winning ways

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Henin Out For Season, Murray Lift For US Open, Roddick Over Illness

*Returning Belgian ace Justine Henin has announced that the elbow injury she sustained at Wimbledon in July has curtailed her 2010 season. She will begin light training in October in preparation for taking part in the 2011 Hopman Cup which begins January 1. “Unfortunately the healing process is taking time,” Henin said. “This means I must be patient.”

*Andy Murray believes his final victory over Roger Federer in the Rogers Cup last week boosts his chances of lifting the US Open in three weeks’ time. “It was good for me to win today [Sunday],” stated Murray after the final. “Three good results in a row against Nalbandian, Rafa and Roger, so that will give me confidence for next week. I managed to stay tough mentally, which is always tough against Roger because he started to play some great tennis, but it’s a great way to finish the week – I played very well.” Murray also reiterated that he was in no hurry to find a replacement for coach Miles Maclagan anytime soon. The full interview can be seen at the BBC Tennis website.

*Andy Roddick has revealed that mononucleosis has been causing his nausea and tiredness in recent tournaments. After missing Toronto to get to the bottom of his illness Roddick has returned to winning ways at Cincy this week. “I’m just glad that we found out something that was causing it,” Roddick said before play taking to the court. “It’s nice to have a little bit of clarity moving forward. It’s not something that’s going to affect me, anything super-serious. It was just me wondering if I was out of shape or what was going on, why there was this lethargic feeling.” Roddick has been told he is getting over the illness so believes he will be fine for the US Open.

*Despite again hinting he may be close to retirement James Blake is one of those handed a wildcard in to the US Open by the USTA this week. Blake lost in 45 minutes to the Russian Denis Istomin at Cincinnati on Tuesday but the current world No. 107 reached the quaterfinals of the Slam in both 2005 and 2006. He is joined by compatriots Ryan Sweeting, Donald Young, Jack Sock and Bradley Klahn in being handed first-round places. Australia’s Carsten Ball and France’s Guillaume Rufin have also secured slots.

*Two famous names have been handed wildcard entries on the women’s side. Chelsey Gullickson, daughter of former New York Yankees pitcher Bill Gullickson, and Coco Vandeweghe, niece of former New Jersey Mets General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe, are to enter the first round draw. They will join American girls Jamie Hampton, Christina McHale and Shelby Rogers, as well as Aussie Sophie Ferguson and France’s Virginie Razzano in the draw.

*Juan Martin Del Potro latest – he is now NOT expected to defend his title at the US Open. Tune in next week for the next twist in this story.

*However, Venus Williams insists she will play the Slam despite withdrawing from Cincinnati and Montreal with a knee injury. “…I was not feeling 100 percent and I am very sad I wasn’t able to go back to Cincinnati and make my first appearance in Montreal,” she wrote on her official website. “But I am getting geared up to play in New York in just a couple of weeks.”

*In coaching latest – Paul Annacone is not with Roger Federer at Cincinnati. Is this the end of the trial?

*John Isner has assured fans the ankle injury he suffered against David Nalbandian at Cincinnati will not keep him out of the US Open. Serving for the first set at 5-4 he was forced to retire having rolled his ankle in the previous game. “It was just a routine second serve return that went into my body, so I moved to get out of the way,” said Isner. “So I had to jump up for it. Upon landing, my right foot just twisted really quick on the outside. That was it. I couldn’t play after that.”

*Novak Djokovic’s 6-3, 7-5 victory over fellow Serb and great friend Viktor Troicki was his 100th win at ATP 1000 Masters Events. His lifetime record now reads 100-36.

*American doubles legends the Bryan bros. have returned to the summit of the doubles game following their 7th title of the year at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. They now sit top of the individual doubles rankings although they remain behind Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic in the team rankings. They beat French pairing Michael Llodra and Julien Benneteau in straight sets in the final and Mike said: “We were lucky today. We played the best match of the year,” he joked. “We had a great week. It is one of our favourite weeks of the year. We will be back in 2012!”

