Naomi calls it a day

Naomi Cavaday serving Today I awoke to the news Britain’s Naomi Cavaday has retired from professional tennis. It came as quite a shock but evenmore so when discovering her age.

At 22 it’s a vastly premature end to her career which only last year saw her reach a peak of 174th in the world. Having not played at all this year her current position of 231 isn’t too bad either for the British number five.

In an LTA announcement she doesn’t cite a specific reason for her retirement but revealed she’s been suffering from depression as well as an eating disorder.

Despite saying she’s ‘worked through and overcome these issues’ there must be some lingering effects or her announcement wouldn’t have been made, so it’s a huge shame these problems have halted her progression.

Her greatest moments came at Wimbledon, like so many other British players. The wildcard entries the young and inexperienced players receive every year are often the only times they ever have the affection and attention of their fellow Brits.

But they frequently fall in the first round to heavy tournament favourites and this was the fate of Cavaday in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Her loss to Martina Hingis is 2007 will be particularly haunting after holding two match points.

Her decision to reject a wildcard entry last year is admirable but somewhat daft. The likes of Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong only reached the top 100 in their mid-20’s and would have used their annual Wimbledon first round match as a springboard to get there.

However, Cavaday’s frustration is understandable. To have only one real match a year where people have their eye on you must feel unjust.

And even if you win, like in the case of Sarah Borwell, you can quickly be forgotten once the second round demolition has taken place.

The truth is if you’re not a touted prodigy like Heather Watson or Laura Robson then when June comes around it is your only highlight of the tour, if not your career.

The likes of Melanie South, Georgie Gent and Katie O’Brien along with male players Alex Bogdanovic and James Ward will testify that.

Baltacha and Keothavong are exceptions but it’s sad that we will never find out if Cavaday would have joined her fellow compatriots in making the top 100.

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Absolutely Goerges

Julia Goerges’ victory in Stuttgart’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix could open the door for German tennis to return its former heights – or at least close the gap a little.

Steffi Graf is pretty much impossible to emulate. Having won 107 singles titles in her career, including every major on multiple occasions, the current crop of Germans shouldn’t be compared to her.

But unfortunately for the success-deprived nation it’s inevitable. As Goerges saw off current world number one Caroline Wozniacki 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 to become the first German to win at Stuttgart since Anke Huber in 1994, the commentators already brought up the G word.

Andrea Petkovic’s good year along with this latest boost means there will be two German women in the top 30 for the first time since 1999 when, you guessed it, Graf and Huber retired.

As exciting as the win is for Germany, and Goerges’ father in particular as he provided some wonderful animated faces and camera shots, they can’t get too carried away.

She did just win her first WTA Premier event but it was on home soil and the next task is to produce the same performances that took her past Sam Stosur in the semis and brought 38 winners in the final, all over the world. Her very calm onlooking coach will be an important factor going forward.

It’s also not as if she’s a prodigy coming through either as she’s 22 and will enter the world’s top 30 for the first time when the new rankings are published. Wozniacki is actually two years younger and has already claimed 15 WTA titles.

Comparing Goerges to Wozniacki is harsh though as it can take a while for players to establish themselves these days (take Stosur, Vera Zvonareva and Li Na for example). What Goerges has done, along with Petkovic and the other two German quarter-finalists in Stuttgart, is propel their nation’s tennis back into the limelight.

They must now make sure this isn’t a brief moment of glory. So far at least they look capable of making tennis popular again amongst the German public as 4,800 people pushed her to the title.

Whilst Goerges drove home in the Porsche she mustn’t let it go to her head. The most important thing for herself and her fellow compatriots is to find the keys to more tournament successes and start the German tennis engine for a new generation.

Julia Goerges

Highlights of the final and some of Mr. Goerges’ facial expressions can be seen on the WTA website.

The decline of Roger Federer

Finale Roland Garros 2009 : Roger Federer Roger Federer should quit tennis by the end of the year.

