Ryan Sweeting pulled off quite a shock victory in the final of the Houston ATP 250 event to capture the first ATP title of his career with a 6-4 7-6 (7/3) win over Japan’s Kei Nishikori.
After being a former junior #2 and top college player, it must be so satisfying for Ryan to finally be realising his potential and playing some great tennis. Just last year, Ryan was a perennial Challenger player who always seemed to just miss the boat when he stepped up to play ATP events. But not any more. Today he stands tall at a career high of 67, and the only way is up.
So yesterday, during the Charleston final, news broke that in addition to her wrist/shoulder injury picked up in Miami and Indian Wells, Kim recently fell while dancing in heels at a wedding, twisting her ankle and leaving her a huge doubt for the French Open.
Usually, the idea of Kim jivin’ around at someone’s wedding, possibly drunk, and then embarassing herself by falling down would be at least semi-funny, but at this point it’s just depressing. Everything looked so exciting eighteen months ago with what we thought would be the resurgence of one of the greatest four-way rivalries in either tour’s history. But now just look at them.
Six months into her comeback, Justine was essentially finished as a tennis player after slipping on the Wimbledon grass and injuring her elbow beyond repair. Then Serena quickly followed, stepping on glass at a restaurant which would leave her injured for the next 8 months. Then pretty much as soon as she was finally out of the medical boot and prepping for a comeback, bloodclots formed in that inactive foot and threatened her life by flying all the way up into her lungs and causing a heamatoma in her stomach. Then we watched as Venus, live at the Australian Open, let out a blood-cudling, heartwrenching scream as she injured a body part that no one even knew existed. And then this week Kim rounded it off appropriately by picking up her own freak injury.
Surely this is unprecedented in any sport? Not just the fact that four women who have combined to win 31 singles slams and well over $100m in prize money alone are all out cold with injuries, but also the nature of those injuries and the magnitude of them.
Can you imagine if Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro (that’s 28 slams) were all simultaneously wiped out with freak injuries on the men’s side? It would be complete mayhem, and that’s how it is right now on the WTA. Sure, there are a load of other great personalities and players on the tour, but as much as I want to say that they’ve all siezed the opportunity with the generation’s greats out of the picture, most just seem to be unable to find form even close to the previous highs they reached when the ‘big 4′ were constantly forcing them to better themselves.
It’s really a sign that things are bad when it’s gotten to the point where most commentators are seemingly spending more time hypothetically discussing how Venus, Serena and Kim would fare if they weren’t injured, as opposed to talking about the actual matches they’ve been paid to talk about. But at this point, can you really blame them?
I can’t, and so get well soon, you three. You’re needed.
Over the years, Women’s tennis has come to be criticized and held notorious for its short, one-sided grand slam finals. While the latter part of the 00s has undoubtedly seen masses of blowouts and beatdowns in grand slam finals, it wasn’t always like that. Many finals in the late 90s and early 00s were bursting at the seams with vitality, drama and scrumptiously good tennis. One such match was the 2002 Australian Open final between Martina Hingis and Jennifer Capriati.
Firstly, let’s set the scene. After Capriati’s troubled teens, which included Grand Slam semi-finals at 13 and arrests for Maruijana possession and the shoplifting of a $15 ring, Jennifer arrived in 2001 finally having matured as a woman. Her tennis followed accordingly as she clinched both the Australian and French Opens and would end the year atop of the rankings. The 2002 Australian Open would repeat itself as both Martina and Jennifer waltzed through their halves of the draw, meeting in their second successive Australian Open final. A year earlier Martina was the world number one and favourite, but in the 52 weeks that followed the tide had completely turned. This time, Jennifer stood as the defending champion and world number one.
The match was a spectacle from the very beginning. Jennifer came out all guns blazing, while Martina sadistically toyed around with Jennifer in the way that only Martina knows how. This contrast in styles between the two supreme athletes led to some electric, lengthy and epic exchanges. Still, Martina took an emphatic 6-4 4-0 lead and looked to be moments away her fourth Australian Open crown. From this point on, Capriati’s fighting instincts took over as she fought and bludgeoned her way back from almost certain defeat, amid jeers and boos as she queried calls, let out her trademark expletive-riddled rants and told the enthusiastic crowd to “shut the hell up.” With three championship points saved, the pair eventually arrived at a second-set tiebreak, a tiebreak that turned out to be another one of those incredible, unforgettable moments in tennis. The heat burned holes in the pair as the champions exchanged epic rally after epic rally before collapsing into the shade after every point. Jennifer would fight her way through another lengthy exchange on championship point, before finally clinching the set and levelling the match for the first time since 15-15 in the very first game. And as Hingis’ spirit finally broke, Jennifer never looked back as she powered to the third Grand Slam of her career.
It was such an unbelievable viewing experience, and even just watching them as they wore each other down in the smouldering heat was tiring and painful. The way Jennifer managed to save most of the championship points with winners and forced errors was simply unreal. This match is her legacy, and it’s a pretty damn good one at that.
