Tag Archive | "Henin"

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Third Time Is The Charm: Ivanovic Wins First Major

For Serbian Ana Ivanovic, this was her second consecutive French Open final and her third stab at a major title. In the end, experience proved to be the key, as Ivanovic triumphed 6-4, 6-3 over Russian Dinara Safina to hoist her first major’s trophy.

Last year, Ivanovic was in Safina’s shoes as a first time finalist. Unable to deal with the magnitude of the occasion, Ivanovic quickly submitted to give Justine Henin her third straight title. This time around, Safina was the newcomer to the big stage and it showed. Dinara opened the match by losing her serve. With Ivanovic’s strongest wing, her forehand, on target, she got off to a double break lead 4-1. Yet, after venting in her native tongue, Safina quieted her nerves and made headway by winning three successive games to equalize things at 4 all. With this shift in momentum, the championship had the potential of turning into a real contest. But, in the next game, Safina shot herself in the foot again and handed the break back to Ivanovic. Still, as Ivanovic served for the set, Safina had two chances to keep the set alive, but was unable to capitalize.

Now beaming with confidence, which Ivanovic ostentatiously demonstrated with her customary fist pumps, Ana began the second set as she had the last by breaking Dinara in the initial game. Luckily, Safina immediately erased the lead 1-1. Unfortunately, Safina’s pattern of losing serve after breaking back continued and Ivanovic was once more ahead. Habitually with an explosive temperament, Safina had succeeded in controlling her emotions throughout the tournament. But, Dinara cracked under the pressure resulting in an innocent racket getting hammered. After letting off some steam, Safina kept the match close at 3-2 and had deuce on Ivanovic’s serve to try to level things off. But errors took hold of her game, increasing Ivanovic’s lead to 4-2. Serving at 3-5 to stay alive, Dinara committed three unforced errors to give Ivanovic triple championship point. The Serbian gladly accepted the present and with a forehand winner, Ana concluded the match to win her first major.

For both women, this was an unforgettable fortnight. Perhaps, after defeating three top ten players en route to the finals including new world number one, Maria Sharapova, Safina was emotionally spent. After all, Dinara twice overcame match point and 5-2 leads in the second set, once against Sharapova in the round of sixteen, then in quarterfinals against Elena Dementieva. Regardless, all of Safina’s hard work will be rewarded; she will once again be back into the top ten. For Ivanovic, this was a double coronation. By defeating countrywoman Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals, Ana supplanted Maria at number one. Today was just her crowning moment with her capturing the ‘Coupe Suzanne Lenglen’.

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The Untold Story Behind Henin’s Sudden Farewell To Tennis

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The Untold Story Behind Henin’s Sudden Farewell To Tennis

img_3627 If tennis were her great love, this was a “Dear John Letter”. Justine Henin, the top female player, left fans and observers speechless with the statement that she has fallen out of love with professional competition and was calling it quits at the age of 25.

This striking decision comes on the heels of Henin’s best season ever, 10 of 14 tournaments won last year, including two majors. It leaves me pondering whether there is a furtive reason for this out of the blue departure.

In retrospect, we should expect the unexpected of Justine. An insular figure on the WTA tour, Henin has always marched to the beat of her own drummer. In the 2006 Australian Open final, Henin retired against Amelie Mauresmo, a few games from defeat citing a stomach ailment. The only woman to do so in the finals of a major in the open era, a blemish on Henin’s otherwise stellar career.

Henin’s results in 2008 have been mediocre at best . Some people may characterize Henin’s choice as radical, driven by fear of failure. Roger Federer, her male counterpart at number one, has similarly been going through a rough patch. Two weeks ago, after losing in the quarterfinals to Radek Stepanek, a player he previously owned, Federer was asked in his post match interview whether he thought this was “the beginning of the end”. Maybe, Henin’s decision stems from the fact that she feels ill equipped to deal with that kind of scrutiny. But, considering the upheavals that Henin has dealt with in her personal life since adolescence and the recent disintegration of her marriage, I doubt that the word “fear” is in her tennis vocabulary. Perhaps, this is a delayed response to residual marital baggage that Henin set aside last year which is now preventing her from fully focusing on her game.

Other than mononucleosis, Henin has evaded major physical ailments throughout her career. Of late though, she has been nursing a knee injury. Although this problem was not underlined as a reason for her exit, one wonders whether it is more severe than Henin let on. Injury leaves a player’s future in limbo and uncertainty can dampened anyone’s “passion and fire” to compete. As Justine herself said: “I am a perfectionist”. For some athletes, win or lose, satisfaction comes from just being out on the court; but that is not Henin. Knowing Justine’s dedication to being the best, it would go against her very nature to accept going from the peak to the valley of the sport. Tennis followers have witnessed the tumbling from the summit of Mauresmo since her appendectomy. A double major winner in 2006, Amelie has been unable to regain her “number one” form. The women’s game is so physically and mentally demanding that one must be in optimum shape to compete at the highest level. Thus, to this champion, retirement, the one factor she can control, may have felt like her sole option. Moreover, this choice may have seemed even more attractive by providing the chance to make history as the only woman to hang up her racket with the number one ranking.

