WTA Event

Arvidsson Takes Memphis Title

by Rick Limpert, Special for Tennis Grandstand

Unseeded Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden won her second WTA title on Saturday in Memphis of all the places, the same city where she won her first.

Arvidsson downed fourth-seeded Marina Erakovic of New Zealand 6-3, 6-4 to take the championship of the Memphis International WTA event.

The 28-year old Swede used a strong first serve and deep ground strokes to keep Erakovic off balance most of the match. Erakovic jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the opening set, but a slew of backcourt errors let Arvidsson back in the match.

This was Arvidsson’ s 18th career match win in Memphis, more that she has at any another tournament. She only committed two unforced errors in the final match and she couldn’t be happier with the way she played and how she is treated in Memphis each year.

“I just love to play here,” stated Arvidsson. “I love the fans and I play well here.”

The two had met once previously on the WTA circuit, with Erakovic prevailing in straight sets last year in Stanford.

Rick Limpert is a freelance writer/photographer that covers sports, technology and the intersection of sports and technology. He is based in Atlanta and his writings can be found on Yahoo Sports and Yahoo News, Examiner.com and CBS Atlanta. You can follow Rick on Twitter at @RickRoswell.

WHERE IS BRITISH WOMEN’S TENNIS?: 25 YEARS SINCE ANNABEL CROFT’S BRITISH WIN

Today, April 28, 2010, marks the 25th anniversary of the last fully British female to win a WTA Tour singles title (Monique Javer won a WTA Tour singles title in 1988 but was only half British). On 28th April 1985, 18-year-old Annabel Croft of Great Britain, ranked No. 83 at the time defeated world No. 7 Wendy Turnbull 6-0, 7-6(5) to win the Virginia Slims of San Diego and her first WTA Tour Title, causing much excitement amongst the British press. The young British hopeful never rose to expectations caused by this victory and failed to win another title before quitting her professional career in 1988.

I doubt this statistic will bring a smile to the already frowning LTA reeling from the recent government report on their expenditure. But who within the British camp is remotely ready to step up and claim the next WTA tour singles title?

British No. 1, Elena Baltacha has certainly had a wonderful start to the year rising to a ranking high of No. 59, memorably beating world No. 10 Li Na in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells only to lose in the next round to Alicia Molik. She is currently training in preparation for the WTA event in Rome and it remains to be seen if she can produce back to back performances throughout the course of a tournament to win her first WTA title.

Britain’s Anne Keothovong and Katie O’Brien both won their first round matches of the Grand Prix De Sar La Princesse Lalla Meryem in Morocco. Keothovong recovered from an embarrassing second set performance to defeat France’s Julie Coin to win 6-3, 0-6, 6-4, but her form this year after being forced out of the game for six months due to a knee injury has hardly given enough evidence to suggest enough consistency to flip the coin of British tennis fortunes in the near future. Fellow Brit, O’Brien defeated France’s Pauline Parmentier 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 and commented “I was really pleased to come through my first match of the year on clay, especially as I haven’t had ideal preparation. I only started hitting on the clay a few days ago, as I was stranded in South Africa for six days where there weren’t any clay courts. I had to take five flights over two days to get to Fes, but I’ve recovered well, all considered. I’m now looking forward to tomorrow’s match against Renata Voracova. I lost to her last year in three sets on the clay, so I’m aiming to get my revenge.” She received more good news when it was confirmed that she had been given the key to a main draw entry in the French Open following the withdrawal of Sania Mirza. Out of the three, O’Brien is the less likely to emulate Croft’s singles victory considering her lack of victories over top ranked players.

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Laura Robson recently reached the semifinals of the $50k event in Alabama after winning five consecutive matches in the USA, battling to a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over the world No. 144 Sophie Ferguson of Australia in the quarterfinals; an excellent indication of the consistency of Robson throughout a tournament considering she also came through two matched in the qualifying rounds. She also went on a fine run to the quarterfinals in the doubles with fellow Brit Heather Watson. Could Robson be the one to break the 25 year wait?

Robson’s achievements in Alabama have seen her rise an impressive 46 places to a career high of No. 269 in this week’s WTA singles rankings. She also sits at No. 103 in doubles, another career high due to her great run of form that saw her reach the semi finals in doubles at the $25k event in Osprey, Florida the week before. I have a feeling we may need to wait a little while longer for our young star to win a WTA singles title, however perhaps she will be the one to bring home a Grand Slam too; we can only dream.

