With just over a week until the start of the Australian Open, there is little time to tinker with one’s game for the first Grand Slam of the year.
While the top four players in the world will be taking the week to rest themselves in anticipation for a deep-run in Melbourne, there are plenty of other of the game’s great players who are in action.
The ATP has two tournaments, one in Sydney and another in Auckland, while the Kooyong Classic exhibition will boast a strong field as well. Here’s a closer look at what tennis fans can expect.
Apia Sydney International
Juan Martin Del Potro starts his year in Sydney as the top seed. After making a strong return to the circuit last season following a wrist injury, the 2009 U.S. Open champion is ready to make some noise this year. Del Potro is certainly capable of challenging anyone in the top four and I would put him in the mix of the few serious contenders at the Aussie Open.
The Argentine could see Marcos Baghdatis in the quarters here and then Feliciano Lopez who is the fourth seed. I would however, put the winner of the first round match between Viktor Troicki and veteran Aussie Lleyton Hewitt to advance against Del Potro in this section of the draw.
Hewitt has won the even four times, in 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2005. Don’t expect a repeat as his career is clearly on the downward spiral and injuries have taken their toll on the two-time Grand Slam champion. This may be the last year we see Hewitt playing on the ATP Tour, so enjoy him while you still can.
John Isner from the United Statesis the second seed. Patrick McEnroe recently stated that he feels Isner has the potential to reach the top ten in the ATP rankings. While I do not see that as being a realistic assessment for the 6’9” Isner just yet, this guy is certainly a strong top-thirty player who can cause incredible damage on a hard court due to his imposing serve. It will be Isner’s first action of the year so it will be interesting to see how he comes out of the gate.
Isner could face either veteran Xavier Malisse or Radek Stepanek in the quarters and given his ranking he should be beating opponents like these. However, at this stage of the year anything is possible.
A likely semi-final opponent would be third seeded Richard Gasquet who had a solid week at the Hopman Cup where he defeated Fernando Verdasco, Lleyton Hewitt and Wu Di before falling to Tomas Berdych in the finals.
All-court wonder and the always hustling David Ferrer is the number one seed in Auckland. Ferrer started the year off by making the finals of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi and was the runner-up in that exhibition to Novak Djokovic. Ferrer starts his week off with a bye at the Heineken Open and will face the winner of the match between Albert Ramos and Lukas Rosol. In other words, a nice way to ease into the tournament.
Ferrer’s main opposition will be from third seeded Fernando Verdasco who has just competed in the Hopman Cup. There, the Spaniard defeated Lleyton Hewitt 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, knocked-off Wu Di of China 6-3, 6-4 and was beaten by Richard Gasquet 6-2, 6-4. So essentially, he won the two matches he was supposed to win and could not find a way to be competitive against a solid opponent in Gasquet. Never any consistency with Fernando, but he has the tools to go deep in any draw.
The second seed here is Nicolas Almagro, but unless we’re talking about a clay court match I wouldn’t count on this guy to get too far. While he did make the semi-finals in Chennai, the field was rather weak and he was no match for Canadian Milos Raonic who took him out 6-4, 6-4.
Look for guys like Philipp Kohlschreiber, Donald Young and perhaps Sam Querrey to enjoy some success in this draw. It is nice to see Young seeded in the tournament (7th) and hopefully able to build on a nice season in 2011. There is still so much potential with the American and he still has many years ahead of him despite already being a presence on the ATP Tour for several seasons.
AAMI Kooyong Classic
Always a high-quality exhibition tournament, the Kooyong Classic again boasts a strong field in 2012. Ten players make-up the draw that has both a championship and consolation side to it.
American Andy Roddick will be the most high-profile player involved and will make his season debut on the tennis court at Kooyong. Roddick’s buddy and current number-one American male tennis player, Mardy Fish, will also be present.
This year will be of the utmost importance to Roddick who struggled mightily a year ago. He needs to re-assert himself and prove to his fellow players that he is still relevant in the sport today. Usually a strong starter, Roddick will be one to watch closely here this week.
