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From Canucks to Kazakhs: Previewing the Davis Cup World Group Quarterfinals

Yes, Novak, the challenge confronting Team USA this weekend is THAT big.

Balanced among four continents, the Davis Cup World Group quarterfinals illustrate the diversity of excellence in this sport.  From Vancouver, Canada to Astana, Kazakhstan, each of the ties contains multiple storylines that we discuss in a preview.

Canada vs. Italy:  Choice of surface often plays a crucial role in handing the home team a Davis Cup advantage, and such may prove the case again when a nation of fast-court players hosts a nation of clay specialists.  While Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini excel on the prevailing surface of Europe, the edge swings to the massive serves of Milos Raonic and the similarly aggressive style of Vasek Pospisil on the indoor hard court that Canada has laid in Vancouver.  Thumping Davis Cup superpower Spain in this arena to start 2013 World Group play, Raonic and his compatriots should have gained a valuable boost of confidence, albeit a little mitigated by the Canadian No. 1’s recent illness.  If Pospisil’s youth undoes him against the more experienced Italians, doubles specialist Daniel Nestor might suffice to supplement Raonic’s effort in propelling Canada through.  He has accumulated more renown in that area than any of the Italians, although Pospisil may be the weakest link of the four on the court.  The Canadians certainly will hope to win in three or four rubbers, for nobody wants to gamble on what Italian No. 2 Fognini can produce when inspiration strikes him.

Winner:  Canada

USA vs. Serbia:  With world No. 1 Novak Djokovic towering ominously above this tie, Team USA must rest its hopes on winning the three rubbers that he does not play.  Or must they?  Both of the American singles players, Sam Querrey and John Isner, defeated Djokovic on hard courts last season.  Querrey’s victory came on fast indoor courts in Paris, perhaps similar to those in Boise, while Isner’s triumph came on the marquee stage of Indian Wells, illustrating his tendency to excel on home soil.  Appearing to nurse an abdominal strain in Miami, Djokovic produced one of his least impressive performances on the spring hard courts in years and can fluster under the pressure of overpowering serves.  Much less impressive all season are the two American giants, however, so sustaining a Djokovic-stifling level of play in a best-of-five format seems beyond their grasp.  Instead, they will hope to win the doubles behind Bob and Mike Bryan and pounce on Serbian #2 Viktor Troicki.  Despite a first-round setback against Brazil, the Bryans almost always deliver for Team USA.  But Troicki holds a 5-2 edge over Querrey and Isner, so they will need all of the assistance that the home crowd can give them to make it 5-4.

Winner:  Serbia

Argentina vs. France:  Arguably the best Davis Cup team on paper, France enjoys the rare balance of star power and depth not only two top-15 singles players but an elite doubles squad in Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra.  Still, all of the Frenchmen will confront the challenge of playing on their worst surface against a team playing on its best.  Hoping that home-court advantage will narrow the talent gap, Argentina welcomes them to the Parque Roca with clay specialists Juan Monaco and Carlos Berlocq.  The former man has watched his ranking skid this year as he has not won a match outside Davis Cup, but he did sweep his two first-round rubbers against Germany.  Playing above his usual level in that tie, Berlocq defeated French No. 2 Simon twice in three clay meetings last year, which could offer the Argentines an edge if the tie reaches a fifth rubber.  To do so, and circumvent French No. 1 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, they likely would have to win the doubles match with their seasoned pair of Horacio Zeballos and David Nalbandian.  Those two have played many a Davis Cup thriller before and usually rise to the occasion, but Benneteau and Llodra usually do too, so the doubles could be the highlight of the weekend.

