Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dinara Safina

Tennis’ next generation emerges from shadows of today’s Olympians at East West Bank Classic
by Paul Teetor
Published July 31, 2008/ Easy Rider

The big winner at the East West Bank Classic at the Home Depot Center in Carson last week was next week’s Beijing Olympics.

The official winner, however, was 22-year-old, late bloomer Dinara Safina, who blitzed what was left of a once-formidable field and walked away with the championship trophy Sunday afternoon. After fighting off a match point early in the week with a powerful ace, the newly swift and sleek Russian 6-footer rolled over everyone else in her path, including top-seeded Jelena Jankovic, whom she crushed in Saturday night’s marquee semifinal. As in past years, the tournament also showcased several future potential top women players.

Meanwhile, the big losers were the fans who bought advance tickets expecting to see mega-stars such as Venus and Serena Williams, Lindsay Davenport and Svetlana Kuznetsova -- all of them last-minute dropouts due to various knee injuries they hoped to heal up in time for the Olympics.

Defending champion Ana Ivanovic of Serbia and Manhattan Beach’s own Maria Sharapova -- technically she’s still Russian, but lives here when not touring -- also chose to sit out and train for the Olympics. But at least they hadn’t committed to playing -- which allows the tournament to use their names and images in its advertising -- and then withdrawn at the last moment.

A week on hard courts under the searing summer was not going to help anyone’s knee or shoulder problems, so in a sense the mass exodus from Carson was understandable. The Summer Olympics only come around every four years, an Olympic medal is always a great thing to have on your resume, and there’s a women’s tournament with $600,000 in prize money -- give or take a hundred grand -- almost every week of the year somewhere in the world.

Then there are those old-school virtues of pride and patriotism.

But still the superstars’ last-second disappearing act was tough to take for fans, press and tournament officials who ultimately couldn’t escape the long shadow of the much-hyped, much-anticipated Chinese Olympics.

Even Safina had the Olympics on her mind moments after smacking a mach-speed backhand past a tired, limping and virtually unknown Flavia Pannetta in Sunday afternoon’s finals at the Home Depot Center.

“I still have to go to Beijing after all this,” Safina said after the 6-4, 6-2 win that took 70 minutes. “If I stay healthy and strong, and keep playing like this, God only knows what can happen at the Olympics.”

Little sister grows up
Safina has always been an imposing physical presence with a build and physique similar to that of her better known big brother, Marat Safin, a two-time Grand Slam winner.

Safin, however, is also the most notorious head case on the men’s tour, a racket-smashing, multi-lingual shouter and X-rated screamer who once pulled down his shorts and mooned a hostile crowd. And he’s a notorious under-achiever, with a ranking nowhere near his talent level.

His equally talented little sister is also known for smashing rackets and losing control of her game, mostly by trying crazy shots at bad times. But at least she has never shed her clothes on the court.

And the under-achiever label has stuck to her as well. The athleticism, the overwhelming size, the big serve and the technically perfect strokes -- her mother is a big-time tennis coach in Russia -- were always there as she made her way onto the tour over the last six years and slowly pushed her ranking into the mid-teens.
But she stalled out last year when her weaknesses in movement and her erratic temperament were exposed. She usually found a way at crucial moments to lose to the top players and became known as a head case, a dangerous but inconsistent Big Babe banger just as likely to beat herself as her opponent.

In the last six months, however, she hired a new coach, added a fitness guru, dropped 10 pounds and rededicated herself to achieving her full potential.

Their solutions: better diet, better quickness and better emotional control.

“My coach told me the only way I could get better was to tone down the emotional part of my game,” she said. “When he said it is the only way I could get off the level I was stuck at, I decided to do it. And it’s working.

Indeed, the East West title capped off an incredible streak in which Safina won a Tier 1 event in Berlin, reached the final of the French Open, and won 22 of 24 matches before adding 5 more impressive wins this week.

Besides her straight set win over Jankovic in the semis, she survived the most riveting match of the entire week, a 7-6, 0-6, 7-6 win over 20-year old Russian Alla Kudryavtseva in Thursday night’s marquee match.

That was followed Friday afternoon by a 6-3, 6-2 steamrolling of 8th seed Victoria Azarenka, a 19-year-old up-and-comer on the tour. Azarenka, who looks like a slightly shorter version of Sharapova and whose constant grunting sounds EXACTLY like Sharapova‘s well-known shrieking, never had a chance.

Safina later said it was one of the best matches she had ever played.

“It was perfect,” she said, seemingly amazed at what she now realizes is capable of. “I can’t think of anything that went wrong today.”

Top girls
Safina’s Saturday night demolition of Jankovic -- and the collateral damage to the Serbian’s Number One dream -- was the artistic highlight of the tournament. It provided fans at least a taste of the high-level, high-velocity, high-emotion tennis that is usually generated when two of the Top Girls square off.

In the last six months Safina has morphed into one of the Top Girls -- this victory will elevate her to eighth in the world -- while Jankovic became a Top Girl not long after breaking through right here at Carson two years ago.

That’s when Jankovic rebounded from a nightmarish streak of 10 straight first-round losses that had her musing aloud about quitting the tour and going back to college. But she kept fighting, rode her daring, down-the-line backhand all the way to the semifinals and began her climb from the depths of the computer rankings.

Two years later, even without winning a single Grand Slam event, she started the week as number two in the world and the protagonist of the only legitimate storyline the tournament had left: Could JJ -- as her growing legion of fans have taken to calling her -- win the tournament and gain enough computer points become number one in the world?

“I think our fans are very excited about the prospect of seeing Jelana become number one right here in Carson,” Michael Roth, vice-president of communications for the Anschutz Entertainment Group, said Tuesday night, two hours after Serena Williams finally, officially, pulled out. “It’s not often you have the opportunity to see something historic like that.”

And Jankovic, who had a love affair with the crowd all week, was clearly eager to win the title and grab the number one ranking from her countrywoman and not-so-great friend Ivanovic.

“I don’t care if it’s only for one week that I am number one,” she said. “I go in the history books as number one in the world and they can never take that away from me.”

She too planned to play in the Olympics and she too had knee problems that forced her to wear a long, conspicuous thigh bandage down to her kneecap. But she vowed to play through the pain and seemed happy to let Ivanovic do the heavy lifting at the Olympics.

Saturday night showdown
Once the rash of withdrawals had been digested and third-seeded Anna Chakvetadze checked out in a second round loss to Sybil Bammer, it became clear that either the top-seeded Jankovic or the fourth seeded Safina was going to win the tournament. Unfortunately, they were in the same half of the draw and thus scheduled to meet in the semi-finals, not the finals.

The imbalance in the two halves of the draw became crystal-clear when Saturday dawned to find the first semifinal featuring 21st ranked Flavia Pennetta against 54th ranked Bethanie Mattek, who is known more for her outrageous outfits than her boring baseline game. Their early-afternoon war of attrition was played under a broiling sun that turned the stadium court into a frying pan and the brave spectators into slices of crispy bacon. Three hours later, with both players fighting to make it into their first Tier 2 final, Pannetta’s superior strokes and graceful movement finally overcame Mattek’s funky game and bulldog determination to pull out a third-set marathon.

Saturday night was reserved for the Jankovic-Safina semifinal, but almost everyone in the stadium knew it might as well be the final. The winner was a lock to take the title over the 26-year-old Pannetta, who had severe blister problems on her feet and has been on the tour long enough to prove she simply isn’t in the same class as either Jankovic or Safina.

The tension was high as both women took the court with Jankovic sporting the red dress that the crowd preferred over her white one in an informal poll she took after her second round win over Long Beach’s own Vania King, 7-5, 6-2.

