While none of the ATP tournaments this week enjoys a field of the pedigree that the WTA has produced in Dubai, the 250 tournament in Marseille features every member of the top ten’s lower half. We start with that event in our weekly preview, following it with the technically more significant tournament in Memphis and the latest edition of the South American clay swing.
Marseille: Recovered from his Davis Cup marathon earlier this month, world #6 Berdych claims the top seed in this overstuffed draw. At his best on these fast surfaces, he still cannot overlook the second-round challenge of Gulbis, who defeated him at Wimbledon last year. An intriguing collection of unpredictable threats rounds out the quarter from Rotterdam finalist Benneteau, who upset Federer there, to the notorious Rosol and the rising Janowicz. After breaking through on an indoor hard court in Paris last year, the latter has struggled to sustain his momentum in 2013. Like Berdych, Janowicz must start the tournament in crisp form to survive his early challenges.
Somewhat less dangerous is the second quarter, where Tipsarevic would reach the quarterfinals after facing only a qualifier. The fourth-seeded Serb will have welcomed this good fortune, considering an inconsistent start to the season that included a retirement at the Australian Open and an opening-round loss as the second seed in an indoor 250 this month. Starting 2013 by winning fifteen of his first sixteen matches, by contrast, Gasquet became the first man to claim two titles this year in a surprising development that vindicated his top-ten status. A second-round meeting with compatriot Monfils would intrigue, although the latter continues to rebuild his rhythm in a return from a long absence.
Two of the most notable figures in the third quarter lost their Rotterdam openers last week, one surprisingly and one less so. While few expected Tsonga to stumble against Sijsling, familiar sighs issued from Australia when Tomic reverted to his wayward self. The Aussie eyes a more accommodating draw this time, though, for higher-ranked opponnents Klizan and Paire will not overwhelm him. A potential opener against Davydenko might cause concern among Tsonga’s fans on an indoor hard court, but the Russian has slumped significantly since reaching the Doha final to start the season. In a quarterfinal, Tsonga and Tomic could engage in a battle of seismic serving that would test the focus of both.
Fresh from a strong effort in Rotterdam arrives the second-seeded Del Potro to a more challenging draw. Rebounding from his Australian Open debacle, he held serve relentlessly on indoor hard courts last week and may need to do so again if he opens against home hope Michael Llodra. A former semifinalist at the Paris Indoors, Llodra upset Tipsarevic in Montpellier two weeks ago and always relishes playing on this surface. Less formidable is the Frenchman whom Del Potro could meet in the quarterfinals, for Simon lacks the shot-making ability to thrust the Argentine out of his comfort zone.
Final: Berdych vs. Del Potro
Memphis: The most important tournament of the week only on paper, this sequel to San Jose often features many of the same players. This year departs somewhat from that trend, for top-seeded Cilic and fifth-seeded Nishikori arrive in North America for the first time this year. Between them stand Zagreb finalist and Memphis defending champion Melzer, who could repeat his final there against Cilic, and Tsonga’s Rotterdam nemesis, Igor Sijsling. Hampered by injury during the Australian Open, Nishikori aims to regain his groove before tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami where he could shine. By contrast, Cilic hopes to build upon claiming his home tournament in Zagreb for the third time. When they met at last year’s US Open, the latter prevailed in four sets.
Impressive in Davis Cup but less so in San Jose, Querrey looks to produce a more compelling serving performance as the fourth seed in a section without any giants of his size. Compatriot Steve Johnson, who upset Karlovic last week, may fancy his chances against the mercurial Dolgopolov in the second round. Withdrawing from San Jose with injury, the seventh seed may find the courts too fast for an entertaining style that requires time to improvise. If Dolgopolov should meet Querrey, though, he could disrupt the rhythm on which the American relies.
Somewhat like Querrey, Isner achieved modest success in San Jose before subsiding meekly in the semifinals. Since he missed much of the previous weeks with a knee injury, the matches accumulated there should serve him well in a tournament where he has finished runner-up to Querrey before. The tenacious returning of Hewitt may test Isner’s fortitude, although the former has not left an impact on his recent tournaments. Also in this section is the faltering Ryan Harrison, the victim of some challenging draws but also unable to show much evidence of improvement despite his visible will to win. The home crowd might free Harrison from the passivity that has cost him lately.
