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Friday, November 6, 2009

Djokovic beats Hernych, 6-0, 6-0, in Basel

BASEL, Switzerland (AP)—Novak Djokovic recorded his first 6-0, 6-0 win at an elite event Thursday, shutting out Jan Hernych at the Swiss Indoors.

The third-ranked Serb needed just 53 minutes to beat his 59th-ranked Czech opponent in their second-round match.

“To win against somebody double bagel, an opponent has to play really, really bad,” Djokovic said. “He didn’t put a lot of effort in.”

The 30-year-old Henrych did create three break points in the first set, but Djokovic saved them and then won all eight points on Henrych’s second-serve in the opening set.

“It’s funny at the end with the crowd wanting him to win a game. It’s easy to understand that,” Djokovic said.

Djokovic will play sixth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka or Jarkko Nieminen, who played later Thursday.

In other second-round action, Evgeny Korolev beat Jeremy Chardy 6-4, 7-6 (1), and Marco Chiudinelli edged Michael Lammer 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 in an all-Swiss match.

Korolev will play top-seeded Roger Federer in Friday’s quarterfinals and Chiudinelli will meet John Isner of the United States or Richard Gasquet of France.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bartoli, Stosur, Wickmayer are winners in Bali

NUSA DUA, Indonesia (AP)—Marion Bartoli of France defeated Magdalena Rybarikova 6-4, 6-4 Wednesday in the round-robin stage of the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions.

Aravane Rezai rallied to stop fourth-seeded Sabine Lisicki 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Second-seeded Samantha Stosur defeated Agnes Szavay, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1, and Yanina Wickmayer topped Kimiko Date Krumm 7-6 (5), 6-3.

The 12-woman event features four groups of three players, followed by a single-elimination semifinals and final.

Murray, Basel, and the Beast

Where would be without the much-maligned media beast? It’s relentless, it’s hoggish, it lives on junk food, and it must be fed every day. But my morning was made so much more pleasant because I could spend it contemplating the ramifications of Andy Murray’s new shirt, rather than . . . rather than . . . I don't know what. Let’s see what else the beast has been chewing on lately.

Adidas’s Turf Expands

I have nothing against the company. It has supported tennis for decades; it has outfitted great young players who were subsequently snatched up by Nike; and it made my favorite black windbreaker, which I’ve worn for about 10 years, much to the chagrin of various people. But I also liked the fact that Murray didn’t wear Adidas or Nike. The Brit’s connection with Fred Perry made sense and rounded out his persona. Now, after signing a rather stunning 15-million-pound deal, he’ll be wearing his own version of Adidas’ Competition line, which as far as I can tell will be similar to the clothes Jo-Wilfred Tsonga wore this year. We can only hope the company comes up with something distinctive for him, the way Nike has for both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Failing that, let’s at least keep Murray from wearing the exact outfit as his opponent. This happens too often in tennis, mainly because so many of the pros are clothed by a single company, Adidas. It robs matches of visual contrast and makes the sport look like a video game. How about this as a solution? If two players walk out of the locker room and see that they’re wearing the same shirt, the lower-seeded player must put something else on. (Full disclosure: I think I stole this idea from Toronto writer Tom Tebbutt.)

Davidoff’s Turf is Challenged

The title sponsor at this week’s tournament in Basel is Davidoff, a tobacco company. It’s one of the last tennis events to be connected with a cigarette-maker; the EU bans smoking advertisements, but Switzerland isn’t part of the EU. There’s been some pressure over the years on Roger Federer, Basel native and the face of the event, to refuse to have his picture in the company’s promotional material for the tournament. It’s a thorny issue, and one that the women’s tour knows well. The WTA made Virginia Slims its title sponsor for many years, leading at least one doctor to claim that the sport, which indirectly associated smoking with female accomplishment and style, was partially to blame for rising cancer and death rates among women from 1980 to 2000. Billie Jean King has disputed the WTA’s culpability by saying that no player ever personally promoted smoking. Whatever Federer’s stature in Basel, he’s still a player, not an organizer, the way King was with the WTA. He can’t be held responsible for where the tournament gets its money. It would be an admirable gesture if he refused to associate himself with Davidoff, but you can’t expect it of him.

As for whether a tennis tournament should be sponsored by Davidoff in the first place, that depends on whether you think that the admittedly loathsome tobacco industry is enough of a threat to public health that it shouldn’t be allowed to advertise at all. If you do, do you then have to ban advertising by, say, McDonald’s? You’d like to think the only reason Basel’s organizers went with Davidoff is because the tournament couldn’t survive without it. You’d like to think a lot of things. Part of me believes the public knows enough about the dangers of smoking at this point that it should be responsible for making up its own mind, and that you can’t do anything more short of banning cigarettes altogether. But that doesn’t make Davidoff’s ostentatiously elegant logo at the back of the court in Basel look any less sinister. Elegant . . . hmmm . . . who else does that describe? A certain Swiss tennis player, perhaps?

Speaking of Basel…

Is the court color there a reflection of the Davidoff colors? I don’t know, but I’ve always liked the way it looks, with that subtle contrast between pink-brown and brown-brown. I also like the way it appears to be playing this week, which is pretty fast. We can stop wishing for the return of the serve and volley in the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up on all-court tennis entirely. Whether it was the court speed or not, I enjoyed seeing Jeremy Chardy beat James Blake today by intelligently picking his spots to approach the net. When I was watching, mostly late in the second set and early in the third, Chardy spent a lot of time right at the baseline. He seemed ready to make something happen and wasn’t satisfied with sending back a safe ball. And he found ways to get to the net within the confines of a normal rally. When Blake was pulled wide and forced to chip his backhand, Chardy was immediately in the forecourt, waiting to take the ball out of the air. Now if only the Frenchman, who, like most of his countryman, is a nice player to watch, could improve his volley. Still, we have to start somewhere.

So Bad, So Good

OK, so the beast didn’t spit out quite as much material today as I’d hoped. Yeah, Haas has swine flu and Scud seems to be broke, but I can’t make much of either of those unfortunate occurrences, no matter how hard I try. Where to go from there? Let’s try the magazine editor’s trusty stand-by, the anniversary. For that, there’s only one reference book necessary, or even possible: Randy Walker’s On This Day in Tennis History. What we find there under the entry for Nov. 4 is confirmation again that John McEnroe, if he was not the greatest player ever, was almost certainly the most central. According to Walker, on Nov. 4, 1984, “John McEnroe conducts one of the worst on-court tirades of his career, calling the umpire a jerk and slamming a soda can,” as well as hitting a fan with a ball, at the Stockholm Open. You know it as “Answer the question, jerk!” See that lovely moment here and marvel again at the man's ability to inject so much rage into the innocent word "question."

