Tennis Power Couples

Ace of Baseline takes a look at high profile tennis relationships..

The relationship between former World No. 1’s Caroline Wozniacki and Rory Mcilroy is one of the most famous in the sporting world between two athletes that are at the top level of their sport. However, criticism has been fired at the pair with many feeling that the relationship is having a negative influence on their sporting performance.  With this in mind I thought I’d take a look at other high profile tennis relationships to compare.

Since becoming a couple, both have performed fairly poorly in their major events with Mcilroy failing to make the cut at his most recent Major while Caroline Wozniacki exiting Wimbledon in the first round after being overpowered by Tamira Paszek in an entertaining three set encounter. This defeat knocked her to No. 8 in the rankings.

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Wozniacki’s game has always concentrated on staying consistent and drawing errors as opposed to a more aggressive game that many believe she should play. Although often disappointing on the big stage, there is no doubt her style was key to her twelve titles and 67 weeks as World No. 1 from 2010 to early 2012.

However, Wozniacki isn’t the only player to date/marry a similarly high profile athlete.  Ana Ivanovic 18-month relationship in with golfer Adam Scott coincided with a trophyless period in 2009-2010 as Ivanovic dropped out of the top ten. Failure to defend big points at the Australian Open and French Open cost her, following up a final appearance and a win with fourth and third round performances respectively.  Defeat to Vera Zvonareva at Indian Wells was as close as the Serb got to a title in this period. Ivanovic’s most recent successes lie in the Tournament of Champions and her form over the past three years seems to indicate that her 2007/2008 form was of a career year than representative of what was to come. She has floated around the top 20 in the year end rankings, with her serving issues still working strongly against her. New coach Nigel Sears appears to have made improvements in 2012 with more consistency in the slams, making the third round at all three so far. Previous to this, Ana also dated Fernando Verdasco for a short period in late 2008, mostly during the tennis off-season.

Fresh from her split with fellow Russian tennis star Igor Andreev is Maria Kirilenko, the 25 year old is dating Alexander Ovechkin, captain of the Washington Capitals in the NHL. Ovechkin is one of the most famous male athletes in Russia, having represented them regularly at international level and at one stage there could be a case made that he was one of the top stars in the NHL alongside Sidney Crosby. While the beginning of many other relationships coincided with a drop in form for players, things have never been better for Kirilenko, reaching a career high ranking of No. 14 after making it to the quarter finals of Wimbledon, pushing Agnieszka Radwanska extremely close in an epic three set encounter.

It is interesting to note the lack of high profile relationships involving the top level men, with Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal all in long term relationships while Roger Federer married former tennis player Miraslava “Mirka” Vavrinec in 2009 with the couple now proud parents of twin girls.

While there are many inter-sport relationships involving tennis stars, there are two couples of tennis players that were some of the very best in their time. Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi must be the most decorate couple in tennis; the pair possess over 150 titles between them, including 30 grand slams singles titles – Steffi with 22 and Andre with 8. While retirement was looming for Graf by the time the couple got together, Agassi added an additional four titles to add to his previously completed Career Slam before retiring in 2006. In 2005, Agassi even managed to break his own wife’s record at the Miami Masters, overtaking her record of five titles by earning his sixth with victory over Carlos Moya. The pair first met at the 1992 Wimbledon Champions’ Ball, where the now famous photograph of the pair was taken, with Agassi sporting his now infamous mullet.

Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi at Wimbledon ’92 Champions Ball

Kim Clijsters and Lleyton Hewitt had a four year relationship even getting engaged, before the pair split up in 2004. Affectionately dubbed by Australians “Aussie Kim”, the young Clijsters was slamless in this time while Hewitt became US Open and Wimbledon champion in ’01 and ’02 respectively with convincing finals victories. The pair also made the Mixed Doubles final in 2000 but were defeated in straight sets. After the split Kim went on to become a quadruple slam winner, however the majority of these were after her comeback from a 2007 retirement. Hewitt definitely suffered from the emergence of Roger Federer on the ATP Tour, losing to him seven times in a row at Grand Slams with the Swiss making the final every single time he had beat the Aussie. While Kim was slamless during this period, she did reach the No. 1 spot in the rankings as a 20 year-old in 2003 and there is no doubt that she matured as a player in this time picking up plenty of titles and the No. 1 spot in doubles.

