We finally found a use for Google+. Rafael Nadal hosted his first “Google+ Hangout” video conference on Friday. The live video-chat included a select group of fans and tennis journalists from around the world, who asked Nadal a whole host of questions. Topics ranged from the Olympics and the recent David Nalbandian drama, to Disneyworld and his wardrobe choice. Neil Harman successfully videobombed and a good time was had by all. If you missed it like I did, the full video is below.
Filed under: Agnieszka Radwanska, Alison Riske, Ana Ivanovic, Caroline Wozniacki, Christina McHale, Elena Vesnina, Heidi El Tabakh, Jelena Jankovic, Li Na, Maria Sharapova, Melanie Oudin, Off Court Shenanigans, Petra Kvitova, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Victoria Azarenka, WTA
One of Wimbledon’s many glorious traditions is the annual WTA players’ party, which takes place on the Thursday before the tournament begins. There is no tennis to tear apart until Sunday, so we can slam the outfits instead! Presenting: Your Obligatory WTA Fashion Police Blog Post!
The defending champion continues to shine when given the chance. After being thrust into the public eye following her Wimbledon win in 2011, the soft-spoken Czech has embraced her outer sparkle off the court.
As we know, the only reason why Jelena even bothers to play tennis these days is for extra spending money, clothes and parties. She can’t even do that right anymore.
Venus and Serena Williams
Venus and Serena’s fashion choices over the past decade have sometimes wowed us, and other times, have left us scratching our heads. Both opted for classic options, but the jury’s still out on the hair.
Maria Sharapova doing what Maria Sharapova does with commanding presence as always. She wouldn’t look out of place on a Hollywood red carpet. Bonus points for the shoes.
Christina McHale, Alison Riske, Melanie Oudin, Heidi El Tabakh
Fresh out of a Forever 21 catalogue, McHale, Riske, Oudin and El Tabakh opting for the American (or in El Tabakh’s case, Canadian) casual look.
Azarenka, who also opts for casual looks at these events more often than not
(yes, that debacle at Indian Wells excluded), sports a new layered hairdo to go with her trusty black leggings.
If you’re experiencing deja vu, don’t fret! I am too. Wozniacki sported a similar off the shoulder black dress and up-do at last year’s players’ party. Stella, get the girl another look, stat.
Take me to your leader. China’s first Grand Slam champion rocks the makeup and hair as always, but I do wonder if the dress picks up radio signals. Or at one time sustained alien life.
Ivanovic, unlike her compatriot Jankovic, never fails to disappoint. Although this picture does. The only negative of this dress was the fringed monstrosity on the bottom that I’ve spared you from seeing. Thank me later.
Radwanska rocking a simple, black floor length gown. Although, if I were her, I’d lose the number of Kuznetsova’s hair dresser.
The Russian knocks it out of the park, and the dress really brings out her eyes. My winner for sure.
Filed under: David Goffin, Florian Mayer, Julia Goerges, Ksenia Pervak, Mahesh Bhupathi, Marina Erakovic, Mona Barthel, Olympics, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Rohan Bopanna, Sofia Arvidsson, Tamira Paszek
Many have attempted to make the argument that tennis has no place in the Olympics. Tell that to the players. For months, players have been doing their best to fulfill the ITF requirements for London. A ranking in the top 56 for singles is sufficient, coupled with availability in two Fed Cup or Davis Cup ties in the Olympic cycle. However, despite fulfilling ITF requirements, many players are being denied the chance at their Olympic dream by their national Olympic committees.
New Zealand’s Marina Erakovic was the first player embroiled in Olympic controversy. Due to a late withdrawal from a zonal tie against in 2011, New Zealand’s Fed Cup team was banned from competing in 2012 by the ITF. ITF rules require players to make themselves available for Fed Cup country in two of the four years of the Olympic cycle, including one of the past two years. Erakovic, who competed in three zonal ties in 2010 and four in 2009, would not fulfill the requirements of Fed Cup eligibility because of the ban. The New Zealand Tennis Federation is looking to appeal, but the ITF isn’t Erakovic’s only hurdle. The New Zealand Olympic Committee requires all competitors to “demonstrate an ability of finishing in the top 16 and be capable of going on to finish in the top eight.”
Sofia Arvidsson, No. 48 in the rankings and the top-ranked Swede, is ranked comfortably inside the Olympic cutoff. She has played 15 zonal and group Fed Cup ties for her country since 2009. She will not be going to London. Sweden’s Olympic Committee insists that athletes in all sports should only be selected if they are “capable of a top-8 finish.” She took to Twitter on Tuesday to vent her frustration and disappointment.
