World Cup

Davis Cup Fallout, Soderling and Norman Split, Stosur wants to be No. 1

*There were fabulous scenes in Belgrade on Sunday as Serbia defeated France to lift their first Davis Cup title and none bettered that of the Serbian players shaving their heads on court after the final rubber. It was Viktor Troicki who sealed the dramatic victory and he described it as: “…the most unbelievable moment of my life. Seriously, I think we all did a great job this year. I would like to thank everyone, the whole team. We truly believed that we could do it, even though we were 2 1 down. I’m without the words. This is the most easiest [way] to explain. I’m without the words. No words can describe my feeling right now.” World No. 3 Novak Djokovic was adamant that what they had achieved would take a while to set in: “It’s historic. This is our biggest success as individuals, as a team, as a country. We are not even aware of what we have done. This is the best moment of my career and probably of my nation. This is like winning the World Cup for us.” He also added the beautiful sentiment that it was “a team effort that won the title.” Serbian coach Bogdan Obradovic added: “My players showed that they are mentally the strongest team in the world. We showed we are number one.” Serbia are the thirteenth nation to win the much-rejuvenated tournament.

*World No. 5 Robin Soderling has split with his coach Magnus Norman after two years working together. Norman, a former world No. 2, joined forces with the top-ranked Swede when he was ranked No. 35 in the world. A statement on Soderling’s official website stated that Norman wished to focus more on his personal life and other projects. “I’ve had the two best years of my career so far with Magnus as a coach,” said 26-year-old Soderling. Norman added: “I look back on a fun and fantastic 26-month-long period of time together with Robin.” The Swede has replaced Norman with Claudio Pistolesi.

*Aussie star Sam Stosur believes she can one day reach the pinnacle of the sport. The current world No. 6, who reached her first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros this year (losing to Francesca Schiavone), said: “I’d love to get to that spot and even though six seems pretty close, there is a long way to go before you could ever contemplate being No. 1. But I guess you’ve got to be able to put those little steps in place and be able to kick off those short-term goals to try to get there. I believe in myself and my tennis enough that maybe one day it is possible, but it’s not going to happen without doing a lot of things correctly for a long time. I’ve been in the Top 10 for nearly a year now and I think that’s a good first step.”

*The doubles team of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi have been awarded the 2010 Grand Prix of Peace & Sports at the fourth International Forum Peace and Sport in Monaco. The pairing, whose slogan is “Stop War, Start Tennis,” have pleaded for the ending of hostilities between their native India and Pakistan. The citation of the award said, “Their commitment to promoting peace between the two countries and their conviction that peace was possible was shown amply during the year. In the US Open tournament they managed to bring together the ambassadors of India and Pakistan to support the same team.”

*Juan Martin del Potro will continue his comeback from injury at the Sydney International in January after accepting a wildcard in to the tournament.

*Former world No. 4 Jelena Dokic has received a wildcard in to Brisbane, the first tournament on the 2011 WTA calendar.

*The ATP have named their ‘Top 5 Newcomers’ for 2010. Tobias Kamke of Germany, Lithuania’s Richard Berankis, Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker, Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov and Mikhail Kukushkin of Russia are the lucky recipients.

*The WTA have announced their player of the year awards for 2010. Kim Clijsters was voted Player of the Year for the second time in her career while Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta were voted Doubles Team of the Year. Petra Kvitova won Newcomer of the Year and Franchesca Schiavone was instated as Most Improved Player. The full list of winners and the reasons behind the selections can be viewed at the WTA Website.

*World No. 1 Rafa Nadal has been nominated for the prestigious 2011 Laureus World Sportsmen of the Year Award. The Spaniard, who won the Newcomer Award in 2006, will face Formula One World Champion Sebastien Vettel, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and football stars Lionel Messi, Diego Forlan and Andres Iniesta, among others. Academy Member Boris Becker said: “I can’t wait to see who the Media Selection Panel will vote for, but I would be amazed if Rafael Nadal and Sebastian Vettel were not at the top the list.” The full thoughts of Becker can be seen at the ATP Website.