This, according to Walker, is what happened exactly five years later, on Nov. 4, 1989: “Boris Becker overcomes a second-set charge from John McEnroe—and his famed on-court antics—to defeat the three-time Wimbledon champion in the semifinals of the Paris Open.” See this moment, which really does include some of the loveliest tennis from McEnroe that I can remember, here. Again we might ask: The late 80s and early 90s—best era, from a quality of play perspective, in tennis history?

Speaking Again of Basel…

When you think of the Swiss city, what immortal genius do you think of first? Roger Federer? No, it's Friedrich Nietzsche, of course, the god-is-dead guy, who lived and taught there in his 20s. I'm going to give a little fodder to the people over at the site, "Pointless Allusions to Nietzsche in Sports Journalism" (leading contributor: Simon Barnes). Here's Nietzsche seemingly foreseeing the modern media's 24-hour news cycle:

Half-knowledge is more victorious than whole knowledge: it understands things as being more simple than they are and this renders its opinions more easily intelligible and more convincing.

Now that’s something to think about, at least until tomorrow.

Monday, November 2, 2009

WTA: Player withdrawals down one-third this year

DOHA, Qatar (AP)—The WTA Tour’s new scheduling system with fewer mandatory tournaments has caused withdrawals to drop by more than one third this season.

The tour has also withstood the global financial crisis, with attendance and prize money up significantly for top events, chief executive Stacey Allaster said Sunday.

Allaster, the former WTA president who took over as chairman and CEO in July, said the tour’s so-called “roadmap” implemented this year has been “a fantastic success.”

The tour lowered the number of non-Grand Slam tournaments top players must enter from 13 to 10 and extended its offseason by two weeks. As a result, Allaster said, player withdrawals from top events is down 34 percent compared to last year.

Meanwhile, attendance was up 11 percent for premier tournaments in 2009, and prize money increased by 34 percent despite the tough economic climate.

“If we don’t have healthy athletes, we can’t have a level of product that we want,” Allaster said on the last day of the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships, where Serena Williams defeated sister Venus in the final.

“That’s why it was important in the roadmap that we scheduled breaks. That is why there is a long break after Wimbledon, so they can take a rest after that grind.”

The longer offseason is also meant to give players more time to recover.

“We have two more weeks for them,” Allaster said. “They have two good months that they can have a good break.”

Still, it was evident that the long season has taken a toll on the players.

The Doha tournament, which featured the top eight women in the world, saw top-ranked Dinara Safina retire in her first match with a serious back injury, and No. 4 Caroline Wozniacki had to quit in her semifinal against Serena Williams.

Victoria Azarenka retired in the third set of her last round-robin mach on Friday, and alternate Vera Zvonareva pulled out after playing one match.

Wozniacki led the tour with 65 wins this season, in addition to playing for Denmark in the Fed Cup.

“Caroline Wozniacki played over 90 matches this year. That’s a lot of play,” Allaster said. “She, I’m sure, will be relooking at her schedule and the level of play that she can have.”

The players in Doha have been overwhelmingly positive about the shorter schedule.

“Comparing to the men’s tour, our schedule is much better,” third-ranked Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova said. “They still have two or three more weeks to go. It’s crazy because you don’t get time to rest and don’t get time to have good preparation before next season. For us, it’s so much different, so much better.”

Some challenges still remain for WTA officials. The tour’s main sponsor Sony Ericsson has yet to decide whether to renew its $88 million contract that expires at the end of the year.

Aldo Liguori, Sony Ericsson’s head of public relations, said he was impressed by the increased interest in the Doha tournament but wouldn’t reveal anything about future sponsorship.

“We still have a little bit of time left,” Liguori said. “I can certainly confirm we are looking at it very carefully. … We haven’t made any decision yet, and all options are open.”

The next step of the WTA’s roadmap is increasing the number of tournaments that are held together with the men’s ATP tour. In 2011, the annual tournaments in Rome and Cincinnati will feature men and women playing at the same time.

“We can all see the success of tennis when it’s combined,” she said. “We do know that combined events are a great strategy. Six of our top events in 2011 will be combined."

Ljubicic wins first title since 2007 at Lyon Grand Prix

LYON, France (AP)—Third-seeded Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia won his first title in more than two years by beating Michael Llodra of France 7-5, 6-3 in Sunday’s Lyon Grand Prix final.

The 30-year-old Ljubicic’s previous title came at the Ordina Open in June 2007.

Ljubicic, who won the first of his nine ATP titles in Lyon in 2001, served seven aces and broke his French opponent three times on his way to winning in 1 hour, 36 minutes.

“I have been struggling with injuries recently and I will enjoy this title as much as I can,” said Ljubicic, who was the only non-French player in the quarterfinals.

“It’s a special place for me,” he said. “I won my first title here in 2001 and here is my first title as a father. It’s my son’s first birthday in four days and it’s the best present I could offer to him.”

Llodra, who had won their previous meeting in Halle last year, saved two break points in the sixth game of the first set. The left-handed Frenchman began to read his opponent’s serve, but still failed to convert break chances in the ninth and 11th games.

Trailing 6-5, Llodra sent a forehand in the net to give up two break points. Ljubicic converted the first when Llodra volleyed wide.

Llodra broke in the first game of the second set with a forehand return down the line, and won his next game serve at love.

The 29-year-old Llodra, one of the few serve-volleyers in the men’s game, soon let Ljubicic level at 2-2 after missing two easy volleys.

Ljubicic kept up the pressure and went ahead 4-2 with another passing shot, before closing out the match at love on serve.

“I was tired a bit following my semifinal win over Gilles Simon,” Llodra said. “I had less power in my arm.”

Ljubicic is the third player over 30 years old to win a title this season

“I recently played with Ivan in doubles and I called him a grandad,” Llodra said. “And today the grandad won.”