I guess that in an era where 9 hour 70-68 5th sets are the norm (ok, slight exaggeration there, but bear with me), there really isn’t too much point in lamenting on a match that lasted a mere 5-odd hours, and was *only* extended to 21-19 in the 5th set. But at the time, the Australian Open quarterfinal between Andy Roddick and Younes El Aynaoui was, in addition to being the longest match to take place at the Australian Open, widely regarded as one of the greatest matches in men’s tennis, and it still is.
It feels really odd to look back at the pictures of this match. Seven years really isn’t a very long time at all. The memories of the event are still raw and vivid in my mind, yet those pictures tell a completely different story. While Younes has barely aged in the 7 years since, Andy looks worlds apart from the Andy Roddick of the old days. Back then he was young, fresh faced, long haired, Reebok-clad and, of course, armed with that hideous visor thing. The rackets were different, the court was different, most of the players were different too. However, one thing that remains after all of these years is the fact that it was an incredible match.
What made this such a memorable and classic match was that, outside of mere numbers and statistics, the level of play was sky-high from start to finish. Both players engaged in lengthy, gruelling rallies – slicing, approaching the net, hitting dropshots, blasting serves and groundstrokes alike. Playing at that level for a straight sets best-of-three match is impressive enough, but the pair managed to keep this play going through the whole match. And even more than that, the level continued to rise as the match and fifth set wore on. Both competitors, such massive personalities, wore their hearts on their sleeves throughout the battle and by the end of the match, it was one of those rare moments where the crowd wasn’t cheering for a specific player, they were cheering for tennis. Because, without sounding horribly clichéd, tennis was the victor that day.
With 2011 fast approaching and the excitement of a brand new season slowly mounting to a fever pitch, I’ve taken to my trusty crystal ball to see what awaits us in the new year. I still wear my Schiavone French Open prediction like a crown, so will lightning strike twice in 2011 or will I be stuffing my face with humble pie this time around? We shall see. Remember, this is all in good fun so don’t take my word for gospel or anything.
1. Serena Williams will win the US Open.
2. Rafael Nadal will complete his Rafa(rena) slam.
3. There will be yet another nationalist drama at the Australian Open (possibly involving chairs again.)
4. Fernando Verdasco will shave.
5. Caroline Wozniacki will fall out of the top 4 with no slam, Azarenka and Radwanska will also make minimal progress.
6. Nikolay Davydenko will return to the top 10.
7. Sabine Lisicki, Polona Hercog, Julia Goerges and Anastasija Sevastova will all take massive steps forward.
8. Lleyton Hewitt will not reach the top 15.
9. Jarmila Groth will glide into the top 20 – possibly further.
10. Tomas Berdych will find himself in another slam final. This time against someone less accomplished than Rafa Nadal.
11. Svetlana Kuznetsova will fight her way back into the top 10 and make the French Open final.
12. Robin Haase and Thiemo De Bakker will both find themselves in the top 30.
13. Anastasia Rodionova will get disqualified from a match.
14. Gilles Simon will return to the top 15.
15. Francesca Schiavone will mount a respectable defence of her French Open title.
16. Andy Murray won’t win a slam.
17. Aravane Rezai and Yanina Wickmayer will come to blows on-court.
18. Ernests Gulbis will disappoint.
19. Venus Williams will finish 2011 higher than in 2010.
20. Viktor Troicki will make the top 20.
21. Justine Henin will contract Herpes again won’t win Wimbledon.
22. Novak Djokovic will make another slam final.
23. Maria Sharapova will reach the semis of the French Open and make a lot of progress.
24. Marin Cilic will fall out of the top 25.
25. Jelena Jankovic will smile and become fabulous again.
26. Heather Watson will finish 2011 comfortably inside the top 100 and as the highest-ranked ’92 player, Laura Robson will finish on the brink of the top 100.
27. Ricardas Berankis, Grigor Dimitrov, Ryan Harrison, Filip Krajinovic and Benoit Paire will all record big results in 2010.
28. Agnes Szavay will finally break out of mid-ranked obscurity.
29. Tomas Berdych and Lucie Safarova will become engaged.
30. Ula Radwanska and Jelena Dokic will both finish in the top 50.
31. Americans will stop crying long enough to realise they have a talented bunch of players on the rise in the form of Lauren Davis, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys. The former two will leapfrog both Coco Vandeweghe and Christina McHale in the rankings.
32. Andy Roddick will reach the semis of a slam.
33. Maria Sharapova and Camilla Belle will rekindle their love
34. Rafole will surface for more doubles in 2011.
35. Dinara Safina will reach the top 20, but no higher.
36. Sergiy Stakhovsky will be the ATP’s surprise package.
37. A prominent WTA player will make or announce a comeback by year’s end.
38. Roger Federer will win no more than one slam.
39. Fernando will date another WTA player and Kim Kardashian simultaneously.
40. A player will fail a drugs test.
41. James Blake will retire.
42. France will win the Davis Cup.
43. Kim Clijsters will no longer be able to get away with playing at 40%.
44. Richard Gasquet will reach the top 20 again.
45. French WTA players will have more media battles.
46. Maria Kirilenko will reach another slam quarterfinal.
And finally, 2011 will be a massive improvement on 2010 with more drama, jucier off-court feuds, and most importantly - quality matches between the very best players of both tours. Bring. It. On.