Germany requires its players to be ranked within the top 24, or reach the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam or semifinals at a WTA Premier Mandatory/Premier 5 or ATP Masters 1000. Julia Goerges, ranked No. 25 at the cut-off, will miss the cut on the ladies’ side, and Florian Mayer, ranked #29 and Philipp Kohlschreiber, who defeated Rafael Nadal in straight sets in the quarterfinals in Halle on Friday, will be excluded from the men’s draw. Mona Barthel, ranked No. 32, will be excluded due to the “four per country” rule.
The list goes on. David Goffin, the lucky loser who stormed through the draw at Roland Garros before giving Roger Federer all he could handle in a four-set fourth round match, has only taken part in one Davis Cup tie. He may still sneak in, as Belgium insists its players have reached at least the fourth round of a Grand Slam or the quarter-finals of a Masters 1000. Tamira Paszek, who reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 2011, only participated in one Fed Cup tie in the past two years due to injury. She will need exemption from the ITF to compete. Ksenia Pervak, currently ranked #41, who switched nationalities from Russia to Kazakhstan will also require exemption from the ITF, which is not likely.
The Indian doubles pairing of Rohan Bopanna and Mahesh Bhupathi are also in a fierce fight with the All India Tennis Association (AITA). Bopanna parted ways with Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, with whom he reached the US Open final, to partner with Bhupathi this season with eyes set on London. However, Leander Paes, currently ranked in the top 10 in doubles, receives direct entry and needs a partner. Paes and Bhupathi have had a historically up and down relationship, and allegedly haven’t spoken since November. Bhupathi and Bopanna released a joint statement, and Bhupathi has expressed if he is selected to play with Paes, he will not compete.
The final team announcements will be made on June 28th.
Filed under: ATP, Maria Sharapova, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros, Sara Errani, Trophy Case, WTA
Women’s Singles – (2) Maria Sharapova d. (21) Sara Errani 63 62
Maria Sharapova cemented her place among the all-time greats by winning her first Roland Garros title, and completing the career Grand Slam. She is the only woman to complete the career Grand Slam by winning her fourth major title.
“It’s a wonderful moment in my career. I’m really speechless. It’s been such a journey for me to get to this stage. ‘I could have said, ‘I don’t need this. I have money; I have fame; I have victories; I have Grand Slams.’ But when your love for something is bigger than all those things, you continue to keep getting up in the morning when it’s freezing outside, when you know that it can be the most difficult day, when nothing is working, when you feel like the belief sometimes isn’t there from the outside world, and you seem so small,” said Sharapova. “But you can achieve great things when you don’t listen to all those things.”
Sharapova raced out to a *40 lead in the first set, overwhelming the first time finalist with a barrage of powerful and accurate groundstrokes. However, Errani found her footing in the match, and began to play the style of game that had brought her so much success on clay in 2012. The Italian pulled to within one service break, but Sharapova allowed her to get no closer, finishing strong to take the set. While the Italian began to play better in the second set, Sharapova proved too strong, again getting out to a *41 lead. Errani managed to break Sharapova in a marathon game, but surrendered her serve again soon after. Despite saving two championship points with perfectly executed forehand drop shots, Errani could not save a third as her backhand drop shot attempt failed to reach the net. In perhaps the most amusing moment of the match, the two shared a laugh when the stadium public address announcer incorrectly called for Sharapova to come forward as the runner-up, and Errani raised her arms in mock triumph. By virtue of reaching the final, Sharapova also claimed the #1 ranking for the first time since 2008.
Sara Errani didn’t go home without a champion’s trophy, however. She and fellow Italian Roberta Vinci took home their first Grand Slam title, defeating the Russian pairing of Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova 46 64 62.
Men’s Singles – (2) Rafael Nadal d. (1) Novak Djokovic 64 63 26 75
In a rain delayed two-day final, Rafael Nadal won his seventh career title at Roland Garros, surpassing Bjorn Borg’s record for all-time career titles on the red clay of Paris. He denied Novak Djokovic both the career Grand Slam, and the chance to become the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four major titles at once. Nadal improved his record at Roland Garros to a near-spotless 52-1.
”This tournament is, for me, the most special tournament of the world,” Nadal said. ”It was a very difficult match against the best player in the world. ‘I lost three Grand Slam finals – Wimbledon, the U.S. Open last year, and the Australian Open this year. I’m very happy, very emotional.”