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Serena ends Venus reign in Doha

Serena Williams beat her sister and defending champion Venus Williams to win the Sony Ericsson Championships.
The younger sister won a low-key final 6-2 7-6 (7-4) as both players struggled for fitness in Doha.
Venus, 29, had heavy strapping on her left knee, while Serena, 28, had similar taping around her left thigh.
But Serena, who will end the year as world number one, took charge of the season finale from the outset and came through in one hour 25 minutes.
"It's nice to finally win a tournament other than a Grand Slam," said the 11-times major champion who last won a title outside the big four in April 2008.
"We definitely weren't physically 100% out there today but it just shows you how much we try. Even in the second set, how hard we just both fought, especially Venus, she was getting every ball back.
You have to show up and play no matter what
Venus Williams
"I've seen Venus return better, and I served well. I think I really did serve well."
Venus, who came back from a set down to beat Jelena Jankovic in the semi-finals on Saturday, said: "I've been playing for a long time. I'm not going to be the one to say, 'Oh, I played forever yesterday.'
"You have to show up and play no matter what. That really has nothing to do with it.
"I just made a slow start and although I served better in the second set I didn't serve as well as I wanted to."
It was the second time in four days that the Williams sisters had played each other, but the final came up well short of Serena's three-set win in the Maroon Group on Wednesday.
WTA Tour chief executive Stacey Allaster said afterwards that a new scheduling system with fewer mandatory tournaments saw player withdrawals go down by more than one third in 2009.
But the showpiece tournament in Doha was beset by injury problems throughout, with world number one Dinara Safina pulling out after just two games of her opening match, and her replacement Vera Zvonareva then withdrawing after her only tie.
Victoria Azarenka retired due to cramp in her final group encounter, while Caroline Wozniacki was in tears at one point during her last round-robin match due to cramp and could not complete her semi-final against Serena Williams.
So it was appropriate that the two finalists emerged onto court looking like they had come straight from the physio room, each with heavy strapping on their left legs.
Serena could still crank up the power, however, and broke serve in game three, while her elder sister was unable to call on her usual athleticism around the baseline.
Despite repeatedly wincing in pain, Serena rolled through the first set in half an hour and looked on course for a swift victory.
Venus was not about to give up her title lightly and raised her game considerably in a much better second set, but Serena was imperious on serve, dropping just two points as she forced a tie-break.
The 2001 champion appeared to be wobbling when she was pegged back from 5-1 up to 5-4, but an ace and a thumping forehand closed out her 13th win in 23 matches against her sister.
Victory in Doha completes a superb year for Serena that has included wins at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and reclaiming the world number one spot.
There remains one more obstacle to overcome as the WTA will decide this month what action to take over her outburst during the US Open semi-final against Kim Clijsters, with a Grand Slam ban of some sort a possibility.

Safin loses to Stakhovsky in St. Petersburg semis

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP)—Two-time Grand Slam champion Marat Safin lost to qualifier Andriy Stakhovsky 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 on Saturday in the St. Petersburg Open semifinals.
Safin won back-to-back titles in St. Petersburg in 2000-01. The Russian is playing his last season on the ATP Tour and will enter his last competitive tournament—the Paris Masters—on a wild card.
“I’ve reached the semifinals and it’s a good result for my recent form,” Safin said. “I was serving bad through the entire match and I had to risk and made too many unforced errors. Stakhovsky felt it and dominated the match.”
The 93rd-ranked Stakhovsky advanced to his second career ATP final. The Ukrainian will play eighth-seeded Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, who reached his first tour final by beating Igor Kunitsyn of Russia 7-6 (7), 6-3.
“Safin was my idol when I began to play tennis,” Stakhovsky said. “I will remember this match. I have never beaten a player who had won two Grand Slams.”
Safin was playing in his first semifinal in 23 events. He last reached a final at the 2008 Kremlin Cup, where he lost to Kunitsyn.
The former No. 1 has won 15 titles in his career, his last at the 2005 Australian Open.
The 54th-ranked Zeballos is playing in only his fourth ATP event. He won five challenger titles this year to improve from 209th in the rankings at the start of the season.

Serena pulls out of Fed Cup final

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP)—Serena Williams withdrew from the U.S. team that will face Italy in the Fed Cup final, deciding she needs to rest after a long season.
Williams informed U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez she won’t play in the Nov. 7-8 matches, U.S. Tennis Association spokesman Chris Widmaier told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Vania King replaces Williams on the roster, joining surprise U.S. Open quarterfinalist Melanie Oudin, Liezel Huber and Alexa Glatch. Fernandez had announced this week Williams would play Fed Cup for the first time since 2007.
Willliams will play sister Venus Williams in Sunday’s final of the WTA championships in Doha, Qatar. She has been playing with her left thigh strapped in the season-ending tournament.
“I think I’m just going to be wiped out by the end of this,” she said after winning her semifinal Saturday when injured Caroline Wozniacki quit in the second set. “I’m literally just giving everything I have.”
Williams leads active women with 11 Grand Slam singles titles and is unbeaten in Fed Cup singles play.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Federer 'disappointed' by Agassi

Andre Agassi's revelations that he took the recreational drug crystal meth in 1997 and then went on to lie about the reasons for a positive test have not gone down well with current tennis stars Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Both stars voiced their displeasure with Agassi's confession.
Federer, who beat Agassi in the final of the 2005 US Open spoke of his sadness at the eight times major winner's admission in his new autobiography 'Open'.
"It was a shock when I heard the news," Federer said at a meeting at Kilchberg near Zurich.
"I am disappointed and I hope there are no more such cases in future.... our sport must stay clean."
Nadal unimpressed
Nadal was similarly unimpressed:
"To me it seems terrible," world number two Nadal said at an awards ceremony in Madrid.
"Why is he saying this now that he has retired?
"It's a way of damaging the sport that makes no sense.
"I believe our sport is clean and I am the first one that wants that.
"Cheaters must be punished and if Agassi was a cheater during his career he should have been punished"
Rafael Nadal"Cheaters must be punished and if Agassi was a cheater during his career he should have been punished."
However Agassi found support at home with fellow American and Wimbledon finalist Andy Roddick saying the 39-year-old remained his hero despite the revelations.
Roddick, the leading US men's player who lost to Federer in this year's Wimbledon final, was one of many compatriots who remained unfazed by Agassi's admissions.
"Andre is and always will be my idol. I will judge him on how he has treated me and how he has changed the world for (the) better," Roddick wrote on his Twitter page.
Roddick said Agassi's letter to the ATP, in which he told the governing body he had failed a drugs test because his drink had been spiked, came at a time when the player was far from his peak.
"To be fair, when Andre wrote the reported letter, he was well outside the top 100 and widely viewed as on the way out," said Roddick.
Mixed reactions
Women's world number two Serena Williams remained fairly ambivalent
"I don't even know what crystal meth is so, you know, that's what my reaction to it is.
"I haven't read anything about Andre Agassi's book," she said at the WTA Championships in Doha.
Serena's sister Venus, the world number seven, added: "His book will probably sell. It seems very interesting, to say the least."
US media has been restrained in its response to Agassi's admissions, which have appeared in excerpts from the book.