To see how tough life is on the pro tour, consider the plight of the 5-foot-5, 19-year-old King: as twilight fell in the stadium Wednesday night, she was playing so well that she held a set point while leading Jankovic 6-5, 40-30. After a long, tough rally -- King also has great wheels, like Jankovic -- King smacked a backhand down the line that Jankovic barely got her racket on. She somehow scraped up a towering lob that was loudly called out as it landed at the intersection of the baseline and the sideline. But before King could get to her chair to celebrate her first set victory, Jankovic challenged the call. The replay showed the ball caught the slightest sliver of the sideline and thus was considered in. The point was replayed, Jankovic won the point and eventually forced a tie-breaker at 6-6. A chagrined King was never the same and quickly fell apart.

Why not Dinara?
Jankovic continued her determined march to number one Friday night with a straight set win over 9th seeded Nadia Petrova, another big strong Russian known as a head case who falls apart at key times. Right on cue, this time she was broken late in each set and went away without a struggle.

The strengths of Jankovic’s game have been clear ever since she emerged at Carson two years ago. Her suffocating court coverage is the best on the tour, her favorite and most effective shot is her two-handed down-the-line backhand, and her once weak serve was a liability but it has gained some pop this past year.

Now both women, good friends off the court, were on a Saturday night mission: Safina to keep the best streak of her career going, and Jankovic to grab that elusive number one ranking, something she had tried and failed to do twice this year in earlier tournaments that could have given her the top spot.

The showdown featured Jankovic’s all court-game, as she glided effortlessly around the court for impossible gets, versus Safina’s pure power package, a barrage of two-fisted backhands and heavy-duty serves. But it was the new elements in Safina’s game - the improved movement and agility, the elimination of her what-the-hell-was-she-thinking errors - that ruled the night and demonstrated why she is suddenly a serious contender for number one in the world.

At a strange, transitional moment in the women’s game when Justine Henin suddenly and inexplicably retired at the age of 26 while still ranked number one, and the Williams sisters are only playing when they feel like it, and Sharapova is reaching for greatness, but unable to claim the top spot as her own, suddenly the possibility is there: why not Safina as number one?

Tie breaker
The semi-final match began ominously for Jankovic. Safina broke her at love with a bullet-proof backhand that flew right past her. But Jankovic broke right back, and they dug in for a fierce battle all the way to the tie-breaker, which played out as a microcosm of the match.

On the first point Jankovic unleashed a wheel-of-fire forehand winner that caught Safina wrong-footed, then she followed that up with a down-the-line backhand service return winner to go up 2-0 in the breaker.

But Safina, as she had done all week, never blinked and just kept pounding the ball to the corners and charging forward at the slightest opening She started on the road back with a service winner that handcuffed Jankovic and cut the lead to 2-1.

Suddenly Jankovic showed serious signs of nerves with a double fault and a badly mis-hit forehand that gave Safina a 3-2 lead. Grateful for the unexpected gifts, Safina pounded a service winner to build her lead to 4-2 as they changed sides.

Jankovic, suddenly favoring her right knee, dumped a forehand right into the net for an unforced error that left her trailing 5-2. She held on stay alive at 6-3, which set up the best point of the match, a fire-fight of bludgeoned backhands and flying forehands. Finally Jankovic went for broke on one of her trademark inside-out forehands, but it went way wide and Safina had the breaker and the first set.

Suddenly Jancovic’s hint of a limp turned into a full-fledged leg crisis, and she proved that you have no chance against Safina if you cannot run after hitting your shot.

“My legs just seized up,” Jancovic said. “The whole week just caught up to me. It was the first time all week I was feeling pain, and then it just started getting worse and worse.”

Soon it was over 7-6 (3), 6-1, and 18 hours later Safina was picking up the winner’s trophy.

Breakout girls
Over the years the East West Bank Classic, as it is now known, has been famous for giving fans an early look at great players-to-be. In 2003, the first year it was held at the Home Depot Center after moving from the its original home at the Manhattan Beach Country Club, Sharapova made her professional debut as a 16-year-old and made it all the way to the fourth round, where she took a set off eventual champ Kim Clijsters before bowing out.

Two years ago, both Jankovic and Ivanovic had break-out tournaments that launched them into the top five. As many players have noted over the years, there is very little room at the top and moving from the top 10 to the top five is as difficult as moving from the top 100 into the top 10.

Tennis fans this year got to see at least two stars of the future at the Home Depot Center, both potential top tenners and one of them a potential top five player. And once you make it into the top five, you have a real shot at number one.

Alla Kudryavtseva is the 20-year-old Russian who had a match point on Safina at 5-4 in the third set of their third-round match. But Safina pounded an ace and shook her fist while she screamed in triumph. Soon she was into a tie-breaker, where she narrowly prevailed, 7-5.

Kudryavtseva, a brainy sort of 5-foot-10 blonde who thinks her way through matches, has a big forehand and a fierce competitive will that enabled her to upset Sharapova at Wimbledon, a victory which vaulted her ranking from number 154 into the top hundred.

But the potential Grand Slam champion is a 19-year-old, 5-foot-3 package of tennis talent and nervous energy named Dominica Cibulkova, from Slovakia. With thick, powerful legs shaped like fire hydrants, she bounces around the court like an Olympic gymnast on steroids, a whirl-wind of movement, energy and passion as she leaps from side to side, from the baseline to the net and back.

On the tour barely two years, she has risen like a rocket and is already ranked 31st in the world.

Maybe someday soon -- say in two years, like Jankovic -- she could be playing for the East West title and competing for number one in the world.

“Anything is possible,” Safina said about the race to number one. “All you can do is train hard and play hard. If you do that, the results will take care of themselves.”

Reporter Paul Teetor may be reached at ER

Update: WTA Rogers Cup

Dinara Safina won her first match in the tournament beating A. Rodionova 6-2 6-4.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Marat Safin

Boos for self-destructive Safin

Marat Safin, whose run to the Wimbledon semi-finals raised hopes that the sport's most charismatic and talented underachiever might at last be making another surge, instead became embroiled in another controversial failure yesterday in the first round of the Masters Series.

The former world No1 from Russia, now No38, swore at an official who foot-faulted him, argued lengthily with the umpire, hurled his racket and was booed repeatedly by the crowd before walking to the net and shaking hands with Dmitry Tursunov even though his opponent's serve on the last point had been called a fault.

Safin will probably deny that he threw the match, insisting that in fact the line call was wrong, but it is impossible to be sure because he refused to come for interview after his 7-6, 6-4 defeat, thereby risking a fine from the ATP.

Many of his opinions were nevertheless audible to spectators. "Is that the best decision you can make? I served three double faults because of that," he screamed at the line judge who suddenly foot-faulted him at 4-4 in the second set. Injuries have hampered him cruelly, but so have self-destructive drives, and at the age of 28 time is short.

Tursunov, his partner in the Davis Cup-winning Russian team of 2006, made a plausible case in defending him. "I can really sympathise with some of the angry stuff towards the end because it's really not the best time to call a foot fault," he said. "If he's making that many he should have been told that throughout the match."

Britain's Andy Murray, meanwhile, got his wish to have as long as possible in which to recover from the familiar inflammation sustained in Toronto last week and caused by the congenital split patella in his right leg. He begins today against Sam Querrey, a 6ft 6in, dangerously steep-serving, top-50 American.

Source: The Guardian

Monday, July 28, 2008

Update: ATP Cincinnati

Marat Safin was defeated in the first round 6-7 4-6. Safin disputed numerous calls, had several long talks with the umpire and threw his racket in disgust near the base of the umpire's chair after going down 5-4 in the final set, a service break that also seemed to break his spirit.

