2009 Men’s Singles – Pre-tournament news

Andreas Seppi, EXCLUSIVE, Julien BENNETEAU, Radek STEPANEK

2009 AEGON International

Pre-tournament news by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

gael monfilsMonfils misery

A further injury to Gael Monfils (pictured) has ended the interest of the provisional top seed to compete at 2009 Eastbourne, after the French ace was forced to withdraw from the tournament at Queen’s Club less than a week before he was due to play at the inaugural AEGON International.

The 22-year-old tends to bounce in and out of the world’s top 10 with his on-going left kneecap injury, but ended his interest in the 2009 AEGON Championships on Tuesday 10 June because of a wrist injury he picked up at the London event.

Monfils has opted to miss Eastbourne to concentrate on being 100% for Wimbledon on 22nd June and took advice from the French Tennis Federation (FTF) over these two injuries before pulling out of the AEGON International on Friday 12 June.

Monfils surprisingly played at Roland Garros, where he reached the semi-final stage in 2008, despite having played only one match on clay in the six weeks prior to the grand slam – suffering defeat in Monte Carlo.

And he was outclassed 6-4, 6-0 by hard-hitting Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis in a tame exhibition match in Paris just a few days before the 2009 French Open, when Monfils’ injury to his knee was deemed severe.

“In the evening I had a new, bad pain – it’s not great. I clench my teeth but my knee is still hurting. I’m not at all physically prepared to play [at the French Open], but I still believe a miracle will happen,” claimed Monfils who excelled at Roland Garros before winning two matches on the grass courts at Queen’s Club.

Bernard Montalvan, an FTF doctor, explained that Monfils suffers from an inflammation of the left kneecap that could require surgery and a long period of rehabilitation.

“I clench my teeth but my knee is still hurting … I still believe a miracle will happen!”

– Gael Monfils

Stepanek still on injured list

czech star stepanek may skip eastbourneRadek Stepanek’s ankle injury means that he has choosen to skip Eastbourne’s pre-Wimbledon event in a race be fit for the more lucrative Championships at SW19.

The Czech Republic ace (pictured) retired injured at the Prosrejov Challenger event in early June, immediately after reaching the third round at Roland Garros and definitely misses Eastbourne 2009.

His doctor, Dr Rene Kloc, confirmed about the ankle injury: “The ligaments are not torn but are badly swollen, his involvement in Wimbledon is uncertain.”

The 30-year-old has repeatedly suffered throughout his career with a range of injuries, which have jeopardised Stepanek becoming a regular name in the world’s top 10.

But Stepanek is also well-known for courting as well as on court skills, having been the former fiance of ex-world no1 Martina Hingis and is currently going out with compatriot Nicole Vaidisova despite the huge age gap.

Talented trio fully rested

janko tipsarevicAt last there is some good news for organisers and fans alike as the injuries to Janko Tipsarevic, Eduardo Schwank and Lu Yen-Hsun did not prevent the trio from turning up at Queen’s Club in London.

However, they were all dismal and duly dispatched in the first round at the 2009 AEGON Championships, so at least all have been given time to rest before making their respective Devonshire Park debuts.

Although Tipsarevic retired with leg injuries against Scotland’s Andy Murray at the 2009 French Open, the Serbian crowd-pleaser didn’t appear to struggle with injury – just his game – as he was thrashed by qualifier Nicolas Mahut in the first round at Queen’s Club.

Argentine Schwank retired injured in the opening round of May’s Furth Challenger event in Germany, having breezed through the qualifying rounds, yet was miraclously fit when he was destroyed by Aussie Lleyton Hewitt in the first round at Queen’s to make it one game in the past three sets for out of form Schwank.

And China’s Yen-Hsun may have retired from his first round match at the Roland Garros after losing the opening set to France’s Mathieu Montcourt but was in London on the grass courts.

However, he was remarkably slow around the court during his first round exit at Queen’s Club to Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. The 25-year-old last won two sets in early May at Israel’s Ramat Hasharon Challenger.