Tennis blog: In praise of Wozniacki

World number four Caroline Wozniacki is a role model for the sport of tennis.
After two matches of nearly three hours at the Sony Ericsson championships in Doha, the Danish 19-year-old overcame severe cramping, leaving her writhing on the floor in agony, to record her second victory.
Tears streamed down her face, and no doubt the faces of others caught up in the excitement of this extraordinary match in the end-of-year showdown for the top eight in women's tennis.
There has never been so much drama involved in a tennis match.
Thrills galore
Her opponent, Russian Vera Zvonereva, suffered from a bad nose bleed in the second set and looked to be defeating herself with an attitude better suited to melodrama.
But, from a position of near victory, Wozniacki lost her way and her ability to hit easy shots.
However, rather than let her head drop, her attitude was exemplary.
Her dedication to the victory was second to none. Any lesser player would have thrown in the towel midway through that final set.
It is rare today to find a player smile during a match.
Serbian players Jankovic and Ivanovic are renowned for their cheery disposition, and Wozniacki is mature way beyond her years.
A smile reaches the youngster's face almost every match, and it is clear umpires and fans alike find her charming.
If the Dane reaches her goal of becoming world number one, she will deserve it more than most other players on tour.
The support for her in Doha has been extraordinary, and the WTA tour couldn't ask for a better ambassador to the sport.
She certainly needs to rethink her schedule: 26 tournaments in a year is an excessive number for a youngster of her talent.
Yet with the charisma she brings to the court, fans will be demanding she plays every possible tournament to catch a glimpse of the positivity she radiates through the bleak misery of women's tennis.

Jankovic advances to semis of WTA Championships

DOHA, Qatar (AP)—Jelena Jankovic advanced to the semifinals of the WTA Sony Ericsson Championships on Friday after routing a tired Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-2 in the last group-stage round.
The former top-ranked Serb broke twice in the first set and then took a 4-0 lead in the second.
Wozniacki won two grueling three-set matches on Wednesday and Thursday and looked like she had simply run out of energy in the hot weather, often a step slow and failing to chase down balls.
“I just came out playing aggressively,” Jankovic said. “I really wanted to dictate the points.”
The 19-year-old Dane can still advance if Victoria Azarenka loses to alternate Agnieszka Radwanska later Friday.
Jankovic lost to Azarenka in straight sets in her first round-robin match, and won her second when the injured Dinara Safina retired in the third game. In total, she had spent 95 minutes on the court before a rest day on Thursday.
Wozniacki won two grueling three-set matches that lasted a combined 5 hours, 48 minutes. When she finally held serve for 4-1 in the second set, she raised her fist in mock triumph and laughed. She then broke Jankovic for the first time, but couldn’t muster a comeback as the Serb answered with her fifth break of the match before serving it out.
Wozniacki struggled with severe leg cramps before beating Vera Zvonareva on Thursday, but seemed to move OK on Friday.
Also Friday, Elena Dementieva played Russian compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova to determine the final semifinalist from the Maroon Group. Dementieva will advance with a win, while defending Venus Williams reaches the knockout stage if she loses.
The lucrative tournament is the last WTA Tour event of the year for the eight top-ranked women. Serena Williams has already secured a spot in the semifinals, along with the year-end No. 1 ranking

Dementieva loss sends Venus into last four in Doha

DOHA, Qatar (AP)—The Williams sisters could be headed for a final matchup at the Sony Ericsson Championships after Venus Williams advanced to the semifinals along with Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki on Friday.
Venus Williams, the defending champion, lost her first two group matches but advanced on sets thanks to Svetlana Kuznetsova’s 6-3, 6-2 win over Elena Dementieva. Unbeaten Serena Williams had already gained the semifinals.
Venus Williams, Kuznetsova and Dementieva all finished with one win and two losses.
Jankovic advanced by routing a tired Wozniacki 6-2, 6-2, but the 19-year-old Dane also advanced when Victoria Azarenka had to retire against alternate Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland while trailing 4-6, 7-5, 4-1. Azarenka would have advanced with a win, and served for the match twice in the second set. She then needed a medical timeout early in the third to treat her left thigh and lower back. She continued playing with the thigh taped, hobbling around the court and in obvious pain. She needed another timeout to treat leg cramps before the final game. She came back out, but called it quits while down 40-15.
Serena Williams will play Wozniacki in on semifinal on Saturday, and Venus Williams will face Jankovic at the same stage for the second straight year.
Both Williams sisters had the day off after playing on the first three days. Serena secured the year-end No. 1 ranking after Dinara Safina pulled out of the tournament with a back injury.
Jankovic broke Wozniacki twice in the first set and then raced out to 4-0 in the second, facing little resistance from Dane, who’s making her debut in the elite event.
“I just came out playing aggressively,” Jankovic said. “I really wanted to dictate the points.”
Wozniacki won two grueling three-set matches that lasted a combined 5 hours, 48 minutes on Wednesday and Thursday, and looked as if she had simply run out of energy in the hot weather.
“I didn’t have anything left,” she said. “I definitely feel like I deserve to get past and make it to the semifinals.”
After struggling with severe leg cramps on Thursday, Wozniacki said aching stomach muscles affected her serve against Jankovic.
Azarenka looked to be in control but struggled to put away Radwanska, who was playing her first match in the tournament. She had replaced Vera Zvonareva, who had taken Safina’s spot. Zvonareva pulled out with an injury after losing to Wozniacki.
Dementieva needed to win to advance, while French Open champion Kuznetsova had nothing to play for but cash. She had her best match of the tournament and never faced a break point.
“I asked Venus before the game, ‘Will you give me something if I win?”’ Kuznetsova said. “She was like, ‘If you win, it’s good for yourself.’ I say, ‘OK, whatever.”’
The Russian qualified for the tournament for the fifth time but has never advanced to the knockout round, with a combined round-robin record of 3-12.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Navratilova shocked; compares Agassi to Clemens

MIAMI (AP)—Martina Navratilova drew a parallel Thursday between Andre Agassi and Roger Clemens, saying she’s shocked the eight-time Grand Slam champion lied about drug use.
Agassi’s upcoming autobiography contains an admission he used crystal meth in 1997 and failed a drug test - a result he says was thrown out after he lied by saying he “unwittingly” took the substance.
“Shocking,” Navratilova said Thursday from Sarasota, Fla., in a phone interview. “Not as much shock that he did it as shock he lied about it and didn’t own up to it. He’s up there with Roger Clemens, as far as I’m concerned. He owned up to it (in the book), but it doesn’t help now.”
Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, repeatedly has denied using performance-enchancing drugs. His former personal trainer, Brian McNamee, claimed in the Mitchell Report that he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone at least 16 times in 1998, 2000 and 2001.
According to an excerpt of Agassi’s autobiography “Open” published Wednesday in The Times of London, he blamed the positive drug test on accidentally drinking a soda spiked with meth. Agassi wrote that the ATP accepted his explanation and threw out the case.
“Andre lied and got away with it,” Navratilova said. “You can’t correct that now. Do you take away a title he wouldn’t have won if he had been suspended? He beat some people when he should have been suspended.”
Navratilova won a record 167 singles titles, including 18 in Grand Slam tournaments. She retired from singles in 1994 and played her last doubles match in 2006.
She said she found Agassi’s decision to come out with the story now peculiar.
“How is it going to play out for him? I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know why he would come out now.”
Agassi retired in 2006. His autobiography will go on sale Nov. 9.

