CAROLINE WOZNIACKI REGAINS WTA WORLD NO.1 RANKING

DUBAI – By reaching the semifinals at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, Caroline Wozniacki will return to the top of the WTA Rankings on Monday, February 21, 2011.  Wozniacki will surpass the current WTA World No.1 Kim Clijsters who ascended to the top of the rankings last week for the fourth time in her career.  Wozniacki is projected to hold the top spot for at least four weeks through March 20, 2011.  In addition to finishing the 2010 season as the World No.1 ranked player, she held the top ranking for a total of 18 consecutive weeks prior to being overtaken by Clijsters.

Only the 10th player to end the season as the World No.1 since the WTA ranking system was introduced in 1975, Wozniacki became the first player from Denmark to reach the top ranking.  Wozniacki had a career-best season in 2010, capturing a WTA-leading six titles including the China Open (Beijing), the Toray Pan Pacific Open (Tokyo), and the Rogers Cup (Montreal).  She also won the MPS Group Championships (Ponte Vedra Beach), the e-Boks Sony Ericsson Open, the Pilot Pen Tennis at Yale (New Haven) and reached the final of the year-end WTA Championships, falling to Clijsters in three sets.  Playing her first Grand Slam as a World No.1, Wozniacki reached the semifinals of the Australian Open earlier this year, losing to China’s Li Na.

TOTAL WEEKS AT WTA WORLD NO.1

PLAYER DATE REACHED No.1 WEEKS*
Steffi Graf (GER) August 17, 1987 377
Martina Navratilova (TCH/USA) July 10, 1978 332
Chris Evert (USA) November 3, 1975 260
Martina Hingis (SUI) March 31, 1997 209
Monica Seles (YUG/USA) March 11, 1991 178
Serena Williams (USA) July 8, 2002 123
Justine Henin (BEL) October 20, 2003 117
Lindsay Davenport (USA) October 12, 1998 98
Amélie Mauresmo (FRA) September 13, 2004 39
Dinara Safina (RUS) April 20, 2009 26
Tracy Austin (USA) April 7, 1980 21
Kim Clijsters (BEL) August 11, 2003 20
Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) October 11, 2010 19
Jelena Jankovic (SRB) August 11, 2008 18
Jennifer Capriati (USA) October 15, 2001 17
Maria Sharapova (RUS) August 22, 2005 17
Ana Ivanovic (SRB) June 9, 2008 12
Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (ESP) February 6, 1995 12
Venus Williams (USA) February 25, 2002 11
Evonne Goolagong (AUS) April 26, 1976 2

Chart as of February 21, 2011 / * Total weeks at No.1; can be non-consecutive

Henin Retires From Tennis

ending elbow injury that has forced the Belgian to hang up her racquet.  One of the WTA’s greatest players and a seven-time Grand Slam champion, Henin retired from the sport for the first time in March 2008 and became the first woman in the history of professional tennis to retire while ranked World No.1.  She made a successful comeback to tennis at the beginning of the 2010 season, reaching the final of the 2010 Australian Open and capturing two titles (the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart and the UNICEF Open in ‘s-Hertogenbosch).  During a fourth-round loss to Kim Clijsters at 2010 Wimbledon, Henin suffered a right elbow injury and did not play for the remainder of the 2010 season.

On her official website, Henin said the following: “I turn, and this time, an incredible page of my life … What a wonderful trip, I have experienced during all these years.  Today I am calmer and I can create positive and rewarding look back on this experience in my life…Finally and most importantly, thanks everyone.  Thanks for standing by my side during all these years. I will never forget your support and your loyalty.”

“Justine Henin will go down as one of the greatest female athletes of her era.  She has been an incredible ambassador for women’s tennis on and off the court, and her fighting spirit, tremendous courage and ultimate success has captured the minds and hearts of millions of fans around the world,” said Stacey Allaster, Chairman and CEO of the WTA.  “We have all been fortunate to once again have had the opportunity to witness the beauty of her game during these many past months, and no doubt we will miss seeing her on court competing like only Justine can.  In her young career Justine has already done so much to inspire and give back to others, and I am sure this will continue to be a big part of the next chapter of her life.”

Henin is a winner of 43 WTA singles titles – including seven Grand Slam championships – and has been ranked World No.1 for a total of 117 weeks (7th all time).  She has amassed more than $20 million in career prize money and is leaving the sport with a win-loss record of 527-116.

But more importantly than any statistic, 5-foot, 5 ¾-inch (1.67 m) Henin was renowned for her spectacular one-handed backhand, incredible athleticism and unrivalled mental fortitude and work ethic.