Some other results:

T Robredo d M Fish - 62 62
P Kohlshreiber d M Yani - 63 64
S Querrey d P Mathieu - 64 46 63
E Gulbis d J Nieminen - 76(7) 62
T Berdych d F Gonzalez - 63 36 63
A Seppi d F Lopez - 75 75
T Haas d M Youzhny - 76(2) 26 64

The evening session, which begins at 7 p.m., features former No. 1 and recent Wimbledon semifinalist Marat Safin against Russian countryman Dmitry Tursunov.
Tursunov won the only previous meeting against Safin, who is a former two-time quarterfinalist in Cincinnati. Earlier this month, Safin turned in his best career showing at Wimbledon with a semifinal performance, defeating No. 3 Novak Djokovic along the way.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dinara Safina's excellent season continued as she claimed the East West Bank Classic title in Los Angeles.

The fourth seed, who reached the French Open final, beat surprise finalist Flavia Pennetta 6-4 6-2 to win her second title of the year.

Pennetta was playing in her 13th singles final but was no match for the big-hitting Russian.

Safina, the world number nine, ended Jelena Jankovic's hopes of becoming world number one in the previous round.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

CARSON, CA - JULY 26: Dinara Safina of Russia (L) celebrates her win as she congratulates Jelena Jankovic of Serbia after winning the Women's Singles Semifinals of the East West Bank Classic Day 6 at Home Depot Center on July 26, 2008 in Carson, California. Dinara won 7-6 6-1. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The WTA Tour announced on Friday that world number 12 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia had withdrawn from the Montreal Cup due to a change in her schedule.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Dinara Safina into the semifinals after beating Azarenka 6-3 6-1.

Dinara Safina, of Russia, celebrates wining a point over Alla Kudryavtseva, also of Russia, during their match at the East West Bank Classic tennis tournament Thursday, July 24, 2008, in Carson, Calif. She booked her place in the last eight winning 7-6 0-6 7-6 (7-3). Safina advanced to play eighth-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who defeated Australia's Samantha Stosur 6-4 7-6 (7-4).

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Update: ATP Rogers Cup

Marat Safin lost to Wawrinka 3-6 4-6.

Unfortunately, our man Safin went down to No. 9 seed Stanislas Wawrinka late Wednesday night.

He beat Wawrinka in far more dramatic circumstances at Wimbledon a few weeks ago.

But this time, he had to briefly play late Tuesday night, get shut down by the rain, wait forever to play Wednesday because of a six-hour delay, and come back again Wednesday night to face a tough customer.

He was the one most affected by the weather issues, which is patently unfair.

It was an up-for-grabs match, with both players making a lot of errors. Safin served only 52%, and was 0-for-6 on break points, three of them in one game, when he was up 1-0 in the second set. Wawrinka held there, and then broke Safin, whereupon Marat fired a ball out of the stadium (or tried).

After that, it was only a matter of time.

Safin made the second round in Montreal a year ago, so his ranking won't change much either way because of this defeat.

Source: Open Court

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Safina is no one's weak sister now
By Jim Thomas, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 07/23/2008 11:06:32 PM PDT

Dinara Safina is no longer best known as former No. 1 men's player Marat Safin's precocious little sister. And she's no longer just another in a long line of promising young Russian tennis players.
Not after winning the German Open in May and then reaching the French Open final in June.

No, at the tender age of 22, the powerful 5-foot-11, 155-pound Safina is establishing her own identity. She needs no association, either brotherly or nationally, to earn recognition on the WTA, where she stands on her own as an emotional and aggressive force whose best tennis is ahead of her.

"The French was very big (for my confidence)," Safina said Wednesday after disposing of China's Shuai Peng, 6-2, 6-3, in the second round of the East West Bank Classic at Home Depot Center in Carson.
"I always feel I can do better, and then finally in Germany and at the French the results are big. It just proved to me what I can do when I play well."

Safina's best results came on Europe's clay, but she clearly is comfortable on the hardcourts that are the staple of the U.S. summer circuit.

In her first match after Wimbledon, she was relatively sharp and used her strong groundstrokes to overpower Peng whenever she needed to. She also displayed the athleticism that serves her well on clay and the feisty competitiveness that makes her future so exciting.

"She's not an easy opener after my vacation," said Safina, who is fourth-seeded in Carson and ninth-ranked in the world. "I think I played a pretty solid match, so I'm pretty happy.

"I have my best success on clay, but I like the hardcourts. You have to be a little more aggressive, take the ball a little sooner. I enjoy that."

Starting with this week's stay in Carson, where the road to a semifinal match against top seed Jelena Jankovic appears wide open, this promises to be an eventful summer for the still-improving Safina. She's 29-13 in 2008 and holds victories over the likes of Lindsay Davenport, Serena Williams, Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova going into her first-ever Olympic appearance next month in Beijing.

Although she's a fighter on the court, she refuses to admit she carries lofty goals into the rest of the summer, including the U.S. Open.

"I just want to be healthy," she said, "then let's see how far I can get. I do take it one match at a time. There is no easy opener. You must be ready."

She is, course, excited about the Beijing Games.

"It is my first time, so I hope to do well," she said. "I'm not sure yet if I will go to the opening ceremonies because we play two days later, but if everyone says `let's go, let's go,' then of course I will go."

And if she doesn't follow up her French Open breakthrough with more semifinal or final appearances or a gold medal this summer? She will not be crushed.

"What can you do," she said, smiling.

Her breakthrough season has led to at least one change in her attitude, though. Next year, Safina will play with her brother in a mixed doubles event at the 2009 Hopman Cup.

"Dinara didn't feel really worthy at the time to play with her brother," tournament director Paul McNamee said recently. "She holds him in such high regard.

"But for the first time she feels as if she's worthy to play with her brother and why not? She reached the final of a major this year and is in the top 10 singles players in the world now."

Safina smiled when asked how exciting it was to play alongside her more famous brother, who at 28 is trying to regain his once-dominating form.

"Of course it is exciting," she said. "I hope we don't fight. Always he is not happy with my game."

That can't be true anymore. After all, it is Safina who is the current top-10 player in the family.

Dinara Safina, of Russia, celebrates as a return by Peng Shuai, of China, goes out during their match at the East West Bank Classic tennis tournament, Wednesday, July 23, 2008, in Carson, Calif. Safina won 6-1, 6-2.
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Update: ATP Rogers Cup

Damp conditions halted play and the first-round match between Russian Marat Safin and American Sam Querrey was suspended until Wednesday due to the rain. The duel will resume at 1-1 in the opening set.

Sixth seed Hantuchova ousted by Govortsova in second round wire report

CARSON, Calif. -- Sixth seed Daniela Hantuchova, the runner-up in the East West Bank Classic three years ago, made an unexpectedly early exit on Tuesday night, losing to Olga Govortsova 6-2, 6-4 as the second round of the WTA Tour event began without Serena Williams.

Williams, the tournament's No. 2 seed, withdrew early in the day with a left knee injury.

Govortsova, 19, of Belarus, squandered three match points on her serve in the ninth game of the second set, then capitalized on the fourth one with a forehand to the open court at 30-40 on Hantuchova's serve. Govortsova, who is ranked No. 43, admitted to some nerves after taking a 5-1 lead in the second set, especially since the 12th-ranked Hantuchova had rallied in a similar situation to win their first meeting last year.

"When I was up 5-1, I started to think I'm going to win the match, then she started to play more aggressive," Govortsova said. "Then at 5-4, I started to hit the ball again and finally won. She hits the ball really deep and has a good serve. To beat her, you have to be aggressive."

Hantuchova, who still is trying to find her form after a long layoff from a stress fracture in her right heel, said that her game is "not there yet. I just have to be patient, keep practicing and keep working hard. It's a long way back."

