Star Ivanovic set to shine

Ana Ivanovic, EXCLUSIVE, News, Sara Errani

Exclusive by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

ana-ivanovicspeaksoutAna Ivanovic, the Serbian star, is all revved up to hit top gear on grass ahead of the Olympic Tennis Competitions at SW19 – starting with Eastbourne.

The 24-year-old, who romped to the semi-final at Birmingham’s 2011 AEGON Classic then arrived at Devonshire Park exhausted, is back on track with a sensible WTA Tour schedule since recently appointing British coach Nigel Sears.

And following a poor clay court season, that ended with a three set reversal to Italian Sara Errani at Roland Garros, Ivanovic is concentrating on grass to revive her career and return to the top 10.

Ivanovic, who returns to Eastbourne as a seed this year, said:

“It has always been a special tournament for me, I am looking forward to playing again. It is always pretty amazing to have the support.

“It is a tough schedule with the Olympics, but I am very excited. Obviously it is going to be a long season on grass.”

Ivanovic, forced out of the Beijing 2008 Games, is thrilled at the prospect of making her Olympic Tennis debut and aiming to get plenty of match practice in the AEGON International.

At London 2012, hosted by the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, she is scheduled to play Singles and expected to partner compatriot Nenad Zimonjic for the newly introduced Mixed Doubles event.

The former world no1 admitted:

“It was one of the toughest points of my career when I had to pull out of the 2008 Olympics.

“I really hope I can go far in London and bring a medal for my country.”

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Jovanovski’s jackpot joy

News, Varvara Lepchenko, WTA Players

Bojana-JovanovskiEB2012

Jovanovski discovered on Thursday that she had been handed a place in the main draw at The Championships, and capped an incredible turnaround of events with a wondrous win at Eastbourne – albeit in the qualifying round.

Lepchenko and compatriot Christina McHale are widely regarded as the future of America’s tennis once stalwarts Serena and Venus Williams hang up their racquets.

Varvara_LepchenkoHSBut after Russian-born Lepchenko lost the tiebreak in a cat and mouse opening set, the Serb stylish dispatched her 7-6 6-3.

Lepchenko, 11 years after leaving troubled Uzbekistan for the USA, is now on the brink of representing her new nation at the Olympics – although the 26-year-old will have to improve her grass court tactics if this display, in blustery conditions, is anything to go by.

However, joyous Jovanovski seems a force to be reckoned with on the fast service – and appears to be a handful for even the top players in what is again a very strong draw.

Jovanovski took the place of injured German Andrea Petkovic, who skipped Eastbourne this year because of a persistent right ankle problem that also resulted in her missing the French Open.

Bartoli backtracks on FFT blast

Marion Bartoli, News
By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Marion-Bartoli on OlympicsMarion Bartoli, the defending Eastbourne champion, is prepared to take on the French Tennis Federation (FFT) after the 2012 Olympics but wants to clarify their relationship.

Bartoli, who made a swift 2nd Round exit from Roland Garros, is looking forward to the grass court season that suits her unorthodox style but fuming that she isn’t getting to play at SW19 for the Olympic Tennis Competitions.

The ex-Wimbledon runner-up was reported to have informed a journalist that because the FFT refused to nominate her for the London Games, that she was not frightened to go to “war” with FFT once the Olympics have concluded.

Bartoli could have been nominated by the FFT as a wildcard because she is within the world’s top 10, but the FFT have refused to consider this.

Under Olympic Tennis rules, each player has to have represented their nation twice over an Olympic four-year cycle at either the Davis Cup or Fed Cup. And Bartoli has only played once in the Fed Cup, back in 2004.

However, Bartoli refuses to play in the Fed Cup as her father and coach Walter is not permitted to be involved under the FFT regulations for Fed Cup matches not permitting private coaches.

Bartoli blasted:

“The Olympics is last thing the FFT has. They can play their cards into the Olympics, but after that it’s going to be hard on them because then it’s my turn to criticise them.

For 15 years I haven’t been saying anything, but after the Olympics it’s going to be the start of a really big war.”

FFT boss Jean Gachassin claimed that Baroli sent a letter to the FFT apologising for her outburst.

Bartoli hit back:

“It is a good thing if we can meet so we can clarify things and start again anew, but it’s difficult for me to make any projections on this.

“You have healthy and positive relationships, and I think that is Jean’s attitude – he was sympathising with me and he supported me on a number of matches. Starting with good relationships with him we will see, then we will talk about the future.”