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Gone Too Soon: Justine Henin Abruptly Announces Retirement

Without fanfare at a press conference in Limelette, Belgium, uttering the simple phrase “ I am here to announce that I am putting a permanent end to my tennis career”; Justine Henin, the number one female tennis player in the world, declared that she was retiring effective immediately.

A stoic Henin with a tearful Carlos Rodriguez, her long time coach at her side, assured those present that although it may come as a ‘shock and surprise’, it was a decision taken after months of reflection and soul searching. Furthermore, Henin emphasized that this determination was in no way dictated by her recent defeat in the third round in Berlin to Dinara Safina. But, Henin acknowledged that the debacle last week only served to reinforce that retirement is indeed the next logical step. Henin cited that since the epic battle in the finals at 2007 WTA Championships in Madrid against Maria Sharapova, where she came from behind to win in three sets in one of the best matches ever played, that her spirit has been irrevocably shattered and she felt as if at that event, she had played out the final act of her career.

Justine commented that she has reached the stage where she has lost the ‘fire and passion’ to play. Thus, Henin proclaimed ‘it was time to turn the page’ and express her immense gratitude to a sport which allowed her to live out her childhood dream. Henin stated that she has gone through a gamut of feelings as a competitor and treasures them all; that certain images and emotions will leave an indelible mark in her heart and mind. In stepping aside Henin asserted: “I do not feel sadness but rather [a sense of] relief and freedom . . . I have no regrets . . . I go out with my head held high”.

Henin recognized that perhaps people might judge this decision as premature ,considering she is only 25. But, she reflected that ‘there are no rules’ nor is it easy to arrive at such a conclusion. For as long as she can recall Justine said, tennis has been her singular focus, now it was time to pursue other dreams, explore fresh avenues. Other tasks call for her attention such as her charitable foundation , which helps sick children, and her sport academies.

Lastly, Henin expressed her gratitude to Rodriguez and his family for their support, dedication and sacrifices over the past twelve years. Finally, she cited Carlos’ kids will have their father back which will bring them great joy. Henin stressed that what she loved most was the fact that her success was a team effort; impossible without the direction of her coach who has been more than just a teacher, sticking with her through many rocky periods in her life including her estrangement from her family as an adolescent. To underline the pivotal role Rodriguez played, Henin declared that if at any point or for whatever reason Carlos had opted to terminate their professional relationship, it would have meant the end of her career because she could not envision triumphing without his guidance. Rodriguez affirmed that the privilege had been his to work with such a talent, for only thanks to Henin he has carved his own mark on the tennis world. Then jokingly said, now that he was laid off, it was time to pound the pavement once again.

Rumors had been circulating for days that Henin was on the verge of making a monumental statement. Despite her on court struggles and her knee problem of late, retirement was definitely unforeseen. Her colleagues greeted the news with astonishment; as Roger Federer explained: “it’s a real pity. A female player who can play well on all surfaces, that’s quite rare on the women’s tour these days”. Amelie Mauresmo stated: “I never thought she would stop before me . . . It will be strange not having her on tour. She undoubtedly marked my career . . .I won my two slams playing against her”. While Venus Williams summed it up best: “what can you say? I don’t think there’s enough time to say all there is to say about such a champion. She was a formidable adversary, she threw herself into each match to play her best tennis regardless of the situation. A true warrior.”

Henin’s pronouncement comes just two weeks before Roland Garros, the major where she has had the most success and is the defending champion. Henin closes her career with forty-one titles, including seven majors and an Olympic Gold Metal with Wimbledon the only major trophy missing from her illustrious career. No doubt, a large vacuum has been left in the women’s game which will be hard to fill.

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Another Russian Takes Center Stage in Germany: Dinara Safina Wins First Tier I Title

The Qatar Telecom German Open final featured two Russians, the seventh seed, Elena Dementieva and the thirteenth seed, Dinara Safina. At age 22, this was Safina’s first Tier I tournament final despite being an eight-year veteran of the ladies’ circuit. Dinara took full advantage winning it 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

At the beginning of the first set, neither player held her serve. Disgruntled with her poor play, in a move reminiscent of her brother Marat, Safina knocked out a racket. With on court coaching permitted, Safina opted to get advice on her performance, but continued to have some difficulties. With the serve, habitually the most troublesome part of Dementieva’s game holding up nicely, with at 71% first serve, and with sloppy play from her opponent, Elena prevailed in the set 6-3.

The second set started out similarly to the first with exchanges of breaks. But, as the set progressed, with some intelligently placed drop shots and a dramatic improvement in her first serve at 70%, Safina took control of the rallies. Dinara also reverted her ratio of winners to unforced errors with the former outnumbering the latter. Although well known for her defensive play and mobility, Elena found it hard to be effective when pinned far behind the baseline. As a result, Safina leveled the match at one set all.

In the first game of the third set, Safina had a double break chance, but Dementieva swept that off. Yet, from then on, Safina had the upper hand. In the third game, Dinara got the break and consolidated to take a 3-1 lead. Safina further distanced herself from her rival by going up a double break. As the errors pilled up and Dementieva’s second serve became ineffective, Safina served out the set and won the match 6-2.