Monday, July 21, 2008

CARSON, CA - JULY 21: Dinara Safina of Russia answers questions during a news conference during day one of the East West Bank Classic at the Home Depot Center on July 21, 2008 in Carson, California. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Source: Yahoo!

CARSON, CA - JULY 21: Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia answers questions during a news conference during day one of the East West Bank Classic at the Home Depot Center on July 21, 2008 in Carson, California. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)


Tuesday's Schedule

Atp Rogers Cup Oop Singles: Centre Court not before 7:30 pm

followed by
Marat SAFIN (RUS) vs. Sam QUERREY (USA) 1st rd

WTA East West Bank Classic Singles : Stadium not before 7:00 pm

Daniela HANTUCHOVA (SVK) vs. Olga GOVORTSOVA (BLR) 2nd rd

Daniela Hantuchova and Flavia Pennetta won their doubles match against Amanmuradova/Bondarenko 6-2 7-5.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hopman Cup

The Russians are Coming
* Tim Clarke
* July 21, 2008 - 11:41AM

Barmen, nightclub owners and tennis fans all over Perth have been given a massive reason to smile with the news Russian star and renowned party boy Marat Safin is coming back to the Hopman Cup - and this time he is bringing his sister.
Safin became an instant legend on and off court on previous visits to WA in 2001, 2004 and 2005, with his sublime skills with a racket and with the ladies getting tongues wagging and eyebrows raised all over the city.
Announcing the former world number one would be returning in 2009, tournament director Paul McNamee also announced he would be partnering his sister Dinara Safina for the first time in any form of tournament play.
And while McNamee admitted Safina had a big task to try and keep her brother entirely in check in between matches, he believed Safin is more focused on his tennis than ever before - highlighted by his Wimbledon performance.
"It is a big task (for Safina), and Marat is Marat wherever he is in the world. But he really has refocused this year and everyone is saying it in the sport that he is different now," McNamee said.
"He realises he is starting to get into the home straight of his career and it has been a fantastic career. You can't say he has not had a great career but many think he has underperformed a little bit.
"These last few years are very precious for him and I still think he thinks he has got it in him to win another major. He is very serious about his tennis at the moment."
"He is a great player, and twice he has come here and got to the final of the Australian Open … there is no doubt he is very popular here, but I don't think he has played his best tennis.
"And I think playing with his sister he has got an incentive to do really well. That will make a difference, a bit of sibling pressure."
While Safin will bring his fans and past history to the event, Safina is now a world tennis star in her own right, winning one Grand Slam title, the women's double title at the 2007 US Open with partner Nathalie Dechy and also reached the final of the French Open in 2008.
Despite the loss to Ana Ivanovic, Safina is established as one of the best on the WTA, and McNamee said she now feels deserving of a spot next to her brother in the team event, runs between January 3 and 9.
"The interesting thing with Dinara is that we have broached this subject before and she honestly did not feel she was really worthy to play with her older brother she holds him in such high regard," McNamee said.
"For the first time she thinks she is worthy, and why not. She has reached the final of a major this year and is in the top ten singles players in the world."
With local hero Casey Dellacqua and Lleyton Hewitt already confirmed as starters, McNamee was ebullient in the regrowing stature of the Hopman Cup.
"I don't think it is unfair to say this is now the most prestigious invitational tournament in the world," McNamee said.
But it was confirmed neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal on the men's side, or Ivanovic on the women's, would not be attending having given commitments elsewhere.
McNamee said there were several big name irons in the fire, with Novak Djokovic the biggest fish organisers are keen to hook.
"Until he is off the agenda I am still hopeful Novak will do it," McNamee said.
"And with these dates being after New Year my expectation is that we will have a very strong field. We went downhill for a little bit and now we are coming back up.
"I know Roger and Rafa are not coming but no player is out of bounds for us going forward, something we could not have said a couple of years ago."

Lots of luck for Marat and Daniela!!!

Rogers Cup Main Draw

BENNETEAU, Julien FRA v (14) GONZALEZ, Fernando CHI
(12) ROBREDO, Tommy ESP v (WC) NIEMEYER, Frederic CAN

MOYA, Carlos ESP v HAAS, Tommy GER
FISH, Mardy USA v KIEFER, Nicolas GER
SEPPI, Andreas ITA v (15) YOUZHNY, Mikhail RUS
STEPANEK, Radek CZE v LOPEZ, Feliciano ESP
BYE/(7) BLAKE, James USA

(8) MURRAY, Andy/BYE
(WC) SAFIN, Marat v QUERREY, Sam
BOLELLI, Simone v (9) WAWRINKA, Stanislas
(13) VERDASCO, Fernando v BELLUCCI, Thomaz
CANAS, Guillermo v SODERLING, Robin
(WC) DANCEVIC, Frank v ANCIC, Mario

(5) FERRER, David/BYE
GINEPRI, Robby v MATHIEU, Paul-Henri
LLODRA, Michael v (10) GASQUET, Richard
(16) BERDYCH, Tomas v NIEMINEN, Jarkko
BYE/(2) NADAL, Rafael

EastWest Bank Classic Main Draw

Jelena Jankovic SRB (1) - BYE
Vania King USA vs Angela Haynes USA (Q)
Olga Savchuk UKR vs Gisela Dulko ARG
Melinda Czink HUN (LL) vs Virginie Razzano FRA (13)
Nadia Petrova RUS (9) vs Alina Jidkova RUS (Q)
Akgul Amanmuradova UZB vs Jamea Jackson USA (WC)
Anne Keothavong GBR vs Jill Craybas USA
Vera Zvonareva RUS (5) - BYE

Dinara Safina RUS (4) - BYE
Shuai Peng CHN vs Julie Ditty USA
Anastasia Rodionova AUS vs Alla Kudryavtseva RUS (Q)
Monica Niculescu ROU vs Dominika Cibulkova SVK (15)
Shahar Peer ISR (12) vs Samantha Stosur AUS
Elena Vesnina RUS vs Regina Kulikova RUS (Q)
Yung-Jan Chan TPE vs Aravane Rezai FRA
Victoria Azarenka BLR (8) - BYE

Patty Schnyder SUI (7) - BYE
Sabine Lisicki GER vs Ai Sugiyama JPN
Aiko Nakamura JPN vs Tamira Paszek AUT
Aleksandra Wozniak CAN vs Flavia Pennetta ITA (10)
Sybille Bammer AUT (14) vs Ahsha Rolle USA (Q)
Ashley Harkleroad USA vs Stephanie Dubois CAN
Marta Domachowska POL vs Coco Vandeweghe USA (WC)
Anna Chakvetadze RUS (3) - BYE

Daniela Hantuchova SVK (6) - BYE
Darya Kustova RUS (Q) vs Olga Govortsova BLR
Bethanie Mattek USA (WC) vs Abigail Spears USA (Q)
Ayumi Morita JPN vs Nicole Vaidisova CZE (11)
Sania Mirza IND (16) vs Eva Hrdinova CZE (Q)
Kateryna Bondarenko UKR vs Meng Yuan USA
Petra Kvitova CZE vs Alisa Kleybanova RUS
Serena Williams USA (2) - BYE

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Posted 07/18/2008 @ 12 :20 PM Peter Bodo Tennis World

As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently had a chance to catch up with Gil Reyes, the man who trained Andre Agassi during the remarkable resurgence that transformed him from a "mere" multiple Grand Slam title winner into a beloved icon of tennis. All you need to know about the indebtedness and loyalty Andre feels toward Gil is that Andre named his first born "Jaden Gil."

I called Gil because he's back on the pro tour radar, as part of the Adidas Player Development program, the innovative system whereby shoe and apparel manufacturer Adidas provides athletes under contract to the brand with high-quality support on everything from nutrition to tennis strategy. The most noteworthy athlete to exploit this free support structure is Ana Ivanovic. Grand Slam champions usually hire the best coaches and advisers money can buy. Ana, by contrast, got hers free.