CLICK HERE FOR OLYMPIC TENNIS NEWS

 

Radwanska revved up

Agnieszka Radwanska, Players, WTA Players

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd in Paris

Agnieszka Radwanska 2012 French OpenAgnieszka Rawanska, the former Eastbourne champion, has served up a scare for Venus Williams over her Olympic Tennis future.

The Pole danced past world no53 Williams with a formidable hour-long demolition of the American superstar at Roland Garros.

Radwanska, vying the world no1 slot this season, overwhelmed Williams 6-2 6-3 to ease into the 3rd Round at the 2012 French Open.

And Radwanska is aiming to reach her inaugural Grand Slam semi-final this term, with a run at Paris on the agenda, and is high on confidence with her own WTA Tour record of 38 wins in 2012 after destroying ex-world no1 Williams.

But the Pole was very charitable about the American icon, who she thrashed in March 2012: “Maybe she just had a bad day here.

“Of course when I saw the draw I wasn’t very happy, because Venus as a 2nd Round opponent is not easy.”

Yett Radwanska has lost seven times this term with six of those defeats at the hands of world no1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarussia.

Fortunately for the 2008 Eastbourne champion, Azarenka – now coached by former Devonshire Park favourite Amelie Mauresmo – is skipping the AEGON International in order to be ready for the back-to-back Championships and Olympics at SW19.

Veteran Williams, world no53 going into the French Open, needs to be in the top 56 on the WTA Tour by 11 June 2012 – and within the top four Americans – to be guaranteed an Olympic Tennis place at Singles: “This tournament was all about getting to the Olympics.

“If that happens for me, and I think the chances are good, then I come out a victor – so that is why I was here in Paris.”

But Russian-born American Varvara Lepchenko needs to just win two more rounds at Roland Garros to leap over Williams in the world rankings, which could push out the former no1 from competing at SW19 for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

 

Mirza at the double

EXCLUSIVE, News

Exclusive by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

sania mirzaSania Mirza will not be competing in the singles event at Eastbourne, as the Indian icon has shifted her focus onto doubles.

However, Mirza is hoping that she will be awarded a singles wildcard entry at the 2012 London Olympics.

Mirza, who has tumbled down the WTA Tour Singles rankings, hovering around the world no200 mark, has stated that she will not play singles again until Wimbledon hosts the Games.

Ever since I have given up on my singles career, my performance in doubles matches has been really good.

“I even reached a Doubles career-best seventh in the world, and that’s why I’ve decided to concentrate solely on Doubles.”

The 25-year-old is set to team up with compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi for the reintroduced Mixed Doubles at the Olympic Games.

Mirza’s results at Doubles and Mixed Doubles events have been spectacular, and she believes that since she temporarily abandoned singles that her doubles game has dramatically improved.

Surprisingly Mirza claimed just one Singles title – back in 2005 – yet has been crowned Doubles champion 13 times on the WTA Tour.

The Indian superstar has suffered with persistent multiple injuries over the past few years and she has had injury-prone fitness problems since 2011.

Tennis and the surgeries take a lot out of you. I realized at the start of the year that keeping my physical state in mind, it was impossible for me to pursue a career in both singles and doubles.”

Russian roulette for Kuznetsova

Ekaterina Makarova, Laura Robson, Nadia Petrova, News, Players, Svetlana Kuznetsova, WTA Players

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

svetlana-kuznetsovaSvetlana Kuznetsova, twice a Grand Slam champion, could miss out on an Olympic Tennis berth.

Those world ranked at singles within the top 56, on both the ATP and WTA Tours, on 11 June 2012 are set to automatically qualify for a place in the Olympic Tennis main draw.

However, under the current IOC rules no nation is permitted more than four players at singles.

This is would prove to be problematic for the tennis-mad nation of Russia as they currently have seven women in the world’s top 56.

The Eastbourne favourites of Kuznetsova, Ekaterina Makarova and Nadia Petrova could each miss out on a shot at an Olympic medal for Russia unless they dramatically improve their world ranking.

Even taking into account the ITF’s wildcards, the four player rule would prevent Kuznetsova from competing.

Maria Sharapova, the Russian no1, admitted: “Growing up in Russia it was all about being an Olympian, especially the Winter Games, and tennis was not a big sport back then. Now tennis has become extremely popular in Russia.”

