Tag Archive | "Mauresmo"

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It’s Four In A Row As Del Potro Wins The Legg Mason Classic

Argentine teenager Juan Martin Del Potro claimed his fourth straight ATP title by beating Serbian Viktor Troicki 6-3, 6-3 in the finals at the Legg Mason Classic. Seeded second Del Potro was the overwhelming favorite, but Troicki who ousted Andy Roddick, the top seed, in the quarterfinals proved to be a formidable challenger.

Del Potro early on showed signs of nervousness allowing Troicki to break and lead 3-1. Yet, despite not being in peak form, Juan Martin’s recent triumphs clearly have imbued him with confidence. Del Potro picked on Troicki’s poorer shot, the forehand, and with his crafty play and acute angles obtained two consecutive breaks to win the first set 6-3.

At the start of the second set, Troicki tried his best to pressure his opponent. The Serbian’s best opportunity to turn the match around came at 3-3 when he had double break point. But Del Portro’s ability to hit with depth and power was too much for Troicki. After failing to convert his break points, a deflated Troicki went on to lose his serve to give Del Potro a 5-3 lead. Still as Juan Martin served for the match, Viktor demonstrated that he was a tough rival to put down. The Argentine dismissed three break points and finally on championship point number four served an ace to close the deal.

Russian Nadia Petrova captured her first title of the year by crushing France’s Nathalie Dechy in the finals 6-2, 6-1 at the Western and Southern Financial Group women’s open in Cincinnati, a tier III event. Former world number one, Amelie Mauresmo also had a good run making it to the semifinals where she succumbed to compatriot Dechy in three sets.

The women and men will play this week at the Pilot Pen tournament where Del Potro will attempt to extend his 20 match winning streak and possibly become the winner of the U.S. Open series whereby he would be eligible for bonus money at the U.S. Open should he reach the finals. Russian Anna Chakvetadze, who has had a disappointing year thus far, will head the women’s field.

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

Ai Sugiyama The third round of the Sony Ericsson Open,which began on Sunday, was memorable not just for the results but also for the intense heat. This forced the players to take advantage of an optional 10-minute interlude prior to the start of a third set. American Ashley Harkleroad had a tough time with Miami’s extreme temperature. During the match, she was constantly seeking the shade between points and went to the side of the court to bend. It is uncertain whether she was suffering from cramps. Nevertheless, Harkleroad was a trooper, pushing the match to a third set after being down a break in the second, but Elena Vesnina prevailed (4-6, 7-5, 4-6). For Amelie Mauresmo seeded 24, her greatest liability was not the heat, but rather her mental fragility. While serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set, the 2006 Australian and Wimbledon champion was broken and went on to lose the set. Prolonging her agony into a third with a seesaw of breaks, Mauresmo was serving to level the set at 5 all. After being up 30-0, Mauresmo produced a combination of double faults and unforced errors handing her opponent, Jie Zheng of China, the past to the next round (7-5, 4-, 4-6). A duplicate story unfolded on the adjacent court with Ai Sugiyama of Japan and Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia with the variation being the latter having to push the match to a third set by winning a difficult second set tiebreak. After squandering a two break lead in the decisive set, in the 12th game, Hantuchova down 0-40 due to double faults and errors, inched back to 30-40 but hit the subsequent rally into the net to end the match.

An unforeseen occurrence was the ease with which multiple major holder, Lindsay Davenport seeded 32, disposed of the world’s second ranked player and last week Pacific Life Open champion Ana Ivanovic (6-4, 6-2). Also, Anna Chakvetadze, seeded 5, was pummeled by German wildcard Sabine Lisicki (5-7, 1-6). A third round marquee match on the men’s side featured James Blake against Fabrice Santoro who is always a tricky opponent. Santoro, the magician as he has been nicknamed, despite all his tricks, could not conjure up an illusion to conquer Blake’s powerful forehand. Although he required three sets, Blake was able to move on (6-3, 6-7,6-4). Rafael Nadal, Blake’s potential rival in the quarterfinals, waited out a rain delay mid match before finishing off Nicolas Keifer (6-2,6-4). Of note, although former French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten (Guga) was ousted in the first round, he and partner Nicolas Lapenti are in the second round of the men’s doubles. This may be the last chance to see Guga in action, he is retiring. The doubles number one seed on both the women’s and men’s side, respectively, Huber/Black and the Bryan Brothers, are through after their first round wins.

In the next few days, some exciting competition will be on tap with the projected clash between Henin and Serena in the quarterfinals and a semifinal collision between either Serena and Venus or Venus and Henin. Both Jelena Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova have had their share of rough patches, but they are still alive, therefore, contenders. With Davenport doing so well, she may be heading for a showdown with either Henin or the Williams sisters in the finals; that would be a treat indeed. On the men’s side, Roger Federer is on course to crash with Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals. Skipping a few days ahead, Nadal and Federer may possibly meet in the finals. With the latter two hungry for their first titles in 2008, the excitement is palpable. I can’t wait for next week to start.

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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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