Watson Injury

Heather Watson has pulled out of the ASB Classic, the WTA season opener in Auckland, due to a sprained ankle. The British number three and world number 92 expects her next tournament to be the Moorilla International in Hobart before entering her first Australian Open main draw on January 16th.


Home Sweet Home

Could Christina McHale be the new queen of American tennis? The in-form 19-year-old has backed up her win against world number one Caroline Wozniacki in Cincinnati with a straight sets victory over Marion Bartoli at the US Open.

If it’s not her then perhaps her fellow teens Coco Vandeweghe or Sloane Stephens could take the mantle from Serena Williams.

At the age of 31 and after pulling out of the US Open second round with illness there doesn’t seem many more opportunities for her sister Venus to help keep America’s head above water.

The pair are mostly looking towards the Olympic Games next year as their main challenge, as indicated by their scheduled Fed Cup participation, and so the younger players have got until then to step up.

So far they’re doing better than expected. Vandeweghe won a Grand Slam match for the first time in her career at the age of 19 while Stephens has already achieved a maiden victory at a major aged 18.

There was also good news for wildcard junior Madison Keys as the 16-year-old made it to the second round on debut before suffering defeat to Lucie Safarova despite winning the first set against the 27th seed.

Add that to Irina Falconi’s third round run, Vania King’s progress and Lauren Davis also coming through, the USA has hope again.

Be wary though. Melanie Oudin, a quarter-finalist at the US Open in 2009, crashed out of the first round this year to compound a miserable 2011 which has seen her ranking drop well outside the top 100.

At least this time around there is strength in numbers and with a top 20 containing a lot of players in their mid-20s there’s every chance at least one of these youngsters could crack it at the top.

Christina McHale

While several women progressed in the competition, for 19-year-old Ryan Harrison it proved too much of a task to overcome Marin Cilic as he showed signs of promise but ultimately lost out due to a wavering mentality.

Jack Sock has emerged as a promising new face though after beating former top 50 player Marc Gicquel and faces what could be a changing of the guard match with the declining Andy Roddick in the second round.

The 18-year-old Sock won the junior event in New York last year which earned him his wildcard to this year’s men’s singles and with Bjorn Fratengelo a junior winner at the French Open this year, there’s hope for the future in both categories.

Elsewhere things are looking up for British tennis too. Heather Watson may have been beaten by former champion Maria Sharapova but forced the Russian into a third set and tested her all the way.

It was Laura Robson who shone the most though. She made the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time without the help of a wildcard after coming through qualifying. She then won her first round match, leading her opponent before she retired, but succumbed to Anabel Medina Garrigues after making several unforced errors.

The run will give her a great boost in both ranking points and morale as her year had been disappointing at one stage, having dropped out of the top 200.

Other noteworthy results to report are Ernests Gulbis‘ straight sets win against Mikhail Youzhny, Bernard Tomic’s victory over Michael Yani and Grigor Dimitrov’s loss to Gael Monfils. Bojana Jovanovski and Rebecca Marino lost their opening matches in the women’s singles but Simona Halep defeated French Open champion Li Na in a shock result.

All results for the men’s singles and women’s singles so far can be found via the US Open website.

Wimbledon 2011

A little thing called Wimbledon returns tomorrow and it never fails to deliver shocks, surprises, high-quality and new names.

Take, for example, last year. Petra Kvitova reached the semi-finals as an unseeded player and is now ranked in the top 10.

In my mind, she’s a Grand Slam winner in the making. Three WTA titles have come since then and with the Williams sisters rusty after only just coming back from injury, Kim Clijsters out and the courts on grass again, the 21-year-old could easily match her performance or even go beyond it.

Perhaps the biggest surprise 12 months ago belonged to Tsvetana Pironkova whom I’d followed every year at SW19 where she’d lose in the first or second round but mostly the first. Remarkably she then made the semi-finals.

Her record of zero WTA titles and only ever reaching the second round of the other majors indicates the 23-year-old’s unbelievable run was indeed a fluke and should those first round exits return then the 32nd seed will dramatically fall out of the top 100.

She can, though, savour and draw inspiration from beating Venus Williams (again) and should they meet this year, it will be very interesting.

Vera Zvonareva provided a different form of shock last year as her career renaissance started. Aged 25 and seeded 21st, not many expected her to reach the final but since then she’s come close to winning the US Open and has been in the top 5 of the rankings ever since.