The Czech Republic are another nation who will be a victim of their own success on the WTA Tour, with five leading players vying for the four allocated berths at Olympics Singles.

Meanwhile, hosts Great Britain will be relying on wildcard entries for the Ladies Singles Competition as not even teenage sensation Laura Robson would automatically qualify for the Olympics.

 

Ivanovic serves up a warning

Ana Ivanovic

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Ana Ivanovic, the former world no1, is set to warm-up for a shot at winning an Olympic medal by competing at the pre-Wimbledon event in Eastbourne.

The Serbia star, who impressed at the 2011 Birmingham tournament before bowing out to Venus Williams in the opening round at the 2011 AEGON International said:

The Eastbourne tournament is one of the most competitive on the WTA Tour as the field always strong.

I enjoy Eastbourne, the grass is beautiful and I appreciate this tournament even more now that I have a British coach.

Road to 2009 Men’s Final

Denis Istomin, Fabio FOGNINI

eastbournetenniscourts

2009 AEGON International Men’s Final

Preview by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Russian no2 seed Dmitry Tursunov (world no27)
vs.
Canadian qualifier Frank Dancevic (world no126)

Frank DancevicFRANK DANCEVIC ||| Canadian, Unseeded 
At 6’1″ Canadian Frank Dancevic may not have been a giant but he has been the giantkiller of the first ever ATP Tour event at Eastbourne and has constantly played on Centre Court.

He managed to pick up the pieces in the main draw after squeezing through the qualifying rounds despite a slight injury that jeopardised his involvement against the top seed on Monday.

Had he not faced such an opportunity as playing someone in the world’s top 30 – and on Centre Court – then Dancevic may well have rested for next week’s Wimbledon. And he played out of his skin to spectacularly see off Russian Igor Andreev, 7-6(6), 6-2. 

Given slightly more trouble to dispatch British wildcard James Ward, who at world no224 was the only player ranked lower than him that he’s faced in the main draw, Dancevic edged through the second round contest 7-6(6), 6-4 in the second round.

He avoided playing a seed in the quarter-finals because France’s Julian Benneteau upset no5 seed Mikhail Youzhny, a quarter-finalist at Queen’s Club the previous week, and Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer beat Benneteau. The encounter against world no70 Mayer proved to be Dancevic’s toughest match en route to the final despite the 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-5 result.

“It was a difficult match and I was lucky to hang in there,” said the 24-year-old. “I came into this tournament wanting to get a few matches before Wimbledon and I’m on a pretty good roll. Grass is definitely one of my favourite surfaces and when I play on grass I feel at home.”

In a one-way semi-final Dancevic defeated no4 seed Fabrice ‘The Magician’ Santoro. The French veteran remains a force to be reckoned with, despite playing his final year on the ATP Tour, but Dancevic survived the legendarily tricky shots coming from the other side of the net to progress 6-4, 6-4.

“I played super aggressive today against Fabrice,” admitted serve and volley expert Dancevic. “It was a difficult match because of the way he plays and the wind, but I went out thinking I’m going to go for everything and hit the ball as hard as I can.”

Dancevic has played in one ATP Tour final, beaten by Dmitry Tursunov at 2007 Indianapolis.

Final record || won 0 lost 1

DMITRY TURSUNOVEB2009DMITRY TURSUNOV ||| Russian, Seeded no2
As expected, Dmitry Tursunov has reached the inaugural ATP Tour final at Devonshire Park. The world no27 opened his campaign by struggling against enthusiastic Italian Fabio Fognini 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.

The 26-year-old Russian was almost out of the tournament in the second round when he was fully stretched by Alex Bogdanovic in a three set thriller on Centre Court.

Tursunov found himseld trailing 5-3 in the final set tiebreak to the ace British qualifier before grabbing the next four points to seal a nervy 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-6(5) success.

And Tursunov admitted: “I thought I played well, I played a good tiebreaker,” said Tursunov. “He’s a difficult guy to play, he’s got all the shots. I definitely think he should be ranked much higher than he is but he just needs to put everything together.”

The entertaining Russian’s brush with failure has since seen him in emphatic form. He pulled off victory in a very close quarter-final to oust Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin 7-6(6), 6-4, who had seen off no6 seed Sam Querrey.

But Tursunov’s most comprehensive win was surprisingly reserved for his semi-final showdown with Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. The no8 seed seemed to have run of out steam after impressively defeating Russian Evgeny Korolev, Andy Murray’s Olympic conquerer Yen-Hsun Lu, and Serbian grass court expert Janko Tipsarevic.