The undisputed master of San Jose, Raonic moves from the top of the draw there to the bottom of the draw here. His massive serve-forehand combinations will meet a similar style, albeit more raw, in American wildcard Jack Sock when the tournament begins. Raonic can anticipate a rematch of the San Jose final against Haas in the Memphis quarterfinals, while the lefty serve of Feliciano Lopez should pose an intriguing upset threat. Since Melzer rode similar weapons to last year’s title here, this fellow veteran could surprise the draw as well.
Final: Querrey vs. Raonic
Buenos Aires: After Nadal had dominated the South American headlines during the previous two weeks, another Spaniard attempts to follow in his footsteps. Now the top-ranked man from his country, world #4 Ferrer will face the same task that Rafa did in Sao Paulo when he meets either Berlocq or Nalbandian in the second round. Troubled by Nalbandian before, he will feel more comfortable against the unreliable Fognini in a more traditional battle of clay specialists a round later. In the second quarter continue two surprise stories of the past two weeks, Horacio Zeballos and Martin Alund. While the former won his first career title by toppling Nadal in Vina del Mar, the latter won a set from the Spaniard in a semifinal at Sao Paulo—the first tournament where he had won an ATP match. The highest seed in this quarter, Bellucci, imploded on home soil last week but did defeat Ferrer in Monte Carlo last year.
Framing the lower half are the ATP’s two most notable hard-luck stories of the season. Two days after Wawrinka had lost his epic five-setter to Djokovic, Almagro allowed a two-set lead to slip away against Ferrer in Melbourne after serving for the match three times. That trend continued for both men in February, when Wawrinka lost the longest doubles match in tennis history and Almagro dropped a third-set tiebreak to Nalbandian despite serving 28 aces. The Swiss #2 faces a mildly intriguing test to start the week in Paolo Lorenzi, and fellow Italian Simone Bolelli aims to continue his surge from a semifinal appearance in Sao Paulo. Less imposing is the path ahead of Almagro, although the unseeded Albert Montanes can score the occasional headline victory on clay.
Final: Ferrer vs. Wawrinka
Like last week, the upcoming ATP slate features two European tournaments on indoor hard courts and a South American tournament on outdoor red clay. Only one of the Big Four participated in last week’s action, but this week his archrival returns to the spotlight as well.
Rotterdam: Back in action for the first time since those consecutive five-setters in Melbourne, Federer prepares for a title defense closer to home soil. He often has produced his crispest tennis on indoor hard courts late in his career, and he finds himself near familiar victim Youzhny. Tested by rising star Raonic last year, Federer could meet another rising star in Jerzy Janowicz at the quarterfinal stage. Massive servers trouble him more than they once did, although Janowicz has looked less intimidating in the early events of 2013 than he did while reaching the Paris Indoors final last fall. Of further interest in this section is the first-round clash between doubles partners Benneteau and Llodra, both of whom should shine on this surface.
Continuing the French theme from Benneteau-Llodra, the second quarter lies in the shadow of two top-20 Frenchmen: the third-seeded Tsonga and the fifth-seeded Simon. No player of note would bar their routes to a quarterfinal, which their recently solid form suggests that they should reach. Both Frenchmen charted a course to the second week at the Australian Open, and Tsonga in particular excelled by extending Federer to a final set in their quarterfinal. His meeting with Simon should present a compelling contrast of styles, in which one would fancy the third seed’s chances on a surface that favors aggression.
Although both men enter the tournament unseeded, Tomic and Dimitrov offer the most notable storyline of the third quarter with the looming first-round clash between these two phenoms. Greatly celebrated for reaching the Brisbane final in January, the latter has not built upon that breakthrough but instead slipped back into the inconsistency that has slowed his progress. A hero on home soil again, Tomic recaptured much of the reputation that he lost with his 2012 antics by showing a more professional attitude to start 2013. Meanwhile, a strong week in Montpellier continued Gasquet’s strong start to the season and leaves him the favorite to reach the semifinal here. The fourth seed could repeat the Montpellier final against compatriot Benoit Paire in the second round.
