Canadian Revolution

REBECCA MARINO Canadians are taking over the world right now.

Justin Bieber is the most famous teenager on the planet (possibly contested with Rebecca Black), Arcade Fire won a Brit and Grammy award recently and they also have rapper Drake.

That’s all coming from the music industry though. When it comes to sport, other than ice hockey and ‘Owen Hargreaves’, they are a bit light on top-class competitors. Luckily, Milos Raonic has stormed the ATP Tour this year and he’s also been joined by Rebecca Marino.

The WTA’s world number 58 is a French-speaking 20-year-old residing in Vancouver. Like her male counterpart she’s already been seen on Ace of Baseline before but only briefly.

She’s reached her highest ranking to date thanks to a final appearance in Memphis last month where she retired against Magdalena Rybarikova due to an abdominal injury picked up in the semi-finals.

Since then Marino has fallen at the first round stage of the BNP Paribas Open and the first qualifying round of the Sony Ericsson Open and with the oncoming clay court season we’ll have to wait and see if she can keep her progress going.

A regular tweeter and a devoutly proud Canadian her Twitter profile has her location down as “i’m oot and aboot, eh?”.

She’s yet to reach Wimbledon or Roland Garros’ main draw which is no doubt something she will aim to achieve come the end of spring.

She has however had experience at Fed Cup level and with herself and Raonic being the top Canadians out there there is a great future for their Hopman Cup team.

It’s helped also by strength in depth. Eugenie Bouchard is currently 374th in the world which is pretty good for a recently turned 17-year-old.

And remember the days when you couldn’t distinguish between Aleksandra Wozniak and Caroline Wozniacki? Well the former has dropped from no.21 to outside the top 100 whilst you may be able to guess where the latter currently situates.

Wozniak is the number two in Canada now and her predecessor has to make sure she doesn’t suffer a similar fate.

Marino doesn’t quite have as many followers as the Bieber yet but if she can recreate half of his success then she’ll be doing Canada even more proud.

Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) Justin Bieber

Two 17-year-old Canadians… Can Eugenie Bouchard also put her country on the map?

Home Thoughts

IMG_3298-nishikori Following the earthquake and subsequent tsunami to hit Japan, several tennis players have tried to raise funds to support the relief effort but none will be hurting quite like Kei Nishikori.

As Japan’s best player, his mind is firmly on those who have lost their lives and helping the survivors rebuild his homeland.

Nishikori’s family and friends all emerged from the disaster unscathed but his thoughts are still with his people, indicated by his continued work off court.

Novak Djokovic has been wearing a taped knee with messages of support for the victims and also set up a charity football match with Nishikori and other ATP tour players involved. Female Japanese players Ayumi Morita and Kimiko Date-Krumm have also felt the effects of the trauma.

At Indian Wells, Nishikori wore a black ribbon during his first round defeat to Igor Andreev but he’s now reached the second round at Miami’s Sony Ericsson Open and is set to take on world no.1 Rafael Nadal on Saturday.

Despite the chances of the 21-year-old beating Nadal being slim, it will be a welcome return to top-class tennis after a succession of injuries kept him out of the last three majors of 2009.

At one stage he was voted the ATP Newcomer of the Year after bursting onto the scene as an unknown qualifier, winning at Delray Beach and finishing 2008 at #63 in the world.

But the next year his progress was halted by injury and he slipped as low as 898 during the beginning of 2010. Now 12 months later he’s back amongst the top 100 and looking to build on where his promising career start left off.

Nishikori may have been able to quickly bounce back from adversity but his fellow countrymen and women face a much greater task than hitting a ball in the service lines.

To help Kei Nishikori in his Japan efforts you can bid for tennis and other sport memorabilia or donate and support the cause via Facebook.

Xperia Hot Shots

The Sony Ericsson Open starts this week in Miami with several female athletes currently looking to qualify but alongside the tournament a new web-based reality show was launched.

With Maria Sharapova as brand ambassador, Xperia Hot Shots gives six WTA players a handset to film themselves over the current season so fans can track their progress on and off the court.