Ranked 17th in the world, this represented Safina’s most successful week as a singles player. In the third round, Dinara defeated world number one, Justine Henin 6-1 in the third set. She then dispatched Serena Williams in a third set tiebreaker, putting an end to Serena’s 17 match winning streak. For her part, Dementieva eliminated two Serbs on her way to the finals, Jelena Jankovic in the quarterfinals and Ana Ivanovic in the semifinals, the defending champion. To date, Ivanovic has never beaten Dementieva.

The women’s tour moves on to Rome where Maria Sharapova will make her debut on European clay. Henin withdrew from the tournament stating fatigue; Justine will be fined by the WTA for this eleventh hour move. Germany was Henin’s first tournament since the Sony Ericsson Open; she has been hampered by a knee problem. With Henin battling injury, the field looks wide open as to who might win this year’s French Open.

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A Round Up of the First Week At Sony Ericsson Open 2008 (Part I)

March 26 marked the start of the Sony Ericsson Open. Here is, depending on your perspective, the highlights or lowlights of the week one of the tournament.

The qualifying rounds are deserving of a few lines since three South Floridians were vying for a place in the main draw. Miami native, Ahsha Rolle, lost to Russian Anastasia Rodionova in straight sets in the first round. After her nice run at the 2007 U.S. Open, the bar was set higher for Asha this season. Thus far, 2008 has not been kind to this hometown girl. 15-year-old wildcard, Sloane Stephens, a talented junior from Boca Raton, was also eliminated in the first round. While former University of Miami tennis standout and Plantation raised, Audra Cohen, also a wildcard entry had the best result. Cohen, a former number one collegiate player, made it to the second round of qualifying before falling to Ukraine’s Olga Savchuk in three arduous sets.

Moving on to the main draw, one news worthy item was that Maria Sharapova, the reigning Australian Open champion, pulled out of the field due to injury. With the customary first round bye for the top seeds, the action got underway in earnest on Friday with second round matches. Top seed, Justine Henin, coasted through her match against Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-4. 6-2. Defending champion, Serena Williams easily put away her opponent 6-2, 6-1 while big sister Venus had a tougher time with Poland’s Marta Domachowska but pulled through in two sets. Jelena Jankovic scratched out a victory over Swede Sofia Arvidsson. This match ran into the wee hours of the morning with Jankovic coming back to win in a third set tie-breaker 6-7. 6-2, 7-6. On the gentlemen’s side, James Blake, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, all proceeded to the third round despite testy matches with problematic challengers.

The most astonishing outcome in the second round was defending champion Novak Djokovic’s dismissal in three sets by qualifier, Kevin Anderson. This lanky South African with the big serve is a former college star. A few weeks ago, he posted his best result making it to the 2008 Tennis Channel Open final where he lost in a tight three setter to American Sam Querrey after beating John Isner and Robby Ginepri. Coincidentally, Mardy Fish, the runner-up at last week’s Pacific Life Open to Djokovic was shown no clemency in the first round by Frenchman Arnaud Clement. He was sent packing in straight sets 3-6, 3-6. Perhaps for both players, stamina was an issue.

Other important second round results included the 9th seed Marion Bartoli of France, the 2007 Wimbledon finalist, going down 3-6, 1-6 to Danish Caroline Wozniacki, an up-and-coming 17 year old. #15 Agnes Szavay and #12 Nicole Vaidisova were also defeated. Neither Richard Gasquet, seeded 6 , nor David Nalbandian, seeded 7, could stave off the assault by their respective opponents, Dmitry Tursunov and Xavier Malisse, thus, for them it was an early exit. Andy Murray seeded 13th also failed to graduate with Mario Ancic stopping his progression 2-6, 6-2,6-7, ditto with David Ferrer seeded 5th as he ran into former Australian Open champion, Thomas Johansson.

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Does Height Matter? Justine Henin:  A Little Dynamo With A Dynamite Game

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Does Height Matter? Justine Henin: A Little Dynamo With A Dynamite Game

At 5 feet 5 inches, in the arena of women’s tennis where the average height in the top 10 is 5 feet 8 inches, Belgium’s Justine Henin can be likened to a shrub in a forest of sequoias. Yet, in spite of her diminutive stature, in the last few years, Henin has become a dominant force on the tour. Last year, Henin earned two majors’ trophies and won ten of the fourteen tournaments she entered. Ironically, as the height of her competitors has grown, Henin’s game has evolved and her ranking ascended to number one in the last year. In a world where the opponents are becoming more powerful physically, it is a wonder that such a player has been able to thrive.

Partly, Henin’s success can be explained by talent. To the observer, the racket can be defined as a quasi-natural extension of her arm. The one handed backhand, in particular, is hit with such finesse, the spectator is mesmerized that someone of her size can generate such precision, control and power simultaneously. This type of shot enables Henin to take the upper hand in the rally from anywhere on the court. As Henin herself has stated in speaking of her backhand, “it’s natural [since] I was five, it [has been] the same . . . I think it was in me.” Moreover, what seems remarkable is Henin’s ability to keep her opponent guessing by varying that shot, thereby, opening up her options in order to finish off the point. There was a time when the forehand was labeled as Henin’s Achilles heal, but even that has been solidified, in turn making the backhand an even more potent weapon.