Serena beats Dementieva to clinch semifinal berth

DOHA, Qatar (AP)—Serena Williams became the first player to clinch a spot in the semifinals of the WTA Sony Ericsson Championships on Thursday, defeating Elena Dementieva 6-2, 6-4 for her third straight win in the tournament’s round-robin group phase.
Her sister Venus, the defending champion, stayed alive by beating Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-2, 6-7 (3), 6-4 for her first win in three matches. She needs Kuznetsova to beat Dementieva on Friday to have a chance of advancing to the semifinals.
Earlier, Caroline Wozniacki overcame severe leg cramps and a tenacious Vera Zvonareva to win 6-0, 6-7 (3), 6-4.
After the match, Zvonareva, who replaced the injured No. 1 Dinara Safina on Wednesday, pulled out the tournament citing a right ankle injury. Her place will be taken by the second alternate, Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland. She will play Victoria Azarenka on Friday but has no chance of advancing. Serena was broken to trail 2-1 in the first set, but then won seven straight games to take control. She converted her third match point when Dementieva sent the ball into the net, then pumped her fist and yelled “Finally!”
Serena, who secured the year-end No. 1 ranking when Safina retired with a back injury, has failed to get out of the round-robin phase of the elite tournament for the last two years.
“I’m happy to finally do well,” she said. “I’m kind of used to the elimination thing: If you lose, you’re out. But I was just trying to do better than I did last year, and compete in all my matches, which sometimes is very hard.”
Dementieva, who rallied from a set down to beat Venus in their opening match, didn’t find her stride against Serena until trailing 2-0 in the second set. The encounter failed to live up to their epic three-set Wimbledon semifinal — billed by many as the best women’s match of the year.
Dementieva won the longest game of the match after converting her fifth break point to make it 2-1, and the set went with serve until the last game.
Venus, who lost another three-setter to Serena on Thursday, broke Kuznetsova at love for a 5-4 lead in the third set and then converted her third match point when the Russian’s backhand landed in the net shortly before 1 a.m. local time.
Venus dominated the first set but again struggled to put the match away, after wasting a one-set lead in both her previous matches.
“Svetlana just started to play really well in the second and third set,” she said. “It’s always great to win these kinds of matches.”
Wozniacki needed two medical time-outs to treat her cramping left thigh in the third set and collapsed to the court sobbing and clutching both legs after netting a forehand at 30-15 in the last game. But she got back up and clinched the win when Zvonareva, who had saved two match points in the second set, netted a forehand on the third.
“I have absolutely no idea how I pulled it through, but I’m very happy about it,” Wozniacki said.
It was the U.S. Open finalist’s second win in the tournament, putting her on the verge of the semifinals.

Agassi book also has revelations about father

(AP)—So much of Andre Agassi’s life has been spent in the public eye—the various highs and lows, on and off the court, during his transformation from tennis brat to elder statesman—that it was possible to wonder how much more there was to be said about it all.
Plenty, it turns out. Excerpts of Agassi’s upcoming autobiography published Wednesday by Sports Illustrated and the Times of London contain graphic depictions of his use of crystal meth, an account of how he wriggled his way out of a suspension by lying to the ATP tour after failing a 1997 drug test, and the jarring contention that he always hated tennis “with a dark and secret passion” because of his overbearing father.
If image is indeed everything, as Agassi used to say to sell a sponsor’s cameras, he has provided new, indelible, behind-the-scenes images—along with raising questions about why he chose to reveal his crystal meth habit.
“Is it cathartic? I don’t know. I think it’s strictly from the heart. That’s the way he has operated in my view, going back to the latter portion of his playing career,” said Arlen Kantarian, who ran the U.S. Open from 2000-08. “I’m sure he feels good about getting it out on the table.”
Agassi, who won eight Grand Slam singles titles before retiring in 2006, is not explaining himself at the moment. His representative referred interview requests to his publishing company, which has set up a “60 Minutes” appearance on Nov. 8, the day before the book’s scheduled release.
After an exhibition match Sunday in China against longtime rival Pete Sampras, Agassi was asked if the book contains major revelations.
“I think I had to learn a lot about myself through the process,” Agassi said. “There was a lot that even surprised me. So to think that one won’t be surprised by it, it would be an understatement.
“Whatever revelations exist, you’ll get to see in full glory,” he added. “But the truth is, my hope is that somebody doesn’t just learn more about me, what it is I’ve been through, but somehow through those lessons, they can learn a lot about themselves. And I think it’s fair to say that they will.”
SI and the Times of London are among four publications that paid for the rights to print parts of “Open: An Autobiography.” Among the material excerpted:
— Agassi calls his father “violent by nature,” and recalls being in the car when his father pointed a handgun at another driver.
— He writes about making money by hustling people on tennis courts and remembers when, at 9 years old, he beat former NFL great Jim Brown in a match to win a $500 bet for his father.
— He poignantly recalls a telephone conversation with his father after winning Grand Slam title No. 1 at Wimbledon in 1992. Dad’s initial reaction? “You had no business losing that fourth set,” Agassi writes.
— He writes about using crystal meth “a lot” and in sometimes-positive terms, including reference to “a tidal wave of euphoria that sweeps away every negative thought in my head. I’ve never felt so alive, so hopeful—and I’ve never felt such energy.”
“Apart from the buzz of getting high,” he says, “I get an undeniable satisfaction from harming myself and shortening my career,” he writes. But the physical aftermath is hideous. After two days of being high, of not sleeping, I’m an alien. I have the audacity to wonder why I feel so rotten. I’m an athlete, my body should be able to handle this.”
— Agassi says he wrote to the ATP tour to explain the 1997 positive test and that “the central lie of the letter” was that he claimed he accidentally drank from a soda spiked with meth by his assistant “Slim.”
U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez, a former player who was a contemporary of Agassi’s, described the drug revelations as disappointing and “a bit of a shock.”
“It takes a lot of guts and courage to come out and say something that nobody would have really known about,” Fernandez said. “I’ve always admired Andre. He was a huge part of inspiring my generation, and he did a lot of great things and continues to do a lot of great things. He’s opening up now, and that’s his choice. Maybe people can learn from it and not make the same mistakes.”
Agassi turned pro in 1986, reached his first major final at the French Open in 1990, quickly drew plenty of attention and kept drawing it—for his service returns, considered by many to be the best in the game; for his quick-as-could-be reflexes at the baseline; for his denim shorts, Day-Glo shirts, flowing hair and dangling earrings; for his two-year marriage to Brooke Shields and friendship with Barbra Streisand that provided fodder for the tabloids.
He won Wimbledon in 1992, was ranked No. 1 in 1995, won an Olympic gold medal in 1996—and then it all unraveled. He dropped to 141st in the rankings and resorted to playing in tennis’ minor leagues in 1997, the year he says he first tried crystal meth.
After he escaped punishment for the drug test, he writes, his thought was: “New life.”
In addition to returning to No. 1 in the world, and completing a career Grand Slam, Agassi became an influential voice on the tennis tour. He also raised tens of millions of dollars for at-risk youths in his hometown of Las Vegas and opened a preparatory academy there.
He also got remarried, to tennis great Steffi Graf—he calls her “Stefanie” in the book—and they have two children.
Always evolving.
“It fits in with the story arc of his redemption,” said Gene Grabowski, who guides high-profile figures—Roger Clemens is a client—through public relations crises.
“It’s going to make Andre Agassi even richer. This is going to help him sell his book, which is why he wrote it,” Grabowski said.
Agassi reportedly received at least $5 million for the book; the first printing is a half-million copies, a relatively high number in publishing.
“His book will probably sell. It seems very interesting, to say the least,” seven-time Grand Slam singles champion Venus Williams said Wednesday after playing at the WTA Championships in Doha, Qatar. “But what am I supposed to say about Andre’s life? I can’t really say anything.”
Calling Agassi “an icon of his sport,” IOC president Jacques Rogge said, “If his admission would go together with the message to young athletes that it should not be repeated, then that would be useful.”
The International Tennis Federation said the reference to the 1997 drug test was surprising but noted that it did not oversee anti-doping efforts on the men’s tour back then. The ATP, which did, issued a statement Wednesday about its rules, in general, noting an independent panel makes the final decision on a doping violation.
Jim Fahey, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, called on the ATP to “shed light on this allegation.”
The tour declined repeated requests from The Associated Press to address the specifics of Agassi’s account.