EXCLUSIVE | Eastbourne eyed up Murray

andy murray could play eastbourneAndy Murray was all set to play at Devonshire Park had he failed to make much of an impact at the 2009 AEGON Championships in London.

The British ace (pictured) said after his early antipicated French Open exit: “I love playing at Queen’s. But this year there isn’t the same pressure, as the points system has changed.

“You want to play matches to get used to the courts and the movement on grass, but it’s not the end of the world if you lose early.

“There are a lot of exhibition events the following week and the Eastbourne tournament’s not a long way away. If you feel like you want competitive matches you can go there, though ideally I’d have a decent run at Queen’s.”

But event organisers at Eastbourne had kept an eye on Murray’s excellent run at Queen’s Club in case they could persuade him to make the 2009 AEGON International, which currently has no real star attractions in the men’s draw.

Neither of the men’s newly-sponsored AEGON tournaments have ignited the interest of the big guns on the ATP Tour this year, which gives Murray little competition at Queen’s and would have also been a breeze at Eastbourne.

However, the wily Scot did not want to wear himself out before his best ever shot at Wimbledon, particularly as he has a tendency to run out of steam at the larger tournaments and especially events where there are the best of five set matches.

The Lawn Tennis Association told http://www.eastbournetennis.com: “With regard to Andy Murray, he has not entered the tournament yet. If he should request a wildcard, while there are still wildcards available, then he will be given one.”

Gasquet hit by suspension

Career in balance after cocaine drug test

richard gasquetRichard Gasquet will not play at Eastbourne’s inaugural AEGON International. The 22-year-old was handed an immediate provisional suspension (on May 12) from the International Tennis Federation (ITF), following traces of cocaine found in an urine sample after a random drug test.

The French ace (pictured) is gathering evidence to prove his innocence, despite returning two positive drug tests at March’s Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. Gasquet claims that a separate test of his hair samples on May 7 showed no trace of cocaine. He will get an opportunity to put his case in front of anti-doping tribunal around mid-July.

But as it takes around 60 days to put together a suitable panel from around the world, Gasquet misses the French Open, Eastbourne and Wimbledon. With his career is in jeopardy if he is handed a two year ban from the ATP Tour, Gasquet is eager to prove his innocence.

richard gasquetHe issued a statement on 10 May, which said: “The test of the B sample submitted at the end of March 2009 confirmed the positive result of the A sample taken on the same day. I want to prove my innocence and will explain myself at an appropriate time.”

The website of L’Equipe, the daily French sports newspaper, claimed that the drug results revealed traces of cocaine. And cited sources at both the French Tennis Federation (FTF) and Team Lagardere – Gasquet’s training base.

However, the FTF admitted their surprise at reports of Gasquet’s misdemeanour. The FFT also issued a statement on 10 May, which read: “The FFT has learnt of the positive test of Richard Gasquet at the Miami tournament, although no official notification has been made.

“This piece of information is very surprising with regards to the character of Richard Gasquet and, if confirmed according to official proceedings, would be a very sad one for Richard Gasquet, for tennis in general and for French tennis in particular – whose image would be tarnished.

“At this stage, the FFT does not wish to make further comments because it is down to the anti-doping authorities, within the International Tennis Federation (ITF), to assess such a case and it is not for the FFT to intervene.

richard gasquet“The FFT will follow with great attention the developments of this case, avoiding making hasty judgments and anxious to leave the player to organise his defence for the international tennis bodies. If the facts are correct, however, this would be particularly unfortunate in light of all the efforts of the FFT in terms of deterring athletes from using banned substances.”

Gasquet did not compete at the recent Madrid Masters in Spain, withdrew from a recent tournament in Estoril, Portugal (neck injury) and pulled out of Miami (shoulder injury).

He has slipped down the world rankings and languishes just outside the top 20, but despite being seeded no4 for the prestigious event at Devonshire Park will be an overwhelming favourite if he plays. This is because Gasquet has an outstanding record on grass, which includes twice winning the pre-Wimbledon tournament at Nottingham.