Other notable tennis relationships include Iveta Benesova and Jurgen Melzer. The pair teamed up both off and on the court, even earning themselves the Wimbledon Mixed Doubles title, with Benesova’s singles form improving for a short period of time. It seems Melzer is no stranger to the leading ladies on the tour having previously dating 2004 French Open champion Anastasia Myskina and also Nicole Vaidisova, the latter of which is now married to fellow Czech Radek Stepanek.

Personally, I am sceptical of the idea that relationships are to blame for a loss of form. In the case of Wozniacki, I just feel that a lack of a plan B has hit her hard and relying on opponents errors can only get you so far. As seen even before Rory was on the scene, when a big hitter has been on their “A” game she has struggled and she cannot generate enough offense to fight back. She is young enough to come back and learn from it, so I think she can definitely re-enter the top 5 but to go any further much more progress is needed at the slams. Along with New Haven, where she is a four-times winner her most consistent performances come in the US Open with a semi final place or better each of the last three years so this could be just the thing to reignite her struggling year.

Do you think that having a famous sporting partner can distract your performance? Feel free to post comments below!

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The Kvitova Years

Every era of tennis, whether it’s men’s, women’s or doubles, has its standout players.

The 1980’s were dominated by several names in the men’s field while Steffi Graf and Pete Sampras rose highest in the 90’s before the Williams sisters took over during the turn of the millennium.

Today we are in the twilight of the titanic rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the Bryan brothers are kings of the two racket game and the Williams sisters are still around.

But for the future of women’s tennis, today’s Wimbledon final result could be the start of a new shift in power.

Petra Kvitova is a 21-year-old from the Czech Republic and only the third left-hander to win at SW19, joining probably the best female player ever in Martina Navratilova (originally from Czechoslovakia) and Ann Jones.

Navratilova had overwhelming success in the 1980’s before Graf came in and took the mantle. Now with Navratilova herself declaring the Williams sister era of tennis dead her fellow lefty is now the prime candidate to become the new icon.

All the reporters, commentators, ex-players and presenters are saying Kvitova will win more majors. At the present time no one looks like a potential challenger as the inconsistency on the WTA tour is rife.

Caroline Wozniacki can go from beating a top 10 player in a premier final to crashing out of a Grand Slam in the fourth round whilst Victoria Azarenka can win a set and look the best player on the planet before her body or form gives in.

The other two women holding Grand Slam titles are Kim Clijsters and Li Na who are both approaching 30; too late to claim dominance. It’s the perfect stage for Kvitova to take advantage of.

She now has Grand Slam winning experience so the nerves which may have occurred in the final will gradually recede completely. But who’s to say she was nervous? At times she looked like a multiple Wimbledon finalist.

Perhaps her game is mostly suited to grass but as of this moment she looks somewhere between a Martina Hingis and Monica Seles level of Grand Slam winning potential. Graf and Navratilova may be too much to ask for.

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Like in all eras, there is always one or two challengers who tussle for the top prize.

Azarenka is still young and made her first Grand Slam semi-final at this year’s Wimbledon. Wozniacki may only need one success for more to follow with the US Open her most likely Grand Slam breakthrough victory.

The teenagers that this blog has followed (Bojana Jovanovski, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Caroline Garcia) who’ve yet to peak have that potential plus Kvitova’s opponent in the final Maria Sharapova is seemingly back to her best but another maiden semi-finalist has been tipped.

Germany’s Sabine Lisicki is also 21 and has the added pressure of being “the next Steffi Graf”. With big things expected of her she could challenge at the top of the game in the future as well but again, grass is her favoured surface.

For both Lisicki and Kvitova, the way they handle the hard courts for the rest of the season will be pivotal. The evidence shows Kvitova will more than likely pull ahead as her return of serve is lethal and she already has three WTA titles from earlier in the year.

Lisicki relies more on her serve and has been known to clam up in the past. She was out for most of the 2010 season though so her progress might be late in development.

With confidence and experience this pair could be the ones to fear in future draws but Kvitova particularly has the serve, firepower and coolness to grab women’s tennis by the neck and carry it forward.

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.

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