Leaping from the lowest part of the draw is the first-round match between wildcard Gael Monfils and second seed Del Potro. While the former left Melbourne in mildly promising fashion, the latter fell well short of expectations in suffering a third-round exit to Jeremy Chardy. Del Potro can waste little time in recapturing his rhythm at a tournament where he finished runner-up to Federer last year, for Monfils’ two finals at the Paris Indoors prove his ability to succeed on this surface. Less likely to shine is the sixth-seeded Seppi, a player who prefers slow courts and lacks the firepower of either projected quarterfinal opponent.
Final: Tsonga vs. Del Potro
San Jose: In the last edition of this tournament, long a mainstay of Bay Area sports, Milos Raonic attempts to complete a title three-peat on the scene of his first trophy. Among the faster indoor hard courts on the calendar, San Jose will showcase a serve nearly unanswerable at its best. In the last two years, opponents struggled even to earn a break point against Raonic. Fresh from his Davis Cup heroics, last year’s top seed could repeat the 2012 final against Denis Istomin in the quarterfinals, or he might meet home hope Ryan Harrison in a rematch of a 2012 semifinal. Both of those men struggled to match Raonic hold for hold last year with their modest serves, and neither has taken a significant step forward since then.
Someone who can match the Canadian hold for hold, the third-seeded Sam Querrey seeks to continue building on his recent upward trend in the rankings. Returning to relevance midway through last year, Querrey plays his best on American soil and mirrored Raonic’s contributions last weekend by lifting Team USA past Brazil with two singles victories. He faces the possibility of consecutive matches against Australians, first the fading Lleyton Hewitt and then the surging Marinko Matosevic. Near his career-high ranking, the latter man will meet the teenage sensation Jack Sock, still in the process of refining his explosive serve and forehand.
If North Americans dominate the top half of the San Jose draw, a more European flavor emerges from the third quarter. Following his best season since his prime in the mid-2000s, Tommy Haas lurks near the edge of the top 20 after starting 2012 outside the top 200. Injuries and recurrences of his volatile temper hampered him in January, but expect his forecourt skills to flourish on a court where he can shorten points. Female fans would enjoy a quarterfinal between Haas and Fernando Verdasco, two slots below him in the rankings. Unfortunately for them, former finalist Ivo Karlovic might topple the Spanish lefty in the second round, although he lost to him here two years ago. Can wildcard Steve Johnson, who took Almagro to a fifth set at the Australian Open, build on that momentum to upset Dr. Ivo?
The only man in the ATP shorter than Karlovic, the second-seeded Isner needs to build momentum much more urgently than Johnson, for he defends finalist points at Indian Wells. Still the top-ranked American man by a small margin over Querrey, Isner withdrew from the Australian Open with a knee injury and looked unimpressive in Davis Cup last weekend. No player in his vicinity looks like a convincing dark horse, however, with the most notable resistance coming from Xavier Malisse. Otherwise, this section features a handful of promising-but-not-quite-there-yet figures like Vasek Pospisil and Evgeny Donskoy, the latter of whom defeated Youzhny in Melbourne.
Final: Querrey vs. Verdasco
Sao Paulo: In a draw that greatly resembles Vina del Mar last week, Nadal again shares a half with Jeremy Chardy amid a collection of players from South America and southern Europe. Few Spaniards have shown the determination to challenge Rafa on his favored red clay, and Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo should prove no exception. One of the few Spanish journeymen to defeat him on any surface, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez could meet the man whom he defeated in Bangkok at the quarterfinal stage, although Vina del Mar semifinalist Carlos Berlocq seems more plausible. Yet another Spaniard, the eighth-seeded Albert Ramos, opens against Garcia-Lopez.
Splitting his two Davis Cup rubbers in the United States, Thomaz Bellucci transitions back to his homeland and a friendlier surface for his traditional lefty game. The fifth-seeded Brazilian would meet Chardy in the quarterfinals with no legitimate threat between them. Fellow Brazilian Ricardo Mello, known better for his doubles success, received not only a wildcard but a winnable opening match as a reward for his victory over the Bryans in Davis Cup. Facing aging Federer-killer Volandri is Vina del Mar quarterfinalist Daniel Gimeno-Traver, who mustered some decent resistance to Rafa last week.