“Tennis on grass has always been special to me and I’m convinced that this is the best tournament to play before The Championships,” said Gasquet. “I’m delighted to play the AEGON International this year at Eastbourne.”

But whether he will get the opportunity to play at Devonshire Park in June lies in the balance and has shocked the tennis world.

Entrant news

2009 AEGON International | 13-20 June

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CLICK FOR CURRENT ATP TOUR WORLD RANKINGS

EXCLUSIVE | Entrants for the 2009 AEGON International at Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park:

1 Monfils, Gael FRA, world no10 at time of entry
2 Stepanek, Radek CZE 17
3 Tursunov, Dmitry RUS 22
4 Melzer, Jurgen AUT 27
5 Andreev, Igor RUS 32
6 Seppi, Andreas ITA 36
7 Mathieu, Paul-Henri FRA 39
8 Santoro, Fabrice FRA 44
9 Benneteau, Julien FRA 46
10 Bolelli, Simone ITA 50
11 Ljubicic, Ivan CRO 53
12 Querrey, Sam USA 61
13 Ginepri, Robby USA 62
14 Tipsarevic, Janko SRB 63
15 Youzhny, Mikhail RUS 64
16 Gabashvili, Teimuraz RUS 65
17 Lu, Yen-Hsun TPE 67
18 Schwank, Eduardo ARG 71
19 Garcia-Lopez, Guillermo ESP 72
20 Gonzalez, Maximo ARG 74
21 Fognini, Fabio ITA 75
22 Haas, Tommy GER 76

The unlikely lads

Murray and Nadal sign early for Queen’s

andy murrayThere will be disappointment for the followers of men’s tennis, as Andy Murray (pictured left) and world no1 Rafael Nadal (pictured below) have signed up early to play at Queen’s Club in London prior to Wimbledon.

This severely narrows down the possibility of either player appearing on the prestigious grass courts at Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park this year, although no one cannot be totally discounted until the last minute.

As Murray’s mother Judy has been involved in the past at Eastbourne’s tennis week, it was hoped that she would be able to help tempt him to show his silky skills to the popular seaside resort crowd.

But following a gruelling clay court season, with Queen’s immediately after the French Open, it is improbable that either Murray or Nadal will wish to play another tournament so close to Wimbledon.

rafael nadalNottingham, which hosted the men’s tournament until last year, had traditionally struggled to attract many big names on the ATP Tour because of the event was played just a week before Wimbledon and the distance from London. But Eastbourne offers a more intimate setting for the tennis stars, and is undoubtedly a more relaxing place to be than Nottingham.

But Nadal, the biggest name in the men’s sport, will be attempting to folllow on from the defence of his French Open crown and try to repeat last year’s remarkable grass court double at Queen’s and Wimbledon.

Nadal, the Olympic champion, said about Queen’s: “To arrive as the last champion is going to be a really nice experience. It was totally unexpected for me to win after winning at Roland Garros. I arrived and had one day to adapt to grass. But I played really, really good tennis.”

“After winning at Roland Garros, I arrived and had one day to adapt to grass”

– Rafael Nadal

2007 final countdown: Easy work for Henin

Ladies Singles, Marion Bartoli, Nadia Petrova, WTA Players

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

JHenin2007EBsemiJustine Henin was in formidable form as she brushed aside French ace Marion Bartoli in a one-sided semi-final 6-1 6-3. The 25-year-old Belgian had the contest wrapped up after just 10 minutes with a 3-0 lead on Centre Court.

Bartoli, who reeled off 11 successive games to humiliate Russian Elena Dementieva in the previous day’s quarter-final, made a dreadful start but held her service game with few problems to bounce back to 3-1 deficit.

Hard-hitting Henin had enjoyed brief appearances on Centre Court this week and with a technically brilliant game was in control against the rising star.

Two breaks of serve left Henin serving for the set at 5-1 after just 20 minutes, but she made heavy weather of it before taking an emphatic lead. Bartoli then replied with a swift game to love to open the second set, much to the relief of the supportive crowd.