Back injury may keep Safina out of Aussie Open

DOHA, Qatar (AP)—Dinara Safina finished the best year of her career with tears in her eyes on Wednesday, as a serious back injury ended her season and her hold on the No. 1 ranking she owned for much of 2009.
Safina lasted just 13 minutes in her first round-robin match of the Sony Ericsson Championships before calling it quits while serving at 1-1 against Jelena Jankovic.
Her withdrawal meant she lost the year-end No. 1 ranking to Serena Williams, a sour ending to a season that saw her become firmly established as one of the sport’s stars.
“I did everything possible to play here,” Safina said. “As I was chasing this No. 1 (ranking), I was fighting with my body.”
After stopping play in the third game, a teary-eyed Safina walked over to her chair and covered her face with a towel before retiring.
She said one of the disks in her lower back was “starting to fracture,” and that she has been dealing with the pain for three months.
“Maybe I had to stop after the U.S. Open. But then for two tournaments, let’s say Beijing and Tokyo, it was quiet, it didn’t bother me that much,” she said. “But then my body just gave up.”
Now she faces six weeks of rest before stepping back on the court, and a potentially long rehabilitation process.
“I have to work on my muscles, on my core stability,” she said. “As I’m tall, I need to be strong, so I can hold myself. This is going to be a very long procedure.”
In fact, she is worried she might not be fit enough to play in the Australian Open in late January.
“When I speak with the doctors, it doesn’t sound so good,” Safina said. “It is possible I may have to skip it.”
She was the runner-up this year to Williams and lost the French Open final to Svetlana Kuznetsova, leaving her still looking for her first Grand Slam title — a blotch on her record that has led to persistent questions about her claim to the top ranking.
But she has been one of the most consistent performers throughout the year, winning titles in Rome, Madrid and Portoroz, and holding the top spot for 26 weeks.
“Definitely I had my best year so far,” she said. “I mean, I can just be proud of myself.”

Safin, Youzhny advance at St. Petersburg Open

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP)—Former champions Mikhail Youzhny and Marat Safin advanced to the second round of the St. Petersburg Open with straight-sets victories on Wednesday.

Youzhny, the 2004 winner, beat Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan 6-3, 6-2, while Safin, who won consecutive titles in 2000-01, ousted Richard Gasquet of France 7-6 (5), 6-4.

Youzhny, fresh from winning the Kremlin Cup last week for his fifth career title, broke 139th-ranked Golubev early in the first set and jumped to a 4-0 lead in the second.

“Then there was no trouble to bring it to the victory,” said a relieved Youzhny, who admitted to feeling tired.

Two-time Grand Slam champion Safin has almost completed his last season on the ATP Tour. The Russian fired 14 aces and closed the match on his second match point when Gasquet returned wide and long.

“Frankly speaking I was lucky to win the tiebreaker,” Safin said. “Gasquet served hard through the entire match and it was difficult to read his serves, but he lost concentration in the end and it helped me.”

Safin will next meet countryman and fifth seed Igor Andreev for the first time in two years.

In second-round action, second-seeded Victor Hanescu of Romania beat Illya Marchenko of Ukraine 6-3, 6-4. Hanescu, a semifinalist last year, reached his first quarterfinal in 11 events since July.

Ernests Gulbis of Latvia upset fourth-seeded Jeremy Chardy of France 7-6 (7), 6-3 to secure a spot at the Australian Open.

“I won 28 points on my first serve in the first set. He played well and I was lucky to win several key points on the tiebreaker,” said Gulbis, who won five consecutive games in the second set.

Eighth-seeded Horacio Zeballos of Argentina also progressed, ousting Ukrainian qualifier Oleksandr Dolgopolov Jr. 6-3, 6-4.

Karol Beck of Slovakia retired because of flu while trailing Bjorn Phau of Germany 6-4, 2-1.

Also, Igor Kunitsyn upset seventh-seeded Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay 6-4, 6-3, ensuring six Russians passed the first round.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Safina retires, pulls out of Doha with back injury

DOHA, Qatar (AP)—Dinara Safina has pulled out of the Sony Ericsson Championships with a serious back injury, handing the year-end No. 1 ranking to Serena Williams.
Safina was serving at 1-1 in the first set against Jelena Jankovic Wednesday when she had to retire.
She said at the press conference afterward that her back has been hurting for three months and she took cortisone injections to attempt to defend her No. 1 ranking in Doha. Safina said doctors told her she will be sidelined for at least six weeks and may not be ready for the Australian Open.
Safina regained the top ranking this week, but her margin over Williams is so slim that the player who performed best in the tournament was guaranteed to end the year as No. 1.
Williams won her first match on Tuesday.