Winner:  France

Kazakhstan vs. Czech Republic:  If this regularly overachieving group of Kazakhs stunned a Czech team in their native Ostrava two years ago, they must feel sanguine about their chances against the Czechs in Kazakhstan. More important than the location of the tie, moreover, is the absence of Czech #1 Tomas Berdych, which leaves a massive void in the visitors’ singles lineup.  Stepping into the gap, Lukas Rosol hopes to recapture the magic that he found on a single day at Wimbledon but that has eluded him since then.  Neither Rosol nor the other Czech singles entrant, Jan Hajek, boasts much experience of success in Davis Cup.  In contrast, this same Kazakh team has delivered surprise after surprise against favored opponents in this competition.  Lurking in the doubles and perhaps in the Sunday reverse singles, Radek Stepanek must fill the leadership role for the defending champions, but the 34-year-old’s energy is limited and skills fading.  Without a single man in the top 150, the home team should reach the World Group semifinals for the first time.  Whether this reflects poorly or well on Davis Cup is open to debate.

Winner:  Kazakhstan

Milos Raonic Leads Canada to an Historic Davis Cup Victory over Spain

Raonic Leads Canada to Davis Cup Win

Milos Raonic won both of his singles matches, including earning the winning point on Sunday, to send Canada into the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas  World Group quarter-finals for the first time in the country’s history this weekend after defeating top-ranked Spain 3-2 at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver.

With Canada entering the Sunday reverse singles with a 2-1 lead following a singles sweep of day one  and a doubles loss on day two, Raonic  clinched victory for his team with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 triumph over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the fourth rubber. The 22-year-old Canadian was in control from the outset, hitting 22 aces and 55 winners. He saved the one break point he faced and broke Garcia Lopez’s on four occasions, including twice in the final set.

“It’s amazing to do everything we’ve done,” Raonic said. “I’ve been a minor part of it for the past few years consistently and to be able to get the win and have this conversation for the first time, it’s pretty amazing. I’m very proud with how I managed everything and how we pulled through.”

Raonic may be grabbing all of the headlines for his clinching win, but Frank Dancevic is the Canadian hero in the eyes of many after he put forth one of the most impressive performances in the history of Davis Cup en route to dismantling Marcel Granollers 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 to give Canada a commanding 2-0 lead after day one. Dancevic was, to put it mildly, in the zone and put his immense natural talent on full display.

“Just walking out on to the court I had goose bumps, and you know that everyone is behind you and that helps you play through tough situations,” Dancevic said. “The crowd was unbelievable, there were certain times when the match was difficult, and they gave me an edge. They motivated me to refocus on the point and I felt like they also put a little pressure on Granollers because the crowd was so behind me today.”

Playing without their biggest stars, This marks the first time since 2006 that Spain, the Davis Cup runner up in 2012 and champion in 2011, has lost a first round tie in World Group. In their first World Group quarter-final appearance, Canada will face Italy in the quarter-finals at home from April 5-7. Italy defeated Croatia 3-2 in the opening round thanks to a win by Fabio Fognini in the decisive fifth rubber.

“It’s a long process when you’re in group one and you’ve got to battle it out in a lot of places and for a spell there we seemed to play on the road so much,” said team Canada captain Martin Laurendeau, speaking of Canada’s journey into the World Group quarter-finals that began years ago. “I think we had a bit of a window a couple of years ago but still we were down 2-0 to Ecuador in 2011, and from there we just turned it around. We play that tie and the next one away and since then we’ve been in Canada and we’ll do that again in April. We’re happy to be in the quarters but we feel like we can keep on going. We’re riding a good wave right now and we’ve got to make the most of it while it lasts.”

The final total attendance for all three days of the tie is 17, 796, which is a new Canadian Davis Cup record.

Powerhouse French too much for Short-Handed Canadians

Photographer: Kyle Clapham

The anticipation had been building for months following the announcement that Vancouver would host its first Davis Cup tie in 20 years. It also just so happened to be the biggest non-Rogers Cup tennis event to be held on Canadian soil in the last decade.

In the end, the Canada-France first round World Group tie lived up to the hype and delivered on expectations despite Milos Raonic being forced to withdraw from the much-anticipated reverse singles match up with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga because of pain in his knee.