Continuing with North-American players, we have Canadian Milos Raonic who has just made the finals in Chennai. Raonic is going to be very exciting to watch this year, especially if he can stay healthy. This guy’s game is perfectly suited toWimbledonand it is no surprise that he grew up idolizing Pete Sampras.
The rest of the players here include Jurgen Melzer, Bernard Tomic, Tomas Berdych and recent Qatar finalists Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Of all the stops this week, Kooyong will be the one I’m most interested in due to its very strong field.
Keep checking back with us all week long for updates and check out my Twitter feed as well if you like. Only one more week until the first Slam of 2012 so we have lots to look forward to!
Maria Sharapova sponsors 12 prospective students from Belarus, specifically the areas that were affected by the Chernobyl disaster. Sponsorship by Maria Sharapova..hm makes me want to relive my prodigal days in University…http://www.womenstennisblog.com/2008/09/18/sharapova-sponsors-twelve-students-with-210000/
The WTA Tour has launched a new site that lets you can challenge your favorite player. I saw some videos and they are pretty friggan’ hilarious. http://www.challengeyourhero.com/
Meanwhile the Hopman Cup in Perth, a preparatory tournament for the Australian Open, has been given a major blow with Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga going for the newly setup Brisbane International tournament. http://www.watoday.com.au/sport/big-guns-give-hopman-cup-a-miss-20080918-4iwq.html
The Bali tournament, won by Swiss Miss Patty Schnyder last Sunday, has been canceled and replaced by a year-end-tournament that’s going to try and rival with the Year End Championships in Doha, Qatar. http://www.skysports.com/story/0,19528,12110_4148970,00.html
Touching 1000 lives. That’s what the theme of the visit to Nigeria is going to be for the Williams’ Sisters. Serena and Venus are going to visit Nigeria in November of 2008. They intend to promote the game in Nigeria by holding a tennis clinic which has youths assembled from all over the country. Serena is also set to play a little exhibition match. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-09/19/content_10077378.htm
Out of sight doesn’t automatically mean out of mind. Justine Henin, who retired as the number one on the WTA Tour, will open a new tennis academy in Florida on September 27. http://www.onthebaseline.com/2008/09/17/justine-henin-to-open-sixth-sense-tennis-academy-in-florida/
Sad news: David Wallace has passed away. Jon Wertheim writes a beautiful testimonial about the “guy who had an obscene amounts of writing talent. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/jon_wertheim/09/16/tennis.mailbag/index.html?eref=T1
It’s Davis Cup weekend and the heat is on Andy Murray according to Jurgen Melzer, the Austrian number 1. England plays Austria this weekend and Jurgen Melzer isn’t so sure if Andy can cope with the pressure his country puts on his shoulders. Andy however dismisses the Austrian taunting by saying nothing has changed for him. http://www.sportinglife.com/tennis/news/story_get.cgi?STORY_NAME=tennis/08/09/17/TENNIS_Davis_Cup_Nightlead.html
The LTA are continueing their gracious efforts to improve British tennis. They have closed a £ 25 million deal with AEGON. Let’s hope England will have more top talents in the coming decade.
Writing a biography at the age of 26…isn’t that a little young? Well not for Serena Williams who is set write up her memoirs about her life on and off the courts. The book is expected to be released in 2009 and is published by Grand Central Publishing. Still…a biography at the age of 26? “Only in America..” as we Europeans say. http://livesteez.com/news/news_detail/1151
The Jimmy Connors Tennis Academy is currently being build in India. It’s about time somebody did something about did that. India holds many talented players that are being laid to waste (in my humble opinion anyway) because there are little to no decent facilities to facilitate the youngsters. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/Backpage/The_Jimmy_Connors_Tennis_Academy_is_being_set_up_near_Pune/articleshow/3481000.cms
I had some extra bonus photos laying around of Anna Kournikova at the Stuttgart Mercedes Cup Charity Gala a few months ago. Enjoy!! Photocredit: ATPtennis.com
NEW YORK – The fact he’s number one in the world makes no difference to Rafael Nadal.
“I have the same goal,” he said Monday night. “When I was number two, the goal was the same, was win the US Open, The goal wasn’t win the US Open to be number one. The goal is win US Open, no?”