It’s not just restricted to the women either. Tomas Berdych reaching the final, beating Roger Federer along the way, will go down as a monumental upset and despite all the hype of a “Fedal” final, the last two have been contested with Andy Roddick and Berdych.

Wimbledon Court One Panorama

The young players looking to make a name for themselves this year include a wealth of British talent. Laura Robson, who split from her coach just days ago, and Heather Watson have been given wildcards along with German Sabine Lisicki, a former quarter-finalist who’s back for the first time since that 2009 last eight appearance.

Kristyna Pliskova, junior Wimbledon winner in 2010, has made it through to the first round having qualified and will not have it easy against Marion Bartoli who was another shock face in the 2007 women’s final after conquering Justine Henin from a set and a break down in the semis.

In men’s qualifying Bernard Tomic is finally regaining the sort of form which saw him reach the third round of his home tournament, the Australian Open.

Despite being outside the top 150, he reached the first round in the French Open and has followed that up with a second first round appearance at Wimbledon.

There was also good news for American Ryan Harrison who qualified as a lucky loser. Tomic plays Nikolay Davydenko, Harrison faces Ivan Dodig and Grigor Dimitrov (the man compared to Roger Federer) will play 20-year-old German qualifier Cedrik-Marcel Stebe.

Elsewhere, Milos Raonic is in the same group of eight as defending champion Rafael Nadal while other men’s matches to look out for include Lleyton Hewitt vs. Kei Nishikori, Fernando Gonzalez vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov and Dmitry Tursonov vs. Ernests Gulbis.

The women’s draw contains a whole host of 20-year-old qualifiers but regularly-tracked American teenager Sloane Stephens didn’t join them after defeat in the second round of qualifying.

There are so many more young players in the women’s field than the men’s so some selected highlights include Christina McHale vs. Ekaterina Makarova, Melanie Oudin vs. Ana Ivanovic and Simona Halep vs. Bojana Jovanovski.

Ace of Baseline’s main coverage over the two weeks will centre around the juniors which start on 25th June but news from the young up-and-coming players in the main draw will also be featured. The full draws for the men’s singles and women’s singles are available via the official Wimbledon website.

French Open 2011 – Ranking Review

With the second Grand Slam of the year completed the ranking changes this week will feature significant drops and encouraging highs as the points gained or lost are at their highest values.

Therefore it seems an appropriate time to assess how the ATP and WTA tour rankings look heading into the grass court season and how some of the players being tracked on this website are progressing.

The biggest news, and the main brunt of it in all honesty, comes from the WTA tour.

Heather Watson’s five match winning run which saw her through qualifying and into the second round of the main draw has been rewarded with a top 100 place.

It’s the first time the 19-year-old has been in the top 100 and she has a great chance of getting higher this year as she’s entered the Aegon Classic and Wimbledon should give her a wildcard if she can’t qualify automatically.

Another big mover is Caroline Garcia. The 17-year-old almost pulled off the shock of the tournament after being two games away from beating Maria Sharapova in front of her home crowd but her first round win, with some help from her own wildcard, entry means she’s risen 38 places to #150.

Other young players who’ve made big strides are American Christina McHale, Canada’s Rebecca Marino and Romanian Sorana Cirstea.

Sabine Lisicki is back in the top 100 having made the third round and Vania King has reached #85 which is an increase of 30 places.

In terms of the top 10, there is good news for Petra Kvitova who’s at a career high world number eight whilst the chasing pack of Andrea Petkovic, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Julia Goerges have nudged ever closer to the next level.

Strangely enough it’s China’s Li Na who’s become a superstar at the age of 29 after becoming the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam title. Not many put that bet on two weeks ago but then again the same could be said of last year’s winner and her opponent in the final Francesca Schiavone.

A similar scenario is emerging in the ATP tour in that the titles are being won by older players. There really isn’t a new generation coming through yet in the men’s game with Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and now Novak Djokovic favourites to win every major, masters series and world championship final.

Two of the above are undoubtedly modern-day legends and until they either retire or become awful then the sport will continue to be dominated by them.

Looking to break the dynasty are the likes of Milos Raonic and Alexandr Dolgopolov, who have dropped a place and gained one respectively. They seem to be the only young players with top 10 potential at the present time.

Marin Cilic and Ernests Gulbis had that at one point but the former has gone down six places over the two weeks and 13 places in total from the start of the year. Gulbis, incidentally, has actually gone up five places.

There are other ways of becoming a tennis superstar though. Just making the top 50 these days gets you noticed whilst you can still be big in your home country or continent, which Li Na has proven and Kei Nishikori is still striving for.