*Tennis legend Pete Sampras has had much of his career memorabilia stolen from a storage facility in West Los Angeles. His first Aussie Open title, 64 Tour trophies and prizes from a further 24 finals have been pinched, including two Davis Cups, five ATP World Finals trophies, eleven Masters titles and an Olympic Ring. “I was like, ‘What?’” Sampras said. “I thought there were security cameras. I thought these things were locked up tight. I was shocked. I’m not one to gloat about trophies, or show them off. I’ve never been like that. I just want them for my kids to see. They didn’t see me play, but I’d like them to see these things.” The full story can be read at Kentucky.com.

The Final Countdown – Doha

By Rishe Groner

It seems like only yesterday that we welcomed the dawn of the 2010 tennis season by rushing with joy to our seats in Melbourne Park, pushing away the crowds for Presidential seats at Hit for Haiti.

It’s been quite the year, as my aversion to any court that wasn’t bright blue was quelled as my travels enabled me to experience the life of a tennis jetsetter, from gate-crashing the semis at Roland Garros, to combing the streets of Barcelona for tennis during the height of the World Cup, to invigorating Flushing Meadows with my own brand of Aussie as a Smashzone volunteer.

As the WTA season draws to a close, we’ve put the boys on hold for a week consider the ladies, getting hot and sticky in Doha. Doha, for those of you who don’t know, is in Qatar. Qatar, for those of you who don’t know, is a nation that Australia played in a soccer friendly, which was my first ever soccer match. Just sharing the love. So now we have eight ladies left in the game, and they’re going to show us who really did best this season. (In case we still didn’t realise that Caro owns the universe, because she does.)

Love it or hate it, the WTA is unique for its, well, uniqueness. You never know who is going to win from one day to the next, and while some cringe at the unpredictability, others revel in it for the laughs, the dramas, and the gloriously bizarre on-court coaching. This year’s top eight is markedly different from last year’s, which says a lot about the nature of the tour. That’s all I’m going to say – you can read the grown up tennis blogs for all the commentary. But Caro owns the universe, did I mention? And I love Sam.

CARO

The girl played her heart out this year, and deserves every accolade she can get. She’s no Serena in star power, not to mention, well, power, but she has something else that few others in the WTA do: She’s a role model. In a world where girls go gaga over Miley Cyrus, here’s someone who knows where she’s at, works hard, stays fit, smiles and laughs, and does her best.

VERA

Vera first popped onto my radar this year when, falling asleep in a pool of my own drool as Sam battled her way to her first title of 2010, I espied a rather handsome looking young man in Ms Zvonareva’s box. It was the modelistic Sergey, Vera’s coach and essentially, the primary reason you should tune into any of her matches, unless you are like me and also love a good racquet smash. But that aside, this girl has had a helluva year. While the Grand Slams have shown up lots of surprise semifinalists and finalists (hello, Chinese ladies. Petra Kvitova? I’d forgotten about you..) we had Vera showing up at both Wimby and the USO, making it all the way. Well done. You now have Number Two, now go away and let Caro keep number one. I really couldn’t bear another “Slamless Number One” discussion, and I’m not going to defend you this time.

KIM

I love Kim. I really do. She made me very sad earlier this year when she “couldn’t find her racket” playing Nadia in Melbourne, but then all of a sudden it surfaced somewhere from the bottom of Jada’s toybox and she played like the champion she is all over again. Kim is as veteran, she owns the universe (look at her playing record against the rest of the Doha field, for example) and she’s also the grandma of this tourney. Which means she can’t win it, because it belongs to Caro. Did you hear me say, CARO! (Or Sam. But Caro needs the validation.)

FRAN

Wish this woman wasn’t so likeable, because honestly, what she did to me and other Sam fans should have put her on the crap-list forever. Instead, I kinda like her, and seriously how pretty was she at the player party? That’s all I can say about you, Frannie. I know you’re cool, but give me a bit of time to get over the hurt, okay?

SAM

Sam is the best, chuck out the rest. Last season she was all chokey and hadn’t had a few wins in a while, thanking her lucky stars for the top 20 seeding that gave her a decent run into the AO. In January, Channel Seven cut away from her destruction at the hands of Serena to avoid an Aussie embarrassment (we don’t like to realise we’re not good at anything). By June, the Aussie media were singing her praises and giving away free posters of our girl. And seriously, with her brilliant Aussie contingent penning songs to the tune of “Happy Little Vegemites,” how could you not love the girl? (Oh right, the biceps.)

