over the next couple of years. There’s a lot left in him. I think he’s gotten to a stage where it’s about the majors.” – Pete Sampras, on Roger Federer breaking his men’s record of 14 Grand Slam tournament singles titles.

“He is not going to overplay next year. He is just going to try to make sure that he peaks for the tournaments that mean the most to him.” – Tony Godsick, Roger Federer’s agent.

“It is not crucial that we immediately get (Rafael) Nadal, (Roger) Federer or (Andy) Murray to play. It is important that we get quality matches.” – Novak Djokovic, on the first ATP tournament to be played in Belgrade, Serbia, in May 2009.

SURPRISE

The United States Fed Cup team will take on Argentina in Surprise, Arizona, in February. The matches will be played at the Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex, which received the 2008 USTA Outstanding Facility Award. A USTA Pro Circuit women’s event is also played at the complex. This will be the fourth Fed Cup meeting between the Americans and Argentina, with the South Americans winning the last meeting in the 1993 quarterfinals in Frankfurt, Germany. The United States leads the overall series 2-1. Mary Joe Fernandez will make her debut as captain of the US Fed Cup team.

STAYING HOME

Russia will begin the defense of its Fed Cup title by staying home February 7-8 against China. The tie will be held on an indoor hard court in Moscow. Spain, runner-up to Russia this year, will travel to Brno, Czech Republic, for its first-round tie. Other World Group matches will find Italy at Orleans, France, while Argentina takes on the United States in Surprise, Arizona. Serbia, boasting two of the world’s top five players, will make its World Group II debut at home in Belgrade against Japan.

SLOWING DOWN

Only two clay-court tournaments are on Roger Federer’s schedule for 2009 prior to the French Open. Federer will go into the only Grand Slam tournament he has not won after playing Masters series events in Rome and Madrid. This year, the Swiss superstar played four clay-court events ahead of the French Open: Estoril, Portugal; Monte Carlo, Rome and Hamburg, Germany. Federer has reached the French Open final in each of the past three years, losing each time to Spain’s Rafael Nadal.

SERBIAN STOP

Belgrade, Serbia, is now a stop on the ATP tour. Novak Djokovic announced the Serbian capital will stage a USD $500,000 men’s tournament in May. Djokovic’s family bought the license of the ABN Amro Open, which had previously been held in the Netherlands. Ana Ivanovic, the reigning French Open women’s singles champion, is reportedly negotiating to buy a franchise for a WTA Tour event to be held in Belgrade next winter. Challenger events have been held in the past, but Belgrade has never been a stop on the main tours of either the ATP or WTA. Niki Pilic will be the director of the men’s tournament.

SHARAPOVA THREATENED

A former college football player has been arrested and charged with threatening Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova. Leonard Taylor, who was a defensive back for the University of Wisconsin from 1995-95, reportedly threatened to kill Sharapova and her family as well as his former college coach, Barry Alvarez, who is now the University of Wisconsin athletic director. Taylor’s father told police his son has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and stopped taking his medication about three months ago.

SYDNEY OUT?

Jelena Jankovic may not play the Sydney International after all. While organizers earlier said she would be in the field, they now say she has withdrawn from the official acceptance list. “Players often end up re-arranging their schedules a number of times and Jelena has not finalized her plans for 2009 yet,” said Craig Watson, the tournament director. Watson said Jankovic still could enter the tournament as a wild card.

SENIOR KING

Cedric Pioline rallied from match point down to outlast Greg Rusedski in an ace-filled match to win his first BlackRock Masters Tennis trophy. The Frenchman prevailed 6-7 (4), 7-6 (3) 11-9 (Champions tiebreak) as he and his British foe pounded out 22 aces. Rusedski reached match point at 9-8 in the Champions tiebreak, but Pioline won the next three points to grab the title. Pioline ended the season finale before packed crowds at Royal Albert Hall by winning all four of his matches, beating Jeremy Bates, John McEnroe and Pete Sampras en route to the final. Rusedski was perfect until he met Pioline, beating Guy Forget, Stefan Edberg and Pat Cash.

SAMPRAS THE TRAVELER

Pete Sampras is back on the world-wide tennis tour after spending some time in retirement. Last year, Sampras played exhibition matches against Roger Federer in the Far East. He began this month in Prague, presenting a tennis racquet to Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus while visiting the famed Prague Castle. He then played an exhibition match against Czech Radek Stepanek before going to London to compete in the BlackRock Masters tournament at Royal Albert Hall. Sampras won his first two matches, beating John McEnroe and Jeremy Bates, before losing to eventual winner Cedric Pioline.

SLUGGING IT OUT

Victor Hanescu proved that he is Romania’s top player by winning the First Edition of National Tennis Championship “Masters Romania” in Bucharest, a tournament limited to Romanians. In a match that lasted 12 minutes shy of two hours, Hanescu defeated Victor Crivoi 4-6 6-3 6-3. Monica Niculescu beat Irina Begu 1-6 6-4 6-1 to capture the women’s title. Both winners reportedly received houses valued at USD $210,000. The runners-up received SUVs, while those who finished in third place in the closed championships will receive free flights to all competitions throughout 2009, according to Xinhua, the Chinese news agency.

STILL UP THERE

He may be ranked number two in the world on the ATP tour, but Roger Federer still is the leading tennis player when it comes to raking in the money. Federer was fifth on the Forbes Magazine’s list of Best-Paid Celebs Under 30, having earned USD $35 million in 2007, including on-court winnings and endorsements. The only other tennis player in the Top 10 was Maria Sharapova, who earned a reported USD $26 million to finish at seventh. Serena and Venus Williams finished at 11th and 12th, respectively, on the magazine’s list. According to Forbes, the Best-Paid Celeb Under 30 was entertainer Beyonce Knowles, who earned USD $80 million in 2007, nearly double the amount of Justin Timberlake. Federer is the all-time ATP leader in career prize money, having earned USD $44.5 million to date.

SO LONG

With most top players in an off-season, Mondays With Bob Greene also will take a few weeks off. We will return on Monday, January 12, 2009. Have a great holiday.

SITES TO SURF

Doha: www.qatartennis.org

Brisbane: www.brisbaneinternational.com.au/

Chennai: www.chennaiopen.org/

Auckland: www.asbclassic.co.nz

Australian Open: www.australianopen.com/

ATP: www.atptennis.com

WTA Tour: www.sonyericssonwtatour.com

ITF: www.itftennis.com

TOURNAMENTS BEGINNING JANUARY 5, 2009

ATP

$1,110,250 Qatar ExxonMobil Open, Doha, Qatar, hard

$484,750 Brisbane International, Brisbane, Australia, hard

$450,000 Chennai Open, Chennai, India, hard

$100,000 Sao Paulo Challenger, Sao Paulo, Brazil, hard

WTA TOUR

$220,000 Brisbane International, Brisbane, Australia, hard

$220,000 ASB Classic, Auckland, New Zealand, hard