wildcard

Welcome Back Alisa Kleybanova

There is great news in the tennis world.

The WTA announced on it’s website that former top-20 player Alisa Kleybanova, who has been battling cancer, has resumed her training and will play in the Sony Ericson Open main draw as a wildcard. The tournament, located in Miami, begins on March 19th.

The 22-year-old Russian announced she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma last July and has been undergoing successful treatments that finished in December. In her personal statement posted by the WTA, Kleybanova states that her doctors “are happy with [her] health” and that she is “feeling great!”

Read the full statement below:

Hi to all my friends and fans!

It has been a long time since my last message… and now I really want to get back in touch with you and share all the great things and emotions I have!

I finished my treatments in December and a couple of weeks ago I did my last tests in Italy. The treatments were successful, my doctors are happy with my health and I’m feeling great!

I would like to thank the Hospital Gemelli in Rome (Prof. Giuseppe Leone, Dott. Stefan Hohaus and their Team), and the Hospital Silvestrini in Perugia (Prof. Brunangelo Falini, Dott. Flavio Falcinelli and their Team). From the bottom of my heart I want to thank my coach Iulian Vespan, my boyfriend Giacomo, my family and my close friends that were next to me all this time. I will never forget it…

I have started to train and right now I’m in Florida playing tennis again!!! It was physically really hard in the beginning, but it was so emotional that I didn’t want to get off the court 🙂 This is just amazing, I’m working out every day now and enjoying it so much more than before!

More than anything, I’ve missed the competition. For me tennis is not just going on the court and hitting the ball – it’s testing yourself, seeing how good you are, trying new things, trying to improve, trying to win… For me the best part of tennis is the competition and I’m really looking forward to my comeback!

By the way, I just got confirmed my main draw wildcard into the Miami tournament, so I will see you guys really soon!!!

I don’t think I have ever been more excited :)))

Alisa

Kleybanova has won two WTA Tour titles, at Kuala Lumpur in 2010 and in Seoul in 2008, and was ranked a career-high No. 20 in the world almost exactly a year ago. With her powerful build and groundstrokes, Kleybanova also reached the fourth round at a Grand Slam twice, at the 2008 Wimbledon and 2009 Australian Open.

Kleybanova’s current ranking is No. 167, but she can use injury protected ranking as she returns to the competition she loves. Hopefully this is just the beginning of her success story.

From all of us tennis fans, welcome back Alisa.

(Photos by Getty Images.)

Wozniacki’s new boyfriend, Serena Williams uses protected ranking, Dulko gets married – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Righting the Ship

Last weekend saw two ATP stars move towards getting their game’s back on track and hopefully gaining confidence going into the summer season. Robin Soderling played some stellar tennis against a competitive field to take the title in his home country, defeating David Ferrer, on clay, in the final – which is no easy feat. The big-hitting Swede should take heart from this win going into the summer hard court swing, where his heavy groundstrokes should see him stage a successful summer campaign. Stuttgart victor Juan Carlos Ferrero took a very different path to his first title of 2011. The field there fell apart, but it didn’t make his win any less impressive. Playing in just his third tournament back since a lengthy layoff from wrist and knee surgeries, the former French Open champion showed glimpses of the form that took him to the No. 1 ranking, and certainly played above his then-current ranking of 85. The win gave him a much needed boost in the standings, and though he lost early in Hamburg, he will still undoubtedly take plenty of positives from Stuttgart regarding where his game is and where it can still go.

Sighs of Relief

There were probably many sighs of relief throughout the WTA when earlier this week it was announced that Serena Williams would be using her protected No. 1 ranking to enter the US Open. After sitting out more than six months with various health issues, Serena has the option to use the protected ranking for up to eight tournaments including one major. There had been some speculation as to whether Williams would instead take a wildcard that the USTA would have undoubtedly offered had the American asked, but Williams has wisely chosen to use the protected ranking. It will provide her a far better opportunity to play her way into the draw, and while the American is probably going to have to play more tennis than she is accustomed to doing in order to get the ranking up, the odds of her not having a sufficiently high enough ranking to gain direct entry into the 2012 Australian Open are slim to none (and even if on the odd chance that she’s still outside of the top 105 come 2012, it would be utterly shocking if Australian Open organizers didn’t provide her with a wildcard). You can bet that the rest of the top seeds are also happy with Serena’s decision, as none of them wanted to see her on the other side of the net in the early rounds.