JJ

Stop sulking, Jelena, and go home. We know you don’t want to be here, and there are about 800 women who would kill to be in your place. Let Na Li bounce her ponytail in here and show us her stuff, because you sure haven’t been.

LENA

Hi, Lena. Remember me? I was that girl screaming like a crazy woman when Justine whipped your butt in Melbourne. I’m that girl who always talks about how good you are, even when we sit there trying to fathom how you’ve hung around for so long and not accomplished that much. Here’s the deal, Lena. You won the Olympics, which means you can win this. Go ahead. Just, like, lose to Kimmy and Caro and Sammy, because they’re my true loves.

VIKA

After a tough year, Vika’s back in the top 10 which is a monumental effort considering the struggles she’s had, including her horrifying collapse on the court in the US Open. Whatever it is making her struggle in the heat, let’s hope it doesn’t resurface in Doha, because this girl’s persistence is going to be good to see in the round robin matches. Cos that’s as far as she’ll go. We’ll see you again next year, Vika.

THE WIMBLEDON MEGA PHOTO POST

After one week of Wimbledon and I am simply buried under the large quantity of photos. Photos of Maria Sharapova,  Jelena Jankovic, Caroline Wozniacki and extra bonus pics of the UNICEF Open of Maria Kirilenko and Ana Ivanovic.

Finding some privacy to sort out the photos is like looking for a quiet place in South Africa during a World Cup match! But I managed  and as a result I have selected the following pics:

Maria Sharapova – You just gotta see that dress. I think it’s the best looking dress of this Wimbledon. Well she is also very pretty ofcourse.

Caroline Wozniacki – Check Caroline supporting the Danish team earlier this week  by showing them how it’s done!

Jelena Jankovic –  Jelena doing her warming up before the match. Crucial for any athlete to have a proper one before you start a match.

Ana Ivanovic and Maria Kirilenko at the UNICEF Open were added as an extra bonus. Why? There is no party without the two of them. So I just added them to complete this mega photo  post of Wimbledon.

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FEDERER SHOWING HE’S CLOSER TO END OF CAREER: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Shaky Start – One man who can be glad that Grand Slams are best-of-five is current reigning champ Roger Federer. Federer was expected to cruise through his opening round having defeated Alejandro Falla twice in the last month, but the Colombian had other ideas. Playing a spectacular match for four sets, he nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in history. All credit to the Federer who dug deep and found a way to win, but he was right when he said he was lucky to have won that match. He didn’t look solid in his second-round match either. But nearing his 29th birthday, he is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. All reigns eventually come to a close and Federer’s career is definitely closer to the end than to the beginning. But he is still Roger Federer. He’s still a 16-time Grand Slam champion. He may no longer dominate as he once did, but only a fool would write him off now. He still has the hunger, desire, and heart, and as long as he has that, he still has a few more Grand Slam titles in him.

Marathon Men – The first week is coming to an end, and already it has been a Wimbledon to remember.  One of the biggest stories in sports this week (aside from World Cup drama), was the marathon match between Frenchman Nicolas Mahut and American John Isner. An 11-hour contest that shattered a multitude of records, it will undoubtedly be the match of the tournament. And as cliché as it sounds, in this case, I’ve never felt it more true that it was a shame someone had to lose. Both men are to be commended for the heart they showed, particularly Mahut who successfully stepped up to serve to stay in the match over 60 consecutive times before finally cracking to lose the match 68-70. Some will view this match as a case for instituting a fifth set tiebreak or making the first week of a major best-of-three, but I’m inclined to disagree. There weren’t necessarily a ton of rallies, but it was high drama. It got everyone talking about tennis. And at the end of the day, when you see how this unfolded, it would have been a shame to see all of that wiped out by a single tiebreak, something that more often than not gives the edge to the bigger server and could be decided by one errant backhand.