Raonic played and won his singles match on Friday, defeating Julien Benneteau in straight sets, putting forth a virtually flawless performance to give Canada it’s only point of the weekend in a 4-1 defeat. Level at 1-1 after Friday’s singles, Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau substituted the in-form Raonic for Vasek Pospisil to play with Daniel Nestor for the crucial doubles point. In the end, the French pair of Benneteau and Michael Llodra played subliminal doubles to secure the second point for France and Canada was dealt a major blow when it was discovered that Raonic had tweaked his knee during the first set which would ultimately keep him out of Sunday’s reverse singles.

Frank Dancevic replaced Raonic against Tsonga in the first match on Sunday and acquitted himself more than admirably, playing inspired tennis that ignited the boisterous crowd at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. Dancevic’s performance, perhaps his best since the former world no. 65 made a surprise run to the quarter-finals o f the Rogers Cup presented by National Bank in Montreal in 2007, just wasn’t enough against Tsonga who was also at the top of his game, hitting winners from seemingly everywhere on the court. The World no. 6 posted an impressive 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 win to propel France into the Davis Cup quarter-finals where they will play the United States on home soil. Tsonga said he was disappointed to miss out on the chance to play Raonic in this setting.

“For us it was a good surprise,” said Tsonga. “Milos (Raonic) is a good player, talented, and I was a bit sad to play against another guy, because I think it (would have been) a good confrontation with Milos.”

For his part, Dancevic thrived in his return to the Canadian Davis Cup squad and enjoyed every minute of playing in front of vocal, supportive fans.

“I felt the energy out there and I felt like I had a lot of momentum on my side,” Dancevic said. “I felt like anything could happen … and it came down to just a few important shots by him, especially in the second set. He painted the lines on a few forehands, hit some unbelievable down-line and cross-court one-hand backhands.”

Gael Monfils, who did not play Friday’s singles match against Raonic as originally anticipated, and Vasek Pospisil concluded the tie with an entertaining match that wowed the crowd featured more than one highlight reel shot from the always flamboyant Monfils. The Frenchman defeated Pospisil, Canada’s Davis Cup hero in 2011, 6-4, 6-4.

A total of 15,233 spectators attended the tie over the three days and certainly made themselves heard throughout the weekend and showed why Vancouver is the fastest growing tennis city in Canada. The Canadian team left with many lessons learned as they look ahead to their World Group playoff tie in September, but also proved they belonged among the top 16 Davis Cup countries in the world.

Vancouver Stoked to Host Davis Cup Elite

Team Canada practice session

Two years removed from hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the city of Vancouver will be all about tennis this week as many of the sport world’s eyes will be focused on the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, which will host Canada’s biggest Davis Cup tie in the last decade beginning Friday.

Canada will host a powerhouse team from France, which includes Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in their first World Group tie since 2004. This also marks the first time since 1992 that Vancouver will host a Davis Cup tie.

Led by their two young guns, Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, who played the role of Davis Cup hero last year to give his country this opportunity, Canada will attempt to pull off a huge upset in their first home tie since 2009. For the occasion, Tennis Canada has selected a fast indoor hard court that should help produce a few more aces and winners from the heavy-hitting Canadian racquets.

Not only did the event sell out within an hour, but the organizing committee has pulled out all of the stops to give their squad every advantage as they go after this monumental victory. “Operation Red and White” is encouraging fans to wear their country’s colours regardless of where they will be watching the matches and reinforces that France won’t win, at least “Not On Our Court”.  In addition, the Cactus Club Café in Vancouver is the official Team Canada Headquarters to watch the tie for fans who don’t have a ticket.

The one and only meeting between Canada and France in Davis Cup came way back in 1966 on the clay courts of Roland-Garros with the home side coming away with a dominant 5-0 win. The home team this time around is hoping for a much different result and Raonic and Pospisil will have to play the matches of their lives to make it happen. Not only will France be tough in singles, but they have also brought Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra, two of their doubles specialists to counter Canadian legend Daniel Nestor, who usually guarantees a point when he suits up for the crucial doubles rubber.