Nadal jumped out to an early *30 lead in the first set, courtesy of some erratic play from the World #1. While Djokovic hit back, winning three straight games, Nadal regained his advantage in the seventh game, breaking Djokovic’s serve off of a double fault. After closing out the first set in just under an hour, Nadal gained an early advantage in the second set, and after holding serve for 53*, play was suspended the first time due to rain. When the players returned to court just over a half an hour later, Nadal broke Djokovic easily to wrap up a two set advantage. It looked as though Nadal would run away with the match when he gained an early break advantage in the third set, as conditions worsened due to rain. Djokovic went on an unprecedented run, winning eight straight games to take the set and claim an early break in the fourth. The match was suspended again, and Nadal was displeased with tournament officials for allowing play to continue as long as it had. When they returned to the courts Monday, Nadal broke back immediately, and the match went with serve until *56, when Djokovic double faulted to hand Nadal the title.
Top seeds Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor took home the men’s doubles crown, defeating second seeds Bob and Mike Bryan 64 64. The Bryan brothers were looking to break Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde’s record for all-time career Grand Slam titles. Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupati took home the mixed doubles title, defeating surprise finalists Klaudia Jans-Ignacik and Santiago Gonzalez, 76(3) 61.
Five Things to Take Away from Roland Garros 2012
1. The Big Four? Try the Top Two. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal once again proved their superiority over the rest of the field this fortnight. The two, along with Roger Federer and Andy Murray, have been dubbed “The Big Four” on the ATP Tour. It’s becoming more apparent that “The Big Four” is a myth; Murray is rapidly falling back to the pack, and as evidenced by his semifinal performance against Djokovic, Federer is having more difficulty keeping up with the top two even when they aren’t at their best. Federer hasn’t won a major title since the 2010 Australian Open.
2. “MARIA SHARAPOVA IS BACK!!!!111oneone!” No, Maria Sharapova never left. When Maria Sharapova returned from shoulder surgery in 2009, few expected her to be the same player. Sharapova’s fighting qualities were never in doubt, and it was always a matter of her game coming back together. Through all the double faults, unforced errors and shocking losses, she never stopped fighting. Sharapova’s game, and perhaps more crucially her confidence, stem from her serve, and it finally appears that it has returned to her. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing the Russian’s serve desert her in the crucial moments, but not anymore. Sharapova won an average of 70% of her first serve points for the tournament, and her confidence in her serve was evident in both her semifinal against Petra Kvitova, where she served a second serve ace on match point, and in the final, where she served three aces in the final game to secure the title.
3. Hold up on that obituary for American women’s tennis. It’s long been asserted that once the Williams sisters retired, the future of American women’s tennis looked bleak. No one told these ladies. Christina McHale, ranked 29th, is the second highest ranked American behind Serena Williams and there is no one younger ranked above her. She played Li Na tough in the third round before falling in three sets. Teenagers Sloane Stephens and Lauren Davis made the fourth round and second round after qualifying, respectively. Veteran and newly minted citizen Varvara Lepchenko also made the fourth round, upsetting Francesca Schiavone and Jelena Jankovic, and cementing her status on the Olympic team. Only one American woman lost in a completed first round match, and that was Serena Williams.
4. You can’t keep a good (wo)man down. Let’s show some love to qualifiers Tommy Haas and Yaroslava Shvedova who both conjured up their vintage best during the fortnight. Haas, a four-time major semifinalist and former World No. 2, has been slowed by age and injury the past few seasons but deserves full credit for trying to fight his way back. After coming through qualifying, Haas downed Filippo Volandri and Sergiy Stakhovsky before falling to Richard Gasquet in four sets. Shvedova, who reached the quarterfinals of Roland Garros in 2010, repeated the feat this year – taking out Mandy Minella, Sofia Arvidsson, Carla Suarez Navarro and defending champion Li Na before falling to Petra Kvitova in three tough sets.
5. Unlike a fine wine, stars sour with age. Multiple WTA tour veterans are approaching a career crossroads with the Olympics on the horizon. Vera Zvonareva, who withdrew from Roland Garros prior to her first match, is facing a career-threatening shoulder injury. Russian Fed Cup captain Shamil Tarpischev says she will forgo surgery for the moment and try alternative therapy; Tarpischev says it’s likely she will not play at all until the Olympics. Jelena Jankovic, who dropped out of the top 20 for the first time since 2006, won ONE Tour-level match on the clay. Francesca Schiavone, who has been in poor form for the large part of the season, plummeted 15 spots in the rankings after failing to defend a finals showing at Roland Garros.
l to r: Novak Djokovic, in pursuit of the career Grand Slam, will be looking to put a stop to Rafael Nadal’s career domination at Roland Garros.