While height has not been a hindrance with these aforementioned shots, one area of Henin’s game that has suffered because of her lack of inches has been the serve. In fact, it is rare to see her produce aces in a match. Nonetheless, Henin has compensated for this weakness by varying the serve’s placement thereby increasing the degree of difficulty for the returner while still maintaining the upper hand. Although there is a lot to admire technically about Henin’s game, from my viewpoint, talent is only one factor in understanding her triumph in the sport. After all, there have been plenty of so-called talented youngsters who never realized their potential or who became one slam wonders; thus, being gifted is seldom enough. Probably the greatest element contributing to Henin’s success is what she has between the ears. Simply stated, she just has a great mind for the game fuelled by perseverance and determination, which are keys for making it to the top.

Henin’s meteoric rise began in 2001, when she went from a ranking of 100, the previous year, to 45 in January of that year. By June of 2001, she was the world’s fifth best player, quite an amazing feat. Considering that when one starts out in this profession, it is usually as a teen, the patience and dedication required to succeed can be too much to bear. For someone so young to develop the discipline to practice and a good work ethic can be a challenge when there are so many outside distractions. But it was evident from the start that Henin was driven and focused on being the best player she could be and was prepared to put forth the prerequisite time and effort. Most importantly, early on Henin learned to recognize what parts of her game were her strong suits and to use them to her advantage. In an August 2001 interview, Henin was asked how she could counteract the power coming from the rackets of the Williams sisters or Davenport, taking into account that their height provides them with such a significant advantage. Henin replied “ It’s not a problem for me . . . I think that . . . they are strong, they’re playing hard . . . But I think I have other things in my game to [oppose] that . . .I’m very fast on the court. I move well . . . I work hard . . . I [will] be more strong . . . I think that everybody has her place on the tour.” In other words, while height was a limitation that she could not alter, there are other elements in the game she can control, thus, she was going to do her best at maximizing her potential.

On the court, physical power is only one part of the equation when it comes to winning; power is also derived from being able to dissect your rival’s game. Using that knowledge to unmask the opponent’s handicaps can make the difference in the outcome of the match. In a 2001 interview at the Australian Open, Henin was questioned once again by a reporter about her frame: “Are you discouraged at all knowing that with your built you are going against girls who are larger and stronger down the line like Venus, Serena, Lindsay type. Is that discouraging for you?”. Henin answered “ I am not a stronger player. I think I play with everything in my game with my slice, with my head . . . So I am not a stronger player like them. But [I play] with [my] possibilities.” Being cognizant of players’ strengths and weaknesses presents another dimension to analyze as Henin formulates what strategy to employ against her competitor. This statement may have seemed a bit trite, but it was tremendous insight for a mere 17 year old.

Barring injuries, passion is one of the assets that permits an athlete to be durable and sustain a productive career in his sport. Without the hunger to compete, for some even the huge monetary compensation seems a hollow reward. Luckily, Henin has a great love for the game. Despite being younger, fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters at 5 feet 8 inches turned pro a couple of years earlier then Henin. While both players’ careers peaked at the same time, Clijsters’ stamina for the tour was not as strong and her triumphs not as great. Although she reached the finals of five majors, Clijsters won only one while Henin has prevailed in 7 of 9. Clijsters never appeared to exude the same passion for the sport as her countrywoman. This can be inferred from her decision to hang up her racket in 2007, at the age of 24. Although injuries may have pushed her to that conclusion, Clijsters had always made it clear that her main priority in life was to get married and have children at a young age, following in her mother’s footsteps. Nowadays, Clijsters is pregnant living hopefully in marital bliss with baby soon to be in tow with tennis relegated to her past.

Henin’s passion for the sport arises from having shared a love of the game with her mother. Regrettably, at the age of twelve, Henin’s mother passed away from cancer. When such a calamity befalls an adolescent, he or she can go down one of two paths, that of wallowing in self-pity and self-destruction or that of drawing strength from disgrace; Henin took the latter. This tragedy became a source of motivation for her to pursue her dreams and aspirations. Moreover, it seems that with Henin, tennis serves as a means to honor and remember her mom. In fact, her unwavering conviction in her calling and her affection for the game led Henin to abandon her home in pursuit of tennis glory because her father did not understand her devotion. In witnessing her mother’s battle with her illness, it is likely that the primary lesson that Henin extracted was the importance of perseverance even in the most adverse of situations. With the pressures and tension of competition, mental fortitude can tip the scale in favor of a player. Early on in her career, Henin recognized the importance of mental toughness. In a 2001 post match session she was asked: “where does your mental strength comes from?” Henin answered: “I think that it may be natural. . . I think it’s the [most] important part of my game…. I can play very well, but if I don’t have the head to play a good match, it’s not good . . . I try to be positive and be aggressive and go and try to win”.

In 2007, Henin was handed another crushing blow when her marriage of four years fell apart. For many people, this would have resulted in a lost of concentration and a tumble down the rankings. But after a brief sabbatical, Henin refocused her attention on tennis and got back to the business of winning, putting together her best year on tour to date. In light of the circumstances that Henin has had to deal with at a tender age, it was not surprising that Henin was able to put that chapter of her life into perspective. To Henin, the racket seems to be an outlet that helps in balancing her life. For Henin, the game can be described as a refuge from daily preoccupations, the bonus is that she can also earn a decent living at what she enjoys. Agility, mobility, shot making ability and a gigantic fighting spirit, all the tangible and intangible facets that comprise her game, are the reasons Henin has become a revered player.