His latest quarter-final defeat to the hands of Austrian Jurgen Melzer at the Monte Carlo Masters has proven how far he’s fallen.

Having already lost his number one world ranking to Rafael Nadal, the 16-time Grand Slam winner has dropped to number three in the world and looks more likely to fall further than return to his former glory.

It’s a sad state of affairs for the Swiss. Many people, me included, would say he’s the best player in tennis history so for his sake he should retire rather than turn into a Lleyton Hewitt.

Pete Sampras left the sport around the same age as Federer is now after winning the 2002 US Open and was remembered in such high esteem despite a similar bad patch during the turn of the millennium.

One hopes Federer can also produce one more triumph before retirement but here’s how I see the 29-year-old’s season from here.

He’ll no doubt lose at the French Open. Before it was always to Nadal in the final but the likelihood is he will fall at the quarter-finals or semis.

When he then loses at his beloved Wimbledon again the mind will then creep towards retirement. Losing to Tomas Berdych in last year’s quarter-finals was a huge shock and if he does something similar in 2011 it could spell the end.

Another tournament he’s always been dominant in is the US Open. Novak Djokovic has proven unstoppable on the hard courts during the early stages of this season and that may well see him crowned winner at Flushing Meadows should he continue his fine form on his charge to number one.

Come the time when the ATP World Tour Finals is set to take place Federer may have won a few more singles titles but his previous dominance will have diminished.

The chances are he’ll want to say goodbye to Wimbledon’s centre court so one more send-off year could happen but the end of the Federer reign is undeniably here.

Looking at it from a different perspective, what does that mean for the rest of the ATP tour? It certainly gives the likes of Andy Murray a chance of a first Slam and Juan Martin Del Potro the chance of more.

Djokovic and Nadal may be fantastic players but they’ve never really had a dominating career like the one Federer has had. Djokovic is reaping the benefits of Federer’s decline already and others could follow.

Whilst every major had Nadal or Federer as clear favourites some more of the top ten will be fancied in this new era of tennis.

As unfortunate a loss to tennis as Roger Federer is, it will blow the men’s tennis field a little bit more open.


Some classic Federer from his 2010 US Open fourth round tie against Brian Dabul

Sweet Victory

Ryan Sweeting beat Kei Nishikori 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) at the US Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston to lift the first ATP Tour title of his career.

Upon winning, the American jumped into a pool and he’ll be looking to make more of a splash on the tour now as well (insert groan here).

On his way to the final he defeated fellow American and second seed Sam Querrey as well as former top 15 player Ivo Karlovic.

After losing the first set without gaining a break of serve, Nishikori will be ruing the three set points he missed at 5-4 up in the second as he fell in exactly two hours at the ATP 250 event.

Ryan Sweeting

As the name suggests, Sweeting will now gain 250 ranking points to push him to a career high position somewhere in the 70’s. It’s also the first time a wildcard has won the event since Mardy Fish in 2006. Since then Fish has gone on to become the USA’s number one player so this victory is a great boost for Sweeting and American tennis.

At the age of 23, he’s still got time to improve but any chance of a major title win during his career is unlikely. Still, a resurgence for Fish and Sweeting as well as the progression of teenager Ryan Harrison should increase the level of support for tennis fans in the US.

There’s also some good news for the beaten finalist, a prospect covered on here in the past. Despite the defeat, Nishikori is projected to be in the world’s top 50 once the rankings are out, almost matching the highest ever position of a Japanese player.

That’s currently held by Shuzo Matsuoka who reached #46 in 1992. Nishikori has every chance of breaking that record in the near future to slightly brighten the mood of a country surrounded by devastation following the tsunami last month.

Sweeting became the fifth newest player to win an ATP title this year joining Pablo Andujar who claimed the Grand Prix Hassan II in Casablanca and Milos Raonic amongst others.

Canadian Raonic managed to beat Michael Llondra in the first round of the Monte Carlo Masters and his progress at that tournament shall be watched with an eagle eye over the coming week.