World #15 Monaco looked nearly certain to meet Nadal in the Vina del Mar final until the unheralded Guillaume Rufin upset him, only to issue a walkover a round later. At least the Argentine enjoyed accompanying Nadal through the doubles draw, which gave him plenty of opportunities to refine his clay skills before this second opportunity. A former top-10 player, Spanish veteran Tommy Robredo could become Monaco’s first opponent in a grinding match of counterpunchers who rarely miss. Cast from a similar mold is Robredo’s compatriot Albert Montanes, situated near the seventh-seeded Pablo Andujar. The latter must start the tournament on a high note to escape Santiago Giraldo, a Colombian who has upset much more notable players on clay before.
The key difference between the draws in Vina del Mar and Sao Paulo, Nicolas Almagro hopes to rebound from a memorable fortnight in Melbourne. While he reached an Australian Open quarterfinal, he may need time to forget his repeated inability to finish off Ferrer there and perhaps also to recover from a leg injury. Like Nadal, though, Almagro will find the clay accommodating to his ailing body, and he has won a set from Rafa on the surface before. Opening against surprise Vina del Mar champion Horacio Zeballos, he finds himself near the most dangerous unseeded player in the draw, David Nalbandian. The grouchy gaucho languishes in a semi-retirement from which he emerges just often enough to remain relevant, and a player lacking in fitness, confidence, or both would seem plausible prey. Nalbandian has tested Nadal severely before, even during his decline, but can he string together the solid efforts necessary to produce that tantalizing final?
Final: Nadal vs. Almagro
Check out the companion preview of the WTA Premier Five tournament in Doha, and return on Friday for the next entry in my column.
Dinara Safina beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1 6-3 to win the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, Japan
Vera Zvonareva won the TOE Life Ceramics Guangzhou International Women’s Open in Guangzhou, China, by defeating Shuai Peng 6-7 (4) 6-0 6-2
Florent Serra beat Albert Montanes 6-4 6-3 to win the Pekao Open in Szczecin, Poland
Nuria Llagostera Vives beat Tsvetana Pironkova 6-2 6-3, winning the ITF women’s event in Sofia, Bulgaria
Stefan Edberg won the Trophee Jean-Luc Lagardere in Paris, France, by beating Sergi Bruguera 3-6 7-5 10-5 (match tiebreak)
“Today I play an almost perfect match and it is very, very exciting. Today I played very well. I shocked myself with some of the winners I played, was near perfect tennis.” – Rafael Nadal, after beating Andy Roddick 6-4 6-0 64 and giving Spain an unbeatable 3-1 lead over the United States in the Davis Cup semifinals.
“God knows how far I can get! I’ve played the best tennis I’ve ever played this week.” – Dinara Safina, after winning the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, her fourth title this year.
“I had the confidence to do this, and as we say in Russia, ‘If you don’t take risks, you don’t drink champagne.'” – Svetlana Kuznetsova, after upsetting Jelena Jankovic.
“I played well at the US Open and it is challenging to keep the intensity up after such a big event.” – Jelena Jankovic, after losing to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Pacific Open quarterfinals.
“One of my goals has always been to get as close as possible to the top and to make it to the Sony Ericsson Championships. Making it to Doha just shows me that I’ve been doing a few things right this season, so I am just very happy about my qualification.” – Elena Dementieva, after becoming the fifth player to qualify for the eight-player, season-ending Championships.
“It was an annoying call for me and I just asked him to change them, that’s all I did. Who knows, maybe I overreacted, but I was so irritated by the call because for me it was such an obvious call.” – Roger Federer, asking that the line judges be removed during his Davis Cup match against Belgium’s Kristof Vliegen.
“If Roger himself is complaining about the people, with the umpire and the line umpires … that is a really good sign to me that I was not the only one.” – Kristof Vliegen.