“It’s a short time frame compared to the other years, usually we have play in March so we have an extra month to get the match count high enough to feel really good about anybody’s game,” said Team Canada captain Martin Laurendeau. “But, the fact that it’s following a Grand Slam and it’s early in the season has forced the guys to be sharp early in the year and we are playing some good tennis right now.”

The task at hand may be a very difficult one, but there is a reason they play the game and the Canadian underdogs plan on showing their home fans why.

Davis Cup: Colombian Color Coordination

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Babolat and Li Ning did a wonderful job bringing together the Colombian Davis Cup as they host the USA at the World Group Play-offs this weekend in Bogota. Santiago Giraldo defeated Sam Querrey 6-2, 6-4, 7-5, in the second rubber and is now serving at 6-5 in the fifth set against Mardy Fish. (The Americans are up 2-1, so Giraldo needs a win to give Colombia a chance to advance.)

More: All the tie info available here.

Yellow, red, and blue: See another shot of Santiago’s crew (Babolat) and doubles player Carlos Salamanca in Li Ning:

We Really Need a New Davis Cup Logo

sam-querrey-daviscup10semisa

It’s too plain and generic (hmm… just like the guy wearing it?).

North and South: The American team (Mardy Fish, Sam Querrey, John Isner, and Ryan Harrison) hopes to overcome the clay courts in Bogota as they go up against the Colombians (led by Santiago Giraldo and Alejandro Falla) in the Davis Cup World Group play-offs. Get more details about the tie here.

(image via Getty Images)

Nice Shoes Lleyton Hewitt!!

lleyton-hewitt-daviscup10semisc

Lleyton Hewitt‘s dreams of bagging another Grand Slam might be long gone, but he can still put out a good Davis Cup show. He won the first rubber in this weekend’s World Group play-off against Belgium and also teamed up with Paul Hanley for the doubles win. The Aussies are now up 2-1; up next is Lleyton vs. Olivier Rochus. More info here.

Love that his Yonex shoes coordinated with the rest of his Davis Cup uniform.

Davis Cup Build-Up, Nadal Plays Down Federer Comparisons and Nadal Year-End Number One

Roger Federer

*With Grand Slam play over for another year attention turns to this weekend’s vital round of Davis Cup fixtures. France face Argentina in the semifinals in the World Group and French coach Guy Forget is pleased with the squad he has at his disposal despite the absence of top star Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as well as Julien Benneteau. “Michael [Llodra] has the game to bother [Juan] Monaco and Gael [Monfils] can beat anyone. And I feel that Gilles [Simon] is ready,” said Forget while also admitting his selection was “not an easy choice.” This may be referring to his decision to leave Richard Gasquet out of his team who has a disappointing 0-7 career record against top Argentine star David Nalbandian. “You’re not playing for yourself, you’re playing for your flag,” said Monfils. “You have your whole country behind you, an unbelievable crowd, your friends on the side, your captain on the chair. There’s a different spirit.”

*In the other semifinal Serbia square off against the Czech Republic and beaten US Open finalist Novak Djokovic says he is ready to step up to the plate and use the Davis Cup to alleviate his New York pain. “This is one of the key matches and the interest of the Serbian public is huge,” said the new world No. 2. “I’m ready to play in Belgrade, and I don’t think this loss to Nadal will affect my form.” The Czechs will be led by 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych who crashed out of the first round in the blistering New York heat to France’s Michael Llodra.

*Switzerland face a vital playoff against Kazakhstan to stay in the World Group but will turn to Stanislas Wawrinka to lead them after 16-time Grand Slam Champion Roger Federer pulled out of the tie to concentrate on the ATP Tour. “I need some extra time to relax after the intense weeks in North America so I can finish the year strongly,” said Federer, who lost to Novak Djokovic in that epic semifinal at Flushing Meadows.

*After Rafa Nadal became the third-youngest man to complete the Career Grand Slam in New York on Monday the inevitable comparisons between himself and Roger Federer have resurfaced. Nadal has played down talk of him being the world’s greatest and insists R-Fed is still the man to beat despite the Swiss No. 1 falling to No. 3 in the world. “I think talk about if I am better or worse than Roger is stupid,” said the 24-year-old. “The titles say he’s much better than me, so that’s true at the moment. I think it will be true all my life. For me, always Roger was an example, especially because he improved his tennis I think during all his career, and that’s a good thing that you can copy, no? So I try to copy this and I know Roger and me are different, much different styles. Being better than Roger – I don’t think it’s the right moment to talk about that because I don’t think that.”

