Olympics Tennis Roundup

This weekend saw the conclusion of the Olympics tennis tournaments and it was a good weekend for the United States – who took three of the gold medals up for grabs – while Great Britain and Belarus took the other two. Argentina and Switzerland also picked up their first and second medals respectively of the Games.

Singles

Andy Murray took gold for Great Britain with an astonishing performance over Roger Federer. Murray saved all 9 break opportunities in an incredibly dominant performance while breaking Federer five times in a straight sets victory. In the first and second set Murray took 9 games in a row from 2-2 to 6-2 5-0 as Federer just could not deal with the Brit’s play. Murray could not seal the bagel in the end but served out for the breadstick after saving a break point. After breaking for 3-2 in the third set, Murray did not let up on serve and finished off in style serving an ace to take the match 6-2 6-1 6-4 to earn his first Gold Medal and his first best of five sets victory over Roger Federer.

Juan Martin Del Potro recovered from Friday’s gruelling encounter to take the Bronze Medal defeating Novak Djokovic. After failing to make any headway on the Djokovic serve for most of the first set, Del Potro broke at 5-5 to serve for the set. Djokovic hit back in the next service game bringing up multiple break points but Del Potro stood strong to save them and eventually take the set 7-5. An early break in the second for the Argentinian was never reclaimed by Djokovic who only had one break point in the set. Del Potro went down 15-30 serving for the match but as with most occasions where his service games looked in danger, Del Potro brought out the big serves to close out the match for a 7-5 6-4 victory and earn his first Olympic medal.

Olympic Mens Singles Medalists

Source: Getty Images/Paul Gilham

Serena Williams continued her complete dominance of the Women’s circuit with a thrashing of Maria Sharapova in the Women’s Singles final 6-0 6-1 in only 63 minutes. Serena quickly rushed into a 5-0 lead but it looked like Sharapova would avoid the bagel when she took a 40-0 lead in game six. Unfortunately, she was pegged back to deuce and eventually broken to drop the first set without winning a game. It looked like there was a chance of a double bagel as Serena quickly rushed into a 3-0 lead in the second to make it nine games in a row. However, Sharapova eventually held for 3-1 and even had chances to get back on serve in the second but could not take advantage of her only two break points in the match. After holding for 4-1, Williams broke once more and served it out to complete the humiliation of the World’s No.3 player. Victoria Azarenka took the Bronze with a 6-3 6-3 victory over Russia’s Maria Kirilenko, Azarenka had taken 3-0 leads in both sets before being pegged back on both occasions to 3-3 only to push on and win the last 3 games of both sets without reply.

Source: Getty Images/Clive Brunskill

Doubles

Serena Williams and Venus Williams became the first four-times Olympic gold medalists in Tennis as they dominated the Women’s Doubles once more, dropping just two service games in the whole tournament on their way to a third Gold in the doubles tournament. They defeated the Czech pairing of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka 6-4 6-4 saving all four break points faced in the match and breaking the Czechs in one game in each set to seal the victory. The Bronze Medal was taken by Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova who came from a set down to beat the top seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond. The victory will be especially sweet for Kirilenko who failed to take a medal in the Singles after making the semi final. The Russians took both their break point opportunities in the final set to pull away and seal a 4-6 6-4 6-1 victory.

Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan joined Serena Williams in completing a career golden slam after defeating the French pair of Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets in the Men’s Doubles final. The brothers were not broken once on their way to a 6-4 7-6 victory. In an incredibly serve-dominant second set, they took 27 of 29 points on the serve giving Llodra and Tsonga no chance at all. The French doubled their medal haul in the doubles as Richard Gasquet and Julien Benneteau took Bronze with a 7-6 6-2 victory over the Spanish team of David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez. Ferrer and Lopez failed to make any inroads into the French serve and dropped their serve twice in the second set in their defeat.

Andy Murray failed to join Serena Williams in becoming a double gold medalist this year as he and Laura Robson were defeated in the Mixed Doubles final. After in an impressive first set, Murray and Robson could not hold off the pairing of Max Mirnyi and Victoria Azarenka who were too strong in the end. Robson’s double faults in the final set tiebreak did not help as the Belarussian’s sealed the victory with a huge serve from Max Mirnyi on their third match point to win 2-6 6-3 10-8. After defeat in the Bronze Medal match in Women’s Doubles, Lisa Raymond was more fortunate as she and Mike Bryan overcame the German pair of Sabine Lisicki and Christopher Kas. Serve was fairly dominant in this as the pair traded sets with just one break the difference in both. The Germans had no chance in the final set tiebreaker though, losing the first seven points before Raymond and Bryan took their third championship point for a 6-3 4-6 10-4 victory.

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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.

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.

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