“That point was crucial. I hit a nice shot (on the replayed point), I felt different in the tiebreak, and I could turn it around.” – David Nalbandian, who got a break on a controversial call and went on to defeat Igor Andreev in the opening match of Argentina-Russia Davis Cup semifinal.
“It’s not only we who have the pressure. The chair umpire has the pressure of the crowd as well, and sometimes they make the wrong decision, but he is an experience umpire. I have to call it bad luck for me, but it did change the game.” – Russia’s Igor Andreev, who lost to Argentina’s David Nalbandian after a controversial call in the first-set tiebreak changed the momentum of their Davis Cup match.
“We’re looking for other partners. It’s a shame because we worked hard to try to make it work. It just didn’t quite click.” – Jamie Murray, on the breakup of his doubles partnership with Max Mirnyi.
“Everything you learn can also help you on faster courts and help you change strategies mid-match. I am looking forward to developing Australian youngsters into top tennis players.” – Spain’s Felix Mantilla, who has been hired to teach clay-court tennis to young Australian players.
“The only sport I do follow is tennis. Tennis is much more civilized, and civilization is something I search for in everything, every day.” – singer Tony Bennett.
Dinara Safina won her fourth Sony Ericsson WTA Tour singles title of the year by beating fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1 6-3 in the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, Japan. Since beginning the season with an 11-10 record, Safina has posted a 41-5 mark, reaching seven finals in nine events. With the win she becomes only the fifth Russian to crack the top three in the rankings, joining Anatasia Myskina, Maria Sharapova, Kuznetsova and Nadia Petrova. It also was the fifth all-Russian WTA Tour final of the year.
SHADOW FROM THE PAST
Kimiko Date-Krumm, who has returned to tennis after a 12-year hiatus, will compete in the AIG Japan Open Tennis Championships later this month. Once ranked as high as number four in the world, Date-Krumm turns 38 on the eve of the tournament. She has been playing on the ITF women’s circuit in Japanese tournaments only and her ranking has risen to 264th in the world.
Ivo Karlovic had 39 aces and 70 winners in his 7-6 (5) 6-4 6-7 (6) 7-6 (4) win over Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci, a victory that returned Croatia to the World Group for 2009. Roko Karanusic earned his first Davis Cup victory in his fourth attempt, beating Brazil’s Thiago Alves 7-6 (4) 4-6 7-6 (5).
In a rare show of frustration, Roger Federer asked that the line judges be changed after he felt he received a bad call in a Davis Cup match, leading to his losing serve and falling behind Belgium’s Kristof Vliegen 2-0 in the second set. The team of nine officials stayed on court until the next changeover, and they were booed by the partisan Swiss crowd as they left. After the new line judges were brought on, Federer won the next five games to take the set en route to his 7-6 (1) 6-4 6-2 first-day victory.
A controversial line call in another Davis Cup semifinal helped Argentina’s David Nalbandian defeat Russia’s Igor Andreev 7-6 (5) 6-2 6-4 in the opening match of the tie. Andreev was leading 4-2 in the first-set tiebreak when Nalbandian’s forehand hit the net cord and was called out. Andreev walked up to the mark in the clay and ringed it, but umpire Carlos Bernardes came down from his chair, inspected the mark and agreed with the line call. Instead of Andreev leading 5-2 with two minibreaks, they replayed the point, which Nalbandian won. The Argentine went on to win four of the next five points and the opening set.
Gigi Fernandez and Wendy White Prausa are among the four newest members of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Women’s Hall of Fame. Also inducted were Alice Luthy Tym, the former head coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and Janice Metcalf Cromer. Tym started the women’s team and served as its captain while an undergraduate at the University of Florida before playing internationally. Fernandez won 17 Grand Slam tournament doubles titles and two Olympic gold medals, while Prausa is the only women’s tennis player to turn pro during college and still graduate on time. Cromer was the first woman to play on the men’s team at the University of Redlands, helping lead the team to NAIA national championships in 1973 and ’74.