Although Garcia-Lopez hit a string of winners off that showed more variety in his tactics than the Russian, it was Tursunov’s trademark power that paid dividends with a flattering 6-2, 6-2 result. But his lack of volleys give the game away as to why the sturdy Russian is not really a force to be reckoned with among the world’s top 10.

Rise of the Russians

Agnieszka Radwanska, EXCLUSIVE, Nadia Petrova, Svetlana Kuznetsova

Exclusive by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

dinara_safina2009Dinara Safina, who leapfrogged Serena Williams to take over as world no1, leads the army of Russians in the WTA Tour’s top 10. Yet the unassuming ace has only collected 10 career titles and lost as many finals.

And three finals have been conceded this year, with Safina upset in Stuttgart by Svetlana Kuznetsova, beaten by Elena Dementieva in Sydney and outclassed by hard-hitting Serena Williams at the Australian Open.

And after beating Safina, Williams – then the world no1 – was quick on her feet when she quipped: “There’s 12 Russians in the world’s top 10!”

But Williams was not as nice prior to the 2009 French Open, when she dismissed Safina by commenting: “We all know who the real no1 is! And quite frankly, I’m the best in the world.”

Safina’s straight set victory over compatriot Kuznetsova in May’s Italian Open saw her capture the first title since taking over as the top ranking on April 20th, and win her only title in 2009 to date having fluffed all previous final appearances this year.

“Against Kuzy I had in my head that I had lost three finals this year, I didn’t want to have a reputation that I’m losing finals!”

– Dinara Safina

SKuznetsovaAnd Eastbourne regular Kuznetsova has an even worse record of losing in finals, having captured 10 career titles but finished second best 18 times.

She confessed after losing her grip on the 2009 Italian Open: “It was a little bit like Christmas, I was giving too many presents. I knew what I had to do but I just couldn’t do it.”

Even retired ace Justine Henin, who won seven grand slam titles, has urged Safina to take over as a long-term leader in the world rankings.

Henin admitted: “I know some players have been no1 without winning a grand slam, which I think is quite sad. I think for Safina that it’s maybe the time for her to go to the next step. It’s hard in the women’s game now to really find a boss and someone that is at the top and that wins a lot of tournaments.”

Whether Safina will turn on the south coast looks doubtful, but Eastbourne is once more expecting to play host to a strong set of long-legged players from Mother Russia. And this year maybe the nation tricolor flag will be waved at Devonshire Park when the ladies singles champion is crowned on June 20th, although Russians admittedly have a long history of finishing runner-up.

There may not be the grandeur of the Russian national anthem of ‘Gosudarstvenny Gimn Rossiyskoy Federatsii’ played prior to the final, but expect the Devonshire Park crowd to get behind any of the leading players from a nation that’s celebrating its 130th anniversary of playing the sport.

Tennis was born in Russian courtesy of the unlikely combination of Alexander II and a British military man, Major Walter Wingfield who originated from Wales. Alexander the Liberator brought about some radical changes after taking over the throne from the Tsar, and introduced some of the cultures from other countries to the nation.

But it was the major’s introduction to St. Petersburg of a ball game called sphainstike that really grabbed the public’s attention and as a result was regularly featured in the newspapers. The sudden media frenzy for lawn tennis helped make the sport popular, greatly aided by on-going promotion from the St. Petersburg Cricket Club.

And after Alexander II, Tsar Nicholas took over and was a keen tennis player with his diary full of entries referring to his pastime such as “I personally played seven sets today” and “I played tennis after breakfast until 5 o’clock today.”

Accordingly, Russia’s national championships were held in St. Petersburg as it had been the birthplace of tennis. Mikail Sumarokov dominated the men’s singles with five consecutive titles up until 1914, only to be halted by World War One military service.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution tennis failed to have the same attraction to the public, which was not helped by the fact that Lenin played the sport. This meant that many Soviets deemed tennis to be an elite sport, which was only played by the rich and well connected.

And things got worse for the sport that almost vanished because Joseph Stalin banned tennis after he took over at the helm of the USSR in 1922.

It was only after Stalin’s death in 1953 that tennis became popular with the public again. And it was down to a combination of Nikita Khruschev, Stalin’s successor, and the British press who altered the history of Russian tennis forever.

Khruschev, while visiting London, was asked by the British media why no Russians competed at Wimbledon.