New “It” Couple?

The rumor mill is abuzz with the possibility that current World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki is more than just a close friend of newest golf sensation Rory McIlroy. A source posted pictures of the two sharing dinner and a kiss last week in London. With the skyrocketing popularity of the young golfer and Wozniacki already touted as one of the glam gals of the WTA, they are set to become one of the sporting world’s newest hot couples. Perhaps a McIlroy sighting in Wozniacki’s box in the near future along with the inevitable press conference questions to follow will confirm the rumors.

Common Sense

After throwing out statements over the last 12 months stating that he was contemplating a return to the ATP World Tour, Mark Philippoussis has now confirmed that he is no longer harboring such ambitions. The Australian says that he is enjoying life on the seniors’ tour, as well as getting in some surfing on the side. It has to be said that much of the trouble in his life has been self-inflicted, but it’s nice to see that Philippoussis has made a smart decision that will hopefully pay dividends and start bringing him more stability in his life.

Off the Market

Gisela Dulko, who finished as the No. 1 doubles player in 2010 with partner Flavia Pennetta and was subsequently named Argentina’s Sportswoman of the Year, may be breaking several male hearts next week. According to Spanish press, the Argentine is set to marry Real Madrid player Fernando Gago next Tuesday in her home country. But even if she is officially off the market, she’ll still, as they say, “put butts in the seats.”

The Weekly Debrief – Federer praises Fish; Microphones in player boxes at US Open?

In this week’s Debrief, I catch you up on Sunday’s final in Cincinnati where Roger Federer fistpumped his way into a victory, touch on Mardy Fish’s current mental attitude, update you on the 2012 Olympics, and analyze the good, the bad, and the ugly about a new fan enhancement in effect at this year’s US Open, microphones in the player boxes. Wait, really? Yes. But first …. Federer.

Top Five

Roger Federer is once again the forerunner of this year’s US Open after taking the title Sunday in Cincinnati at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters. He defeated American Mardy Fish in a tight three-setter, 6-7(5), 7-6(1), 6-4.

What makes Federer’s run in Cincinnati so alluring is that he had only played a total of 37 minutes to reach the quarterfinals, and only 3 hours and 26 minutes to reach yesterday’s final. Compare that to Fish’s time on court prior to the final, 10 hours and 22 minutes, and the disparity is staggering. How could this have happened at a Masters 1000 event? And exactly how lucky is Federer? Well, Fish entered as a wildcard and proceeded to play all six rounds, with his quarterfinal and semifinal matches each going to three sets. Federer, however, had a first-round bye, a second-round retirement victory over Denis Istomin, and a third-round walkover from Philipp Kohlschreiber. Exactly how lucky IS Federer? Well, of the tournament’s four retirements, two came as a direct benefit to Federer.

This was only Federer’s second title of the season, as he had fallen in his last three finals in Madrid, Halle and Toronto.

This is a breakthrough of sorts for a champion whose tennis genius has been challenged by several players this year alone. The wide gap that once existed between the “King” and the rest of the players has diminished, allowing the upcoming US Open to have one of the deepest fields in recent times. Federer could come out crushing in Flushing Meadows, but he could also come out crashing as he did in Wimbledon, struggling from his very first match. Either way, he is fully prepared to attain that coveted trophy again.

Speaking of Mardy Fish, he’s had quite a decorated summer himself. Despite losing to Federer in a match that could have gone either way, he also improved to 2-0 in the year against Andy Roddick and 3-0 against Andy Murray.

His newfound game is most directly a result of his weight loss, but as with any change in a person’s life, their mental attitude tends to be even more telling of their physical state. Take, for example, John Isner’s recent annoyance about “still” being questioned regarding his second-round Wimbledon epic against Nicolas Mahut. Or Francesca Schiavone’s “so over it” attitude concerning how her life has changed after her Roland Garros win this year. Fish, on the other hand, has been constantly questioned about his weight loss and how it’s affected his game. He began his regimen when he went in for knee surgery in September of 2009. He then changed his diet, lifestyle, and obviously mindset because, almost a year later, he still doesn’t mind the reporters and fans asking him the same question about his weight loss. He’s proud of his commitment and it has paid off, why not enjoy it?