Sven Groeneveld, the most renowned coach (as well as a founding mastermind) of the Adidas program is Ivanovic's only coach - even though Sven is duty-bound to refrain from advising Ivanovic on what she needs to do before confrontations with other Adidas players. So, for two year running in the French Open final, Sven was not only excluded from drawing up the game plan on the evening before the match, during the final he was absent from his usual post, the player guest box. That's because on each occasion, Ivanovic was playing another Adidas athlete (Justine Henin in 2007, Dinara Safina this year).

Anyway, Gil joined the Adidas team recently, and his impact was made known almost immediately. He worked with Sam Querrey, preparing the young American's legs for the European clay-court season. Until this year, Querrey had exactly one win on clay in an ATP event. After working with Gil for two weeks in Las Vegas, Querrey went to Monte Carlo and beat Carlos Moya, Andreas Seppi and Richard Gasquet before he lost to Novak Djokovic. " 'How did this happen?'," Sam asked me, Gil recalled. "I said it was easy - you just asked your body to do something new and it responded. It underlined my basic belief that an aware athlete is always learning to ask more of his body. Training is seen by some as monotonous, and I'd say anybody who feels that way isn't doing the right kind of training."

Here's a funny thing about Gil. Andre's fans love him for who he is - his personality. This has tended to obscure the amount of work Agassi put into his career, particularly in the later stages. In some ways, many of Agassi's fans didn't even want to hear that he left his all on the practice court and in the gym, day after day, because they preferred to cling to their perception of Agassi as a spontaneous, mercurial, sometimes wayward talent, never entirely at ease with his identity as a pro tennis player.

The facts suggest otherwise, and if you don't believe me, you can ask Gil. He's worked with Agassi for nearly two decades, leaving his post as the highly successful strength coach of the NCAA Division I University of Las Vegas, Nevada, basketball squad (Gil was their strength coach when the Runnin' Rebels won the 1990 NCAA championships).

You want to know what Andre and Gil did, work-out wise, on December 11th, 2002? Call Gil. How about March 5, 1994? Call Gil. Pick a day, any day, from the time they began working together Andre retired, and Gil can look up exactly what they did that day at the facility informally called the Agassi Training Center. Every workout they ever went through is written down and saved in a binder.

That's a tribute to the extreme degree of professionalism both men brought to the partnership, and it's too bad if that runs counter to the way we wish to remember Andre. The bottom line is that Agassi worked like a dog, although a well-treated, much-loved one. Here's my theory, for what it's worth: In Gil Reyes, Andre - a young man often at odds with, and in rebellion against, his father, Mike - found the father figure that a part of him longed to hold. It takes just a few minutes of conversation with Gil to realize that he's an extraordinarily sensitive man, in spite of the fact that he's built like a brick you-know-what and could probably take any two Ultimate Fighting idols and snap them in half. Trust me - that's not a slight of the cage warriors.

Gil understood Agassi perfectly, right from the get-go. As he says, "In his heart, Andre was always a seeker. He was in search of his best, and I happened to be the one who helped him realize that in his identity as a tennis player."

Today, Agassi's Grand Slam trophies and his Olympic Games gold medal are on display not on the armoire in the living room he shares with his wife, Steffi Graf. They're on a shelf at the Agassi Training Center. It was the place Andre and Gil designed and built when they grew tired of working out in the garage at Gil's home. Gil designed all the equipment (the machines) and had them fabricated with an overarching philosophy in mind: Strength training is a separate, unique endeavor, not an add-on or afterthought intended simply to make a player "stronger" in what might be called the dictionary sense of the word. Gil had two goals in mind for Andre, and anyone else who works with him: First, to get stronger. Second, to accomplish that safely, with minimum stress or potential for damage through over-exertion or fatigue.

"We really pride ourselves on the fact that we're safe," Gil told me. "Young tennis athletes are not weight lifters, and shouldn't be expected to do some of the things lifters do. One of our priorities is to ensure that when we work on a particular muscle or group, we don't risk collateral damage to other groups. If a player just spent two hours serving, his serving shoulder is fatigued. He shouldn't just go into the gym and start pushing iron. Actually, I've always believed that going straight from the court to the weight room is not a good thing."

Gil takes a great deal of pride in the fact that Agassi won the Australian Open four times, at a time of year when everyone, at least in theory, was prepared for the Grand Slam grind. "Andre was so ready in Melbourne that he actually requested day matches, so that he could play in that intense heat. The officials always cringed when he asked for that, because the (television) ratings wars are played out at night."

Everyone talks about how much the game has changed in recent years, and Gil endorses the idea. "Today's players aren't chasing shots, they're running after lasers. It's become a game of rapid, violent accelerations and equally violent stops and changes of direction. You see how many hip injuries there are today? That's probably the reason. Players are needing to slam on the brakes like never before, which is why there's an premium today on learning to use your thighs as shock absorbers for every C.O.D"

That's Gil-speak, for change of direction.

Andre The operational phrase for every responsible trainer, according to Gil, is "wear and tear." He believes that young players are committed, but wonders if they're sufficiently schooled in the nuances of off-court training. "The persistent sociology in tennis has been that there's no real strength and conditioning regimen in place. It commonly comes down for many of these young players to have a dad in charge. I have nothing against the role of parents in tennis, but you just can't expect an parent to be on top of these things. That's the sociology of our industry, for better or worse."

Gil believes that Rafael Nadal is the new proto-type for developing players - after all, the talent of Roger Federer is self-evident and it doesn't take long for a youngster or his mentors to recognize that the bar he sets is virtually unattainable. But Nadal - that's a different story. To many, Nadal 's success owes as much to hard work and strength as it does to talent. While this certainly sells Nadal short, legions of juniors are thinking: If I can just get as big and powerful as Nadal, I've got a shot. . .

This puts a new premium on strength training, and we have yet to see where that will lead. "There are many, many coaches who know what they're doing," Gil says. "I have to believe they'll respond to this new sensibility out there."

The Agassi Training Center is not a public space; it's a private gym where Gil trains whomever he chooses. It strikes me that a stint at the ATC might benefit Federer; you all saw how he rubbed his serving shoulder late in that Wimbledon final, and how the sting seemed to depart from his backhand under persistent bombardment from Nadal's heavy topspin shots - particularly off the forehand wing. But Federer (and Nadal) are Nike athletes, and Gil has thrown his lot in with Adidas. You know who that leaves: three players who could benefit enormously from some time with Gil: Novak Djokovic, Marat Safin, and Marcos Baghdatis. I'll be curious to see if any of them makes the effort.

It's hard to describe how uplifting it was to talk with Gil. The man just radiates good intentions, which explains why he is so often called Yoda-like. I've always bought into that; how could you not, when Gil says things like: "My best teaching is done with my ears open, my eyes open, and my mouth closed. I had a special thing with Andre. He was a teaching me what I needed to learn, and that ultimately led both of us to reap enormous rewards. I don't know if that can every be duplicated."

Two things you can take from the smooth-hitting Slovak.

1. Keep it simple. I often see club players try to imitate the wristy ground strokes that many top players use. That’s fine for the pros because they have the time to continually perfect and groove their swings, but it’s not a good idea if you don’t play a lot. Why? The more elements you have in a stroke, the more difficult it will be to produce when the pressure is on. One of the key fundamentals of tennis is creating a solid technical foundation so that when the match gets tight, your strokes don’t fall apart. Daniela Hantuchova, whose ground strokes are some of the cleanest in the game, obviously did a great job of that in her formative years. Hantuchova hits the ball much like Lindsay Davenport, using long, fluid, uncomplicated strokes. Her forehand and backhand have gradual low-to-high sweeps to them, not extreme low-to-high movements, giving her topspin for safety but enabling her to drive through the ball. In fact, her technique is so sound that it’s easy for her to hit penetrating shots even when she’s under pressure.