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will meet in their fourth straight Grand Slam final and each has a chance to make tennis history. Djokovic, who has defeated Nadal in three successive Grand Slam finals, has never defeated the Spaniard in Paris; Nadal defeated him in three successive years from 2006-2008. Expanding it further, Djokovic had won seven straight matches against Nadal until the Spaniard triumphed in the finals of both Monte Carlo and Rome.
“I have the chance to break the Borg record because I have already won six. The pressure is the same every year. I am here because I try my best every day and because I have a lot of motivation, the desire to try to win the tournament, not because it’s the seventh, because it’s Roland Garros. It’s one of my top tournaments of the year, if not the most important.So seriously, the extra pressure for me is zero. In the end, if it finally happens, it’s going to be another thing that maybe is important, maybe not that important. For me, the important thing is Roland Garros.”
Nadal, in pursuit of his seventh title at Roland Garros, looks to pass Bjorn Borg’s all-time record at the event. The Spaniard has been in sizzling form, dropping his serve only once in the tournament – in his first match. He has lost only 35 games en route to the final, the fewest he has ever lost en route to a finals appearance in Paris. Borg holds the Open Era record, having dropped 32 games en route the title in 1978. Nadal will also be looking to raise his eleventh Grand Slam trophy, and his first since his four-set win over Roger Federer at last year’s event. Federer, after falling to Djokovic in the semifinals, described Nadal as the “overwhelming favorite” to win the title. Despite his dominant 51-1 record at the event, Nadal refuses to view himself as the favorite:
“I don’t feel I’m the great favourite, as he said, because I’m going to play against the number one.”
Nadal’s Road to the Final:
R1: d. Simone Bolelli (ITA) 62 62 61
R2: d. Denis Istomin (UZB) 60 62 62
R3: d. (Q) Eduardo Schwank (ARG) 61 63 64
R4: d. (13) Juan Monaco (ARG) 62 60 60
QF: (12) Nicolas Almagro (ESP) 76(4) 63 62
SF: d. (6) David Ferrer (ESP) 62 62 61
“I haven’t won a set against him in this court. All the facts are on his side,” Djokovic said. “But, look, I feel different nowadays. I believe I’m at the peak of my career. I’m playing the best tennis of my life in last year and a half, and I should use that. I should use that as a confidence (boost) and try to get my hands on a title.”
As the Spaniard cruised through his half of the draw, Djokovic had a considerably tougher road to his first French Open final. First, he was forced to rally from two sets down against Italian Andreas Seppi in the fourth round, and saved four match points against Frenchman Jo-Wilifred Tsonga in the quarterfinals. Djokovic will be looking to complete the career Grand Slam, as well as be the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four major titles at once. Despite his struggles early in the event, the Serbian hit his stride late in his semifinal against Federer, striking 27 winners and making only 17 unforced errors in windy conditions.
Djokovic’s Road to the Final:
R1: d. Potitio Starace (ITA) 76(4) 63 61
R2: d. Blaz Kavcic (SLO) 60 64 64
R3: d. (WC) Nicolas Devilder (FRA) 61 62 62
R4: d. (22) Andreas Seppi (ITA) 46 67(5) 63 75 63
QF: d. (5) Jo-Wilifred Tsonga (FRA) 61 57 57 76(6) 61
SF: d. (3) Roger Federer (SUI) 64 75 63
Djokovic and Nadal rank first and second for break points converted in the event; Djokovic leads all competitors with 39 break points converted and Nadal is right on his heels having converted 37. As we’ve come to expect, this match will be dominated by long, grinding rallies. Nadal and Djokovic both appear three times on the “Longest Rally Count Leaders” list. Nadal played a 34 shot rally against Almagro, a 32 shot rally against Ferrer and a 31 shot rally against Istomin; he won two of the three points. Djokovic, to his credit, also came out on top in two of the three longest rallies of the tournament; he and Federer had both a 36 and 28 shot rally in the semifinals, and he also played a 30 shot rally against Devilder.
The two have played 32 times in their career, with Nadal leading 18-14. Djokovic leads the head-to-head in Grand Slam finals 3-1, after triumphs in 2011 at Wimbledon and the US Open, and earlier this year in a six-hour epic at the Australian Open. The final will mark the fourteenth time the two have met on clay, where Nadal leads Djokovic 11-2.
l to r: First-time major finalist Sara Errani will be looking to spoil the party as Maria Sharapova looks to complete the career Grand Slam.
July 3rd, 2004. Maria Sharapova, then just 17, stunned the tennis world by winning Wimbledon. The Russian stepped out, on the biggest stage in the sport, and announced to the world that she had arrived. She took home $888,211.