Going to be interesting to see how Andy performs this year. From the sounds of it, he is pumped and raring to go in 2011. There are undoubtedly many who believe his glory days are well over, and coming off a year that saw him shafted out of the top ten for the first time in centuries, there is good reason. But who knows? The great thing about the new year is that the players start with clean slates and clear minds. There are infinite possibilities at the beginning of a season, and so I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds in 2011.
Usually, 6-1 6-2 drubbings aren’t even considered noteworthy. Especially in Women’s tennis where they seem to happen so frequently in Grand Slam finals, and are usually met with the same ol’, same ol’ skepticism. But if there ever was a beatdown that has bypassed the usual rules, heading straight into the history books, it’s the 2007 final between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Why? There are just so many reasons. Too many reasons.
We all know the story. At the end of 2003, Serena’s sister Yetunde Price was murdered. In 2005, after being sidelined with some physical problems, those emotional grievances came to the surface. She fell into depression, and that depression spilled over into 2006 as she steered clear of tennis and steadily gained weight. After only playing a handful of events in 2006, she arrived in Australia overweight and with only a loss to Sybille Bammer in Hobart as preparation for the Grand Slam. The press criticized her, attacking her weight, commitment, Chris Evert was writing an “open letter” to her, and Nike officials even threatened her with the dissolution of her contract. It was absolute mayhem.
In the two weeks that followed, an incredible transformation took place as she gradually shook off the rust from her game and visibly lost weight with seemingly every match that passed. With 5 seeded scalps to her name, Serena fought her way all the way to the final against top-seeded Maria Sharapova. Still, people gave Serena zero chance of defeating Maria. No way, they said. Serena had completely exceeded expectations, sure, but Maria was just on a different level to any of Serena’s previous opponents. They were right about that, and so what did Serena do? She stood up to the occasion, elevated her level and went out into the final all guns blazing. Just over an hour later and we had witnessed one of the greatest performances in the history of the game. If not “the” greatest. It was sheer perfection – serve, return, defence, offence, netplay, mentality – everything was absolutely perfect. She was so good that Maria had to fight tooth and nail just for those three games.
The speeches (1:13 onwards) that took place afterwards only enhanced the occasion. Maria went out first, and she was the epitome of class as she congratulated Serena and told self-deprecating joke after self-deprecating joke. She ended with hoping that she would take the title the next year which, of course, she did. Then Serena came out. So many times we see Serena guarded and weary of cameras, but after all of her excited thank you’s, she took a deep breath and, while holding back tears, dedicated the victory to Yetunde. It was touching, heartfelt and one of those poignant memories that you just don’t forget.
Following Ana Ivanovic’s recent appointment of Antonio Van Grichen and Jelena Jankovic’s hiring of Andrei Pavel, it was revealed today that young British star Laura Robson is to be coached in 2011 by Patrick Mouratoglou. For the last few years Robson, 16, has trained sporadically at Mouratoglu’s academy with her ex-coach Martijn Bok. However, after her split from Bok and Mouratoglu’s split with Rezai, the pair will join together on a full-time basis next year.
I’m not going to tempt fate or attempt to predict how this partnership will turn out, but I can’t say it’s an exiting prospect. Mouratoglu did a good job with Rezai, who obviously, under his influence, stormed her way though Venus Williams, Jelena Jankovic and Justine Henin to the Madrid title. However, I’m just not a big fan of his approach to the game. He’s all about the gung-ho aggressive approach to tennis, and rejects variety, consistency and other less obvious approaches. Watching Rezai this past year comfirmed all of this. She has always been an aggressive player, but under Mouratoglu she just took that aggression to new, unseen levels. When it worked, it was brilliant. But when it didn’t, it was disastrous.
Laura Robson is, of course, an aggressive player by nature. However, she isn’t the type of player who can dominate a match the way in which Rezai can. For someone of her height and build, she drastically lacks natural power and the ability to muscle the ball and opponents around the court. Her talent lies in her soft hands which enable her to not only create deft angles and maniplulate the balls in ways that most can’t, but it also means that she creates most of her power through her crisp timing of the ball. Thus, if Mouratoglu approaches Robson in the manner in which he has with Rezai and many other of his students in the past, this partnership could be bad, bad news.
Check out this pic from one of Wickmayer’s recent photoshoots. I will bite my tongue and refrain from commenting, but it’s quite funny and completely ironic to see here smiling so much here. Like that ever happens in real life.
Just wishing all the readers and followers the Merriest of Christmases and a Happy New Year. Here’s to hoping for a 2011 jam-packed with both personal success all of you, and success for the sport that we love.