*Kim Clijsters’ victory at Cincinnati was her third title of 2010. She now has more victories this year than anyone else showing just how wide open the women’s game currently is.

*After winning over Taylor Dent at Cincy this week Rafa Nadal has been complaining about the speed the court is playing at. He seems to think that the two North American masters Events (Cincinnati and Montreal/Toronto) should play at the same slower speed rather than Cincy playing closer to the quick velocity of the courts at Flushing Meadows. “It is something (that) in the future the tournaments can work to make the courts more similar,” Nadal said. “For us it’s difficult to adapt, especially if you only have one or two days [between tournaments]. When you get to semifinals or final it’s not easy to adapt, especially in the beginning of the tournament. So it’s big change. This first match always is very dangerous.”

*Tennis legend Chris Evert has been inducted in to the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame this week after a career which took in 154 singles titles, including 18 Grand Slams. Evert lifted the then-Canadian Open four times in 1974, 1980, 1984 and 1985 while she also lost the final to Tracey Austin in 1981 and great rival Martina Navratilova in 1989. “Aside from the Grand Slams, you had the best crowds and you certainly had very knowledgeable crowds,” she told those gathered at the induction ceremony.

*Roger Federer’s finals appearance in Toronto has seen him reclaim the world No. 2 slot from Novak Djokovic in this week’s South African Airways ATP World Rankings. He does, though, remain nearly 4,000 rankings points behind No. 1 Rafa Nadal. Andy Murray’s title lift has seen him consolidate his No. 4 slot ahead of Sweden’s Robin Soderling. Serbia’s Viktor Troicki (47) and the Belgian Xavier Malisse (49) both climb in to the top 50 while Russia’s Teymuraz Gabashvili sneaks in to the top 100.

*In the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings Caroline Wozniacki has climbed back above Jelena Jankovic to be world No. 2, although she, too, remains some distance behind No. 1 Serena Williams. Kim Clijsters’ Rogers Cup win sees her jump to No. 4 in the world while China’s Na Li re-enters the top 10. Ana Ivanovic is seeing a return for her improved form as she leaps from No. 62 to No. 39 and Timea Bacsinszky is in the Top 50 at No. 49. Dinara Safina’s woes continue as she drops from No. 35 to No. 70 this week and there’s a huge leap for Uzbekistan’s Akgul Amanmuradova who rises from No. 114 to No. 76.

*Roger Federer has announced he will play this year’s Stockholm Open, according to Swedish English-language newspaper The Local. Federer was a late withdrawal in 2008 but this time promises to be ready for the event where he will face competition for the title from local hero Robin Soderling as well as thorn-in-his-side Tomas Berdych. “The competition has fine traditions with winners such as Borg, Edberg, Becker and Agassi and I also want my name engraved on the trophy,” he said speaking from Cincinnati.

*Fernando Gonzalez has taken a wildcard in to New Haven next week. Ana Ivanovic also hopes to return from injury at the event ready for the US Open.

LTA AS ERRATIC AS MURRAY

Andy Murray

If you thought Andy Murray was uncharacteristically erratic in Monte Carlo on Wednesday, the whole match served perfectly as a metaphor for the strange behavior of Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) in recent weeks following the findings of the government’s report. The appointment of Murray’s former mentor Leon Smith as the new Davis Cup Captain has certainly raised a few eyebrows within the tennis world, with many left wondering if the experience of mentoring the Scot during his undoubtedly temperamental teenage years is enough to merit entrusting the 34-year-old with the future of British tennis? No doubt it must have taken some strength of character to handle 13-year-old Murray in a strop, but does he have the charisma to stir the team to victory and lure his former apprentice, the black sheep of British tennis, back into the fold?

Smith’s appointment signifies a distinctly strange choice for the LTA to make considering Greg Rusedski, an experienced Davis Cup player and popular choice amongst the players, was in the running for the job. It must be noted that great players do not always make the best of coaches, but still the decision symbolized one of Murray’s wild forehands out of court, rather than a safe topspin drive two feet within the baseline for the governing body. What is interesting is the motivation for this decision.