*Nadal’s victory in New York means he will now definitely finish as the year-ending world No. 1 for the second time in three years. He becomes only the ninth man in the history of the South African Airways ATP World Rankings (since 1973) to achieve the feat at least twice. Only he and Switzerland’s Roger Federer have taken the top slot since 2000 outlining their dominance of the sport in the last decade. “It has been an incredible season – one of my best ever, if not the best,” said the nine-time Grand Slam winner. “Winning the US Open together with Roland Garros and Wimbledon, as well as the three back-to-back [ATP World Tour] Masters 1000s in Europe, was not easy.  I worked very hard to get back to the top and it feels really good to know I will end the year as No.1.”

*Super mum Kim Clijsters is eyeing the other three Grand Slams after lifting her third US Open title in New York. She has lost twice in the Roland Garros final (2001 and 2003) as well as the Aussie Open final (2004) and has also reached the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2005, last year and this year. “I’ll try everything I can to be in the best shape possible to try and achieve what I’ve achieved here,” she said in her closing press conference in New York. “They all motivate you in a different way. Tactic-wise you always have to adjust a little bit to each and every single one of them. But I think the one where I’ve felt I can do better than I have is obviously at the Australian Open. Similar surface.” For the full interview check out the BBC Tennis website.

*The post-Slam injuries are re-occurring once again. China’s Zheng Jie is the unlucky recipient this time around. She needs surgery on her left wrist and looks set to miss the rest of the year. In better news, Serena Williams has returned to the practice courts following her foot injury suffered stepping on broken glass.

*Dutch women’s wheelchair tennis star Esther Vergeer routed Daniela di Torro 6-0, 6-0 in the US Open final last week to lift her fifth Championship and sixteenth Grand Slam overall. After narrowly beating Florence Alix-Gravellier 7-5, 7-5 in the first round she only dropped one game over the next two matches on route to the final. Even more astonishingly, it was the 29-year-old’s 369th straight competitive victory. During that streak she has only faced one solitary match point; at the 2008 Paralympics. That is a record and a half!

*As tennis now heads to Asia for the climax to the 2010 season Kuala Lumpur has finalised its lineup for its ATP 250 Event, which includes five of the world’s top ten players. This makes it one of the strongest ever lineups for an ATP 250 event. US Open semifinalist Mikhail Youzhny (No. 9), David Ferrer (No. 10) and Nikolay Davydenko (No. 6) join Robin Soderling (No. 5) and Tomas Berdych (No. 8) in a bid for the title.

*The US Open has seen some changes in the South African Airways ATP World Rankings for this week (Sept. 13). Novak Djokvic is the new world No. 2 following his US Open finals appearance with Roger Federer slipping to No. 3. Mikhail Youzhny jumps five places to No. 9 following his semifinal berth while the Spaniard David Ferrer continues an impressive year by reaching No. 10 to make it three Spaniards in the Top 10. Stanislas Wawrinka is rewarded for his run by entering the Top 20 while Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro continues to be scolded for his injuries as he drops 24 places to No. 34 in the world. The Italian Potito Starace is the new world No. 50 while Paul-Henri Mathieu (No. 97) and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (No. 100) add to the French contingent in the world’s Top 100 players.

*The same can be said of the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings following last week’s sizzling Slam in New York. Venus Williams is back up to No. 3 in the world while beaten finalist Vera Zvonareva attains a career-high ranking of No. 4. Kim Clijsters drops to No. 5 despite lifting the US Open crown. Elena Dementieva re-enters the Top 10 and another Russian, teen sensation Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, is the new No. 20 as she continues her fierce assault on the world’s best players; another career best. Kimiko Date Krum continues to defy her younger peers by re-entering the Top 50 and Zuzana Ondraskova (CZE, No. 94), Pauline Parmentier (FRA, No. 97), Varvara Lepchenko (USA, No. 98) and Edina Gallovits (ROU, No. 100) are all in to the Top 100.