Wozniacki defeats Azarenka; Safina out of Doha

DOHA, Qatar (AP)—Dinara Safina withdrew from WTA Sony Ericsson Championships because of a back injury Wednesday, handing the year-end No. 1 ranking to Serena Williams.
Safina said the bone structure in her lower back is “starting to fracture” and that the injury has been bothering her for three months. She said doctors told her she will be sidelined for at least six weeks, and she may not be ready for the Australian Open in January.
The Russian said she took anti-inflammatory injections to try to defend her No. 1 ranking in Doha.
“I went yesterday to have injections, cortisone,” she said. “But I just couldn’t handle this pain.” Safina was serving at 1-1 in the first set against Jelena Jankovic of Serbia when she stopped play, walked over to her chair and covered her face with a towel. She then told the chair umpire she could not continue.
Doha is the season-ending tournament for the top eight players in the world. Safina now faces a tough task in the offseason to be fit in time for the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam tournament of 2010.
“When I speak with the doctors, it doesn’t sound so good,” Safina said. “It is possible I may have to skip it.”
Safina regained the top ranking this week, but her margin over Williams is so slim that the player who performed best in Doha was guaranteed to end the year as No. 1.
Williams won her first match Tuesday and played her sister Venus later Wednesday.
The tournament features a round-robin stage with four players in each group, before the semifinals.
Earlier Wednesday, Caroline Wozniacki saved a match point in the final set and beat Victoria Azarenka 1-6, 6-4, 7-5.
Azarenka was up a break four times in the third set but failed to put the match away, letting the 19-year-old Dane break back each time.
Wozniacki, who had just two winners in the first set, saved a match point with Azarenka leading 5-4 in the third before finally holding serve for the first time in the decider.
“I just felt like I hadn’t lost the match yet,” Wozniacki said. “She still had to win one more point.”
Wozniacki broke again for 6-5 after the Belarusian was docked a point for smashing her racket. Azarenka had already been warned in that game after hitting the ball out of the court following another unforced error.
Wozniacki sealed the win with a service winner after 2 hours, 58 minutes.
It was the 19-year-old Dane’s first match in the tournament, while Azarenka defeated Jankovic in her opener.
Each group stage win is worth $100,000, with the eventual winner taking home up to $1.55 million.
Wozniacki seemed bothered by the sore hamstring that forced her to retire from her first-round match at the Luxembourg Open last week. She wore tape around her left thigh, icing it during changeovers and stretching repeatedly between points.
“The strapping definitely helped,” she said. “You try not to think about it too much, especially in the important moments. … It’s not great for the leg, running this much.”
Wozniacki reached the finals of the U.S. Open in September before losing to Kim Cljisters.

Sister Act 22

For the 22nd time in their pro careers, the Williams sisters went head-to-head Wednesday in Doha. Serena outlasted Venus in three sets to improve to 2-0 in the round-robin stage

Monday, October 26, 2009

Yanini Wickmayer
LUXEMBOURG (AP)—Unseeded Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland has won her first WTA Tour title, beating sixth-seeded Sabine Lisicki of Germany 6-2, 7-5 in the Luxembourg Open final.

The 70th ranked Bacsinszky won the battle of the 20-year-olds Sunday with her fourth upset victory this week by beating a player 42 places ahead of her in the rankings.

In the semifinals, she had upset fifth-seededYanini Wickmayer , ending the Belgian's eight-match winning streak.

Lisicki was looking for her second WTA win this year in the wake of her first career title at Charleston in April.

Bacsinszky claims first WTA title in Luxembourg

LUXEMBOURG (AP)—Unseeded Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland has won her first WTA Tour title, beating sixth-seeded Sabine Lisicki of Germany 6-2, 7-5 in the Luxembourg Open final.

The 70th ranked Bacsinszky won the battle of the 20-year-olds Sunday with her fourth upset victory this week by beating a player 42 places ahead of her in the rankings.

In the semifinals, she had upset fifth-seededYanini Wickmayer , ending the Belgian's eight-match winning streak.

Lisicki was looking for her second WTA win this year in the wake of her first career title at Charleston in April.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS)


July 3, 1991
BirthplaceSamara, Russia
ResidenceParis, France
Hight5'9" (1.76 m)
Weight149 lbs (68 kg)

Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR)


August 8, 1986
BirthplaceKrivyi Rig, Ukraine
ResidenceKiev, Ukraine
Hight5'9'' (1.75 m)
Weight132 lbs (60 kg)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mats Wilander (SWE)


January 19, 1966
BirthplaceVastervik, Sweden
ResidenceLondon, England
Hight6'2" (1.87 m)
Weight170 lbs (77 kg)

Michael Stich (GER)


October 18, 1968
BirthplacePinneberg, Germany
ResidenceElmshorn, Germany
Hight6'4" (1.93 m)
Weight175 lbs (79 kg)

Patrick Rafter (AUS)


December 28, 1972
BirthplaceMount Isa, Queensland, Australia
ResidencePembroke, Bermuda
Hight6'1" (1.85 m)
Weight190 lbs (86 kg)

Stefan Edberg (SWE)


January 19, 1966
BirthplaceVastervik, Sweden
ResidenceLondon, England
Hight6'2" (1.87 m)
Weight170 lbs (77 kg)

John McEnroe (USA)


February 16, 1959
BirthplaceWiesbaden, Germany
ResidenceNew York, New York, USA
Hight5'11" (1.80 m)
Weight165 lbs (75kg)

Ivan Lendl (USA)


March 7, 1960
BirthplaceOstrava, Czechoslovakia
ResidenceGoshen, Connecticut, USA
Hight6'2" (1.87 m)
Weight175 lbs (79 kg)

Goran Ivanisevic (CRO)


September 13, 1971
BirthplaceSplit, Croatia
ResidenceMonte Carlo, Monaco
Hight6'4" (1.93 m)
Weight180 lbs (81 kg)

Jimmy Connors (USA)


August 17, 1970
BirthplaceSanford, Florida, USA
ResidenceOrlando, Florida, USA
Hight6'1" (1.85 m)
Weight182 lbs (82 kg)

Jim Courier (USA)


August 17, 1970
BirthplaceSanford, Florida, USA
ResidenceOrlando, Florida, USA
Hight6'1" (1.85 m)
Weight182 lbs (82 kg)

Michael Chang (USA)


November 22, 1967
BirthplaceHoboken, New Jersey, USA
ResidenceMercer Island, Washington, USA
Hight5'9" (1.75 m)
Weight160 lbs (72 kg)

Boris Becker (GER)


March 6, 1989
BirthplaceNovember 22, 1967
ResidenceMonte Carlo, Monaco
Hight6'3" (1.90 m)
Weight187 lbs (85 kg)

Bjorn Borg


June 6, 1956
BirthplaceSodertalje, Sweden
Hight5'11" (1.80 m)
Weight160 lbs (72 kg)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Kleybanova defeats Jankovic in Moscow quarters

MOSCOW (AP)—Alisa Kleybanova upset defending champion Jelena Jankovic 6-4, 6-3 Friday to advance to the semifinals of the Kremlin Cup.