Jelena Jankovic keeps missing that top rung of the WTA Tour rankings. The Serb was ranked number one in the world for the first time in her career on August 11, but stayed there for only one week. She had another chance at the US Open, but lost the final to Serena Williams, who took over the top spot. The second-ranked Jankovic would have replaced Williams if she won the Pacific Open in Tokyo. But she lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova 2-6 7-5 7-5 in the quarterfinals.
SPOT IN DOHA
Elena Dementieva is the latest player to qualify for the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha, Qatar. Others who have qualified for the November 4-9 event are Jelena Jankovic, Serena Williams, Dinara Safina and Ana Ivanovic. The top eight singles players and top four doubles team will compete for the Championships title. Dementieva, the Olympic singles gold medalist, was a semifinalist at the US Open and is currently ranked number five in the world.
Alexander Peya defeated Britain’s Alex Bogdanovic 2-6 6-4 6-4 6-2 in the decisive fifth match to return Austria to the World Group for the sixth straight year. The tie was played at Wimbledon and it was Pey’s first Davis Cup win on grass in four attempts. Andy Murray had leveled the tie for Great Britain when he began the final day with a 6-4 5-7 6-4 6-1 win over Austria’s Jurgen Melzer.
Thiemo De Bakker lifted the Netherlands back into the World Group for the first time since 2006 by beating South Korea’s Woong-Sun Jun 6-2 6-1 6-3 in the decisive fifth rubber. Korean veteran Hyung-Taik Lee had leveled the tie 2-2 in the first reverse singles by stopping Jesse Huta Galung 1-6 6-1 7-6 (5) 6-2.
The doubles partnership of Jamie Murray and Max Mirnyi has ended after winning just one ATP title, that coming at Delray Beach, Florida, in February when they beat brothers Mike and Bob Bryan. The team of Murray and Mirnyi had a 15-17 record for the year, including first-round losses at three of the four Grand Slam tournaments.
The country that produced Rod Laver and Margaret Court among many tennis stars in the past is turning to Spain for its future. Tennis Australia has hired Felix Mantilla of Spain as a clay-court coach to work with its young players. The governing body also will add a clay-court facility in Barcelona, Spain, to its training bases in Canberra and London. Lleyton Hewitt and Chris Guccione are the only Australian men currently ranked in the top 100, while number 48 Casey Dellacqua and number 73 Samantha Stosur are the country’s top women.
The United States government’s takeover of American International Group Inc. won’t affect the sponsorship of the AIG Japan Open tennis tournament in Tokyo. AIG is the title sponsor of the men’s and women’s event that offers nearly USD $1 million in prize money. The US government received 80 percent of AIG’s shares in the USD $85 billion deal to rescue America’s largest insurer by assets.
The International Tennis Federation and Wilson Racquet Sports have extended their sponsorship agreement to include Wilson as the Official Ball of Davis Cup, Fed Cup and other ITF initiatives in a multi-year deal. Wilson has been involved in Davis Cup since 2002. Under this expanded agreement, Wilson will be the official ball for Davis Cup, Fed Cup and the ITF’s junior team competitions at the under-14 and under-16 level. In addition, Wilson will be the exclusive supplier of tennis rackets, shoes, clothing and accessories to the ITF Development Coaching Team.
The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) is breathing much easier now that AEGON has signed on to sponsor the sport over the next five years. The Scottish pensions and life assurance company has acquired the naming rights to tournaments in London, Eastbourne and Edgbaston. Beginning next June, the combined men’s and women’s event at Eastbourne will be renamed the AEGON International. Queens Club, formerly the Stella Artois, will be renamed the AEGON Championships, while the AEGON Classic will be played at Edgbaston.
Romanians Irina-Camelia Begu and Laura-Iona Andrei are doubles partners and opponents. And they’re successful at both. The 18-year-old Begu beat the top-seeded Andrei 7-5 6-1 to win the singles title at a recent USD $10,000 ITF tournament in Budapest, then teamed with Begu to win the doubles. Begu successfully defended her singles title and joined with Andrei to win the doubles at another ITF women’s event the week before in Brasov, Romania. In fact, Begu has won the doubles in her last five tournaments, teaming with Andrei at Budapest, Brasov and Bucharest, Romania; pairing with Elora Dabija at Hunedoara, Romania, and playing with Ioana Gaspar in another Bucharest tournament. All have been USD $10,000 clay-court events.