Smith described the appointment as “a huge honour and an irresistible challenge for me,” and went on to say, “I know the players, and I know that together we can get Britain back to winning ways in the Davis Cup.” Despite only reaching junior county level tennis for the West of Scotland and never coaching anyone over the age of 16, he has been appointed LTA head of men’s tennis following the recommendations of a review carried out by LTA player director Steve Martens, along with the accolade of Davis Cup Captain. Perhaps I should have applied for the job considering my similar levels of playing and coaching experience!

Martens commented, “Leon is the perfect fit for this important role, at this stage in the development of British men’s tennis. He’s a young British coach full of energy and passion, who’s already proved he’s a quick learner, and has the respect of the players” but was it simply a case of bowing to peer pressure from Murray?

It has appeared in recent weeks that the LTA can’t seem to make an independent decision of their own, with high profile employees delegating decisions left, right and center, while the appointment of Smith looks significantly as if they were blindly following the consensus of Murray who vocalized his opinions on Rusedski and the type of coach he would want as captain, although he has gone on record stating he had not named Leon Smith personally as his choice to the LTA. They were publicly criticized for the acquisition of high profile coaches such as Brad Gilbert, but once again this would suggest a knee jerk reaction to public opinion in appointing a relative unknown, a stab in the dark rather than a reasoned choice; only time will tell whether they have made yet another mistake.

Public opinion of the governing body cannot have been improved following their president, Derek Howorth’s erratic and strange public performance at The National Premier Indoor Tennis League’s official dinner, when reportedly during his speech, instead of politely commenting on the event, he took the opportunity to tear the British press to shreds, celebrated the LTA’s achievements and commented weakly that all will be put right eventually, clearly unconvinced that there is anything wrong with his beloved institution. Unsurprisingly, like a horrendous contestant on the X-factor, he was heckled by a lady in the audience. I have an idea what Simon Cowell might have said.

Indeed, it is clear the cracks are starting to appear deep in the armour of the establishment. According to reports in The Times, the LTA made another embarrassing bloomer, when their sports journalist was the one to point out that the LTA had got their entry procedures wrong for the ITF junior tournament in Nottingham – oops! The LTA should have submitted a top 75 ranking list to the appropriate authorities, but this was not carried out thus leaving the selection to be random, leaving out a number of top British juniors. Suffice to say, there were a number of seriously annoyed parents sulking across the country, shaking their heads in disbelief. The LTA’s response was: “New regulations were introduced for 2010 allowing national associations to submit a list of nationally ranked players after players with an ITF ranking. Communication on this new rule was not picked up in time to be implemented for the first two events in GB for this year. To cater for this, any relevant players adversely affected were considered by the national coaches for wild cards into qualifying.” The LTA admitted, “We didn’t apply the regulations as in effect per January 2010. This is unfortunate and, hands up, we made a mistake. The wild cards that were given out in qualifying could cater for a large group of the players without an ITF ranking but with a good domestic ranking; however this is not perfect”. Surely with a 60 million turnover, someone could have noticed and implemented this rule change?

This echoes with my own experience as an LTA ranked junior player aged 15, when results were not put in from a ratings tournament in which I embarked on a run so impressive that I faced Britain’s former No. 1, Anne Keothovong in the final, only to be told the points I had amassed from the tournament had not been added to my junior rating. This meant that my rating did not go up to where I belonged that year and when trying to rectify the situation, my mother was faced with the same kind of ‘closed shop’ treatment as the government, who recently commented that had the LTA been more open as an organization, the report would have been much easier to compile. It’s not a coincidence that my enthusiasm for the game dropped like a deflated helium balloon as I chose the safer option to pursue higher education, rather than a career as a professional tennis player.

Unfortunately, it is clear the chasm does run deep into the junior ranks and it is of no shock that this ripple effect over the years caused the tsunami of that infamous Davis Cup loss and the subsequent earthquakes of media attention the president is so obviously riled up about. So where is the solution? Well Mr. President, perhaps a look into the pool of unemployed graduate talent could be a start as replacements for the incompetent employees missing crucial rule changes and being about as decisive as a kid in a candy shop? Now, there’s a thought. Hopefully he’ll start ranting about me next!