Those six are: Sorana Cirstea (Romania), Alize Cornet (France), Heather Watson (Great Britain), Sabine Lisicki (Germany), Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA) and Dominika Cibulkova (Slovakia).

The chosen players have been selected based on their potential but probably their marketing prowess as well, i.e. looks and personality.

This is after all a major promotional campaign for Sony Ericsson but it does at least provide spectators an inside view into their favourite players’ lives and increases the scope for more supporters of tennis and these six professionals.

At the end of the year the player who has generated the most support on Facebook will earn a support deal with Sony Ericsson whilst fans votes in September will see the winner earn €100,000.

They may want to check their research on the players they’ve chosen though as Cirstea is currently 21 but her YouTube profile says she’s 18 whilst she declares to be 20 in the video. Hopefully they knew her real age before the contract was signed.

To follow the stars and their videos you can either head to their YouTube channel or go to the Facebook page.

Maria SharapovaFormer world no.1 Maria Sharapova helped launch the event

Discuss: If there was a similar reality show featuring male tennis players who would you like to see a part of it? Or perhaps you think someone else who should be a hot shot? If so then leave a comment.

The Pliskova Sisters

From the Williams sisters to the Bryan brothers, tennis siblings are becoming as frequent as Novak Djokovic’s 2011 wins.

Along with that aforementioned foursome of multi-talented singles and doubles players, the Radwanska’s and Murray’s have also emerged.

And with today marking the 19th birthday of another sister combination it’s a fitting time to introduce Czech twins Karolina and Kristyna Pliskova.

Kristyna Pliskova Karolina Pliskova (CZE)

Hailing from the small town of Louny, the pair currently sit either side of the top 200 fringes but neither has yet broken into the top 100.

Although twins, it’s pretty easy to tell them apart. Karolina stands one inch taller with brunette hair (as opposed to blonde), has a tattoo on her left arm and leg (Kristyna only has one on her wrist), and uses the opposite hand to her lefty sister.

Their record at junior level is pretty sporadic. Although Karolina won the Australian Open juniors last year her only other successful Slam run was at the quarter-finals of the US Open juniors.

Early first and second round defeats at the French Open and Wimbledon respectively are a stark contrast to her achievements in Melbourne where she defeated young Brit Laura Robson 6-1, 7-6 (7-5) in the final.

Kristyna lost in the semi-finals that year to Robson but did win a junior Slam at Wimbledon six months later. First and second round defeats for her at Roland Garros and Flushing Meadows show how typically in sync the Pliskova sisters are but with five ITF titles to her name and a top 200 spot, Karolina just edges out Kristyna.

But just in case you were wondering, they have played each other before; Kristyna coming out on top 5-7, 6-2, 6-0 for her only ITF victory.

No doubt there is a long way to go before the duo begin registering on the public’s consciousness. Although 19 is a young age on the surface (pardon the pun), the players who make it to the top have often already reached great heights on the professional circuit by that time.

And any suggestions that a career in doubles might suit better is squandered by their dismal ranking and failure to make an impression on the ITF circuit.

Neither have made an appearance at a professional Grand Slam thus far but this year they’ve both abandoned the juniors to improve on the senior tour.

Written on their joint website, both aim to make the top 100 this year in order to appear in more Grand Slam tournaments. Being the same age means there’s likely to be a pattern in their progression so a career in doubles could well materialise if improvements are made.

Don’t be fooled by the introduction though, a career anywhere to the level of the Williams sisters or the Bryan brothers is pretty much out of reach but they could certainly make a mark on the WTA tour in the future.

Williams Sisters Karolina and Kristyna Pliskova have a huge task matching sport’s greatest sister act Serena and Venus Williams

Well, Well, Wells

The quarter-final line-up for the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells has been decided and for some of the up and coming tennis stars it’s been a very productive tournament.

Ryan Harrison impressed the most after reaching the fourth round as a wildcard entry. En route he beat top 50 Frenchman Jeremy Chardy and 22nd seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez before Roger Federer dispatched of the American in straight sets.