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.

POLITICS AND PEER PRESSURE IN DUBAI

By Melina Harris

A year on after the political tumult in 2009 caused by the refusal to admit Israeli Shahar Peer, even with the correct visa to enter the United Arab Emirates to compete in the Barclay’s Dubai Tennis Championships and the subsequent debate over whether to also exclude the men’s doubles player Andy Ram, both tournament and player overcame the political ‘Peer’ pressure to succeed in a continuing hostile political climate.

This year’s tournament played just a couple of hundred yards from the hotel where the senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed last month was still able to amass crowds of tennis fans to watch the WTA event and World number 22 Peer, showed extreme strength of character to reach the semi finals under the constant threat of violence on and off court, for she played her four singles and two doubles matches on an outside court at the insistence of the Dubai State Police for security reasons while all spectators were forced to pass through airport-like metal detectors before entering.

Peer insisted that ‘I’m not here to play politics’, but surely the mental effects from last year’s events must have fuelled her desire to perform well at this year’s tournament. She has won a huge amount of respect from her fellow competitors for her grit and determination earning $88,000 in beating the in-form Wozniaki convincingly en route to her semi final loss against Venus Williams, ironically the player who during her acceptance speech at last year’s final spoke passionately in defense of the Israeli, earning her an award from the Jewish community in New York.

Last year, tournament organizers defended their decision to exclude Peer from the tournament as they maintained Peer’s presence ‘would have antagonized our fans who have watched live television coverage of recent attacks in Gaza’ believing that ‘the entire tournament could have been boycotted by protesters’. This argument provoked a strong reaction, not only from Williams, Andy Roddick also famously refused to play the men’s event on moral grounds.

The lucrative tournament was nearly cancelled by the former chief executive of the WTA Tour, Larry Scott, who forcibly refused to concede that the effects of a three-week Israeli offensive in Gaza, which caused the death of 1,300 Palestinians allowed the organizers enough evidence to ban an Israeli from competing, which led to the tournament being fined a record $300,000, raising the issue of sport and politics to the foreground of much media debate.

Despite the media frenzy surrounding Peer’s reintroduction, Stacy Allaster, Scott’s successor insisted that ‘what happened last year is over and the chapter is most definitely closed’ and went on to say:

‘We will always stand by our insistence no host country can deny a player the right to compete at any event on the tour for which she has qualified by ranking. We took our stance by imposing the largest fine imposed in our history and requiring the tournament to put up a letter of credit for the prize money. We also insisted that any Israeli player would receive a visa well in advance of this year’s event. The tournament met all of those obligations and we are 100% happy with the way things have been.’

For Peer, who also suffered cruel jibes at the Australian Open, where anti-Israeli protestors held up placards of her in uniform with a Palestinian baby on her racket, the mental scars have clearly not healed. She revealed in an interview, ‘it hurt mentally and professionally, because I was playing very well. I was on a good run and I was ready for the tournament. It was a big tournament and I couldn’t go, so it really stopped my momentum. To be barred from a country is not a nice feeling. I think there’s no place for that in sport. I actually think that sport can make it better and help political situations, not make it worse.’

She also recently reflected before competing in this year’s event ‘it was a difficult time but sport should be outside of politics, so obviously I want to come and play here. We all need to be equal. I really wanted to win here, not only because of tennis, but because I want to make a statement that politics and sport should not be mixed.’

Can sport ever be truly separate from the political world climate? Can it, like Peer suggested, be a harmonizing force, making political situations better, rather than worse?

There have been numerous incidents across the sporting world where politics and sport have collided causing catastrophic effects, the most notorious being when terrorists attacked a bus carrying Sri Lanka’s cricket team in the Pakistani city of Lahore in 2009. It is a terrible shame that sport’s stars should sometimes live in fear of their lives while playing the sport they love, but unfortunately it is a reality that sport and politics will always be inextricably linked.

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.

Despite Loss, Cancer Survivor Sandra Klemenschits Wins In Grand Slam Debut

It wasn’t the result she was hoping for, but for Austrian doubles specialist Sandra Klemenschits, wins and losses don’t have the same impact anymore.