In Federer’s presser after his win over Fish, he applauded him for his “great serve,” accuracy and mixing up his shots and pace to keep Federer on his toes. “He’s got a great serve,” Federer remarked. “He keeps you guessing. His first serve is particularly hard to read and get any proper play on it. I saw the stats against Roddick, and he had 95% first serve winning percentage, not only here, but in Atlanta.” Although it looks like Fish will be seeded in the US Open, he will likely be at the top of many people’s lists for a possible upset of any of the top four men in the field.

On the heels of Serena Williams’ announcement that she has withdrawn from the US Open, last year’s men’s titlist, Juan Martin del Potro, has also withdrawn citing a recovering right wrist injury. To most avid tennis fans, this isn’t really “news,” but when it’s officially stated, it still stings.

Del Potro’s only tournament this year came at the Australian Open where he made a run to the fourth round. Currently, at number ten in the world rankings, after the US Open he is expected to drop out of the top 30. No doubt, a plummet in the rankings hurts del Potro’s return. However, it will also alleviate some of the expectations that people have of him coming back and winning every tournament he enters right away. “It would have been a pretty tall task for him to come back and [at] his first tournament be a major player,” said Andy Roddick. “That’s something that’s built up over time.”

So, the ugly injury list continues. We now add del Potro to an already-growing field of withdraws: Mario Ancic, Ivo Karlovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tommy Haas. Here’s to hoping this list doesn’t grow any longer, but with the intensity of today’s tennis game and players being in a perpetual state of injury and pain, I wouldn’t be surprised if at least two more players withdrew.

The 2012 Olympics in London are still two years away, but there are already announcements coming from tournament staff concerning the dress code at the tennis games. While Wimbledon is known for its all-white dress attire, the All England Tennis Club has decided to suspend the dress code for the London games which will be played at the same venue. “We have been very supportive to the Olympic organizers throughout the process,” stated AELTC chief executive Ian Ritchie. “We hope to some extent there will be a different type of audience. It is not a repeat of the Championships. It will be its own competition, have its own style and it will play out in its own way.”

Another change will be that only 12 of the available 17 courts will be in use, bringing down crowd capacity from 40,000 to 26,000. The question I have is whether there will still be a desire from fans to watch tennis a mere 20 days after the completion of Wimbledon, especially when there are so many sports at the London Games. The 2012 tennis event will also be the first to have mixed doubles, bringing the medal count to five: men’s and women’s singles as well as men’s and women’s doubles. If nothing else brings in the money, the mixed doubles may. It will be interesting to see possible new pairings such as Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic, or Serena Williams and Andy Roddick.

Last week, the USTA announced that it is expanding its “fan enhancements” for the 2010 US Open. It began with the inaugural US Open National Playoffs earlier this summer and will continue with venue improvements in Flushing Meadows, as well as online.

After reading about all the enhancements, I realized that one stood out unlike the rest. “Microphones in the Players Boxes.” Wait, is this what I think it is? “For the first time, microphones have been installed in the player boxes in Arther Ashe Stadium, which will help viewers get even closer to the emotion and drama of the US Open by adding perspective of the players’ guests as matches unfold.”

Can I admit that I’m a bit surprised this is allowed? As much as I would enjoy getting into the head of a player’s coach or parent, I wonder if every player and their guests are aware of this new “enhancement.” Some players don’t talk about their personal lives much, and many don’t disclose what they need to improve on in their game specifically. This lack of privacy that this new enhancement allows simply can’t be what they signed up for. Although I’m sure there will be player guests and teams that don’t cheer or say much during a match, others are quite vocal. Taking it one step further, who will be monitoring their conversations? The ESPN2 and Tennis Channel staff? They’re already armed with more information than the typical fan needs sometimes, why further disrupt the privacy of a player’s team by granting us access to their guests? I think a line needs to be drawn now or soon there may be a new “enhancement” that forces coaches to wear microphones at all times while they’re coaching so we can get “added perspective” as fans. Come on, enough is enough. Let us just watch what we signed up for: the beauty of the game.

ATP Bonus
Two greats, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, were interviewed by Cincinnati.com junior journalists last week. They ask Rafa how he celebrates after a great win and Roger on his cooking skills. These girls are asking great questions and better than some professional media out there!

That’s it for this week’s Debrief. Just stop by anytime you want a recap of the ATP Tour. We’ve got you covered!