Coming off yet another title – the latest an Olympic gold medal in Beijing – Nadal opened his first Grand Slam tournament as the top-seeded player by beating back pesky qualifier Bjorn Phau of Germany 7 6 (4) 6 3 7 6 (4).
“He played well today, but I didn’t play with normal intensity,” Nadal said of Phau, who has spent a lot of time playing Challenger tournaments and not on the main tour. “Important thing, finally, is to win.”
One top player failed to make it past the opening day of the year’s final Grand Slam tournament. Tenth-seeded Anna Chakvetadze was ousted by fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova 1-6 6-2 6-3.
Phau was a match for Nadal in speed and quickness. And his penetrating shots kept the Spaniard on the run. Still, while Phau matched Nadal with 37 winners each, the German doled out nine more errors than his higher-ranked opponent and continually had to battle to hold his own serve.
Nadal, on the other hand, held easily and faced only three break points in the match, losing serve just once.
“I am a little bit tired, yes, but it is US Open so I have to try my best here,” Nadal said. “I’m going to try to try my best for sure.”
Playing in only her second US Open main draw, Makarova pulled off the opening day’s biggest surprise by ousting Chakvetadze, who was a semifinalist here last year.
The 20-year-old Makarova, one year younger than Chakvetadze, won only one more point than her opponent. But her points came at the right time as she broke Chakvetadze twice in each of the last two sets.
Also losing her first-round match was Shahar Peer of Israel, who fell to Li Na of China 2-6 6-0 6-1. Peer was seeded 24th.
“She never miss,” Li said of Peer’s first-set play. “And in the second set I just tell myself, `OK, right now you just play your game. Don’t give up.’ I know every first round is tough for the player, so I just try my best.”
Li, who reached the semifinals at the Beijing Olympics, only to lose the bronze medal match, completely dominated after the opening set. She finished with 28 winners, compared to just seven for Peer.
Amira Paszek of Austria surprised 22nd seeded Maria Kirilenko 6-3 3-6 6-4.
In the men’s singes, two seeded players were eliminated.
Feliciano Lopez of Spain, the 27th seed, was beaten by Austria’s Jurgen Melzer in one of the day’s longest matches 4-6 7-6 (5) 6-2 2-6 6-4. And 29th-seeded Juan Monaco of Argentina fell to Japan’s Kei Nishikori 6-2 6-2 5-7 6-2.
“It was a great win, I think, because he’s a good player and seeded,” Nishikori said. “I didn’t think I was going to win, so I’m happy of it.”
Juan Martin del Potro won the Austrian Open in Kitzbuhel, Austria, by beating Jurgen Melzer 6-2 6-1
Gilles Simon beat Dmitry Tursunov 6-4 6-4 to win the Indianapolis Tennis Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana
Fernando Verdasco captured the ATP Studena Croatia Open by beating Igor Andreev 3-6 6-4 7-6 (4) in Umag, Croatia
Albert Montanes downed Steve Darcis 1-6 7-5 6-3 to win the Dutch Open Tennis in Amersfoort, Netherlands
Aleksandra Wozniak beat Marion Bartoli 7-5 6-3 and won the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, California
Pauline Parmentier won the Gastein Ladies 08, beating Lucie Hradecka 6-4 6-4 in Bad Gastein, Austria
Goran Ivanisevic won the inaugural Turkcell Legends Cup in Istanbul, Turkey, defeating Fernando Meligeni 6-4 6-4
Mara Santangelo beat Jelena Kostanic Tosic 6-3 6-1 to win the Circolo Tennis Biella in Biella, Italy
Group IV: Costa Rica and Haiti are promoted to America Zone Group III in 2009
Group II Playoffs: Finland beat Luxembourg 3-2; Hungary beat Greece 5-0; Egypt beat Morocco 3-2; Slovenia beat Tunisia 4-1 (winners promoted to Group I in 2009)
Group II: South Africa beat Denmark 5-0; Monaco beat Algeria 5-0; Portugal beat Cyprus 5-0; Ukraine beat Ireland 3-1 (winners meet September 19-21)
“It’s another dream for me. In two weeks I played ten matches and won all of them. This week I didn’t lose a set.” – Juan Martin del Potro, after winning his second straight tournament.