Games went with serve for the first six games before Henin turned on the style to break Bartoli and move into a comfortable 4-3 lead. It was just a question of how long it would take the gutsy Belgian to dismantle the nervy Bartoli.

And within an hour, Henin booked her place in the final with a ruthless victory 6-1 6-3.

Afterwards, Henin admitted: “I made a good start in the first set then lost intensity for a few games, but managed to come back strongly. It has been a prefect preparation for Wimbledon so far.

Petrova packs up

Nadia PetrovaEB2007Nadia Petrova shocked a packed Centre Court crowd when she retired with a back injury. Polish-based Petrova called time after narrowly losing the first set 6-4 to French ace Amelie Mauresmo, who was always in control despite the closeness of the first set on paper.

The furious Russian said that was determined to be fit for Wimbledon but blamed the windy conditions, not unusual in Eastbourne, for problems with her serve.

Mauresmo said: “C’est la vie! I knew she had problems and was having physio. I’m very pleased to be in my first Eastbourne final.”

When asked about the odds on her winning Wimbledon again, Mauresmo quipped: ” I’m 8-1 this year but prefer longer odds. Last year I was 12-1, which was good for me!”

2007 quarter-finals

AMauresmo2007EBQFLate, late show seals success
Amelie Mauresmo was out-of-sorts compared to the previous match, yet came back from a second set scare to score a sensational straight sets win 6-3 6-4.

The reigning Wimbledon champion looked emphatic on her first return to grass since winning the 2006 Championships, but it proved to be a very different story against rising star Sharah Peer.

The 20-year-old Israeli had got the measure of her illustrious opponent early on and broke Mauresmo’s service game, the French ace having double defaulted when leading 40-30. Remarkably, this was the first time that the no2 seed had lost her own serve at the 2007 Eastbourne tournament.

But Peer wasn’t able to capitalise on this gifted game, and was immediately broken back by the 27-year-old to level matters.

Mauresmo then delivered four aces to take the lead, then the 20-year-old made it 2-2. Mauresmo, who was making uncharacteristic basic mistakes, held her service game with an ace to confirm her superiority and found her rhythm in the next game to take a two game lead.

Eager to take the set, there was no messing around as Mauresmo held her serve to love for a swift 6-3 opening set.

Although Peer had been touted as a future Wimbledon champion, there was no mistaking the difference in quality between the two stars. Although world no16 Peer hit a purple patch with some brilliant passing shots against her approaching opponent, the first four games went with serve.

Peer continued to tempt Mauresmo into the net, and the French ace continued to fall into the trap set with some poor unforced areas showing how rusty she really is. Peer outfoxed Mauresmo on her own serve, giving the crowd great delight at another three-set encounter on the cards.

The world no4 and no2 seed was clearly unhappy at being humiliated, and aware of such a poor record at Eastbourne decided to step up a gear. With a string of aces and deep, penetrative backhands, Mauresmo showed exactly why she will again be a force to be reckoned with at 2007 Wimbledon.

Four successive games were neatly ground out to leave Peer to concentrate on her exploits at SW19, while Mauresmo continues to build up her exceptional skills before defending the Championships.

In contrast, Peer was later seen jogging around the Saffrons listening to her iPod, but the sweet smell of success was music to Mauresmo’s ears.

Sybille BammerEB2007The great escape
Nadia Petrova looked down and out as she was about to suffer a shock exit at the hands of no9 seed Sybille Bammer. But Petrova pounded the court and bravely swing at everything to pinch a closely-fought three set success in three hours.

The Centre Court crowd were obviously hoping for a closer match than the one-sided Henin victory, and could not have asked for such an exciting contest in contrast. Even the sets lasted exactly an hour each, and it was difficult to pick a winner between these two determined aces.

Russian Petrova and the 27-year-old mother of one traded service games for the opening set, which included a string of uncomfortable line calls for anxious Petrova.