Among many accomplishments, Henin achieved the following:

  • Finished three seasons as the WTA World No.1 (2003, 2006, 2007)
  • Won seven Grand Slam singles titles (Roland Garros 2003, 2005-07; Australian Open 2004; US Open 2003, 2007)
  • In 2007-08, set personal best 32-match winning streak, longest streak since Venus Williams in 2000 (35); in 2007, posted a 63-4 (0.94) winning record, the best percentage in women’s tennis since 1989 (Graf 86-2, 0.977)
  • In 2006 became the seventh player in the Open Era to reach all four Grand Slam finals in the same calendar year (Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, and Martina Hingis).
  • Won 43 singles titles, including seven Grand Slams, two season-ending WTA Championships (2006, 2007) and an Olympic gold medal in singles in Athens in 2004
  • Helped lead Belgium to its first Fed Cup title in 2001.

After retiring from tennis in 2008, Henin turned her focus to charitable work, becoming a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF and traveling to Cambodia and the Democratic Republic of Congo in that role throughout 2009.  She created the “Justine For Kids” association, the purpose of which is to help develop and fund projects to aid sick children and their families.  Henin founded the “Sixth Sense Academy” in 2007 with coach Carlos Rodriguez which has five locations – three in Belgium, one in Florida and the most recent one in China.

An Interview With Mary Jo Fernandez

Mary Joe Fernandez

TIM CURRY: We have on the call with us live from Australia, U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez. It’s 7:30 in the morning in Melbourne, and she’s preparing again today for ESPN commentary duties once again but is joining us to announce the U.S. Fed Cup team that will take on Belgium February 5th and 6th in Antwerp.
This is Mary Joe’s third year as U.S. Fed Cup Captain and she has successfully led the U.S. to the finals her first two years as captain. After introductory comments from Mary Joe, we will open up the call for Q&A. Mary Joe.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Good morning from Australia. Good afternoon there in the states. Just wanted to let everybody know how excited I am to be starting as Fed Cup captain this year. And it seems like when you end the year and start the year it’s very quick, there’s a big gap between the semis and finals, but there’s a quick turnaround between the finals and the first round. But here we go. Right after Australia we head over to Belgium. And I’m pleased to announce my team.
I have the same core group returning with Bethanie Mattek-Sands playing; Melanie Oudin; Liezel Huber, and Vania King will be joining us again, two-time majors doubles winner last year. She’s been on teams before.
And we’re excited to have her return. So we’re looking forward to it. We have our work cut out for us in Belgium against the top players. But we’re going to go give it our best shot. I have great faith in the team and the capabilities. And we’ll see what happens. So I open it up to questions.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?

Q. You mentioned having your work cut out for you. What sort of intimidation factor might there be with Belgium apparently bringing (Kim) Clijsters and Justine (Henin)?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Well, it’s pretty clear. They’re two of the best players to play the game. And Clijsters is still here playing today in the quarterfinals. Justine went out early.
To me, the Fed Cup is very different than a regular tour tournament. And, again, hopefully I can offer some advice when I’m on the court. And you just — you really approach it as this one unique match. And you try to do all you can to disrupt all the great things that both those players do.
It’s not easy. But it’s been done before. And you go out with a very positive attitude.

Q. And you had expected or hoped that Venus Williams might have been able to play this time and I’m wondering when you found out she wouldn’t be able to play?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Yes, Venus was going to play, and unfortunately she got hurt during the Australian Open and just confirmed with her just a couple of days ago about her injury and she wouldn’t be able to go.

Q. Obviously you’ve been to Australia and you’ve been watching Melanie and Bethanie and Vania and Liezel play. How impressed are you with how they’ve all started their years and how they’re looking now in the year?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Well, Liezel just won last night her doubles. She’s going to be playing in the semifinals later today with Nadia Petrova. And she’s been looking her usual prepared self and playing smart tennis on the doubles courts.
Bethanie had a great run down here in Australia winning the Hopman Cup with John Isner and then getting to the finals in a warm-up tournament before. She had a tough first-round match against actually a qualifier named (Arantxa) Rus. Was down a set in the break and fought really hard and came back and started up the match in the third and had a tough time closing it out.
But in the mixed doubles lost her doubles yesterday. So she’s been playing a lot of tennis, which is good. She’s match tough. She’s prepared.
Melanie had a tougher time down under, not winning any matches, and losing a tough three set match here in her first round here at the Australian Open. She’s not as confident. But Fed Cup seems to bring out the best in Melanie time and time again. And she’s practicing hard again this week. And we’ll be ready for her next week.
And Vania won her first round and then lost to (Caroline) Wozniacki in a tough second round. Wozniacki is still in the tournament. She’s in the semis. That was a tough drop for her. But she’s coming from last year playing two major finals and winning them in doubles, with (Yaroslava) Shvedova. She didn’t win here.
But she as well is back at home and starting to practice and get ready. So overall pretty good. They all have played matches and will be ready.