Three fans have been charged with riotous behavior and assaulting police at the Australian Open in January. According to police, the three men became aggressive when police attempted to remove one of them for shouting obscenities at Chile’s Fernando Gonzales during his match against Konstantinos Economidis of Greece. One of the men, a 24-year-old from a Melbourne, Australia, suburb, was also charged with resisting arrest and discharging a missile. The confrontation in the stands caused the match to be suspended for 10 minutes.
The Maria Sharapova Foundation Scholarship for Youth from the Chernobyl-Affected Areas of Belarus will award five-year scholarships to 12 students so they can study at two leading universities in Belarus. The program is a joint initiative of the tennis star’s foundation and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), where she serves as Goodwill Ambassador. Sharapova’s foundation has already contributed USD $100,000 to youth-oriented projects in the regions of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine that were affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident. Three incoming students will be awarded scholarships each year over an initial four-year period. The first scholarship recipients will begin their studies in September 2009.
Known for its shoes and clothing, Adidas is getting ready to include racquets in their line of tennis goodies. The first of the three racquets, the Adidas Barricade, will go on sale in February. The other two are called Response and Feather, as all three are named for the company’s tennis shoes. The three racquets will provide a racquet for every player level: tour player, club player and recreational player.
Tokyo: Vania King and Nadia Petrova beat Lisa Raymond and Samantha Stosur 6-1 6-4
Guangzhou: Mariya Koryttseva and Tatiana Poutchek beat Sun Tiantian and Yan Zi 6-3 4-6 10-8 (match tiebreak)
Sofia: Maret Ani and Renata Voracova beat Lourdes Dominguez-Lino and Arantxa Parra-Santonja 7-6 (4) 7-6 (9)
Szczecin: David Marrero and Dawid Olejniczak beat Lukasz Kubot and Oliver Marach 7-6 (4) 6-3
SITES TO SURF
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
$576,000 Thailand Open, Bangkok, Thailand, hard
$524,000 China Open, Beijing, China, hard
$120,000 ATP Challenger Trophy, Trnava, Slovakia
$600,000 China Open, Beijing, China, hard
$145,000 Hansol Korea Open, Seoul, Korea, hard
The Citadel Group Championships at the Palisades, Outback Champions, Charlotte, North Carolina, hard
Viviam Victory Challenge, Black Rock Tournament of Champions, Luxembourg, Luxembourg, hard
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$832,000 AIG Japan Open Tennis Championships, Tokyo, Japan, hard
$416,000 Open de Moselle, Metz, France, hard
$125,000 Ethias Trophy, Mons, Belgium, hard
$650,000 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, Stuttgart, Germany, hard
$175,000 AIG Japan Open Tennis Championships, Tokyo, Japan, hard
$145,000 Tashkent Open, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, hard
AFAS Tennis Classics, BlackRock Tournament of Champions, Eindhoven, Netherlands, carpet
It’s time to preview the top half of the men’s draw, set to play Monday in Paris.
Roger Federer has to be happy with his first three matches thus far. Other than a slight test from Albert Montanes in round two, he has advanced fairly easily and he seems to be gathering steam. He is moving very quickly on court, and conserving energy by not being pushed to five sets thus far. Even better are the opponents he may face this coming week. Julien Benneteau has been playing very well on clay as of late, but will not provide Federer with much of a challenge. He’s quite simply out of his league against the world number one. Federer dispatched Benneteau in straight sets in their only previous encounter last summer on hard courts, 6-3, 6-3.
It appears as though Federer will match up in the quarterfinals against Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, who should take out American Robby Ginepri in the round of sixteen. Apparently Ginepri did not receive the memo that American players are not supposed to reach this stage on the clay in Paris! If Gonzalez does advance, he is 0-4 against Federer on clay.