Who knows if Sara Errani, then also 17, was aware of Sharapova’s triumph. While fairly close to the lawns of the All-England Club geographically, she could not have been further away. The Italian had just been defeated by Goulnara Fattakhetdinova in the second round of qualifying at an ITF event in Cuneo, Italy. She pocketed $147.
Their careers have taken opposite paths since but exactly seven years, eleven months and six days later, they will play for a Grand Slam championship.
“I was in a position a few years ago where I didn’t quite know if I would ever be here again on this stage, playing professionally. And not just at that, but at a level to get to No. 1 in the world and a first Roland Garros final for me,” Sharapova said. “So a very special day, no doubt.”
Maria Sharapova came into Roland Garros on a high, having triumphed at two of the four major clay court warmup events in Stuttgart (d. Azarenka) and Rome (d. Li). The lone Grand Slam jewel missing from her resume, The stars have seemed to align this fortnight for Sharapova – with Williams’ shocking exit in the first round to Virginie Razzano, Sharapova was instantly anointed the favorite for the title. She’s played like it too. In the first three rounds, Sharapova dropped a total of five games, and her opponents hit a combined nine winners against her. In total, Sharapova was pushed to three sets just once, but came out on top in a gritty, error-strewn fourth round match against Klara Zakopalova. Sharapova will also return to the #1 ranking for the first time since 2008 on Monday, having needed to reach the final to do so. 2012 marks the first time Sharapova has reached the finals at Roland Garros, having previously made the semifinals in 2007 and 2011.
Sharapova’s Road to the Final:
R1: d. Alexandra Cadantu (ROU) 60 60
R2: d. Ayumi Morita (JPN) 61 61
R3: d. (28) Peng Shuai (CHN) 62 61
R4: d. Klara Zakopalova (CZE) 64 67(5) 62
QF: d. (23) Kaia Kanepi (EST) 62 63
SF: d. (4) Petra Kvitova (CZE) 63 63
“It’s not a question of believing or not believing,” Errani said. “I don’t think about that. I just think about playing. I just think about going on court and giving my all. And whatever happens, happens. I’ve never thought, ‘I can’t beat someone in the top 10.””
While Sharapova coasted through the bottom half, Errani was making waves on top. After making the Australian Open quarterfinals, Errani, like Sharapova, found her footing on clay early. The Italian picked up three titles in Acapulco (d. Pennetta), Barcelona (d. Cibulkova) and Budapest (d. Vesnina). Prior to this year, Errani had won a grand total of one match at Roland Garros. That win came last year, in a memorable first round match against American Christina McHale; the American led *50 in the final set before Errani rallied to win, 67(4) 62 97. Errani took advantage of a wide open top half, following the early exits of World #3 Agnieszka Radwanska, who lost in the third round to Svetlana Kuznetsova and World #1 Victoria Azarenka, who fell in the fourth round to Dominika Cibulkova. She had previously been 0-28 against top 10 opponents before scoring back-to-back wins against #10 Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals and #6 Samantha Stosur in the semifinals. Errani will debut in the top 10 herself on Monday, finishing no lower than #10 regardless of the result. She is also the first player since Kim Clijsters in 2003 to reach both the singles and doubles finals at Roland Garros; she and countrywoman Roberta Vinci will face Russians Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova on Friday.
Errani’s Road to the Final:
R1: d. Casey Dellacqua (AUS) 46 62 62
R2: d. Melanie Oudin (USA) 62 63
R3: d. (13) Ana Ivanovic (SRB) 16 75 63
R4: d. (26) Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) 60 75
QF: d. (10) Angelique Kerber (GER) 63 76(2)
SF: d. (6) Samantha Stosur (AUS) 75 16 63
The final presents a contrast in styles; while Errani lacks Sharapova’s brute strength and power, she makes up for it in court craft and guile. The Russian will be looking to impose her will on Errani early, while the Italian will be looking to outmaneuver and draw out longer rallies with Sharapova. Both women will be looking to break serve often; Sharapova leads all competitors with 40 break points converted, with Errani close behind having converted 38. Sharapova has the clear edge in the serve department, having served 13 aces and her serve has topped out at 113 MPH. Errani, to her credit, has landed 79% of her first serves in six matches.
There is no head-to-head history between the two, as they have never faced. Sharapova will be looking to be the third Russian to triumph at Roland Garros, after Myskina in 2004 and Kuznetsova in 2009; Errani will be looking to repeat the 2010 triumph of countrywoman Francesca Schiavone.