Playing with Aravane Rezai of France, the pair lost 6-1, 6-2 in the first round to the No. 5 seeds in the women’s doubles draw, Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia and Ai Sugiyama of Japan.

“After my illness, I’m just happy to be alive,” said Klemenschits. “We did the best we could against a team that are not just great players, but great people as well.”

Klemenschits used to be a top doubles pairing with her twin sister, Daniela. The pair won 20 doubles titles on the ITF circuit and reached the finals of a WTA event in Istanbul in 2006.

That all radically changed in January of 2007 when both players were diagnosed with a rare form of abdominal cancer, squamous cell carcimona. The chances of survival from the cancer are slim at best.

“It was a complete surprise,” said Klemenschits. “We’re both very healthy people and then all of a sudden, we’re being told that we both are dying.”

The sisters immediately underwent a series of expensive medical treatments in Germany. Lacking insurance, the costs of the treatment threatened to wipe them out financially.

The WTA Tour and its players responded with great generosity, putting together an online auction that raised over $70,000 for their medical treatments. Players including Martina Hingis, Maria Sharapova, and Justine Henin donated items for the auction. Later that fall, when Sugiyama won the doubles title at the WTA event in the Austrian city of Linz, she donated her winnings to their medical expenses.

“It was really special for me to be able to do that,” said Sugiyama. “This is about so much more than results or winning and losing. I’m so happy to see her back on the tour and doing so well. There were a lot of extra emotions running for me in our match today.”

“Sugiyama is one of the most amazing people that I know, but the support of all the other players was so moving as well,” said Klemenschits. “You can’t believe that people are thinking of you like this and doing these things for you.”

Although doctors told both sisters that their prognosis was promising, Daniela ultimately died from her cancer in April of 2008. She died at the same time Sandra was told that her cancer was in remission. Feeling that she needed a distraction, Sandra picked up a racket as soon as she was given the green light by her doctors.

“The first practices was so hard because the cancer wiped away all the power from my body,” said Klemenschits. “But I knew that I needed to do something.”

Three months after the death of her sister, Klemenschits returned to the WTA Tour in July of 2008 at an event in Bad Gastein, Austria. Shockingly, the titles soon began to pile up and Klemenschits returned better than before. Since returning to the tour, Klemenschits has won 8 doubles titles on the ITF circuit, five of them in 2009.

Klemenschits said that she still needs to be checked by her doctors in Austria every two months, but her cancer is still in remission and all signs are promising at the moment.

“Obviously, my perspective has changed after all of this,” said Klemenschits. “You start to think differently because you realize that life is so short. The most important thing for me right now is health, and to just enjoy everything that I’m doing. In the end, the winning and losing doesn’t matter as long as you have your health.”

Klemenschits will return to the ITF circuit in the fall for a series of events in Europe. She said that she hopes to serve as a motivation for people with the same illness as she had.

“The one thing that I would tell people is to be positive mentally and you can beat the cancer,” said Klemenschits. “If you aren’t thinking positive, then you have no chance. You never know what’s going to happen next, so it’s just important to enjoy every minute.”

Austrian Cancer Survivor Klemenschits To Make Grand Slam Debut In US Open

Austrian doubles specialist Sandra Klemenschits, who returned to the tour in July 2008 after overcoming a rare form of abdominal cancer, will make her Grand Slam debut this week at the US Open in the women’s doubles event. Partnering Aravane Rezai of France, they will play Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia and Ai Sugiyama of Japan, the No. 5 seeds. The match will take place either on Wednesday or Thursday during the first week of the tournament.

Klemenschits, currently ranked No. 111 in doubles, is a winner of 28 doubles titles on the ITF circuit. 20 of these titles came when she partnered with her twin sister, Daniela. In January of 2007, both Sandra and Daniela were diagnosed with a rare form of abdominal cancer, squamous cell carcimona, forcing them to retire.

Players including Roger Federer, Justine Henin, and Martina Hingis donated items for an online auction in June of 2007, raising over $70,000 for their medical bills. In April of 2008, Daniela Klemenschits died at age 25.

In July of 2008, Sandra Klemenschits announced she had beaten her illness and returned to professional tennis at a WTA event in Bad Gastein, Austria. Since returning to the pro tour 13 months ago, Klemenschits has won eight ITF circuit titles in doubles. She arrives at the US Open having won 10 of her last 11 matches.