It was far from an easy ride for the 16-time Grand Slam winner though as Harrison took the first set to a tiebreak which the former world number one edged 7-4 before securing the second with a more comfortable 6-3 scoreline.

In the previous round Harrison had met another young prodigy in Milos Raonic. The 20-year-old Canadian defeated home favourite Mardy Fish to reach the third round but lacked the same sharpness which earned him his first ATP Tour title last month.

However, 17 aces as well as some great baseline work from Raonic showed the class he possesses and he’s now flown out to Miami in preparation for the Sony Ericsson Open.

Ernests Gulbis had looked in good form going into his third round tie with Serbian Novak Djokovic after beating Taiwan no.1 Yen-Hsun Lu but this year’s Australian Open winner kept his 2011 unbeaten streak intact with a 6-0, 6-1 blitz.

Elsewhere Aussie Bernard Tomic reached the second round whilst further American success came from Ryan Sweeting, Donald Young and Sloane Stephens from the women’s draw.

Kim Clijsters has already declared she’s a fan of 17-year-old Stephens who lost to world number one Caroline Wozniacki in the second round.

Certainly the experience gained as well as the ranking points earned from the combined ATP Masters 1000 and WTA Premier event will aid all the successful young players with Harrison already carving a name for himself.

Great stadium at Indian Wells Indian Wells Masters in California is considered the biggest tournament outside the four Slams

The Beautiful Game

Being a female tennis player brings with it more than just on-court duties.

The likes of Anna Kournikova and Tatiana Golovin have shown a glamorous career can materialize without necessarily having great success in the game.

With that in mind, here is a slideshow of some of tennis’ most beautiful athletes that you may not have heard of, who could branch out and be remembered for more than just the sport they play.

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The Curious Case of Ernests Gulbis

Ernests Gulbis

Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis should be in the world’s top 10, if not for his tennis skills then certainly for his crazy antics.

At the age of 22, he’s already been to jail in Sweden after an incident involving a prostitute and on court breaks more rackets than a noise officer.

Novak Djokovic is the only top player with a bit of spunk. He’s become a star via two Grand Slam titles and an increasingly popular internet career thanks partly to some hilarious impressions at the US Open (and Ace of Baseline also recommends his advert for Head).

“Ernie” is even more wilder than the in-form Serb but the potential for even more scenes like the ones from Djokovic are hindered by his poor performances on the big stages.

First round defeats have been next to Gulbis’ name in major tournaments since the 2009 US Open and he has won only one ATP tour title. His record against top 10 players is also appalling.

Yet Gulbis did reach the quarter finals of the French Open three years ago so the talent is there, particularly on clay.

What’s missing is the attitude to make it to the top. Most players who suffer a setback use the same line of trying harder in practice but for Gulbis he’d rather not bother with it.

There’s also a case he may not even care about performing to the crowd but we’ll never know until we see him on a regular basis.

A friend of Marat Safin, the two have drawn comparisons by their casual approach to the sport, somewhat refreshing but it doesn’t garnish that much success.

Another problem facing Gulbis is he’s a bit of a headcase. On the prostitute fiasco, an alleged solicitation attempt, he commented that everyone should experience jail once in their lives with six hours of his spent behind bars.

Gulbis didn’t know of his lady friend’s career choice because he didn’t ask and after a fine he was free to go. On court he’s known to get frustrated quite often and destroying his racket heads in the process.

It’s a shame really that Gulbis isn’t seen more by the public. When beating Roger Federer after missing six match points he said in an interview “I was shitting in my pants”. Just imagine the kind of things he’d come out with. He’s the kind of guy who’d snog Sue Barker on-air for a laugh.

The game needs more characters and the public will be grateful if Gulbis can one day match the feats of Djokovic on and off centre court.

And of course we’ll be watching, in Ernests.

Bojana Jovanovski

Introducing the next star to come out of Serbia – Bojana Jovanovski.

Despite some dodgy questions a refreshing laid-back persona shines through.

Calling your opponent at Wimbledon “Australian girl” when being interviewed by a Brisbane-based network probably wasn’t a great move but the way she answered the final question like Ernie is obviously the correct choice redeemed her greatly.