The Japanese 22-year-old is down a place but is still up 38 from the start of January. The American situation is also intriguing with their supposed lack of depth but Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick have both returned to the top 10 but youngster Ryan Harrison has moved down three places to #122.

The men’s tour is interesting. It seems to be in different leagues right now. But still, the young players, and even some old where warranted, will continue to be charted here whether that be in the top 10, top 100 or number one in Kazakhstan.

Serb Your Enthusiasm

On the day former champion Ana Ivanovic crashed out of the French Open, new talent Bojana Jovanovski showed why Serbian tennis still has a bright future.

The 19-year-old is the youngest player in the top 50 of the women’s game and in her first round match against Andrea Petkovic she showed why she’s there.

She did lose 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) but had taken several breaks and even led *5-2 in the second set before eventually being rolled over by the 15th seed. Yet I found her match enthralling and I also think Jovanovski is my new favourite player on the WTA tour.

Let me just point out, I had been subjected to Aravane Rezai’s dour show on Day 2 as well as the appallingly bad match between Patty Schynder and Sorana Cirstea beforehand so that might have played a part but I thought Jovanovski was great.

Her forehand in particular produced some thunderous shots down the line which culminated in her 31 winners but 41 unforced errors along with Petkovic turning up a gear towards the end of the match ultimately lost it for her.

My only qualm is she reminds me of Vicky Pollard (just the hairstyle and earrings). However I’m looking forward to watching her hopefully progress into a future household name.

caroline Garcia

An even younger player did make the second round though. French wildcard Caroline Garcia beat experienced campaigner Zuzana Ondraskova to set up a meeting with Maria Sharapova.

The 17-year-old had also reached the second round of the Australian Open this year and although further progress this week looks unlikely, she could improve France’s underachieving status in the sport with Mary Pierce and Amelie Mauresmo now just memories.

Heather Watson could do the same for British tennis. She’s already become the first British woman to reach the second round at Roland Garros for 17 years. Elena Baltacha may be slightly miffed having won her match against Watson’s close friend Sloane Stephens.

Fellow American prospects Christina McHale and Coco Vandeweghe also lost to Sara Errani and Maria Kirilenko respectively whilst Melanie Oudin couldn’t upset current title-holder Francesca Schiavone.

In the mens’ singles there were also some good results for the emerging players.

Kei Nishikori has reached the second round for the second consecutive year after beating Yen-Hsun Lu. He’ll have to defeat 31st seed Sergiy Stakhovsky if he’s to top his longest run at the French Open.

Ryan Harrison got a place in the first round thanks to a lucky loser spot and almost took full advantage before fifth seed Robin Soderling finished him off. The 19-year-old looked fully out of his depth when his Swedish opponent destroyed him 6-1 in the first set before the American took the second on a tiebreak.

Despite then breaking Soderling many times throughout the rest of the match he couldn’t keep his own service game together and lost a spirited display in four sets.

To summarise, it’s been a great first round for the young tennis players, especially the women. Some of the other selected results are:

MS: Carlos Berlocq (ARG) d. Bernard Tomic (AUS) 7-5, 6-4, 6-2

MS: Michael Berrer (GER) d. Milos Raonic 26 (CAN) 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4

MS: Alexandr Dolgopolov 21 (UKR) d. Rainer Schuettler (GER) 6-3, 6-3, 6-1

WS: Rebecca Marino (CAN) d. Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR) 6-3, 6-3

WS: Simona Halep (ROU) d. Alla Kudryavtseva (RUS) 6-2, 6-1

WS: Gisela Dulko (ARG) d. Irina Falconi (USA) 6-3, 6-4

WS: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 14 (RUS) d. Yaroslava Shvedova (KAZ) 7-5, 6-3

WS: Polona Hercog (SLO) d. Olivia Sanchez (FRA) 6-0, 6-1

French Open 2011

Over the last few days I don’t think I’ve ever wrote as much Italian before in my life, so I’m taking a break from Milan’s Trofeo Bonfiglio and looking towards the slightly wider covered French Open in Paris.

Qualifying has already finished and today the main draw was decided with help from current and former champion Rafael Nadal and Ana Ivanovic.

My blog will cover the junior tournament most prominently but with that not scheduled to start until 30th May I will pay attention to the young players coming through who have been seen here previously and even some new faces.

The thing about a Grand Slam is one good run and you’re in the top 10 or 20 in the world when before no one had heard of you unless they were the die-hard sitting-in-the-rain-for-10-hours-to-get-in-court-18 kind of fans. Petra Kvitova and Tsvetana Pironkova will testify to that.