Q. I know obviously until you actually get down there and you are watching the girls play and everything, you don’t really know how you’re going to do it. But obviously Liezel and Bethanie have had a lot of success the last couple of years for you in doubles, yet obviously Vania has had great success at the Slams last year and everything. Do you have any inkling of what way you stay with the combination that’s been working or you go with Vania, or you just can’t even think about that yet?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: I think about it. The nice thing about having Vania on the team, she’s very versatile, can play both singles and doubles. And I do make my decision sort of towards the end. We’ve changed our double teams a few times right before that fifth match.
Leaning at the start, definitely to go with the team that’s been there before. And that’s played. Having said that, Vania and Liezel have played a couple times at Fed Cup as well. They complement each other very well, too.
We’ll obviously have to play it by ear as it gets to the fifth match. But during the week we’ll have everybody practice doubles with each other, because you really have to be prepared for any situation. But that’s the good news having Vania is she can play many different roles.

Q. You talked about the timing. You also mentioned that. I would imagine having Fed Cup and having to travel on the heels of the Australian Open would not be what most people think is the most ideal timing.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: It depends where you’re playing. It’s a tough flight, obviously, for me because I’m going straight from here. But for the ones that are back at home, it’s not as bad.
And we’re playing on a surface we like. It’s indoor hard. And we went to France last year and played well. So we’re used to it. We’re used to the travel. We’re used to the time changes and getting used to it.

Q. I was wondering if you could talk about Melanie and how have you seen her develop since her run at the U.S. Open a couple of years ago, and how she’s played last year for you at Fed Cup?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Sure. Melanie, not last year but the year before, was the Cinderella story of the US Open and it really started before that when she qualified at Wimbledon beating Jankovic along the way. She has so much determination. She works extremely hard.
In my mind, she’s improving, trying to get better. She’s not as focused on day-to-day results it is about getting better at her game. I think last year was a tough year for her.
I think players figured her game out. She had a little bit more of a target on her back. And I think it was a tough year for her to get used to all the attention, all the publicity and really the expectation of being the next great American.
She handles it well. She has a great head on her shoulders. For Fed Cup, she’s been instrumental, and I couldn’t ask for a better team player because she really puts the team first.
You’ve seen her play. She fights for every single ball from the first ball to the last. That’s what you want to see during team competition.
So she’ll get there again. I think she’s doing the right thing. She’s trying to get, develop a better serve, a little bit more power. She’s trying to become a little more offensive. For me, the important thing is if she can’t get away from her strength, from her movement, from her consistency. I think that’s really what got her the breakthrough and she’s got to have that balance and combination in her game.

Q. Is this going to be the key for her to jump to that top 20 level?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Again, I think her base is how quick she is and how well she can maneuver around the court and defend. For someone that tall, she really packs a pretty big punch with her forehand. She’s trying to learn to use that better and be a little more aggressive. You just can’t come, I think, too much outside your game sometimes and leave the consistency behind. So once she starts figuring out the balance of the two, I think that’s when she’s going to start winning a lot more matches.

TIM CURRY: While we wait for further questions to be queued, I wanted to mention that win or lose, the U.S. Fed Cup team will play their next match the weekend of April 16-17. If the U.S. wins, we will host the winner of the Slovak Repubic/Czech Republic quarterfinal. If we lose, we will be competing the World Group Playoff that weekend, most likely against one of the teams currently in World Group II, to determine our status for the 2012 Fed Cup.