To get a feel for hitting clean, deep drives, try this in practice. Using a moderately low-to-high stroke, hit the ball 3 feet past the baseline while not allowing it to clear the net by more than 2 or 3 feet. It’s difficult to do because you really have to hit through the ball. If your mechanics are correct, your follow-through won’t be much above shoulder height. Also, make sure you get in good position; if you don’t set up so you can make contact between your knees and rib cage—which Hantuchova does beautifully—you won’t have much success with this drill.

2. Round out your game. Whether she’s blasting forehands and back-hands or hitting volleys, Hantuchova is comfortable in all parts of the court. I think a big reason for this is that she has played so much doubles. (In case you didn’t know, Hantuchova owns a career Grand Slam in mixed doubles.) Balancing your singles game with a regular dose of two-on-two will teach you different ways to win points. When Hantuchova competes in singles, she frequently finishes points with volleys because her ground strokes create opportunities for her to approach the net. This is a skill that doubles has helped her refine. Another thing that doubles has done for Hantuchova’s game—and it should do the same for yours—is force her to have an aggressive mentality on her returns. When returning in doubles, you have to pick a target and go for it in order to avoid the person at net. This has taught Hantuchova to be offensive from the first hit. In today’s game, even at the club level, if you can instill fear in your opponent that you will attack weak second serves, it will pay big dividends. It may not win you the point right away, but it will become a factor later on in the match when the pressure is on.

Article by Paul Annacone -

Friday, July 18, 2008

Update: ATP Rogers Cup

July 18, 2008

Russia’s Marat Safin, the 2000 Rogers Cup champion who received a wildcard into the main draw after his stunning semifinal run at Wimbledon, was around on Thursday practicing with Spain’s Tommy Robredo. Many of the sport’s biggest stars have already been spotted around the grounds making last minute preparations before main draw play begins on Monday.

Some beautiful photos of Daniela (by Julian Hargreaves) in the article of Federico Ferrero "Vacanze" More on her official site.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Sugi's performance was very solid, she was patient and wasn't making errors, while in my own game were too many errors and negatives. After long pause caused by the injury I need to get match play. However, I am glad that I finally could practice the way I normally do and play tennis without feeling any pain."

"I led 3-0, had some chances then, but my opponent played well, while I made mistakes at important moments."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

July 16,2008

2nd round results:
Ai Sugiyama (JPN) def Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) 6-3 6-1

Fourth seed Daniela Hantuchova was sent crashing out of the WTA Stanford event. She was playing in just her third match since mid-April due to a stress fracture in her foot.

Results - Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Doubles - First Round:
(4) Poutchek/Rodionova (BLR/RUS) d. Hantuchova/Petrova (SVK/RUS) 64 63

Order of Play - Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Stadium (from 11.00hrs)
1. Cibulkova vs. K.Bondarenko
2. Peer vs. Chakvetadze (NB 13.00hrs)
3. Sugiyama vs. Hantuchova
4. Hrdinova/Uhlirova vs. Chakvetadze/Mirza
5. S.Williams vs. Larcher de Brito (NB 19.00hrs)
6. Poutchek/Rodionova vs. Yelsey/Zalameda

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Countdown to Beijing 2008 24 Days > Hantuchova’s game for a medal

From: Malay Mail

SLOVAK tennis star Daneile Hantuchova is looking forward to a memorable outing at the Beijing Olympics next month by winning a medal. SLOVAK tennis star Daneile Hantuchova is looking forward to a memorable outing at the Beijing Olympics next month by winning a medal.

She will be competing in both the singles and doubles with Jannette Husarova.

Some tennis players have debated the Olympics' worth, as it falls in the middle of the Tour season and ahead of the US Open this year.

But Hantuchova said while some see the Beijing Games as a deterrent to playing well in Flushing Meadows, she sees it as another highranked hard court tournament to help fine-tune her game.

“Beijing will be the highlight of my year, so all the schedule around it will be so good that I will be as fresh as I can for the Olympics,” she said. “Nothing changes around the Grand Slams. Those are still the biggest events in tennis, and I will probably approach the Olympics as a fifth one, in terms of preparation. “Right after the Beijing Games is the US Open, which I don’t think is a big problem. “Hopefully, I will be in good form playing a lot of matches.

“The rest of the season won’t change for me either.” Another good reason why Hantuchova is so adamant about playing in the Olympics is that she wouldn’t be a tennis player if not for the world’s biggest multi-sports event.

“Definitely this is the reason why I started playing tennis,” Hantuchova said. “When I was five years old, the first time I saw tennis on TV was when I saw my countryman (Czechoslovakian) Miloslav Mecir win the 1988 Olympics. “For me that was the No 1 reason why I started playing tennis.

“So, it means so much to me, and I just can’t wait to be out there.” Hantuchova said she would play in the doubles at the Beijing Games if the opportunity presented itself. The last Games i n Athens was a short stay for Hantuchova as she was ousted in the second round, but that didn’t stop her from experiencing the Olympics in the time she had.

“My first time around, I was going all over the places there,” she said.

“I was following my fellow athletes to all venues and I had a very good time. “It was crazy but I think this time I am going to concentrate on my sport. This time I’ll try and go for the medal.” The only sport she said in terms of wanting to go and see was short-distance swimming.

Hantuchova, after a Grand Slam lull in her career from the 2003 Roland Garros through to the 2005 US Open, has recorded six fourth-round appearances since 2006, including her semi-final appearance in the Australian Open in Melbourne last January. After her quarter-final win at the Australian Open, Hantuchova revealed that she used to play the piano after practices and matches to soothe her nerves.

“It was a great way to relax, especially after a tough practice, tough day at school. “I was always so tired and sometimes falling asleep there.

“I used to play all the classics — Mozart, Beethoven, Bach.

“That kind of stuff,” the Slovak added.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sony Ericsson Tennis Ad

Cool video! Sony Cybershot ad featuring Daniela Hantuchova and Ana Ivanovic.

After her dramatic win over Maria Sharapova at Roland Garros, Russian tennis player Dinara Safina was in high demand by the world's media. Here we go behind-the-scenes as she is interviewed by the likes of ESPN and Eurosport and chat about her ever-improving game.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

One of the best video Ive seen dedicated to Marat

Brian Viner Interviews: She seemed to have it all - a graceful game, a formidable intellect and the looks. But rumours in 2003 that she had an eating disorder almost ruined the Slovak star's career
From: The Independent
Friday, 15 June 2007

Daniela Hantuchova is a couple of months older than her good friend Kim Clijsters, and watched with decidedly mixed feelings as the popular Belgian hung up her racket, seemingly for good, as a competitive tennis player.

"I feel we've grown up together, Kim and me," Hantuchova tells me, "so it's very, very strange. On the one side, I can totally understand where she's coming from. As a top tennis player you sometimes want nothing more than a normal life. On the other side, with the talent she has, she has done so many great things but could do much more. It's a personal choice and I haven't yet talked to her about it, but my manager is always telling me about the danger of doing too much too soon. The advice I get is to stay patient. Sometimes it's better to go the longer way round, and then you appreciate everything much more, because maybe you're more ready for it."