“I’ve always dreamt about winning an ATP title. This moment is very special for me.” – Albert Montanes, who snapped a nine-year drought by capturing his first ATP tournament title in Amersfoort, Netherlands.
“I don’t know what’s happening. I guess I make them run too much or something.” – Aleksandra Wozniak, a qualifier from Canada who won the Bank of the West Classic. Her semifinal opponent, Serena Williams, retired in the second set with a knee injury, while her opponent in the final, Marion Bartoli, had a sore left hip and was limping badly late in the match.
“It was hurting in practice … and during the match it was getting worse. After I got off the court it was really swollen. I’m not sure how long it’ll take to heal.” – Serena Williams, who retired from her semifinal match at the Bank of the West Classic with a left knee injury.
“It’s really disappointing for me. I was able to play some really great tennis to be able to be in the final.” – Marion Bartoli, after a sore left hip hampered her play in the Bank of the West Classic final.
“It was a perfect week. It was a very difficult week because of all the rain, but when you have a tougher week like this, the victory is much bigger.” – Pauline Parmentier, who won the Gastein Ladies, her second WTA Tour singles title.
“It makes me feel old. But it is great to come back so many years and establish a consecutive run I can be proud of. It’s fun to be part of such a great sport for so long.” – Patty Schnyder, who will be competing in her 50th Grand Slam tournament at this year’s U.S. Open.
“Serena is an athlete who transcends the sport a little bit. She has world-wide popularity. She’s the Williams sister I can beat. I didn’t want to play Venus.” – Patty Schnyder, who is 3-7 against Serena Williams and 0-9 against Venus.
“We were unlucky at the French Open and unlucky at Wimbledon, but we’re going to learn from those losses. The Slams are what we play for.” – Liezel Huber, after she and Cara Black won their sixth doubles title of the year at the Bank of the West Classic.
“She is Serena Williams. I didn’t have much to lose. I pretty much gave it all. I don’t think she really expected me to play that well.” – Michelle Larcher de Brito, a 15-year-old who won the first set before Williams won the match 4-6 6-3 6-2.
“I just tried to put the ball inside. Nothing more. I don’t know why I lost the second set and won the third set 6-love.” – Gilles Simon, after beating Benjamin Becker 7-5 3-6 6-0.
“In tennis anyone can win a match. Last year everyone here thought it would be (James) Blake and (Andy) Roddick in the final. Instead it was me and (Canadian) Frank Dancevic.” – Dmitry Tursunov, at the Indianapolis Tennis Championships, where he lost in this year’s final to Gilles Simon.
“I blew it. I feel bad for the team because we were winning so big.” – John McEnroe, who lost in both singles and doubles and his New York Sportimes World Team Tennis squad fell to the Washington Kastles 18-17 in overtime.
“I heard you wanted me to play doubles here, but you never asked me. I would have, so that’s your bad.” – Brad Gilbert, to Seascape head tennis pro Rick Kepler about playing in the Comerica Challenger in Aptos, California.
“She’s going to get a taste of what green grass is like on the golf course rather than at Wimbledon.” – Greg Norman, talking about his new wife, Chris Evert, as he prepared to play in the British Open golf championships, where he finished tied for third.
Aleksandra Wozniak was still standing when the rest of the field limped off the court at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, California. “I just keep playing aggressive and doing what I needed to do to win,” said Wozniak, who became the first Canadian to win a WTA Tour singles title in 20 years by beating Marion Bartoli 7-5 6-3 in the final. Wozniak, a qualifier, won her semifinal when top-seeded Serena Williams pulled out with a knee injury while trailing in the second set. In the final, Bartoli was slowed by a sore left hip and was limping badly late in the match. The last Canadian to win a WTA title was Carling Bassett in 1987. Wozniak became the third qualifier to win a tournament this year and the first to do it in a Tier II tournament, one with more than USD $600,000 in prize money.
The United States women’s Olympic tennis team will go hobbling into Beijing. Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport both withdrew from the East West Bank Classic with right knee injuries, and Serena Williams retired from her semifinal match at the Bank of the West Classic with a swollen right knee. Venus hasn’t played a tournament since defeating sister Serena and winning her fifth Wimbledon title earlier this month. Davenport’s injury has caused her to withdraw from four tournaments in seven weeks. All three say they plan on playing in Beijing.