Sloane Stephens (USA)

News, so far, is good for Heather Watson and Sloane Stephens, two players who have had a mention on Ace of Baseline before and whom I track frequently.

American Stephens is a particular surprise after overcoming the top seed Anastasia Pivovarova in the last round of qualifying 6-3, 6-4.

Watson didn’t drop a set in making the main draw and joins fellow British players Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong who qualified outright based on their ranking positions.

In the men’s qualifying, Ryan Harrison lost to another youngster in Spaniard Javier Marti. The 19-year-old won the third round match 6-2, 7-5 and will face fellow countryman and qualifier Albert Ramos in the main draw.

Elsewhere in the main draw match-ups, I may have to cut down my coverage of Milos Raonic as the Canadian looks like he’s made it. Seeded 26th, he’ll face Michael Berrer in the first round and could face Andy Murray in the last 16 should all go to plan. The next step is asserting a top 10 position.

Other noteworthy matches are wildcard Bernard Tomic vs. Carlos Berlocq, Kei Nishikori vs. Lu Yen-Hsun and in the women’s draw the youngsters have it tough with Maria Kirilenko vs. Coco Vandeweghe, Andrea Petkovic vs. Bojana Jovanovski and Francesca Schiavone vs. Melanie Oudin.

For the full qualifying results and more, check out the Roland Garros website where the main draws for the men’s singles and women’s singles are also available.

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.

Britain’s Rising ‘Sons’

Britain’s tennis history has a bad reputation. Constantly the press remind us it’s been x amount of years since Fred Perry became the last man to win a major title with that number currently standing at 75.

Although not as bad as the males, it doesn’t make for better reading when you look at the women’s game either. If you take a journey back through the decades you’ll find the likes of Virginia Wade and Sue Barker winning Grand Slam titles in the late 1970’s.

Now their great achievements are limited to mere captions on Wimbledon’s annual summer coverage.

Having not enjoyed any success in the womens’ singles for more than 40 years now there seems to be more of a desire to have a top ranked British female to support alongside Andy Murray.

Not since Annabel Croft has a female star emerged from the UK and even she quit the sport at the age of 21 despite winning both the Wimbledon and Australian Open juniors in 1984.

Instead Britain’s female tennis players are in effect long distant relatives. Whilst you may only see your great aunt on birthdays or at Christmas the British public only see the likes of Katie O’Brien and Melanie South once a summer as a wildcard entry into the first round of Wimbledon.

Once amongst those wildcards were Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong who have now gallantly broken into the top 100 but have a combined age of 54. Though they may have four or so more years competing at high levels on the WTA tour, the chances of them holding down a top 20 place or going on a great run at a Grand Slam are dwindling every year.

The hopes of the success-starved nation rests instead with Laura Robson and Heather Watson – the prodigal “sons” so to speak.

Since winning the Wimbledon girls’ singles title as a 14-year-old much has been expected of Melbourne-born Robson. Despite her 239 world ranking she is seen as Britain’s finest hope of repeating those 2008 scenes on the senior tour.

Watson, the third best female tennis player in Britain aged just 18, sits 108 places higher than her fellow Brit. In 2009 she won the US Open juniors which you may not know much about due to the media spotlight surrounding the potential future pin-up girl Robson.

Neither has yet won a WTA title but at the moment it’s a matter of amassing ranking points via qualification rounds and a few runs on the bigger stage.

Robson missed out on the 2011 Australian Open’s qualifying event due to injury which has also seen her position in the world rankings fall. This year she’s based in Paris with a new coach in Patrick Mouratoglou who’s seen previous success guiding Marcos Baghdatis and Aravane Rezai into top 20 players.

Whilst Robson will probably take a few months to break through properly, Watson is pretty close already.

Quarter-final runs in the Auckland Classic and Cellular South Cup this year have given her valuable experience against quality opposition and the environment of larger courts and crowds.

Should the pair’s progression continue at its current rate this year’s Wimbledon audience might be introduced something to shout about for many summers and tournaments to come.

33 Girls' Singles - Finals
Laura Robson (left) is all smiles after defeating Noppawan Lertcheewakarn in the 2008 Wimbledon girls’ singles final

Heather Watson
Heather Watson at the 2009 US Open juniors final where she beat Yana Buchina 6-4, 6-1

You can follow the fortunes and thoughts of both Laura and Heather on Twitter but be sure to check back to Ace of Baseline for the latest news on the young duo.

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