Perhaps, the ultimate compliment that has been paid to Henin is that she is “the female Roger Federer”. Considering that Federer is being pegged as possibly the best player ever, that is indeed high praise for Henin. Yet, unlike Federer, she has had to deal with her height as a limitation, making her accomplishments even more commendable. It appears innate in human nature to root for David against Goliath. Maybe, the feeling of pride in seeing the underdog triumph comes from identifying with that particular athlete. The world is replete with little girls who will never be 5 feet 8 inches or taller, but with the goal of someday becoming a sensation on the tennis circuit. How wonderful that Henin exists to remind them that physical attributes can only take one so far, indeed, drive and hard work do count and can lead them to their goal. So to the vertically challenged, do not despair, hold on to the dream of being the next great champion. As Henin stated “I think . . . size maybe important. But I don’t think [that it’s] the most [important]”.

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Sharapova Wins Down Under

For the second consecutive year, Maria Sharapova made it to the Australian Open women’s final. Sharapova who had lost the title last year, advanced by impressively defeating both Justine Henin in the quarterfinals 6-4, 6-0 and Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 6-1 in the semifinals. Ana Ivanovic, Sharapova’s opponent, had a tougher road to the finals. After fighting off Venus Williams in the quarterfinals (7-6, 6-4), she had to overcome a 6-0 lost in the first set of the semifinals to win in three against Daniela Hantuchova (0-6,6-3,6-4).

Making it to her second major final, Ivanovic looked more relaxed than her prior experience at the French Open where Henin comprehensively beat her. From the start, Sharapova looked the sharper of the two women. Sharapova’s serve, which has been her main weapon throughout the tournament, was right on target. After breaking in the first set, it seemed that Sharapova would breeze through and win it. But, when Sharapova had a momentary service hiccup, Ivanovic broke back and leveled the first set at five all. After a series forehand errors by Ivanovic, Sharapova once more gained the upper hand and eventually prevailed 7-5 in the first.

Despite a shaky beginning in the second set, Ivanovic found a way to win her games. Furthermore, Ivanovic had a couple of times a 0-30 advantage on Sharapova’s serve, but she was unable to capitalize. On the other hand, in the seventh game of the second set, Sharapova did take advantage of her break chance and captured the lead. While serving to stay in the match, Ivanovic committed a myriad of unforced errors that resulted in her loosing, giving Sharapova her first Australian championship, her third major title. A coup Sharapova achieved without loosing a set in the two weeks of the tournament.

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Top Ten Matches Of 2007

As 2007 draws to a close, the staff at MiamiTennisBlog.com would like to pay tribute to what we feel were the preeminent matches of the year. On the men’s side, the picks have been limited to five setters because undoubtedly, they were the most compelling.

#10 Maria Sharapova versus Justine Henin, Finals WTA Championships

After making the cut once Venus Williams pulled out due to injury, Maria whose serve had been affected all year by a shoulder problem, appeared to have regained her past championship form impressively dismissing higher ranked opponents to reach the finals. In a hotly contested match lasting 3-hours and 24-minute, Sharapova demonstrated she had “game” by winning the first set 7-5 and pushing Henin in the second set prior to loosing it 7-5. The contest came down to a final third set which was fiercely disputed, but Henin prevailed 6-3.

#9 Serena Williams Versus Justine Henin, Wimbledon Quarterfinals

After the drama of the previous round where she won despite a calf injury, Serena continued to battle against her archrival, Henin, taking the match to an ultimate set after loosing the first. Regrettably, Serena was not a 100-percent physically and went down 6-3 in the third. For her courage and effort, we must tip our hat to Serena.

#8 Robin Soderling versus Rafael Nadal, Third Round Wimbledon

Here are just a few reasons why this was a memorable match: 1) bad weather resulted in play spanning the course of four days. 2) Theatrics were the order of the day, when Robin decided that Rafa’s habit of constantly picking at his shorts between points was worthy of mimicry. And 3) this ended up being a five set marathon with great shots being made from both ends of the court. Nadal’s experience and physical strength were keys in aiding him to come out on top 7-5 in the fifth. It is doubtful that Robin and Rafa will be going out for drinks anytime soon.

#7 Carlos Moya versus Tim Henman, First Round Wimbledon

In his farewell Wimbledon match, Tiger Tim had fans atop “Henman Hill” on pins and needles with another five set nail-biter. The last set was dead even at 5-5 when play was suspended due to lightning. When Henman returned, he electrified the crowd with sensational shots and won 13-11 in the fifth. Sadly, the joy of his British compatriots would be short-lived as in the second round Henman would be defeated by another Spaniard, Feliciano Lopez. Anxious for a home grown champion since 1936, the Brits will have to wait at least another year.

#6 Andy Roddick versus Richard Gasquet, Quarterfinals Wimbledon

As the higher ranked player and with his previous grand slam experience, Roddick had all the elements in his favor to proceed to the next round. He was leading two sets to love and with Gasquet having never previously come back from such a deficit; Andy’s fate appeared to be sealed. But destiny took a wrong turn as Gasquet found the means to work his way back into the match with spectacular backhand passes and eventually walked away with the upset, winning 8-6 in the fifth. A dazed and confused Roddick probably had nightmares for days following that one.