The inevitable tiebreak ensued, which also went to 6-6 until Bammer’s power game got the better of the no3 seed to claim a 8-6 triumph and tip the result in favour of the brightly clothed – tight-fitting bubblegum pink-coloured top – Austrian star.

Bammer then breezed into a 3-1 second set lead. But as soon as she broke serve she lost concentration and immediately lost her serve. So 24-year-old Petrova bounced back to level matters at 3-3.

With both players equally matched, and the fans on the edge of their seat, games continued to go with service to 5-5.

Petrova, aided by signals and support from her coach, then broke the Austrian’s serve to love and served out the set to level matters.

With two injury timeouts for the disillusioned-looking Petrova, firstly for pain in her right shoulder and then for leg cramps, it was an astonishing start to the final set as she twice broke serve to race into a terrific 5-1 lead.

Then it was a question of when, rather than if, Petrova would finish off her gutsy opponent.

But Bammer, no fool on the circuit and involved in many lengthy matches this week, was not going to simply roll over and die. She launched forward at the Russian to bravely battle back to 5-4, leaving the nervous-looking Petrova to serve for victory.

The Russian, still dogged by dodgy line calls, reeled off the first three points to set up match points but required a second match point to dispose of brave Bammer.

Nicole VaidisovaEB2007exitHenin’s in a hurry
Justine Henin looked as though she was in no mood to be messed about with as she pulled out all the stops and big shots to register an emphatic 6-2 6-2 win over teenager Nicole Vaidisova in 57 minutes.

The world no1 had struggled in front of the Devonshire Centre Court crowd the previous day, but proved that was just a blip by dismantling the Czech ace in under an hour.

On paper it looked to be an intriguing contest for the top seed defending her Eastbourne crown, but sadly it proved to be more like a mismatch early on when the 25-year-old raced into an unassailable 5-0 lead.

Elegant leggy blonde Vaidisova struggled at last year’s event, bowing out at the first hurdle, but the world no14 has grown in stature, world ranking and height since last summer. She used her height to great advantage, speeding around the court but was despondent after the early setback of losing her serve twice in succession.

When she finally won a game, on her serve, the support that the crowd bestowed on the talented 18-year-old lifted her game so much that she added to her tally by surprisingly breaking the Belgian’s serve.

Henin, clearly unhappy to be outclassed on her own serve, was not in such a generous mood after the appreciative crowd backed the teenager. So Henin immediately broke back serve to claim the opening set 6-2.

The second set was a closer fought encounter, the first five games went with serve and an ace thrown in for good measure by each competitor.

Vaidisova, who is on the verge of a place in the world’s top 10 world and is likely to have reached such dizzy heights had she not missed the Australian season for personal reasons, lost belief in her game.

It was a case of experience outlasting and unnerving the inexperienced, with Henin twice breaking the no5 seed to claim a 6-2 second set success.

Vaidisova is certainly a player for the future. But Henin’s season this year has seen her in scintillating form, having lost just three matches all year.

Whether she will maintain her Eastbourne crowd look likely to hinge on the up-and-down performance of current Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo.

Elena DementievaEB2007exitBartoli has a real blast
Marion Bartoli reeled off 11 successive games after initially losing her serve, to oust out-of-sorts Elena Dementieva on a packed Court No1.

The 22-year-old French ace got off to a terrific start by breaking the service game of the experienced Russian beauty.

But the world no20 lost her own service before annihilating Dementieva, who had made a disappointing debut at Devonshire Park with a narrow win over new British no1 Katie O’Brien the previous day.

Bartoli’s hard-hitting game and neat all-court play was more than a match for Dementieva, who has been in the world’s top 10 for the past four years and now lies at no12.

Everything that the French ace hit proved too hot to handle for Dementieva. And after an embarrassing 6-1 opening set, there was nowhere to hide for the Russian. The 25-year-old just seemed to falter in the heat and withered 6-0.

Bartoli should really test the mettle of Henin, who has blown hot and cold in her two outings here. Whereas the charming Dementieva will have to greatly improve her grass game next week if she is to survive a tricky first week in SW19.