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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.