Mondays With Bob Greene: You just try to first get the ball back

STARS

Roger Federer beat Novak Djokovic 6-1 7-5 to win the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

Elena Dementieva beat Maria Sharapova 6-4 6-3 to win the Rogers Cup in Toronto, Canada

Pat Cash successfully defended his International Tennis Hall of Fame Champions Cup singles title, defeating Jim Courier 6-3 6-4 in Newport, Rhode Island, USA

SAYING

“It’s been a wonderful summer.” – Roger Federer, winning his first tournament title after the birth of his twin daughters.

“The closest I was going to get to the first-place trophy is now.” – Novak Djokovic, while standing five feet (1.5m) from the crystal bowl that Roger Federer collected by winning the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters.

“I returned poorly and served poorly. Against Roger, if you do both of those things, it’s going to be very difficult.” – Andy Murray, after his semifinal loss to Roger Federer in Cincinnati.

“It’s only a number. I hope to be ready in the future to come back to number two or to be in the top position. Number three is a very good number, too.” – Rafael Nadal, who is now ranked number three in the world.

“When you have so many important points and every point is so tough, you have to give 100 percent. It really kills your brain more than physical.” – Alisa Kleybanova, after outlasting Jelena Jankovic 6-7 (6) 7-6 (7) 6-2 in Toronto.

“It’s tough to think about the winner’s circle because you have to take it one match at a time.” – Maria Sharapova, who has returned to the WTA Tour following a nine-month layoff.

“It’s big because it was against Venus.” – Kateryna Bondarenko, after upsetting Venus Williams in an opening round match at Toronto.

“It’s my brain. I know exactly what I have to do, but if I’m not using my brain, I’m not doing the things my coach is telling me.” – Dinara Safina, after losing her second-round match at Toronto.

“It’s difficult to push yourself to play relaxed, even though you know this is the end. But still, you are a player deep inside, so it comes out in important moments, and you want to win no matter what.” – Marat Safin, after winning his first-round match in Cincinnati.

“I’m actually having a competition with myself to see how many errors and double-faults I can make and still win the match in two sets.” – Maria Sharapova, after winning her second-round match in Toronto.

“I’ve already missed a Masters’ event this year when I got married, so I guess that wasn’t an option here unless I wanted to pay everyone off.” – Andy Roddick, on why he played in Cincinnati despite playing the two weeks prior.

“You just try to first get the ball back.” – Roger Federer, when asked the secret of playing winning tennis.

“Depending on the draw, my pick at this point is (Andy) Murray or (Andy) Roddick.” – John McEnroe, forecasting the winner of this year’s US Open men’s singles.

“I think there could be a battle for the number one in the world. That’s what everybody hopes for. This year the tour is very tough and it’s tight at the top. Hopefully that’s what we’ll get to see.” – Andy Murray, on the battle looming at the season-ending ATP World Tour Championships.

“My overhead cost has gone down considerably.” – Brian Wood, a promoter for a tennis exhibition in Asheville, North Carolina, after replacing Andre Agassi and Marat Safin with Rajeev Ram and Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo.

SETTING THE TABLE?

Elena Dementieva put herself in good company by beating Maria Sharapova and winning the Rogers Cup in Toronto, Canada. The fourth-seeded Dementieva captured her third title of the year and during the week won her 50th match of the season, something only Dinara Safina and Caroline Wozniacki had done in 2009. The Russian hopes to follow in the footsteps of the last three Toronto winners – Justine Henin in 2003, Kim Clijsters in 2005 and Henin again in 2007. They went on to win the US Open. The gold-medalist at the Beijing Olympics, Dementieva has never won a Grand Slam tournament.

SET FOR US OPEN

Despite not winning a tournament, Rafael Nadal says he’s ready for the US Open. Nadal had not played since suffering an injury at Roland Garros this spring until the past two weeks, in Montreal and Cincinnati. “These two weeks, winning three matches here and two matches (in Montreal), winning five matches and playing seven matches in total, it’s enough matches I think,” said the Spaniard, who has seen his ranking drop from number one in the world to number three during his absence from the court. “We will see how I am physically to play the five-set matches,” he said. “I know when I am playing well I can play at this level. But you only can win against these top players when you are playing your best tennis.”