Based on looks alone she already bears resemblance to both Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic – the two Serbians ahead of her in the rankings – whilst her victory against the former certainly shows she possesses their on-court talent too.

As the youngest player in the top 100 of the WTA rankings (currently no. 55) she’s no doubt one to look out for.

With a second round appearance at SW19 and this year’s Australian Open in the bag she is set to make the main draw at the French Open for the first time this May.

The 19-year-old has a lot to live up to. Ivanovic won at Roland Garros in 2008 but since claiming the world number one spot after her third Grand Slam final and first victory she’s fallen outside the top 20 and has been even lower.

Jankovic was a semi-finalist that year and the only player to take a set off the eventual winner. However she has yet to win a major despite making the US Open final months after that defeat to Ivanovic.

But if women’s tennis taught us anything last year it’s that anything is possible. Francesca Schiavone came from nowhere to beat fellow surprise finalist Sam Stosur in the French Open whilst Tsvetana Pironkova’s semi-final run at Wimbledon defied all previous form.

Jovanovski has arguably more potential than both Schiavone and Pironkova with youth also on her side. Having yet to add a WTA title to her four ITF crowns the Serbian does have experience at Fed Cup level, performing strongly in straight set singles wins over Canadian’s Aleksandra Wozniak and Rebecca Marino.

Jankovic should have won a Slam by now, Ivanovic should probably have won more and Jovanovski should prove this year that the Serbian production line still has plenty of juice left in it.

Ana at the ready
Can Jovanovski reach the same heights as fellow Serbs Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic?

Sleeping Giants

Bernard TomicSince 2003, America has been awaiting a male Grand Slam winner.

Andy Roddick won the US Open on his own turf eight years ago and still remains the only real chance of adding to the illustrious legacy of a dominant tennis nation.

Roddick very nearly won Wimbledon in 2009 but at the age of 28 his chances of building on his solitary Grand Slam victory are slipping.

It’s perplexing how a country which has spawned legends such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and John McEnroe is running out of talent at the highest level.

It’s very much a similar story for Australian tennis too. Not since Lleyton Hewitt won Wimbledon back in 2002 have we seen the Aussies challenge at Grand Slam level.

Although not enjoying the same kind of history as the USA, with Mark Philippoussis and Pat Cash being the only other notable players in the last 30 years, they did produce tennis legend Rod Laver and the passionate sport-loving Australian public demand competitors in the Grand Slam event they annually host.

There is, though, hope that both countries could end their barren runs and it comes in the form of two 18-year-olds.

At number nine in the USA’s best ranked players and at 156 in the world’s, Ryan Harrison could be the next Grand Slam contester and take over the mantle of Roddick in two or three years.

Being an American automatically gives Harrison an advantage of great home support at Flushing Meadows enhancing his US Open chances in the process. Australian Bernard Tomic is in the same position.

Like Harrison, Tomic is currently sitting outside the top 100. On paper, you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s another product of the Eastern European tennis machine churning out talented players every year but, although of Croatian descent, he is from Down Under.

That home advantage has already begun to have an effect with Tomic mustering a third round run at this year’s Australian Open.

But be warned, the teen has also gained a controversial reputation in his short career so far. He’s been quoted as saying compatriot and former world number one Hewitt was “not good enough” for him to practice with whilst his father and coach John has threatened to convert his nationality to Croatian.

That could hinder his dreams greatly as his support on and off the court wouldn’t be at the same level.

Even if Tomic and Harrison don’t make Grand Slam winners it’s crucial for both countries to encourage new talented youngsters to pick up a racket.

Currently the Williams sisters and the recent success of Sam Stosur have been keeping US and Aussie fans content but after their reign ends there’s little waiting in the wings to keep the respective legacies going.

Harrison and Tomic therefore play a more important role than just winning tournaments, they must also win over new tennis fans and the stars of the future.

Ryan Harrison loses his shirt
Youngsters Ryan Harrison and Bernard Tomic are the next prospects from the supposed giants of world tennis

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