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

Venus and Serena Williams Eliminated In Cincinnati; Clijsters Wins Again

Venus Williams

No. 14 seed Flavia Pennetta continued her winning ways as she dismissed No. 3 seed Venus Williams, 7-6(2), 6-4, on Thursday afternoon to advance to the quarterfinals at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open in Cincinnati.

The 27-year-old Italian has now won a career-best 14 consecutive matches, which includes winning the title last weekend at the Los Angeles Women’s Open and three weeks ago in Palermo.

“I’m really, really happy,” said Pennetta, who has now beaten three Top 10 players in her winning streak.

Throughout the match, Williams missed many routine shots and seemed out of sorts on the big points. The former World No. 1 had several unforced errors on crucial points in the later stages of the tiebreak that proved costly.

“I don’t feel like I executed my game effectively,” said Williams, who has won more than $1.5 million in tournament prize money this season. “I think I could have been more aggressive and played more in the court.”

Pennetta, who has won eight career singles titles, was steady on her serve and service returns throughout the one hour and 42 minute match. The Italian hit five aces, won 74 percent of first serve points and was able to win 25 of 38 second serve return points.

“After a while, it was obvious to see she was just keeping the ball in play and waiting for me to self destruct,” said Williams, the winner of 41 career singles titles.

As Williams sailed a forehand beyond the baseline, her 38 unforced error of the match, Pennetta raised her arms in excitement. With the victory, Pennetta improves to 4-3 lifetime against Williams, three of five which were played on hard courts.

The Italian advances to her sixth quarterfinal of the season where she will next clash with Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova, who beat No. 7 seed Vera Zvonareva, 7-6(0), 0-6, 7-6(5) in two hours and 50 minutes.

In other matches, the Kim Clijsters’ magical comeback story continues, as the Belgian knocked off No. 6 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russian, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, to win her third straight match against a Top 20 player in as many outings.

Clijsters, who a received a wild card to play in her first tournament since retiring in May 2007, came out of the starting gates strong for the third consecutive match, hitting remarkable angles as she jumped out to a 3-0 lead. The Belgian had a brief hiccup, as her serve was broke in the seventh game, but was able to regroup to close out the set 6-4.

“I think my mindset was very good,” said Clijsters, the newest mother on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. “”I really felt like in the rallies that I was dominating the points. “

The Belgian jumped out to another quick 3-0 lead to open the second set, before Kuznetsova fired back by winning six of the next seven games to win the second set, 6-4.

“Second set I fought hard. She was a break up and I still came back,” said Kuznetsova, a winner of 11 career singles titles including two grand slams. “

The players took a 10-minute break before the start of the final set due to the heat index rule. When they returned, Clijsters was in complete control throughout the final set, winning in convincing fashion, 6-2. Clijsters now improves to 7-1 lifetime against Kuznetsova.

“I am very happy to be able to stay focused,” said Clijsters. “I have to say I feel really good after this match.”

Clijsters will next face world No. 1 Dinara Safina, who cruised past Shuai Peng, 6-3, 6-4 in the night match.

In the final match on Stadium Court during the day session, unseeded Sybille Bammer upset No. 2 seed Serena Williams, 7-5, 6-4. Williams was off her game from start to finish, hitting 44 unforced errors, 25 of which were in the opening set. The reigning Wimbledon, Australian and US Open champ hit four double faults and just two aces, compared to 13 aces last night in her victory over Kateryna Bondarenko. Bammer, who improves to 2-0 life against Williams, hit nine winners and just 16 unforced errors in the one hour and 35 minute match. Bammer will next face No. 5 Jelena Jankovic, who defeated No. 9 Victoria Azarenka, 7-5, 7-6(4).

Other winners on Thursday in Cincinnati
No. 4 Elena Dementieva def. Sorana Cirstea, 6-4, 6-4
No. 8 Caroline Wozniacki def. Melinda Czink, 3-0 ret. Injury (low back)

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