SKIPPING THE OLYMPICS
Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, Stefan Koubek of Austria and Karin Knapp of Italy are among the latest withdrawals from the Beijing Olympics because of injuries. Tsonga will be replaced by Michael Llodra, Chris Guccione of Australia will take Koubek’s place, and Mara Santangelo will replace her Italian teammate in the women’s singles at Beijing.
SET FOR FLUSHING
When Roger Federer begins the drive for his fifth consecutive US Open men’s singles title, Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal will also be in the chase. The field will include three other former US Open champions: Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin. Federer is attempting to become the first player in the Open Era to win five straight US Opens and become the first to win that many in a row since Bill Tilden won six US Championships from 1920-25.
Five past champions have entered the US Open women’s singles – Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport and Svetlana Kuznetsova. The reigning French Open champion, Ana Ivanovic, heads a group that includes 99 of the top 100 women. Only Akiko Morigami of Japan, who is ranked number 98 in the world, did not enter the year’s final Grand Slam tournament. Morigami recently underwent knee surgery.
Juan Martin del Potro liked his first ATP title so much he went right out and won a second. The 19-year-old Argentine won his first career tournament at Stuttgart, Germany, beating Richard Gasquet in the final. Then he zipped through the field at Kitzbuhel, Austria, downing local favorite Jurgen Melzer 6-2 6-1 in the title match of the Austrian Open. Del Potro becomes just the second player this year to win ATP tournaments in consecutive weeks. Rafael Nadal has done it twice. Melzer was the first Austrian to reach the Kitzbuhel final since Thomas Muster was runner-up to Albert Costa in 1995.
When Albert Montanes beat defending champion Steve Darcis 1-6 7-5 6-3 at Amersfoort, Netherlands, it was the first time the Spaniard had won an ATP tournament in nine years on the tour. Ranked 63rd in the world, Montanes was in his fourth career final, all coming on clay courts.
Rogers Communications Inc. will continue to be the title sponsor for the Rogers Cup in both Toronto and Montreal at least through 2011. Tennis Canada and Rogers Communications announced a three-year renewal of the title sponsorship, which began in 2000 with the WTA Tour event. Rogers Cup is now the name for both the men’s and women’s events in Canada, with the two rotating between Toronto and Montreal annually. This year the men are in Toronto and the women in Montreal. Rogers Communication is also involved in grassroots tennis in Canada.
Alexandra Krunic of Serbia made her debut in professional tennis a winning one. The 15-year-old entered the USD $10,000 International Tennis Federation Women’s Circuit event in Prokuplje, Serbia, as a wild-card entry. She completed the week by defeating qualifier Tanya Germanlieva of Bulgaria 6-4 6-1 in the final to claim the title, having dropped just one set in the tournament.
SET FOR BEIJING
Devin Mullings has been playing tennis for Ohio State, where he just finished his junior year. At the Beijing Olympics, he will be representing his country, the Bahamas, where he will be playing doubles with one of the top doubles players in the world, Mark Knowles. “He’s won the French Open and the U.S. Open in doubles. And he’s been to the Olympics, so that’s a huge thing for me to be able to use his experience during the matches,” Mullings said of Knowles. “I just want to compete well. It would be great to win a few rounds or get to the medal stages.”
The NCAA suspended Texas Southern University’s tennis program and placed the school’s athletic programs on probation for four years. The school got a jump on the NCAA by dropping its tennis program and firing tennis coach Alberto Rojo Jimenez, the 2006 Southwestern Athletic Coach of the Year, and athletic director Alois Blackwell. The NCAA report said that TSU’s tennis team was struggling until Jimenez started recruiting international players, many whom he promised full scholarships. According to the NCAA, Jimenez knowingly provided USD $19,000 in impermissible aid to 22 players to help cover their tuition, fees and other expenses.