Elsewhere in Monaco, Bernard Tomic lost out in qualification to Julien Benneteau while Ernests Gulbis saw off Alexandr Dolgopolov, a player only just coming to fruition after a fine run in the Australian Open this year.

Gulbis, 22, is a great clay court player looking to recapture the promise he showed last year when he beat Roger Federer on the surface. The Latvian’s next match versus Raonic is set to be a cracker of a second round tie.

Irina-Camelia Begu

Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU) Having never won a main draw match at a WTA event, many will be surprised to see Irina-Camelia Begu facing Victoria Azarenka in today’s Andalucia Tennis Experience final in Marbella.

The 20-year-old Romanian is ranked sixth in her country, even lower than the free-falling Sorana Cirstea which should indicate how much of a shock her win over Svetlana Kuznetsova was in the semi-finals.

It was by no means easy. The final score read 3-6, 7-6(3), 6–4 but it’s without doubt her biggest win on the tour to date. A fan of Martina Hingis, according to Begu her aim isn’t matching her idol’s great heights but reaching the top 10. So is there any chance she’ll make it there?

Beating Azarenka would be a start. It’s fine having her seven ITF titles in the bag (14 in doubles) but the WTA events, even if they’re the lower-rated internationals, hold the key to the golden gates she wants to walk through.

The danger is she’ll come out against the recently crowned Sony Ericsson Open champion and completely fold, losing in straight sets and we’ll never hear from her again. Even if she beats Azarenka she can’t let that be the only significant achievement of her career.

Whatever happens in Marbella her next aim should be becoming number one in Romania and harbouring the experience gained from that to potentially mount a top 10 challenge.

If she’s to do that then the ranking points she amasses over the next two months will be pivotal. Clay is her favourite surface, clearly proven by the sight of former French Open champion Kuznetsova’s falling to the youngster.

That was the only match of the tournament where she lost a set. En route to the final she beat world #34 Klara Zakopalova 6-3, 6-3 but the other results were against opposition she’s used to facing on the ITF circuit.

More victories over the world’s top 50 are needed and if we’re to see her more often she should accompany that with improvements on the other surfaces. Of course, more main draw wins would be nice too.

Who knows, today’s result could be the springboard she needs.

If you’d like to know more about Irina-Camelia Begu, a Q&A session with her is featured on the WTA website.

Fed Cup 2011

An-Sophie Mestach (BEL) From April 16-17th the Fed Cup will be taking place in various locations across the globe with the World Group semi-finals pitting Russia against Italy and Belgium taking on the Czech Republic.

The event is great for the less experienced players to improve and get used to the atmosphere and pressure of high-quality matches.

Belgium in particular will be fielding a weaker team than in previous years after the retirement of Justine Henin and injury to Kim Clijsters.

Stepping in is An-Sophie Mestach, who is the world no.1 on the junior circuit, and another promising youngster in Alison van Uytvanck. Both have just turned 17 and they will join Kirsten Flipkens and Yanina Wickmayer in the Belgian line-up.

They will take on Petra Kvitova, Lucie Safarova, Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova with the latter putting in a dogged display against Caroline Wozniacki at Charleston this week.

For Russia, a strong team has been selected. World number three Vera Zvonareva and 2009 French Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova will lead the team along with other familiar faces in Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Ekaterina Makarova.

After current French Open champion Francesca Schiavone pulled out of the Fed Cup along with Flavia Pennetta, the Italians will find it tough to hold onto the trophy they’ve held for the past two years.

Roberta Vinci, Sara Errani, Alberta Brianti and Maria Elena Camerin have been given the task of claiming a third successive final appearance in the competition.

Elsewhere in the Fed Cup:

  • A young USA team including Melanie Oudin and Christina McHale will play a strong-looking Germany side in the World Group Play-Offs.
  • Eugenie Bouchard and Rebecca Marino of Canada will face another young talent in Slovenia’s Polona Hercog.
  • Bojana Jovanovski is unlikely to repeat her Heart Award heroics against Slovakia as Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic have returned for Serbia.