*Gisela Dulko and Flavia Panetta have become the first doubles team to qualify for the WTA Year ending finals in Doha.

*Richard Gasquet has split with his coach Gabriel Markus, reports L’Equipe. “I’ve been happy to work with Richard and we’ve had success,” the Argentine coach told the newspaper. “He has improved his ranking and his tennis. I tried to show him my way of seeing things and I did a little, but I think it’ll be more comfortable to continue as before, with Eric Deblicker. They have a very good relationship, and I wish them the best.”

*Another one for stat-fans like myself. This year’s US Open is the fourth time since 2000 that the Top 3 seeds in the women’s draw have reached the semifinals. It is also the third consecutive year the men’s final has been delayed till Monday because of weather.

*The Russian press are reporting that the 2004 French Open Champion Anastasia Myskina has recently given birth to her second child, a boy. She already has a 30-month-old son, Zhenya.

IS MURRAY GETTING TOO BIG FOR HIS BOOTS?

Andy Murray

By Melina Harris

Although I started the year praising Andy Murray’s cheerful new attitude and criticizing the negativity of the British press, I cannot help but discuss how he has seemingly gone from hero to zero in a strange start to 2010 for the outspoken Scot. After endearing hearts and minds with his sunny and supportive performances with Laura Robson at the Hopman Cup in January and his subsequent impressive run to the final at the Australian Open, he’s managed to obtain a rather negative image as the new ‘diva’ of the game, pulling out of tournaments at the last minute, ‘going back on his word’ and being accused of not showing enough respect to third tier tournaments, regarding them as on a par with his training.

Novak Djokovic, on the other hand, has started 2010 a little differently and is beginning to challenge his image as a one hit wonder. His hilarious impressions of other players (endearing himself to the followers of You Tube), along with his often flaky performances and flimsy excuses in post match interviews have often caused critics to write off ‘The Djoker’ of the tour, preferring Murray as the more serious contender to Federer’s throne. However, with his continued commitment to the ATP tour and his country, Nole is beginning to dismantle the challenge of his young Scottish contemporary (they are almost exactly the same age, with their birthday’s just weeks apart) at least from a PR perspective.

Unlike Murray, who has pulled out of two tournaments, Djokovic played in Rotterdam (a title that Murray won last year), won the recent Barclays Dubai Championship and is committed to representing his country in the Davis Cup next week as Serbia face the United States in the World Group, meanwhile Murray is leaving his British counterparts to drown alone in the depths of the Euro/African zone Group Two.

Indeed, it cannot be denied that Murray is starting to gain a bad reputation amongst tournament organizers, journalists and fans across the globe for his recent behavior. After pulling out of the Marseille event at the last minute, leaving the tournament without their top seed, because he claimed he hadn’t yet recovered physically or mentally from his huge disappointment in Melbourne, Jean-Francois Coujolle, the tournament director retaliated stating devastatingly for Murray that, ‘He can’t know what it is to keep his word. A week ago, he asked me for a wildcard to play doubles with his brother Jamie and I gave him one. A few days ago he asked me for five hotel rooms and I gave him them. The number one seed of a tournament should have a sense of responsibility. If he does not respect his commitments, he should be suspended by the ATP.’

Murray’s ensuing erratic performance in the second round of the Barclays Dubai Championship, where he lost to Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic unconvincingly, spraying error after error from his usually solid backhand wing and uncharacteristically charging the net and serve-volleying regularly coupled with his candid comments in his press conference have added more fuel to the fire.

Following his loss, Murray commented nonchalantly, ‘I would like to have won, but it’s not the end of the world. If it was a grand slam or something, my tactics and game style would have been a bit different. I was trying different things, so I made more mistakes than normal, I went for a lot. I said at the start of the year, that when you’re getting ready for the big events, you need to try some things. The stuff that I was doing in the matches here are similar to what I’d be doing if I was training this week. I’d be playing practice sets and working on serve-volleying and coming forward, you know and taking more risks.’