Jane Brown Grimes, the current United States Tennis Association (USTA) president and chairman of the board, heads a class of six inductees into the USTA Middle States Hall of Fame. The inductees’ contributions to the sport of tennis will be celebrated at the 2008 Hall of Fame Induction dinner and auction set for October 24 in Mendenhall, Pennsylvania. Besides Brown, who represents the USTA on the Grand Slam Committee and on the International Tennis Federation’s Fed Cup Committee, other inductees are Edward D. McQuillin, Rose Weinstein, George K. Wills, Ann Paley Hoffmann and Wallace F. Johnson. Hoffmann and Johnson are being inducted posthumously.
SIGHTS ON BEIJING
Seven of the top ten singles players signed up to play doubles at the Rogers Masters in Toronto. With the Beijing Olympics close at hand, Roger Federer will team up with fellow Swiss Stanslas Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal will join forces with fellow Spaniard Tommy Robredo, Nikolay Davydenko and fellow Russian Igor Andreev will pair up, as will Great Britain brothers Andy and Jamie Murray. The doubles draw in Toronto will also include the top five ATP doubles teams.
Peter Johnston has landed on his feet. Just three months after his 15-year career at Tennis Australia ended, Johnston has taken a senior management position with the WTA Tour. He will be the women’s tour’s senior vice president of competition and member relations and will be based in Florida.
Jerica Coley, who just finished the 10th grade in St. Petersburg, Florida, is the first female winner of the First Serve National Student Athlete Competition. Academic grades and results at junior tennis tournaments were tabulated to come up with the top male and female First Serve Student Athletes of the Year, with each receiving USD $5,000 scholarships and a trip to the US Open to meet their favorite players. Julian Haerie of St. Petersburg, was the top male in the first year of competition. Coley’s scholarship funds were a gift from the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.
Davis Cup in 2009 will be played March 6-8, with the World Cup quarterfinals set for July 10-12, the semifinals September 18-20 and the final on December 4-6. The 2009 Fed Cup competition begins February 7-8 with the semifinals April 25-26. The final of the women’s competition will be held November 7-8. The International Tennis Federation will hold the draw for the 2009 first-round pairings September 23 in Madrid, Spain.
SEARCHING FOR DOLLARS
James Blake has begun the Thomas Blake Sr. Memorial Research Fund to support cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City. Blake said his goal was the raise USD $1 million in the next year through various fundraising initiatives, including a charity tennis exhibition, the J-Block merchandise program and individual and corporate contributions. The fund is named in memory of the player’s father, Thomas Blake Sr., who died of gastric cancer in 2004. To date, the fund has raised more than USD $500,000.
Kitzbuhel: Victor Hanescu and James Cerretani beat Lukas Arnold Ker and Olivier Rochus 6-3 7-5
Indianapolis: Ashley Fisher and Tripp Phillips beat Scott Lipsky and David Martin 3-6 6-3 10-5 (match tiebreak)
Amersfoort: Frantisek Cermak and Rogier Wassen beat Jesse Huta Galung and Igor Sijsling 7-5 7-5
Umag: Michal Mertinak and Petr Pala beat Carlos Berlocq and Fabic Fognini 2-6 6-3 10-5 (match tiebreak)
Stanford: Cara Black and Liezel Huber beat Elena Vesnina and Vera Zvonareva 6-4 6-3
Bad Gastein: Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka beat Sesil Karatantcheva and Natasa Zoric 6-3 6-3
SITES TO SURF
San Marino: www.atpsanmarino.com
Los Angeles: www.eastwestbankclassic.com
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
$2,615,000 Rogers Cup, Toronto, Canada, hard
$100,000 Porsche Open, Poznan, Poland, clay
$100,000 San Marino CEPU Open, San Marino, clay
$600,000 East West Bank Classic presented by Herbalife, Los Angeles, California, hard
$145,000 Banka Koper Slovenia Open, Portoroz, Slovenia, hard
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$2,615,000 Western & Southern Financial Group Masters, Cincinnati, Ohio, hard
$135,000 Internazionali del Friuli Venezia Giulia, Cordenons, Italy, clay
$100,000 Odlum Brown Vancouver Open, Vancouver, Canada, hard
$1,340,000 Rogers Cup, Montreal Canada, hard
$145,000 Nordea Nordic Light Open, Stockholm, Sweden, hard
s Tennis Masters, Graz, Austria, clay
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!