SERENA’S IN

Serena Williams is the second player to qualify for the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships, which will be played October 27-November 1 in Doha, Qatar. The reigning Australian Open and Wimbledon champion joins Dinara Safina to have clinched spots in the eight-player field. By winning both the singles and doubles titles at the Australian Open, Serena became the first professional female athlete to surpass USD $23 million in career earnings. She moved past Lindsay Davenport as the all-time prize money leader on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Davenport has earned USD $22,144,735. And because she and her sister Venus Williams have won three doubles titles this year – the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, California, USA – the sisters currently rank second in the Race to the Sony Ericsson Championships Doubles Standings.

SCOT SCORES

Andy Murray has qualified for the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, which will be held November 22-29 in London. The Scot joins Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as the first three singles players to qualify for the elite eight-man event. By winning the Rogers Cup in Montreal, Canada, Murray moved up to a career-high number two in the world behind Federer. That snapped the four-year domination of Federer and Nadal at the top of the men’s game. The 22-year-old Murray is the first ATP player to record 50 match wins this year and has won five titles in 2009: Montreal, Doha, Rotterdam, Miami and Queen’s Club in London, where he became the first British champion since Henry “Bunny” Austin in 1938.

SUCCESSFUL DEFENSE

Pat Cash loves grass court tennis. The 1987 Wimbledon champion successfully defended his singles title on the grass courts of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, beating Jim Courier 6-3 6-4 in Newport, Rhode Island, USA. It was Cash’s second career victory in the Outback Champions Series, the global tennis circuit for players age 30 and over. Courier, once ranked number one in the world, is still seeking his first professional title on grass.

SHARING A TEAM

If only the Miami Dolphins were as well-known on the football field as their owners. Sisters Serena and Venus Williams are believed to be acquiring a stake in the National Football League team. Musicians Gloria and Emilio Estefan and Marc Anthony recently bought small shared of the team, while owner Stephen Ross forged a partnership with singer Jimmy Buffett.

SKIPPING CINCINNATI

Juan Martin del Potro is paying the price for his success. The sixth-ranked Argentine pulled out of the Cincinnati Masters because of fatigue. Del Potro reached the final of the Montreal Masters one week after winning the tournament in Washington, DC. He played 24 sets in two weeks. Winning seven matches at the US Open would take between 21 and 35 sets over a two-week period.

SKIPPING FLUSHING

Gilles Muller of Luxembourg and Ivo Minar of the Czech Republic won’t be around when the year’s final Grand Slam tournament gets underway in New York’s Flushing Meadow at the end of this month. Muller withdrew from the US Open because of a knee injury. He is best known for upsetting Andy Roddick in the opening round of the US Open in 2005 when he went on to reach the quarterfinals. Muller’s spot in this year’s tournament will be taken by Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay. An injury also has sidelined Minar. With his withdrawal, Rajeev Ram moves into the main draw.

SQUANDERING MATCH POINTS

Brothers Bob and Mike Bryan led 9-4 in the match tiebreak before Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic rallied to win the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters doubles in Cincinnati. In all, Nestor and Zimonjic saved eight match points before prevailing over the top-seeded and defending champions 3-6 7-6 (2) 15-13. Nestor and Zimonjic won six straight points but failed to convert their first match at 10-9. They were successful on their second match point, improving their record to 44-10 as a team this year and collecting their eighth title of 2009. Both teams have already clinched spots in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, which will be held in London in November.

SUBBING

Instead of Andre Agassi and Marat Safin, spectators at a tennis exhibition in Asheville, North Carolina, will instead be watching Rajeev Ram and Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo. When only 1,100 tickets had been sold for the 6,000-seat Asheville Civic Center, promoter Brian Wood decided to replace Agassi and Safin. He also dropped the ticket price from a high of USD $200 to a top price of USD $25. The promoter said tickets purchased for the Agassi-Safin match will be refunded. This wasn’t the first change in the program. Originally Safin was to play Novak Djokovic on August 6. When the date was changed to August 28, Djokovic was replaced by Agassi. “We could have canceled altogether or moved forward on a much lower scale, and that’s what we did,” Woods said. “The guys coming are still world class players who play at an extremely high level.”