The upset came a day after the second-seeded Jankovic took the last spot for the season-ending WTA Championships in Doha, Qatar.

Jankovic dropped serve in the fifth game of each set. Down 5-3 in the second set, Jankovic double-faulted twice to lose the match.

Kleybanova will play Olga Govortsova of Belarus, who crusied past Vera Dushevina 6-3, 6-0.

Eighth-seeded Francesca Schiavone of Italy advanced with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Maria Kirilenko.

Schiavone, the 2005 runner-up, will play Alona Bondarenko in the other semifinal. Bondarenko ousted qualifier Tsvetana Pironkova 6-3, 6-3.

In the men’s tournament, sixth-seeded Janko Tipsarevic advanced to his first semifinal this season by defeating Robby Ginepri of the United States, 6-3, 6-3.

Tipsarevic will face Ukranian qualifier Illya Marchenko, who rallied to beat Evgeny Korolev 0-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Qualifier Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan also rallied for a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 win over fifth-seeded Pablo Cuevas. Kukushkin will play third-seeded Mikhail Youzhny of Russia, who downed Sergiy Stakhovsky 6-3, 6-3.

Down the Line: Looking forward to 2010

With more than a month to go until its official conclusion, the 2009 tennis season already has been one of the most memorable on record. Roger Federer completed the career Grand Slam in Paris, formerly the site of his annual undoing, and claimed a record-setting 15th major title with an epic Wimbledon victory. In stunning plot twists, Kim Clijsters won the U.S. Open in just her third tournament back from retirement, and Rafael Nadal, the four-time defending French Open champ, lost early at Roland Garros. And there was significant controversy as well: Dinara Safina’s extended tenure as world No. 1, despite her underwhelming performances at the Slams, and Serena Williams’ ferocious tirade at Flushing Meadows.You may think that a letdown is inevitable in 2010. But three events in the past few weeks suggest that another fantastic year of tennis lies ahead of us.1. Juan Martin del Potro defeats Roger Federer in the U.S. Open finalSince the summer of 2005, Federer and Nadal have had a nearly exclusive grasp of the Grand Slams – before this year’s U.S. Open, they had combined to win 17 of 18 majors. Del Potro’s five-set tour de force in Queens hardly puts the duopoly’s accomplishments in the rear-view mirror, but the upset was a giant step forward for those chasing tennis’ two titans. Never before had Federer or Nadal lost a Grand Slam final to anyone except…Federer or Nadal. Del Potro showed that it’s possible for another player to beat the Swiss in a major final (he also beat Nadal in the semis).There’s no guarantee that del Potro’s breakthrough win signals the end of the Roger-Rafa hegemony – after Novak Djokovic won the Australian Open in 2008, Federer and Nadal went on to split the next six majors. But the landscape appears different this time around. The ATP’s Top 10 looks hungrier than it has in years, and a number of players, including the Argentine, made significant inroads in 2009. In his third All England Club final, Andy Roddick came as close as he’s ever come to winning Wimbledon. Despite underperforming in Melbourne and Flushing Meadows, Andy Murray rose to No. 2 in the world and made great strides on clay and grass. And Robin Soderling, who shocked Nadal at the French, proved that he’s more than just the answer to a trivia question; he’s developed into a consistent threat to the big guns.Despite their progress, I wouldn’t label any of these players as a favorite to win the Australian Open (look where those expectations got Murray earlier this year), or any other Slam, until they’ve proven that they can sustain their level of play when it counts most. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of them collect a major at some point next season, even at Roger’s or Rafa’s expense. Murray, Roddick, Soderling and others will get their first chance in just a few months’ time.

Jasper Junien/Getty ImagesHenin says she's retooling her serve in preparation for her comeback in 2010.2. Justine Henin announces that she’s returning to professional tennisFor most of 2009, the talk surrounding the WTA centered on the endless debate of, “Who’s the true No. 1: Safina or Serena?” Thankfully, Clijsters and Henin, a pair of Belgians returning from sabbatical, shifted our focus onto something else. (And not a moment too soon, as Safina, still ranked No. 1, recently bombed out of yet another major in embarrassing fashion.) Even better, early indications suggest that their comebacks aren’t simply sentimental, but legitimate.Clijsters’ remarkable title run in New York showed that she has plenty left in the tank; it’s logical to think that Henin, a seven-time major champion and still just 27, can also thrive in the current environment. Like Clijsters, Henin will look to dictate points with her potent and picturesque backhand. But Henin is looking to add a new shot to her classic arsenal – an improved serve. That’s a smart decision – players tend to rely on their serve more as they age, and with the lackluster serving currently on display in the women’s game, possessing a formidable first strike is a big advantage.One might think that given Clijsters’ immediately successful comeback, the pressure’s also on Henin to prosper. But the diminutive Belgian is already an all-time great; she’s won every major except Wimbledon, the focus of her return. The pressure is still squarely on the usual Slam-less suspects: Safina, Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic. A free-swinging, newly-motivated Henin? She should be fun to watch.3. Switzerland and Spain are drawn to face each other in the first round of Davis Cup playAs with all things involving Federer and Davis Cup, it’s best to employ a wait-and-see approach. Although the world No. 1 has participated in Switzerland’s Davis Cup playoff matches in each of the past five years, he hasn’t played in a World Group tie since 2004. But should Federer elect to represent his country next March, the potential opening-round matchup is even more tantalizing than the Federer-Roddick rubber that never materialized this March: Federer-Nadal.Still, even if Federer commits, it takes two to tango – and after Nadal’s injury-riddled season, first-round Davis Cup duty is no sure bet.But if the stars align – and head to Spain – we'll have a new context in which to enjoy Roger v. Rafa. Federer and Nadal have met in almost every significant tennis competition, but never in Davis Cup. It would be fascinating to see these two, still in their primes, square off with national pride at stake. And don’t forget the all-important doubles rubber: It’s possible that we could see Roger and Rafa tangle on consecutive days.First-round Davis Cup ties rarely capture the attention of American sports fans – for one, few of these contests are actually broadcast on television. But if Federer and Nadal come to play, Switzerland-Spain is must-see TV here in the States. I hope one of the networks agrees.