It’s the year 2002, and for some reason I am having a lot of difficulty playing a tournament. It’s not the level of the tournament, injury, nor is it where the tournament is that is giving me trouble. This biggest problem I’m having is that I am not sure how I’m going to be able to get back if I get on a plane and go. Unfortunately, I can’t afford a roundtrip ticket. This is a story that a lot of tennis players go through but that story is rarely told. However, my struggles are directed at a tournament we all know…..Wimbledon.
I was a top international junior player, was a practice partner for Captain John McEnroe and the U.S. Davis Cup Team in 2000 and won the USTA National Junior Doubles Championships with Andy Roddick. I was also climbing the ranks as a young pro.
However, I find myself talking to a Merrill Lynch associate trying to convince her that I need a credit card so I can go play Wimbledon. Mind you, I am only playing qualifying but it is still THE most prestigious tennis event in the world. So the idea that I couldn’t find the money to go compete was very troubling to me but it was the reality I had to go through. I had success in my efforts to convince her that I was a tennis player and participating and that the prize money alone for losing first round would most likely cover most of my expenses. However since I was buying my plane ticket to London late, that cost went up and I had to pick a day early in the week to also keep that price down. Turns out that would come back to bite me……
So having gone through the stress of leveraging my savings and insurance just to get a credit card to go play Wimbledon, I arrive slightly relieved but not optimistic about my chances at playing well. I was praying for a relatively easy first round, possibly a Spaniard or South American (whom traditionally don’t do well on the grass surface). My prayers were not answered. I draw Nenad Zimonjic. A 6’4″ monster with a cannon serve and one of the worlds top doubles players. Not a good match up on grass for me being 5’9 counter-puncher and shot-maker.
I proceed to lose the first set and go down an early break in the second and it seems as if my trip just got real short. However, I manage to hold on and win the second set and take it to a third, where I managed to pull out a hard-fought match. Now back to how I mentioned my flights. Well since I was almost assuming to lose and trying to save money I had to book my flight early, well now I had to change it one day back. Costing me money I didn’t want to spend.
My next round is against a very similar opponent to myself. Amir Hadad, an Israeli with great hands and incredible shot-maker in his own right. I pull out another match with a 7-5 victory in the third. Again having to change my flight thinking or maybe hoping I would lose.
I am in the last round of the qualifying tournament and a glimpse of hope starts to set in. I have a real chance for the main draw where getting here was almost impossible. Standing in front of me on this day is Austrian Jurgen Melzer. He is a lefty, with a nice serve good returns and a very good record on grass. Against Melzer, it was not to be that nice finish to a strange story. I lost a tough four-set match. I played well but not well enough to get it.
Following the match loss, the real problems set in. I had to change my flight twice and pay for my hotel, not to mention stringing, food, etc. I tallied up a hefty bill. However, there is a rule in tennis known as Lucky Loser (not the most endearing term) where players that lose in the final round of qualifying can get into the tournament if a main draw player pulls out before the first round with an injury. My potential “lucky loser” status kept me around at the event for the entire week while getting a daily stipend from the tournament. It was one of those really wet first weeks at Wimbledon and that daily stipend allowed me to save up enough money to pay all my bills for the week, including my flight change fees and other ridiculous fees I incurred through that airline which will remain nameless…..
All being said, tennis is an expensive sport, and its costs are rarely offset in a players attempt to climb the rankings. At the time, I was a top U.S. prospect – and the second-highest ranked black player in the world behind James Blake – yet opportunities to finding money to help finance the “start-up costs” of my tennis career/business just weren’t there.
My experiences inspired me to co-found The Global Tennis Foundation (www.globaltennisfoundation.org) , a non-profit, 5-1c3 organization with a mission statement to “To redefine the way tennis is perceived and developed in America.” It is my goal – and the goal of the foundation, to help provide sponsorship support for talented athletes. We want no one to have to rely on ‘lucky loser” money just to get a plane flight back home.
Stay tuned for more updates from the world of professional tennis and updates from the athletes in our program and who are benefiting from our Foundation.