#5 Maria Sharapova versus Serena Williams Finals Australian Open

Subsequent to an injury-filled year which resulted in her ranking plummeting to 81, it would not have been shocking for a visibly out-of-shape Serena to lose in the initial rounds of the tournament. Williams proved all the naysayers wrong when she reached the finals where she dominated the proceedings against Sharapova, who at the time was the second seed, and earned her third Australian trophy. In so doing, Serena placed the rest of the field on notice that she was back at the top of her game.

#4 Daniela Hantuchova versus Serena Williams, Fourth Round Wimbledon

After winning the opening set easily, Serena found herself battling in the second. While serving to extend that set into a tiebreaker, Serena literally went down when she began to experience pain in her calf muscle; speculation was that she was struck by a case of severe calf spasm. Once play resumed after a medical time out, a grimacing, teary-eyed Williams was unable to generate much power on her shots causing her to forfeit the second set. With her movement gravely hampered, Williams’ prayers for a reprieve were answered by a two-hour rain delay during which she received additional treatment for her problem. Guts, shear determination, and a befuddled Daniela, who was conspicuously uneasy with having to beat up on a wounded opponent, helped Serena pull out a 6-2 win in the third set. Therefore, for your die-hard attitude Serena Williams, we at HialeahTennis.com salute you.

#3 Justine Henin versus Marion Bartoli, Semifinals Wimbledon

You would think that having James Bond 007 (a.k.a. Pierce Brosnan) in the stands would make one nervous. Such a dapper and debonair presence in most cases might be a distraction, apparently not in the case of Marion Bartoli, to her he was a source of inspiration. Seeded 18th , Bartoli of France probably believed that she had no more than an outside chance to win against Henin, the world’s number one. After losing the first set 6-1, Bartoli should probably have discarded the idea of an “outside chance”. Yet, Marion stated that when she saw Brosnan, her favorite actor, in the stands she realized that she could not continue with such an embarrassing display. Bartoli started to perform better, propelling her to win the second set. On the other hand, Henin surprised by the turn of events essentially became unglued. Henin’s level of play took a nosedive. Shots which for her were usually a surety were converted into errors leading to her dismissal in the third set 6-1; Henin’s quest of obtaining her first Wimbledon trophy will have to be postponed yet another year.

#2 Roger Federer versus Andy Roddick, Quarterfinals U.S. Open & Ranek Stepanek versus Novak Djokovic, Second Round U.S. Open

Tied for second place are these two matches on hardcourt for the quality of the shots although only one went the distance. Roddick could not have performed any better; his serve was phenomenal while his groundstrokes were dead on. Yet, Federer decked out in his Darth Vader evening attire had the force with him. The first two sets were decided by tiebreakers with Federer coming up with some surreal passing shots while Roddick tried all within his powers to stave off the assault. After loosing the first two sets, Andy was a broken man and fell in the third set 6-2. This match was reminiscent of his play at Wimbledon 2004, where as Andy stated he “threw everything at Roger but the kitchen sink” and still could not get the victory. So maybe next time, Andy will need to remember to bring the kitchen sink.

In what turned out to be a spectator’s dream for an opening round contest at a major, this five set thriller was jam packed with first class shot making from both Stepanek and Djokovic. This 4-hour and 44-minute marathon fittingly ended with a fifth set tiebreaker where Djokovic prevailed, the initial step towards his punching his ticket to his first grand slam finals.

#1 Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal, Finals Wimbledon

The hallowed grounds of tennis’ premiere tournament were the setting for this epic battle between these top-ranked contenders. For the first time since capturing the number one ranking several years ago, Federer was at risk of being displaced by Nadal. The match started out with Roger pulling ahead in a tough first set tiebreaker. In the second set, Roger had the chance to place further distance between himself and his opponent, but Rafael picked up his level of play and equalized the match. The third set was also a fiercely contested affair which saw Federer come out on top once more in a tiebreak. At that point, one thought that Federer would put the pedal to the metal and run away with the trophy, but much to Federer’s dislike, Nadal had more to say. Throughout the course of the match, Federer took exception with some of the calls that the electronic line monitor was making; repeatedly his challenges were proven wrong. A normally cool and composed player (let’s face it, the guy appears to hardly sweats on court), Federer almost went, ballistic, at one point asking the umpire to turn off what he felt was a faulty machine. Clearly, the tension was getting to Roger. A factor which probably contributed to his losing the fourth set 6-2. For the first time at his favorite grand slam, Roger would need to go to a fifth set to win. When Rafa took an injury time out, a rattled Federer was able to regroup and regain his composure; this permitted him to find his rhythm in the ultimate set where he broke Nadal twice to capture his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title.

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2007 WTA Year End Review

Sadly tennis enthusiasts, the time has come to bid adieu to the 2007 season, but fear not, the hiatus will be brief. Soon enough, the courts will be ablaze with the shrilling grunts of Maria Sharapova, the artistry of Roger Federer and the mercurial ever-flamboyant fashions of Serena and Venus Williams. Prior to foretelling what 2008 may unwrap, let’s take a moment to reflect on the marquee events which shaped tennis this past year.