SPEAKING UP

John McEnroe is covering the airwaves as tightly as he did the court in his playing days. This year Johnny Mac will join the ESPN broadcasting team for its coverage of the US Open. The broadcast will have its own brand of family ties. John will work with his younger brother Patrick, who has been a mainstay at ESPN since 1995. He also will team with ESPN’s Mary Carillo. The two won the French Open mixed doubles in 1977.

STRAIGHT IN

Taylor Dent leads a group of five Americans who have been given wild cards into the main draw of the US Open men’s singles. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) said they have also issued wild cards to Devon Britton, Chase Buchanan, Jesse Levine and Ryan Sweeting, along with Australian Chris Guccione and a player to be named by the French Tennis Association. Dent had climbed as high as 21 in the world before undergoing three back surgeries and missing two years on the tour.

Nine men have been awarded wild card entries into the US Open qualifying tournament, which will be held August 25-28 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Receiving wild card berths into the qualifying are Americans Lester Cook, Alexander Domijan, Ryan Harrison, Scoville Jenkins, Ryan Lipman, Tim Smyczek, Blake Strode and Michael Venus, along with Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria.

SHE’S BACK

Australian Alicia Molik is returning to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Once ranked as high as number eight in the world, Molik hasn’t played since losing in the opening round in both singles and doubles at the Beijing Olympics. Molik has asked for a wild card into the US Open where she plans on playing only doubles with American Meghann Shaughnessy. Her future plans call for her playing singles in a low-level International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournament in Darwin, Australia, in September. Molik won four of her five WTA titles in a six-month period in 2004-05 before a middle-ear condition affected her vision and balance, forcing her off the tour in April 2005. An elbow injury followed, leading to her announcing her retirement earlier this year.

SRICHAPHAN UNDECIDED

Although he hasn’t played on the ATP Tour since March 2007, Thailand’s Paradorn Srichaphan says he has not retired from tennis. “I’m not going to quit,” he said. “I just want to be back when I’m really ready.” Srichaphan underwent operations on his wrist in Los Angeles in 2007 and in Bangkok, Thailand, this year. He originally had planned to return to play last year, and then postponed it until the Thailand Open this September. But now he says he may not play in a tournament until 2010.

SITE TO SEE

Tennis Canada is considering combining both ATP and WTA events into one tournament the same week and playing it in both Toronto and Montreal at the same time. Under that plan, each city would stage one-half of the men’s main draw and one half of the women’s main draw. Montreal and Toronto would each stage a final, meaning one of the men’s and one of the women’s finalists would switch cities, making the one-hour trip by private jet. Currently the tournaments are run on consecutive weeks with the men’s and women’s events alternating annually between Montreal and Toronto. This year the ATP tournament was held in Montreal a week ago and won by Andy Murray. Elena Dementieva captured the women’s title in Toronto on Sunday. But the ATP and WTA are pushing for more combined tournaments, a trend that resulted in the creative suggestion by Tennis Canada.

SHOEMAKER SELECTED

David Shoemaker is the new president of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. The 36-year-old Shoemaker previously was the Tour’s chief operating officer, general counsel and head of the Asia-Pacific region. The native of Ottawa, Canada, succeeds Stacey Allaster, who was recently appointed the tour’s chairman and CEO. In his new job, Shoemaker will be responsible for the day-to-day operations and business affairs of the tour, tournament and player relations, strategic expansion of the sport in key growth markets; international television and digital media rights distribution, and the tour’s year-end Championships.

STEPPING UP

The ATP also has a new executive. Laurent Delanney has been promoted to Chief Executive Officer, Europe, and will be based in the tour’s European headquarters in Monte Carlo, Monaco. A former agent who managed a number of top players, including Yannick Noah, Delanney joined the ATP’s European office in 1994, serving most recently as senior vice president, ATP Properties, the business arm of the ATP. The 49-year-old Delanney began his career with ProServ, a sports management and marketing agency, and at one time was marketing and publication operations manager for Club Med in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

SHOW AND TELL

The International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum’s gallery exhibition at this year’s US Open will be titled “The Grand Slam: Tennis’ Ultimate Achievement.” The exhibit chronicles the accomplishment of the calendar-year Grand Slam as 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of Rod Laver’s 1969 singles Grand Slam and the 25th anniversary of Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver’s 1984 doubles Grand Slam. Among the many stars featured in the exhibit are Don Budge, Maureen Connolly, Margaret Smith Court, Steffi Graf, Maria Bueno, Martina Hingis and Stefan Edberg. The exhibition will be on view from August 29 through September 13 in the US Open Gallery.