Downward Spiral – In case anyone missed it, James Blake and commentator Pam Shriver had a bit of a tiff during his first-round loss to Robin Haase. Blake could overhear Shriver’s courtside commentary, and he made it known to Shriver that he didn’t care for what she had to say. I sympathize with Blake to a point. It is a distraction if you can hear the courtside commentary and the fact that he was losing couldn’t have helped matters any. I also understand he’s dealing with what may ultimately be a career-ending knee problem, and he’s a former top player who has seen his ranking slip to outside of the top 100. Not much is going right for Blake at the moment. But I don’t think there’s any denying that he overreacted to Shriver (and had he been winning at the time that he overheard her, I doubt he would have even acknowledged hearing her commentary). It’s also not the first time he’s overreacted in a match. Earlier in the year, he went ballistic on a chair umpire, accusing the chair umpire of possibly costing him $25,000 due to his poor officiating, which he felt was attributing to his losing the match. Blake has always had the reputation for being one of the classier competitors on the ATP World Tour. If the game is no longer fun and Blake can’t keep his emotions in check, then he is right to seriously consider hanging it up. It would be a shame to see him tarnish his reputation at this stage in the game.

Tough Transition – Paris elation didn’t carry over to London for either Francesca Schiavone or Sam Stosur. While Schiavone has enjoyed some good results at Wimbledon, her early exit wasn’t a shocker, but that of Sam Stosur was. With a huge serve and a great all-around game, the Aussie’s strokes should have translated well to the lawns of the All England Club, but it was not to be. Hopefully this is just a minor blip and not a hangover from the loss in the French Open final. Sam has had such a great first half of the year, and it would be a travesty to see her lose her footing and confidence now.

Royal Audience – The grounds were abuzz with the fact that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II attended Wimbledon Thursday, the first time she had attended since watching Virginia Wade win the title in 1977. The tournament organizers did their part, scheduling Andy Murray as the first match on Centre Court. Much credit should go to Murray, who has been struggling with his form ever since reaching the finals of the Australian Open. He played one of his best matches in recent memory, and hopefully this is a sign of good things to come.

Davis Cup First Round Preview

This weekend, the 2008 Davis Cup competition will get underway with the first round for both the World Group and Zonal Ties. We’ll look in-depth at the World Group matches in the order of the draw from top to bottom and summarize the Zonal play. All of the pictures are from today’s team press conferences.

Russia Davis Cup Team 2008 2

Russia vs. Serbia (at Russia) (2-1 Russia)

At the top of the draw lies the most interesting tie of the first round. What may look on paper to be “Djokovic vs. the Russians” might actually be a little more complicated. Serbia’s second singles player, Janko Tipsarevic, just got himself a lot of attention for almost beating Roger Federer at the Australian Open, and Nenad Zimonjic is a top doubles player who will be coming off a Mixed Doubles win Down Under. The biggest question of this tie is, of course, how Russia’s crafty captain Shamil Tarpischev will make the decision between his deep and talented group of players. While the most likely Day 1 matches are Davydenko against Tipsarevic and Youzhny against Djokovic, with Tarpischev no one really knows until the players show up on court. After missing the 2007 Final against the USA, always unpredictable Marat Safin is back on the team. Selfishly, we’d love to see a Safin/Djokovic match for the sheer entertainment value.

The doubles match could be pivotal to this tie. It’s likely Djokovic will suit up with Zimonjic for Serbia, which would make for a formidable Serbian team. Russia’s best pairing is probably Safin and Tursunov, who won a title together at the end of last season. Youzhny is also a decent doubles player, but we think putting Safin and Tursunov out there would be a better strategy. At this point, we think this tie is too close to call.


Czech Republic vs. Belgium (at Czech Republic)
(6-3 Czech Republic)

With Berdych and Stepanek at home on their preferred indoor carpet surface, combined with two top 15 doubles players in Vizner and Dlouhy, it’s hard to see anything but a pretty comfortable victory for the Czech Republic. Of course, it’s Davis Cup and anything is possible. Vliegen, who made it to a Challenger final in Poland this week, is capable of big wins and Stepanek can be inconsistent, so if Vliegen can have a good day on Friday and keep the tie close, anything is possible. But it’s still hard to see Belgium doing too well in this tie.

Argentina vs. Great Britain (at Argentina) (2-1 Argentina)

Poor Great Britain. They have to go to Buenos Aires on the red clay and they have to try to do it without their top player, Andy Murray, who’s out due to injury. What can we really say about this tie, except that it’s hard to see the Brits even win sets, let alone matches, even though Argentina has lost Juan Monaco due to a severe ankle injury; he will be replaced by Sebastien Prieto and will probably play doubles.