Five years ago, although still a teenager, Hantuchova seemed more than ready. In the 2002 Pacific Life Open at Indian Wells in California, generally considered the most important women's tournament away from the Grand Slam events, the Slovakian beat Martina Hingis in the final having dispatched Justine Henin along the way. She beat Henin again in that year's US Open, where, as she had earlier that summer at Wimbledon, she reached the quarter-finals. Tennis duly heralded another star from the east, and the tabloids heralded another looker. Hantuchova was strikingly pretty and stood 5ft 11ins in her bare feet. She spoke four languages and was eloquent in all of them. She was also, we were told, a classically trained pianist ("yeah, Beethoven, Bach, all that stuff," she confirms to me). The assets of Anna Kournikova, a more established object of tabloid fervour also from the former Eastern Bloc, seemed limited by comparison.

Moreover, Hantuchova played tennis with grace and artistry, words that appeared to have been all but crushed by the blitzkrieg that was Venus and Serena Williams. By early 2003 the youngster from Bratislava was ranked fifth in the world, behind the Williams sisters and the two Belgians, Henin and Clijsters. Plainly, a first Grand Slam victory beckoned.

Then, Hantuchova's world caved in. In the second round at Wimbledon that year she played Shinobu Asagoe of Japan and surprised nobody, Asagoe doubtless included, by romping through the first set 6-0. Yet Asagoe won the next set 6-4 and the epic final set 12-10, and Hantuchova left the court in tears. It was the start of a precipitous decline that was accompanied by startling weight loss, prompting widespread rumours that she was suffering from an eating disorder. She plummeted out of the world's top 50 and seemed destined never to achieve her early promise, until this year when she again won at Indian Wells, lifting her second Sony-Ericsson WTA Tour singles title, this time at the expense of Svetlana Kuznetsova. She has put weight on, has recovered her considerable poise on the court, and now stands on the brink of re-entry into the world's top 10.

It is quite a sporting story, and to learn more about it I have travelled to meet her in Berlin, where she is playing in the German Open. After numerous meetings postponed because of rain-affected matches that keep getting stopped and restarted, we finally get together in the capacious lobby of the Inter-Continental Hotel, where every male head, and not a few female ones, follows her progress across the marble floor to where I am waiting for her on a vast sofa. The brisk handshake and my tape-recorder, not to mention 20 years, thoroughly blow any pretence that I am there for anything other than professional reasons, but I confess that I quite enjoy the fleeting burst of reflected limelight. We middle-aged men must get our kicks however we can.

I ask her, after a few opening pleasantries, whether she found it hard to deal with the rumours that she was bulimic or anorexic. "Yeah, it wasn't nice. Especially because it is absolutely 100 per cent not true. It is the biggest... I don't know how to say it in a nice way." Then say it in a not nice way. "OK. It's the biggest bullshit. Yes, I did change shape, because there was too much pressure on me and I was not ready to handle it all. Now I hope that I can be some kind of inspiration for young kids, by showing them that you can turn things around. Everyone matures at a different age."

Compounding the expectations heaped on her as a tennis player was the trauma of her parents splitting up. Theirs had always been a close family (she has one brother, five years older) and she was devastated when her parents' marriage foundered, with suggestions in the Slovakian press that her father, a university professor, had become involved with one of his students. This is a subject Hantuchova declines to discuss, reasonably enough. But she doesn't mind dwelling on the publicity surrounding her dramatic loss of weight.

"I think," she says, "that there is way too much emphasis on the way we look in sport in general. With the guys nobody bothers, except to say that Ronaldo has got a little bit heavy or something. But with the women, there is too much. Everyone has a different shape. People should focus only on the game."

Hantuchova, I should add at this point, is sitting with me in the lobby of the Inter-Continental wearing a jauntily angled beret. She adores fashion, is sometimes seen at fashion shows, and has ambitions to design her own range of women's clothing. So is she not trying to have her cake and eat it, if that's an appropriate metaphor, by wearing eye-catching outfits designed to make the most of her long hair and long legs, yet willing the media to concentrate only on her tennis? A smile. "But why shouldn't I wear nice things? I know what you mean and I guess I can't have it both ways. But it's not just me. Jennifer [Capriati] worked so hard in the gym yet there was still so much pressure on her, saying she was heavy. Serena [Williams] gets it too. It's really not fair."

Hantuchova's beguiling eloquence in what is her third language (behind Slovak and German; her fourth language is Italian) makes me wonder whether tennis' gain is linguistics' or diplomacy's or perhaps the international fashion industry's loss? At any rate, she seems to have a wisdom well beyond her 24 years, and an intellect that is rare in sporting circles. Does she ever reflect on the notion that tennis might just be a rather frivolous way of earning a living? She nods. "Yes, I do. My father is a professor [of computing], my mother studied pharmacy and worked at the Ministry of Health, my brother is an architect. Everyone in my family has a university degree except me. I know that tennis is not stretching me. I say to my parents, 'look what you guys have achieved'. What do I do? I hit a yellow ball."

And yet, by hitting that yellow ball well enough to win the odd Grand Slam, she could potentially earn more in her short career than her mother, father and brother combined?

"Yes, but I don't think about money. And anyway I don't think the rewards in tennis are too big. Basically, you have to give up everything else in your life. You talk about winning Grand Slams. That's not a job from 8am to 4pm, that means you have to be committed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"People don't see everything we do. They see we go to beautiful places, but we're in a different hotel room every week, for maybe 10 months of the year. OK, the hotels are nice ones like this, but it's not home. I get homesick a lot. But I also know that it's a big privilege to do something in life you love, and I do love tennis."

The extent of that passion comes across when she talks almost lyrically about the purity of her practice sessions with her latest doubles partner, Martina Hingis. "It is a feeling I only get with her, an unbelievable feeling. In Miami we practised with wooden rackets, because someone wanted us to try them, and the ball came off the racket so perfectly." For a second I think she might cry. "That's why I was so pleased to see Martina coming back. Tennis is not all about power, it's also about rhythm, and she proves that more than anyone. I'd always wanted to play with her but then she retired. Once she came back we said for sure we will play together, although I was committed to Sugi [Ai Sugiyama]. We waited until the time was right, and it has been so much fun."

As for the woman Hingis was named after, Martina Navratilova, she too has been an occasional doubles partner, and a source of great inspiration, as well as anxiety.

"I played a singles match against her in Eastbourne a couple of years ago, which I won, but I have never, ever been so nervous in my life. I normally don't really care who's on the other side of the court, but with her that was all I could think about."

Because Navratilova was from the former Czechoslovakia, like her, and a girlhood role model? "No, because she was already in the States when I grew up. Miroslav Mecir was my big tennis hero. He won the gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, which was the first time I had ever seen tennis on television and it had a big effect on me. I was only five but I said 'I want to do this'. He was my inspiration.

"But Martina has been a big help to me. She has given me lots of advice, for example how to use my weapons on court. She knows that I think a lot on court, maybe too much, and she tells me that tennis is not as complicated as I sometimes think. I make the mistake of seeing tennis as a chess game, with so many different options.

"Sometimes if I have time and a big shot to hit, I think too much about whether to go for a short angle, a hard shot down the line, or whatever, you know. I just need to be a little smarter. Play the right shots at the right time."

If she can begin to do that at Wimbledon in a little over a week's time then she might progress further than the quarter-final, which is still the limit of her success in Grand Slams. Wimbledon is the title she craves more than any other.

"Oh yeah, that's the one, for sure. I've been in the final at Eastbourne, grass is definitely my favourite surface. And I love the history at Wimbledon. For any tennis player to be part of that is amazing. The first time I went there, I just can't describe it. To see all the people lined up outside, I got goose bumps."

She will, of course, be just one of the dozens of -ovas and -evas competing at the All-England Club. I ask her how she explains the extraordinary proliferation of female tennis players from the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe?