In the other quarter on Monday, the winner between David Ferrer and Radek Stepanek has a very strong chance of making it on to face Roger in the semis. Normally I’d put my money on Ferrer to make it through a tough clay court match, however he has already been beaten by Stepanek on clay in Italy this year. The winner between the two will play either Ivan Ljubicic, who has certainly over-achieved by taking out No. 4 seed Nikolay Davydenko in a fabulous five-set match on Saturday, or Frenchman Gael Monfils, who also battled back in a five-set win over Jurgen Melzer.
Any way you look at this half of the draw however, and it would be very difficult to bet against Federer to emerge as the last man standing. He should be able to make it through to the final feeling fresh and confident to take on his arch nemesis on clay – Rafael Nadal. It is certainly the dream final we are all hoping for!
The challengers circuit was graced with the presence of a top 50 player on the men’s side who hoped to get an early start to the clay court season, while several women followed up their victories on the challenger circuit last week with repeats this week.
The clay court season is about to get underway next week, but two players have already shown their intentions to leave a mark on it this season. At the $100,000 event in Napoli, Italy, Potito Starace won a nail-biting final in front of his local fans by beating Marcos Daniel of Brazil 6-4 4-6 7-6. Daniel was coming of a win at the $125,000 tournament in Bogota, Colombia last month, and came within two points of the biggest win of his career against the 36th ranked Starace. However, Starace fought back from 5-6 down in the final set and won the last three points of the tiebreak to win his first title of the year. Two other prominent players, French Open finalist Gullermo Coria and Olympic gold medalist Nicolas Massu, took part in the tournament, but failed to get past the first round.
At the $35,000 tournament in St. Brieuc, France, Christophe Rochus of Belgium took the title with a 6-2 4-6 6-1 over Marcel Granollers of Spain. Granollers has had a fine start on the clay this year by winning a challenger event in Morocco and reaching the quarterfinals at the ATP event in Acapulco, Mexico, but ran out of gas in the end against the experienced Belgian. Rochus is a long way from his career high ranking of #38, but winning his first title in three years is certainly a step back in the right direction.
There inevitably comes a time for any good player to graduate from the futures circuit, and it seems that Rui Machado of Portugal has more than worn out his welcome at this level. His win at the $15,000 event in Loja, Spain, is his fifth futures title of 2008.
On the women’s side, British tennis has been in dire straits for almost two decades now. The last woman to be in the top 100 was Samantha Smith in 1999. However, Elena Baltacha demonstrated this week that she might be ready to finally break through at the level. She won her second challenger title in a row, and the biggest of her career, at the $75,000 event in Torhout, Belgium, with a 6-7 6-1 6-4 over Iveta Benesova of the Czech Republic. Benesova has also been a hot streak as of late, having won the $50,000 event in Latina, Italy last week. Her characteristically fragile nerves got the better of her though as she was broken in the final set at 4-4, allowing Baltacha to serve out the win.
Magdalena Rybarikova also won her second title in a row at the $50,000 tournament in Patras, Greece, defeating Great Britain’s Anne Keothavong 6-3 7-5 in the final. The win puts her inside of the top 150 for the first time in her career, and with minimal points to defend until late this fall, she looks poised to break through into the top 100 by then.
After struggling with injuries and poor form through 2007, Kristina Barrois of Germany has finally turned her game around. She won her second title in a row at the $25,000 event in Hamburg, Germany, taking the title when Ana Vrljic of Croatia retired with a leg injury after losing the first set 6-2. The win puts Barrois back in the top 200 and guarantees her spot in the qualifying for Roland Garros this spring.
In other challenger news, Betima Jozami of Argentina won the $25,000 event in Civatechia, Italy, and Raquel Kops-Jones of the United States won the $25,000 event in Pelham, Alabama.
The spotlight turns over to the women at the $75,000 event in Monzon, Spain, where American Lilia Osterloh is the top seed. Martina Muller of Germany is the top seed at the $25,000 tournament in Biarritz, France, while Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada hopes to continue her strong form as the top seed at the $25,000 event in Jackson, Mississippi. On the men’s side, professional tennis finally returns to Puerto Rico with former Australian Open finalist Rainer Schuttler playing top seed at the $50,000 event in Humacao. Albert Montanes of Spain is also the top seed at the $35,000 event in Monza, Italy.