Israel vs. Sweden (at Israel) (teams have never played)

This tie has a nice storyline just for the sheer fact that Israel is even in the World Group at all after their titanic win in last September’s World Group Playoffs. Fresh off their first Grand Slam title together, Erlich and Ram should take the doubles, but face formidable competition in Bjorkman and Aspelin, both top 20 doubles players. The singles matches are a little more difficult to predict. While small in size but big in heart, Dudi Sela was the hero of that World Group Playoff, beating both Nicolas Massu and Fernando Gonzalez in marathon 5-set matches.

Of course, one can never discount the Swedish players, who have a wonderful team camaraderie and often play their best tennis when playing Davis Cup for their country. Thomas Johansson played some of his best tennis of 2007 in Davis Cup matches, and a wild card in the tie could be the form of veteran Jonas Bjorkman, who will play his first matches of the year in this Davis Cup tie. This one will be one of the more interesting ties to watch.

Germany vs. Korea (at Germany) (teams have never played)

The fact that this tie is being played on indoor clay makes this one pretty easy to predict. While a Kohlschreiber/Lee match on Sunday would be interesting, it’s very likely to be inconsequential as it’s hard to see Korea gaining a point in any of the first three matches.

Peru vs. Spain (at Peru) (teams have never played)

This tie just got a whole lot more interesting with the news that Spain’s #1 player David Ferrer has withdrawn from the tie due to a leg injury. Spain still boasts a team of solid players, however none of the Spanish players have been in very good form lately and Ferrer’s replacement Lopez is not particularly good on clay. Peru has a very tough player in Luis Horna, so Spain will look to Robredo and Almagro, two good clay-courters, to save the tie for Spain.

Of course, we can’t forget the fact that this tie is important for the sole fact that it is Peru’s first time in the World Group – an important and noteworthy feat in and of itself!

Romania vs. France (at Romania) (7-1 France)

With the rise of Tsonga and Gasquet and the solid doubles pairing (and both competent singles players) of Clement and Llodra, this one seems pretty cut and dried, even though it is in Romania. Add that to the fact that it is being played on indoor hard, and this seems like it should be a pretty easy French victory. However, the Romanian team of Tecau and Mergea did defeat Llodra and Clement last year in the first round, and while Pavel’s getting up there in age at 34 years old, he is still capable of playing solid tennis. Additionally, this is the first tie where Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will take part. It remains to be seen how he will handle the different pressure that exists in Davis Cup play.

Austria vs. USA (at Austria) (2-0 USA)

For the ninth time in a row – a USA Davis Cup record – the defending champions will boast the same team, with two top 10 singles players and the #1 doubles team, the US team remains a veritable “dream team.” Of course, the US team always struggles on away ties on clay, and this tie should be no different. Add this to the fact that Roddick is coming off a disappointing and poorly-played Australian Open and that even the Bryan twins have had a disappointing start to the year having lost some close matches, and this tie is much more complicated than it might look on paper. Koubek had an excellent Australian Open and Knowle and Melzer are a solid doubles team with Knowle ranked in the top 10; he was part of the team that beat the Bryans in last year’s US Open before Knowle and his partner Aspelin went on to win that titlemelzer.

Though Blake has had some big mental breakthrough matches in the last few months, his mentality is still questionable on clay, and if Roddick continues his behind-the-baseline movement-dependent play on clay, an aggressive player like Melzer might be able to take advantage of that. In the end, we think the Bryans will rise to the occasion as they so often do in Davis Cup play and Blake and Roddick should both be able to eke out a win each and send the defending champs to the quarterfinals.

Zonal Ties

We can’t ignore the Zonal ties, where there are a few important stories. Namely, in Group I ties, Switzerland, playing without #1 Roger Federer, has been relegated to Zonal play. Perhaps even more surprisingly, so is Australia, who will travel to Taiwan with its #1 and Davis Cup stalwart Lleyton Hewitt to try to get back into the World Group.

Stay tuned for coverage from Thursday’s draw ceremonies around the globe and the matches when they begin!