Anna DmitrievaHis reply was a curt: “What is Wimbledon?” As soon as he found out about the global popularity of Wimbledon, he swiftly encouraged his country to become formidable in the sport. And the following year Russian teenager Anna Dmitrieva became the first Soviet player to compete at SW19, albeit in Junior Wimbledon, which ignited great interest throughout the USSR.

But it took until the early 1970s before the Soviets were among the leading players. Georgian Alex Metreveli was the men’s golden boy by reaching the 1972 Wimbledon final, the 1971 Australian Open semi-final and the 1972 French Open semi-final.
While Olga Morozova was the inspiration for Russian women. And in 1973 Morozova finished runner-up to American Chris Evert at the French Open and Wimbledon. But one year later, Mozozova followed the old adage of ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ by joining forces with Evert and the pair were duly crowned as the 1974 French Open doubles champions.

But throughout the history of the sport, even today, Russian players tend to finish second best.

Natasha ZverevaThis was exemplified by Belarussian Natasha Zvereva who lost the 1988 French Open without taking a single game off German powerhouse Steffi Graf. Yet this was the teenager’s first year on the professional circuit.

However, Zvereva helped change the future for Russian players that were used to living under a Communist regime. The rookie publicly demanding that she should be allowed to keep her winnings from Roland Garros.

The Russian government were caught in a tricky situation and needed to save face around the world, so amazingly allowed Zvereva to call the shots and become the first Soviet athlete to keep their prize money.

This landmark victory of player power surely helped the girl from Minsk carve out a lucrative doubles career, which resulted in a remarkable 18 grand slam titles and an 1992 Olympic bronze medal.

With the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, president Boris Yeltsin oversaw economic reform and pushed tennis to even greater heights. And five years later Sochi’s Yevgeny Kafelnikov became the first player to be crowned a Russian singles grand slam champion.

Kafelnikov beat German Michael Stich in the 1996 French Open and admitted: “Now I have a chance to breath and I feel so relaxed that I could easily jump over the Great Wall of China!”

Anna-Kournikova2008However, getting far more publicity in Russia and globally than Kafelnikov was teenage sensation Anna Kournikova. But this was because of a combination of her pouting good looks and her determination on court.

However, she was yet another promising Russian player who failed to deliver singles titles and, like Zvereva, ended up picking up hefty cheques for her successful doubles partnerships. Kournikova’s doubles career even briefly propelled her to world no1 and included victory at Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park when top of the world rankings.

But it took until as recently as 2004 for Russian ladies to make the all important breakthrough at a grand slam, and three players served up success in one season. Amicable Anastasia Myskina got the ball rolling by capturing the French Open and defeating much-favoured compatriot Dementieva. Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon as a teenager and Kuznetsova won the US Open.

With all this national success in one year, the dollar signs definitely encouraged future tennis players to enter the lucrative world on the ATP Tour and WTA Tour. Yet Dementieva has since won something that is worth more than money can buy, an Olympic singles title. Dementieva, a regular at Devonshire Park suffered an early exit at Eastbourne 2008 but later that year claimed the gold medal at the Beijing Games.

With a new, richer Russia there have been numerous players who have risen to unprecedented heights. Tennis has now become the no1 sport for ladies whereas men still have hockey, soccer or tennis to choose for a highly-paid sports career.

Whether any of the many Russians on show at the 2009 AEGON International will collect a singles title remains to be seen, although history suggests that a Russian will finish as runner-up. Indeed, at 2008 Eastbourne Nadia Petrova was beaten in the final by Polish ace Agnieszka Radwanska.

russianflagBoth sets of players in both the men’s and ladies draws are extremely strong, with many former world no1 players and ex-grand slam champions.

One thing for certain is that the influx of ever improving Russian tennis players is proving a bit hit with fans and players alike, having replaced the dull domination of the Americans in the 1980s and 1990s. Although Serena and Venus Williams are hot on the heels of Safina in the world rankings at no2 and no3 at the time of writing.

The women’s game is particularly packed with real aces in the Russian pack, such as Sharapova on her comeback trail following shoulder surgery, Kuznetsova and Safina. But it will be the five Russians of Dementieva, Vera Zvonavera, Petrova, Alisa Kleybanov and Anna Chakvetadze who will give the Eastbourne fans thrills and spills at the 2009 tournament.

“I had in my head that I had lost three finals this year, I didn’t want to have a reputation that I’m losing finals!”

– Dinara Safina