The full line-ups and fixtures for the weekend are available on the Fed Cup website.

Victorious Azarenka?

Azarenka_0007 There’s no doubt Victoria Azarenka is a global superstar.

Belarus’ greatest export has been in the world’s top 10 for some time now and has just recently won her second title at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami matching the feats of Monica Seles and Kim Clijsters.

But the question still remains: Will Azarenka ever win a Grand Slam? That’s surely the difference between being a good player and a member of the elite, as Dinara Safina would testify.

Well, history is on her side at least. Everyone who’s won in Miami has gone on to claim a major.

So far she’s yet to go beyond the quarter-final stage of a Slam with 2009 being her best year to date earning Wimbledon and French Open last eight spots. That was also the year of her last triumph in Miami but she’s now matured and improved significantly.

At the age of 21, there’s also plenty of time for her to succeed. The retirement of Justine Henin plus the current void left by the injured Williams sisters has opened up a window too, not just for Azarenka but for the whole WTA Tour.

It’s no surprise Clijsters is winning most of the Slams right now as she’s the best non-injured player to have actually lifted one. Francecsa Schiavone is unlikely to regain her trophy at Roland Garros so the unpredictable clay could help Azarenka, especially with her decent record on the surface.

What Azarenka needs to improve is her consistency. Too many times she’s been broken or suffered defeats when in controlling positions. In the fourth round of Indian Wells against Agnieszka Radwanska, she forced a tie-break after saving four match points with the break of serve exchanging hands in every game.

Even in this year’s Miami final she could have choked away the second set from holding a 4-0 lead. Although she did play some outstanding tennis, her opponent Maria Sharapova’s shocking serving as well as some lucky bounces pulled her through.

Another aspect which could transform her into a world beater is her own service game. Often criticized for double faulting on numerous occasions she also failed to register an ace against Sharapova.

But on her run to the final she took out world numbers two and three in Clijsters and Vera Zvonareva so the title was well deserved. It now takes her to her equal-highest ranking position of no.6 in the world.

She’s proven she can beat the world’s best but so can the rest of the top 10. It’s all about putting in a run of results and staying focused all the way through a match. Then she could be remembered for being a great player today as well as a great player after her retirement.

Oh Clay!

The end of the Sony Ericsson Open signals the beginning of the clay court season, which could either be disastrous or very productive for tennis players trying to make their name.

Only a select few number of players find the slower surface their specialist area – Rafael Nadal, Robin Soderling, Francesca Schiavone, Svetlana Kutznetsova and Sam Stosur are just some of the exclusive clay club.

Therefore the results could be sporadic. Some younger players will find themselves winning matches against normally sound professionals inside the top 20 but it also works both ways as they won’t enjoy the clay either.

The first WTA clay tournaments take place tomorrow at Charleston, USA in the Family Circle Cup and the Andalucia Tennis Experience in Marbella, Spain. Houston is hosting the US Men’s Clay Court Championship whilst Casablanca features the other ATP 250.

These types of events only benefit younger players as they split the world’s best into two tournaments rather than a larger round of 96, so seeds can range from top 10 players to just inside the top 50.

The next major ATP tournament featuring the big names is the Monte Carlo Masters on April 10th with other highlights including the Madrid Open, Rome’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia and, of course, the French Open at Roland Garros.

The second Grand Slam of the year seems to be getting more and more unpredictable to judge. Since Justine Henin’s first retirement, there have been a host of names in the women’s final of clay’s showpiece tournament.

If the men avoid Rafael Nadal over the next two months they could prosper. It will also be interesting to see if Novak Djokovic can continue his fine run of form through to the grass court season as well.

Seeds could fall, form could alter and new faces could become household names. In short, expect the unexpected.

Rafael Nadal

The King of Clay – Rafael Nadal

The main draws for the WTA premier events in Charleston and Marbella as well as the ATP 250’s in Houston and Casablanca are available to see in full.

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