In other words, that despite being reputed to have been paid around $250,000 to guarantee his appearance and accommodated in the seven star Burj al Arab hotel (which would cost us mere mortals an approximate £2400 per night), he had the stupidity or audacity to describe the Third tier Dubai ATP Tour 500 tournament on a par with his practice ‘knock around’ sets with Miles Maclaghan. It was claimed by The Times newspaper that a veteran sports journalist almost walked out in protest.

Has Mr Murray got too big for his Adidas boots? Are Adidas in fact secretly wishing they’d stayed with his nemesis Nole?

In response to Murray’s words, Djokovic, a Players’ representative on the ATP Council, thought Murray was wrong to use Dubai as an experiment and said diplomatically, ‘You carry certain responsibility when you are in the world’s top five. You cannot just go out there and practice. Every tournament is important. That’s the way I accepted every tournament in my professional career. There are not just a lot of expectations from ourselves and our people that are surrounding us. It’s about the tournament and people who come to watch’; in doing so cementing himself as a professional with his binary opposite Murray as unprofessional, while simultaneously showing a high level of respect for tennis fans and tournament directors alike; a sharp move more customary during a presidential election than a post match interview.

Indeed, Novak’s gutsy performances in Dubai where he defended a title for the first time have added building blocks to the foundations of his exquisite public relations skills, as his last four matches went to three sets and in both the quarter and the semifinals he battled back from being a set down. He commented during the tournament, ‘Today was another example of how much I believe in myself and how much I fight until the end’; fighting talk from the world No. 4.

Yet another blow to Murray’s reputation came from Colm McLoughlin, managing director of Dubai Duty Free, the owners and organizers of the 18 year old tournament, who obviously already dismayed by the absence of a certain Swiss player who was sidelined with a lung infection, responded by saying, ‘We are not disputing Andy’s effort, but the comments he made after the match have caused concern. Many fans have come up to us and said that he seemed to have indicated Dubai was simply a warm up tournament. His management company tell us that Andy tends to be very candid but we would love to see him clarify what he meant.’ He also apparently wrote a strongly worded letter to Murray’s management company, 19 Entertainment, one would assume for an apology or at least an explanation.

It cannot go unnoticed of the hypocrisy involved with a tournament already embroiled in controversy after banning Israeli Shahar Peer from even competing in last year’s event; it seems the lucrative event would like to pick and choose its competitors. Can a tournament expect the same level of treatment from the top stars of the game as a Grand Slam? Perhaps they haven‘t heard of a little concept called karma (treat others how you would want to be treated in return or face the consequences).

Perhaps the glitz and glamour of the Dubai tournament, where players are treated like royalty, feted by Sheiks, taken to all of the best parties and housed in seven star luxury was always going to be more Nole’s ‘thing’ and computer gaming enthusiast Murray will prove wise to treat it as a warm up event? Will Novak’s commitments in the Davis Cup prove costly in the long run?

It’s interesting to note that Murray has played just 17 tournaments in the past year that hold ranking points, fewer than any other player in the world’s top twenty but has still managed to accumulate enough points to put a comfortable gap of one thousand between himself and Del Potro at No. 5 in the ATP world rankings.

Who is getting the balance right? Does great PR win you a Grand Slam or will Murray end the year victorious over his Serbian contemporary in dismantling the domination of Federer? The battle continues to sizzle seductively on and off court.

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.

FUNDING CUTS, COMEBACKS, WITHDRAWALS: TENNIS IN THE COMMONWEALTH

Alex Bogdanovic

By Leigh Sanders

British No. 2 Alex Bogdanovic’s career looks in jeopardy after the 25-year-old was told he is one of eleven players cut from the list to receive the highest level of support from the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) next year.