"It's the mentality," she says. "We are prepared to work very hard to get there, no matter what it takes. We're not spoiled. In the West, it's sometimes hard to stay motivated if you are given everything when you are young. And the worst thing is when parents push their kids too hard. In our part of the world the desire comes from us. No one needs to push us. In fact my parents were the other way." For the first time in the interview, she giggles like a 24-year-old. "They'd say 'that's enough tennis, now let's go and study'."

From The Sunday Times
July 13, 2008

What has been your best moment in tennis and what was your biggest disappointment?
The most satisfying win was beating Justine Henin in the 2002 US Open. I had lost to her twice and like the rest of the girls on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour I held her in such respect so to get the better of her in the third-set tiebreak was a great boost. As for the biggest disappointment, I can’t pick one out because I try to view every defeat as an experience from which to learn.

Who has been your toughest opponent?

That would be myself. Most tennis players would say the same because we play an individual sport and so much of the time it is a battle against your own self-belief.

If you could have one wish to change yourself for just 24 hours, what would it be?
Initially I would have to answer just to be able to play tennis like Roger Federer. But thinking more about the question, I’ve always had dreams about being invisible and have a fascination of seeing how people act when they think nobody else is around.

Apart from tennis, do you have other strings to your bow?
I can speak several languages - my native Slovak, English, German, Italian and Spanish. I also spent a lot of time learning to play classical piano. Everyone in my family has a degree except me: my dad is a professor of computing, my mum a pharmacist and my brother an architect. I have a university place in Slovakia if I want to get back to studying.

Who is your best friend on the women’s tour?

The Japanese player Ai Sugiyama, who was my doubles partner for a long time. We won doubles titles in Doha and Rome as well as Birmingham in England. She’s very down to earth and is an incredibly sweet person off the court, but on the court she fights like a tiger.

When you were younger, who was the player you most enjoyed watching?
Miloslav Mecir, the greatest ever Slovak player, who reached the finals of the US and Australian Opens, losing to Ivan Lendl both times (Mecir also reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon and the French Open). He played with such style and went by the nickname of the Big Cat although the French called him Le Prestidigitateur or The Conjuror. When I was a girl growing up in Bratislava, the sight of him winning the Olympic gold at Seoul in 1988 was the inspiration for me starting to play tennis.

What is your favourite food?
I am a big seafood fan. If I had to choose a particular cuisine it would be a tough choice between sushi and Italian. However, most of all I love everything that my mum cooks. I’m also a lover of chocolate and for dessert I’ll go for crepes smothered in Nutella.

If there was one thing you could change in tennis, what would it be?
I speak for the majority of players when I say fewer tournaments and less publicity activities. I know the tour are very aware of the problem and there is going to be a reduction in the schedule in forthcoming years, but the amount of weeks we are required to play at the moment makes it inevitable that players miss big events because of injury.

Have you ever resented the fact that some people know you more for your looks rather than your tennis?
There is way too much emphasis placed on the way we look rather than actually just concentrating on our tennis, but I guess that is the way of the world right now.

What is your favourite Grand Slam event?
All the four majors are specific and special in different ways. The atmosphere in Australia is relaxed, Paris is such a chic place and there is an electricity in New York. However, Wimbledon is always going to be the most special of the Grand Slam tournaments because of its tradition and history. It’s a special feeling to be part of it, although maybe the tournament came a little bit too soon for me this year after being out injured.

If you were allowed to travel to any city or place in the world for enjoyment rather than playing a tournament, where would you choose to go?
Let’s put it this way. Cape Town followed by Cape Town and then Cape Town . . . but I cannot complain about living in Monte Carlo. Rome is also a beautiful city and I was very disappointed to miss the tournament there this year because I was suffering with an injured heel.

Watching DVDs in the hotel room is a favourite relaxation of most tennis players. If you had to choose one, what would it be?
No questions about this one. I’m a huge Russell Crowe fan and Gladiator is my all-time favourite movie.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Nickname(s): Danka/Dani
Country: Slovakia
Residence: Monte Carlo
Date of birth: April 23, 1983
Age: 25 years old
Place of birth: Poprad,Slovakia
Height: 5'11 1/4'' (1.81 m)
Weight: 137 lbs. (62 kg)
Plays: Right (two-handed backhand)
Turned pro: May 1999
Career Singles Title: 3
Highest Ranking: No. 5 (August 26, 2002)
Current Ranking: No.12

Hantuchova's game is built around natural timing. She is able to produce "effortless" power from her flowing groundstrokes and possesses a superb down-the-line forehand and backhand. She possesses a heavy serve and has a particularly effective "kick" second serve. Her favourite and most effective construction of a winning point is her flat serve out wide on the Ad-court, followed by a backhand winner down the line. Her volleys are very well-produced and often have the deftest of touch. Due to these attributes she is known as an "All-arounder". A weakness of Hantuchova since she emerged from the juniors was her lack of explosive movement around the court. In recent years, however, this aspect of her tennis has been vastly improved.
She is currently working with a number of coaches who work out of the Sanchez-Casal Academy, primarily Angel Gimenez and occasionally with Eduardo Nicolas.

Other notes about Daniela:

  • likes all-court style of play
  • prefers grass as a surface, and her favorite tournament is Wimbledon
  • father is named Igor, and that he is a computer scientist
  • mother is named Marianna, and that she is a toxicologist
  • 5 yrs older brother is named Igor, and that he is an architect working in Bratislava
  • entire family plays tennis
  • speaks Slovak, English and German and is learning Italian
  • got qualified for top university in Slovakia but deferred it to pursue a career as a professional player
  • other sports interests include skiing, basketball, skating and swimming
  • studied classical piano for eight years until she was 14
  • trained at Bollettieri Tennis Academy between ages of 16 and 18
  • enjoys haute couture, music, guava juice and relaxing on a quiet beach
  • favorite city is Rome and likes to visit Cape Town, South Africa
  • would love to go snow-boarding and water-surfing
  • favorite colour is blue
  • favorite movie is "Love Actually"
  • likes music by Eros Ramazzotti
  • was named 2002 WTA Tour Most Improved Player of the Year
  • was nominated for Laureus World Sports Award as 2002 World Newcomer of the Year fellow nominees: Daniel Nalbandian (tennis), Yao Ming (basketball), Wayne Rooney (football) and Joachim Uytdehaage (speed-skating)
  • WTA Tour mentor was Martina Navratilova in the Partners for Success program, the mentor division of the Professional Development Program.
Here's Daniela with her family:

Source:Wikipedia and

A busy summer season for both Marat and Dani, here's their tournament schedule update:

07/21 Rogers Cup ATP Masters Series (Toronto,Canada)
07/28 Western & Southern Financial Group Masters ATP Masters Series (Cincinnati, USA)
08/04 Countrywide Classic (Los Angeles,USA)
08/10 Legg Mason Tennis Classic (Washington DC,USA)
08/25 US Open Grand Slam (New York,USA)

07/14 Bank of the West Classic (Stanford,CA USA)
07/21 East West Bank Classic (Los Angeles,CA USA)
07/28 Rogers Cup (Montreal,Canada)
08/11 Olympic Tennis Event (Beijing,China)
08/25 US Open Grand Slam (New York,USA)

Just a little creativity, some wallpapers I made a few days ago.

Marat Updates

After having lost at the second round in Catella Swedish Open, Marat returned to Moscow and will travel to Toronto for the Rogers Masters on Friday 18th July. He has been granted a Wild Card into the Main Draws of both Masters Series in Toronto and Cincinnati.

Interview of Daniela in video on Sony Ericsson WTA official website. You will learn that Daniela can't live without tennis, that she is proud to come from Slovakia, that the talent she wishes to have is to be invisible (and to play like Roger Federer :-) ), that she loves crepes with Nutella and that she dreams to meet Georges Clooney.

A former World No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion falls under the Spotlight on the ATP Tennis Show.

Marat Safin

Click on the Picture

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