SUPERB WRITING

The telling of the 2008 epic Wimbledon final between eventual winner Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer earned New York Daily News columnist Filip Bondy a first-place award from the United States Tennis Writers’ Association. The three-judge panel called Bondy’s story “a masterful, compelling account of the greatest match, told with vivid quotes and observations, a deft touch, and a grand sense of tennis history.” Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle, Tim Joyce of RealClearSports.com and Paul Fein, whose work was published by TennisOne.com and Sportstar, each were double winners. The awards will be presented during the USTWA’s annual meeting at the US Open.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Cincinnati: Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic beat Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan 3-6 7-6 (2) 15-13 (match tiebreak)

Toronto: Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez beat Samantha Stosur and Rennae Stubbs 2-6 7-5 11-9 (match tiebreak)

SITES TO SURF

New Haven: www.pilotpentennis.com/

Bronx: www.nyjtl.org/tournaments/ghiBronx/index.htm

New York: www.usopen.org

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$750,000 Pilot Pen Tennis, New Haven, Connecticut, USA, hard

WTA

$600,000 Pilot Pen Tennis Presented by Schick, New Haven, Connecticut, USA, hard

$100,000 EmblemHealth Bronx Open, Bronx, New York, USA, hard

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP and WTA

US Open (first week), New York, New York, USA, hard

When It Comes To Rankings, Serena Has Only Herself To Blame

When Serena Williams won Wimbledon earlier this summer, she mockingly praised Dinara Safina for her No. 1 ranking, saying she earned it by winning Rome and Madrid before bursting out into laughter.

Delightfully catty as these comments might be, Safina has ultimately been able to accomplish something that Serena hasn’t: producing consistent results over an entire calendar year.

Common sense would tell you that three Grand Slams are more worthy of the No. 1 ranking than winning a few premiere events as Safina has done. However, throughout their entire careers, Serena and older sister Venus have remained an anomaly, the exception to virtually every rule in tennis. Serena’s results over the last year are a prime example of this. How can a player win three of the last four Grand Slams, yet fail to win a WTA event in almost 18 months and post a 3-5 record in WTA events since April?

Serena’s position below Safina has nothing to do with a flawed ranking system. Rather, it’s a direct result of Serena being absent from tournament play for months of a time, and then showing up at regular tour events with a level of play well below the expected standard of a dominant force in tennis.

Serena virtually skipped the entire fall season last year, winning only one match, and sported an 0-3 record in all of her clay court tournaments leading to Roland Garros this year. That means there’s a five-month stretch of time over the last year where she has failed to do anything of note.

The new roadmap that the WTA has put in place, requiring mandatory participation at select events throughout the year, should have served as a benefit in helping Serena take over the No. 1 ranking. However, she’s showed up at most events not in match shape and in some cases looking disinterested. A prime example of her often lackluster play in WTA events came last week in Cincinnati, as she displayed a listless, error-filled game in losing to Sybille Bammer in the third round.

Wimbledon is far more difficult to win than Marbella or Stanford, so why can’t she win these lower events? How can she be walloped by Elena Dementieva in Sydney and then dominate her at the Australian Open less than two weeks later? The simple answer is that she doesn’t take WTA events as seriously. Perhaps that’s to be expected when you’ve achieved almost everything possible in your sport.

Safina may not have won a Grand Slam yet, but the rankings don’t solely rely on the results of one tennis match. She makes it to the weekend stages of almost every tournament she plays and despite crumbling in the Grand Slam finals she has played in, should be commended for even making it that far. She will need to win at least one Grand Slam to have the Hall of Fame worthy career that Serena has, but Safina should be applauded for her efforts, not criticized.

As for Serena, the fall season that she typically avoids will await her after the US Open. She’s defending less than 400 points during that stretch, while Safina has to defend a mountain of points during that time. In theory, Serena could go on tour this fall to promote her upcoming autobiography On The Line, or simply kick back for three months and watch the No. 1 spot fall in her lap. However, if Serena thinks the ranking system is a farce, I expect her to play a full schedule in the fall and reclaim the spot she rightfully deserves.

Only then will she have truly deserved the last laugh.