On the women’s side, Serena Williams started 2007 in grand fashion by winning the calendar’s first major. Serena, who had been sidelined for most of 2006 by a myriad of injuries, was unseated when the 2007 Australian Open started; consequently, she was the dark horse of the tournament. Serena not only reached the finals, but also comprehensively beat a befuddled Sharapova. Who can forget Oracene Williams’s advice to her daughter “ get out of Melbourne”, referring to the painted sign on the court where Serena had been camping out, pushing her too far off the baseline. Well, Serena followed her mother’s pointer and got out of Melbourne, but not before snatching the coveted Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup. At another prestigious venue, the Ericsson Open, Serena again demonstrated her tenacity coming back from a bagel lost in the first set and fought off two championship points by her opponent to win the tournament against a relentless foe in Justine Henin. Although the year started out with a sizzle, it would end with a fizzle with Serena losing consecutive quarterfinal matches against Henin at each subsequent major tournament. Once more, Serena’s last few months on tour were racked by injuries leading to her withdraw from the season ending tournament in Spain.

After a tumultuous start to her year, with the turmoil in her personal life (the dissolution her marriage) and being forced to skip the Australian Open where she had been a finalist in 2006, Justine Henin had undisputedly her best season on tour. Henin won 10 of 11 finals including her third straight French Open while participating in only 14 events. The sign that Henin is human came at Wimbledon where she lost to a French player in the semifinals, not Amelie Mauresmo, but relatively unknown, Marion Bartoli, whom Venus Williams summarily defeated in the next round to claim the Venus Rosewater dish. Therefore, as Rafa Nadal seems to be Federer’s handicap on the clay in Paris, in 2008, it will be interesting to see if the All England grass and the French women continue to be Henin’s kryptonite.

In a run reminiscent of 2005, Venus worked out the rust in her game to make Wimbledon the highlight of her year. Fit and focused, Venus showed the brilliance that can illuminate her game toppling three top ranked opponents to capture the cup with her namesake. Venus continued to excel the remainder of the season although she had to cede her place at the season ending championship tournament to Sharapova because of illness. The Russian diva took full advantage of the gift by making it to the finals in Madrid where she gave Henin a run for the money prior to falling in a thrilling three setter rescuing a par year plagued by a sleuth of health problems. Thus, it remains to be seen whether in 2008 the Siberian ice queen’s game will continue to heat up or will need to be rescued from the frozen tundra once more.

2007 will be remembered as the year which propelled a small nation called Serbia into the tennis spotlight and one woman in particular Ana Ivanovic. The teenage phenom heralded her arrival with her phenomenal play at the French Open culminating with an appearance in the finals prior to collapsing under the weight of the occasion by losing to Henin. With a blistering forehand, Ivanovic will definitely be a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming season; the question that will need to be answered is whether fellow countrywoman Jelena Jankovic will also be a factor.

A woman’s right to choose saw the exit of a champion and return of another for contrasting reasons. Kim Clijsters decided that after winning one major trophy, she had her fill. For Kim, it was time to move on to marriage and children. While Lindsay Davenport returned to the court after the birth of her son hoping that there is still life in her career. Moreover, the 2007 sports season will be recalled as the year marred by drugs from steroids use in baseball to the career-ending shocker whereby Martina Hingis abruptly retired disputing the outcome of positive cocaine on a drug screen at Wimbledon.

Since this is a locally slanted outlet, I would be remised if I did not mention Ahsha Rolle and her exceptional performance at the U.S. Open. After earning a spot as a wildcard, the 109 ranked Rolle became the buzz of the tournament after her opening round victory over the 17 seeded and talented star Tatiana Golovin. The bee from Miami would have the best showing of her career to date in a major making it to the third round where she was ousted by Danira Safina. I was fortunate enough to attend one of Ahsha’s matches, in my opinion, a major weakness in her game is her one-dimensional backhand; she constantly slices it back. If Rolle is to have continued success on the circuit, she will need to develop more sting and variety to her backhand.

Considering the horde of new comers who impacted the game in 2007 and with so many youngsters doing particularly well at the final major of the year defeating experienced players to make it past the fourth round, the upcoming season promises to be gripping. In my viewpoint, the newcomer to watch will be Agnes Szavay from Hungary. Szavay looked impressive on the hardcourt making it to the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open after being a finalist the previous week in New Haven where she was forced to retire against the #1 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova due to a back injury. With the surface change in Australia to reflect more of a hardcourt feel, I predict that she will be poised for another great run there. Overall, the young guns from the Soviet Union and the former Eastern Block look ready to make an even greater mark on the game this coming year. On the other hand, Henin appears to have taken a liking to the #1 spot; therefore, everyone will be vying to dethrone her. At times, the psychological part of her game has proven to be her weakness, thus, along with skill, mental fortitude will be the key to the opponent’s ability to dismantle her game. A player who does possess these weapons in her arsenal is Lindsay Davenport; I anticipate that with her return Henin and the Williams sisters will be breathing a little tighter.

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Unsportsmanlike Conduct—A Portrait Of Serena

There’s an old maxim which states that with age comes maturity and wisdom, but as is customary, there’s an exception to every rule. Despite her multiple major titles and twelve years on the tennis circuit, Serena Williams has yet to learn how a true champion carries herself. Winning is the easy part of sportsmanship, but the character of a class act player shines not in victory but in defeat, when he or she demonstrates that adversity can be borne with grace and honor.