He is ranked No. 164 in the world, 97 places above British No. 3 Dan Evans who has been retained on the LTA’s high priority list. But the LTA appear to be growing impatient with his lack of progress and had already informed him in June that he was unlikely to receive a wildcard entry to the 2010 Wimbledon championships following his eighth consecutive first-round exit this year.

He is, however, still eligible for a reduced level of support. Bogdanovic had his financial support cut in 2004 after the LTA questioned his commitment but he recovered to reach a career-high 108 in 2007. The news comes following his recent exclusion from the British Davis Cup Team after only one victory in eight singles rubbers.

British No. 7 in women’s tennis, Naomi Broady, has also been left off the list despite finishing 2009 with three straight ITF titles and a career-high ranking at No. 309. The 19-year-old hit the headlines in 2007 when she had her funding cut after posting “inappropriate” pictures and messages on a social networking website.

*The venues for the opening round matches of the 2010 Davis Cup World Group have begun to be announced. The ties, played March 5-7, have given India a tricky encounter as they travel to Moscow to face the formidable Russians. The Indians lead 2-1 in head-to-heads and they will hope for progression to the quarterfinals as the Commonwealth’s only hope in the top band of Davis Cup countries. It is India’s first year in the top group since 1998.

*Belgian former world No. 1 Justine Henin has been handed a wildcard for the Sydney International in Australia next month as she makes her return to the tennis circuit.

*Britain’s Anne Keothavong has announced her return from knee ligament damage will be Team GB’s Fed Cup match up with Portugal in February. “To make my comeback from injury at the Fed Cup will be tough,” the 26-year-old told BBC Sport, but hopefully we can perform well and move GB into the World Group.” She joins Elena Baltacha, Katie O’Brien and doubles specialist Sarah Borwell in being selected.

*Casey Dellacqua has recovered from injury to secure a wildcard for the 2010 Australian Open after winning Tennis Australia’s 2010 Australian Open Wildcard Playoff. The 24-year-old returned from shoulder surgery to recover from a 1-6, 2-5 deficit to beat upcoming star Olivia Rogowska 1-6, 7-6(9), 6-3. Alicia Molik was also in the draw but fell at the quarterfinal stage. In the men’s draw, Nick Lindahl defeated Bernard Tomic to book his place at the 2010 extravaganza.

*The 2010 South African Open in Johannesburg has been hit by a host of shuns after registration for the event closed on Tuesday. Defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France will be missing as a tough schedule including Davis Cup play after the Australian Open means he can not return to defend his title. South African tennis fans will be angered that their No. 1 star Kevin Anderson has also decided to miss the event, instead choosing to play in Challenger Events of lesser stature in Dallas and Hawaii. Anderson infuriated his countryman a few months ago when he refused to play in South Africa’s crucial World Group Davis Cup Playoff against India and this certainly won’t heal those bridges. However Tsonga’s compatriot Gael Monfils and Spanish Davis Cup hero David Ferrer have confirmed they will play the event at the Montecasino Entertainment Resort.

*The latest ‘Active People Survey’ in Great Britain has shown an increase across all age groups of people participating in tennis. Those playing tennis weekly and monthly as well as club memberships have all seen increases. Yorkshire, in particular, saw a huge rise in the number of weekly participants. The stats will please the LTA who rank increasing participation highly in their ‘Whole Sport Plan.’

*Tennis Canada has announced the addition of promising junior Steven Diez to its National Team Program. The Toronto native will now represent Canada on the world stage.

*The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) of Great Britain was in mourning this week following the passing of three of its highly respected names of past and present. Board member Sir Robert Phillips sadly lost his long battle with cancer this week and passed away in the early hours of December 22nd, aged 64. His distinguished career also saw him serve as Deputy Director-General of the BBC and most recently as the Chief Executive of the Guardian Media Group. This followed the sad news that Dick Robinson OBE had also passed away aged 93. He joined the LTA board in 1954 and served as Chairman in 1973. Another former LTA President, Ron Presley OBE, has also lost a long battle with cancer and has passed away aged 78. He was one of the first men to serve as a Past President in 1995 when the category was first introduced.

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