Challenger/Futures Write-Up for February 18th

The challenger and futures circuits on both the men’s and women’s tours this week showcased what was arguably some of the most competitive and high quality tennis in recent memory. Not only did three of the four challengers this week have finals that ended in a third set tiebreak, but Ivan Ljubicic also became one of the highest ranked players to ever compete in a challenger event.

Ivan Ljubicic

The clear highlight on the challenger circuit this week was the $125,000 event held in East London, South Africa. The field was on a similar level as an ATP event, with former top five player Ivan Ljubicic, top fifty player Stefan Koubek, 2002 Australian Open champion Thomas Johannson, and perennial ironman Jonas Bjorkman the event’s top four seeds. The top-seeded Ljubicic, now ranked 24 in the world, decided to pull out of the ATP event in Marseille and request a last minute wild card here in order to prove to his critics that he was still a serious contender for the Olympics.

“The press back home is pretty rough and if I didn’t win here, they would say I was finished and that I should give up,” Ljubicic said.

Although he started out slowly this week and almost fell in the first round to Lamine Ouahab, a qualifier from Algeria, Ljubicic said his game improved progressively with each round. He saved his best form for the final and put together an immaculate performance against Stefan Koubek; he defeated the 54th ranked Austrian 7-6 6-4 with an ace on match point.

“It’s not easy to win a challenger, especially when you have to beat players like Thomas Johansson and Stefan Koubek,” Ljubicic said. “But this victory is good for my confidence and I can take a lot away from this week.”

At the $125,000 event in Belgrade, Serbia, Croatian Roko Karanusic used his big serve and aggressive all-court game to earn the biggest title of his career to date. Karanusic defeated German Philipp Petzschner in a thrilling three-set final that culminated in a third-set tiebreaker 5-7 6-1 7-6. The win catapults the Croat to new career high ranking; in fact, he’ll find himself in the top 100 for the first time.

On the women’s side, Johanna Larsson of Sweden thrilled the home crowd by taking the $25,000 event in Stockholm. She overcame a slow start to win 0-6 6-1 7-6 over Barbara Zahalova Strycova of the Czech Republic. The nineteen year old is now on a 12 match winning streak, after also winning the $25,000 event in Sutton last week as a qualifier. Her fine form has also translated to her doubles game; she won the doubles event in Stockholm with rising British star Anna Smith. Larsson reaches a career high ranking of #232 this week and will likely contest her first Grand Slam qualifying event at Roland Garros this spring.

Berri, Australia was the host for the second of two $25,000 grass court events which were being held on the continent this month. In a shocking upset, Aussie Nicole Kriz won the first challenger title of her career by beating Marina Erakovic of New Zealand 6-4 4-6 7-6. Erakovic, who’s been in fine form this year by reaching the semifinals at a WTA event in Auckland last month and storming through the $25,000 event in Mildura last week, had only lost seventeen games in route to the final and looked to be the overwhelming favorite. However, the Aussie right-hander held her nerve in fighting off match points on the Kiwi’s serve to record her second final set tiebreak win of the tournament. Despite the loss, Erakovic’s inspired play will propel her to a career high ranking of #135 this week. With only a handful of points to defend between now and May, she might be able to improve her ranking enough to be able to contest the first Grand Slam main draw of her career at Roland Garros.

On the futures level, Frenchman Nicholas Coutelot took a small step towards reclaiming his former top 100 status by winning the $15,000 event in Torre Pacheco, Spain. The 31 year old also took the futures event in Murcia the week before. Ricardo Hocevar of Brazil is also on a ten match winning streak with his victories in La Habana, Cuba this week and Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico this week before. On the women’s side, Slovenian Polana Hercog is 11-0 on the year after this week after sweeping the two $10,000 events in Mallorca and winning a match in Fed Cup. The 17 year old is entered in some upcoming challenger events and looks poised to begin breaking through at the next level.

The men will showcase the feature challenger tournament of next week as Fabrice Santoro, competing in what will likely be his last year on tour, leads the field at the $100,000 event in Bensacon, France. On the women’s side, Milagros Sequera of Venezuela returns from a six-month injury layoff as the top seed at the $25,000 event in Clearwater, Florida. Anne Keothavong, the current British number one, will also lead the way at the $25,000 tournament in Capriolo, Italy.