When the Williams sisters first arrived on the scene, there had been a dearth of minorities succeeding in the game. Surely, one remembers players such as MaliVia Washington and Zina Garrison who encountered fame and fortune, but none of these was touted as the heir apparent to Althea Gibson or Arthur Ashe; black players who actually reached the summit of the sport by holding some of its most coveted trophies. In the prim, proper, predominately white world of tennis, these black teenagers from the inner city with beaded hairdos were different from those who had come prior, resulting in their behavior possibly being scrutinized a little more. Although tennis conventional behavior had been challenged by the likes of foul mouth Americans such as John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, their diatribe was somewhat excusable either because they were Americans or white, probably more the latter.

Initially, Serena’s behavior may have been excusable, the stares across the net, the exhibition of self-confidence in order to prove to others and herself that she could indeed reach the pinnacle of her profession knowing all the hurdles that she has had to overcome. Despite her success and the adulations of fans (for the most part, Serena seems to be well supported by the public regardless of the event she participates in), Serena’s attitude has changed little over time irrespective of the lessons that she has learned on or off the court.

At the last two majors this year, Serena’s advance was halted at quarterfinals by Justine Henin, the #1 ranked player. On both occasions, rather than giving credit to her opponent for exposing the weak spots in her game by comprehensively beating her, Serena’s analysis of the matches boiled down to her counterpart making lucky shots. Moreover, at the US Open post match press conference, Serena was churlish to reporters. This type of behavior is inexcusable.

When it comes to these two individuals, there is more than just an intense rivalry; one would probably be on cue in classifying their relationship as antipathetic. The history of animosity between the two stems from an incident at the 2003 French Open whereby Henin clearly prevaricated, not acknowledging that she had placed her hand up during Serena’s serve in order to ask for time, affecting the latter’s concentration resulting in her dumping the ball into the net. To Serena’s dismay, Henin’s action also went unnoticed by the chair umpire, who subsequently refused to give her a first serve anew. The situation further deteriorated when the crowd turned against Serena for protesting despite the fact that she was in the right. After leading by a break in the latter stages of the third set, Serena’s game became unhinged costing her the match and possibly a second French Open title.

Unfortunately, bad calls come with the territory in any sport, more importantly; there are players who take gamesmanship to the extreme, as was the case with Henin at the French. Hence, although it may sound trite, the time has arrived for Serena to demonstrate that she is the classier champion by recognizing great play, irrespective of the racket from which it is being produced. Moreover, these are not insular instances with Serena, one at times get the impression that she suffers from the sore looser syndrome. There is no dishonor in confessing that one’s opponent was the better tactician that day, thereby, recognizing one’s own failings. It is only through defeat that one can learn the aspect of his or her game that needs to be improved upon.

From my viewpoint, in the last few years, there has been an epidemic of poor sportsmanship on the women’s side. In particular, two incidences come to mind, one pertaining to Maria Sharapova and the other again to Justine Henin. At the 2006 NASDAQ Open in Miami, in her semifinal match with Sharapova, Tatiana Golovin injured her ankle. At first, Golovin tried to play through her injury, but within a matter of seconds, her ankle swelled to the point one thought that it had swallowed one of the tennis balls. While being attended to by the trainer, Golovin was teary eyed and grimacing in pain. The entire time, Sharapova remained on her side of the court playing shadow tennis, oblivious or simply not caring as to what was going on the other side. Who knows, maybe Sharapova believed that this was a ploy on Golovin’s part to slow down the match, which would have been preposterous thinking on her part considering that Golovin was winning and outplaying her. In the end, Golovin had to retire from the match and was sidelined for weeks with torn ligaments in her ankle.

The next case worthy of analysis is that of the 2006 Australian Open final where Henin was being summarily beaten by Amelie Mauresmo, this was to be the latter’s first major championship. Her moment of glory was marred by Henin deciding to retire with a stomach ailment after loosing the first set and with Mauresmo ahead in the second, needing just a few games to win and claim her moment in the spotlight. Mauresmo showed first and foremost that she is a great person with the conspicuous concern she demonstrated for her opponent despite the disappointment she must have felt at the way her triumph was tainted. Surely, that day, she gained a few more supporters. In their quest to reach the top of their sport, these women have forgotten to work on the fundamentals, how just to be decent human beings. Because of their lack of empathy, the public views them as unsympathetic characters.

Coming back to the issue of Serena Williams, her behavior may be in part dominated by the example set forth by her father. Richard Williams finds it difficult to praise or give credit to his daughter’s opponents regardless of their high ranking or proven past successes against his offsprings. In his mind, by elevating the stature of the challenger that would be giving something away, ultimately affecting the outcome of the match. Therefore, it is refreshing to see Serena’s mother Oracene applauding when the opponent plays a brilliant point or makes a spectacular shot. Thus, perhaps Serena should follow her mother’s example; in my opinion, being deferential is by no means a sign of weakness or a way of giving one’s counterpart the edge. It is simply a confirmation of the old adage that mother knows best, advice that many of these women could benefit from.

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