Q. Just curious to get your thoughts on some of the results of some of the young American women, in particular Lauren Davis and Beatrice Capra, Christina (McHale), Coco (Vandeweghe), and if any of them will be coming along as practice partners to Belgium?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Sure. Lauren Davis will be coming along as one of our young players. Won the (USTA) wildcard playoff tournament to the Australian Open and lost to Sam Stosur in the first right here. And playing Juniors and had a tough win yesterday, and I think she’s on court again today. So I’m looking forward to having her there.
She’s won so many matches in the last season winning Juniors and Challengers and everything. So I think it’s something like 35, 36 matches. She’s definitely one to watch.
And we had eight American women in the main draw here that were 21 years old and younger, which was really nice to see, and that included Christina McHale and Coco Vandeweghe. Alison Riske, Jamie Hampton. So it was a nice break-through.
Unfortunately, they didn’t get past the first round. So we still have a lot of work to do. But they’re slowly getting there. I really believe that all these women should be in the top 100. They should be consistently getting into the majors and perhaps going a lot further and breaking the top 50. I think it was a big step to get so many in the main draw, whether it was through qualifying or like Lauren won the (USTA) wildcard tournament and got straight in risk got straight in, and (Irina) Falconi came thru qualifying as well. It’s definitely looking better. And the women are working hard.
I was down in Florida, the USTA Training Center in December, watching a lot of the girls practice and they’re taking it really seriously. And that’s why I really suspect a big jump from a lot of them here in 2011.

TIM CURRY: Many of the top young players that Mary Joe mentioned, including Coco Vandeweghe, Allison Riske and Irina Falconi, will be competing at the $100,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Midland, Mich., the week following Fed Cup as well as some of the young players who have been part of previous U.S. Fed Cup teams such as Sloane Stephens, Alexa Glatch and Christina McHale. Qualifying in Midland actually begins while the Fed Cup matches are being contested.

Q. Did Jim Courier at all stop you or ask for any tips since he’s starting his captaincy and yet you recently did, I was wondering if you guys had any conversation on that?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: We’ve had a few conversations about what a long road it’s been, two South Florida juniors have come through, and he is Davis Cup captain and I’m Fed Cup captain, how nice that is. I’ve known Jim forever. And I think he’s going to do a fantastic job. Tips, no. He jokes around all the time, how do I get to the final my first year. (Laughter)
But, again, he’s a great guy. He’s very smart. He knows his tennis. Strategy. Great camaraderie with all the U.S. men and looking forward to seeing him do great things with the Davis Cup team.

Q. Wondering your opinion on potentially Rafael Nadal can win the Nadal Slam, it won’t be a calendar slam, but it will be a non-calendar slam. Particularly in the men’s game, I know it’s been done in the women’s game, nobody’s done it since 1969. And when Rod did it as a calendar slam, if he does that how do you view that accomplishment?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: I think it would be unbelievable. I mean, for him to get four in a row during a time where the competition is just so high would be outstanding and what I love about Nadal is his improvement, just in the last few years. I mean, every year he’s better. And for someone who just started off as a great clay quarter, you know, now he dominates on every surface. He’s remarkable. So he’s very close. I think he can do it.
And it would be just, it would be great to see because it has been a long time since it’s been done. And I think it would be great for tennis, too.

Q. Wanted to ask how have you treated putting on the different hats or roles of potential coach, friend, mentor, even parent sometimes to these young girls, and if you could talk about a situation where you’ve had to play those different roles?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Well, one of the things I really enjoy about Fed Cup and the week of Fed Cup is learning — now I have a sort of base group that I’m getting to know really well. But their personalities. I mean, everybody’s very different. Billie Jean King was my mentor, Fed Cup and Olympic captain.
And she’s always giving me such great advice about how you really have to treat each individual differently and learn what works with each one.
Some like to be talked to more, some less. When to find those moments. And the most important thing for me is to try to get the best out of them, to make them the best they can be. And it’s a challenge. But for me it’s very rewarding. It’s a lot of fun. And I enjoy following all these American women through the year. And at a time now where we’re really trying to develop the next generation of players, it’s fun. It’s been exciting, and I enjoy, when I watch them practice and see what their intentions are, what their goals are.
So you are, you’re coach, you’re friend, you’re trying to help any which way you can. And they become family, the ones that you deal with on a very frequent basis, and it’s been — I’ve said this before, it’s been a great experience. And one of the favorite things that I get to do.
TIM CURRY: Thank you.

WTA Top 20 Rankings

1 Serena Williams (USA) 6995.00pts

2 Caroline Wozniacki (Den) 5910.00

3 Venus Williams (USA) 5796.00

4 Vera Zvonareva (Rus) 5550.00

5 Kim Clijsters (Bel) 5325.00

6 Jelena Jankovic (Ser) 5205.00

7 Samantha Stosur (Aus) 4950.00

8 Francesca Schiavone (Ita) 4670.00

9 Agnieszka Radwanska (Pol) 3995.00

10 Elena Dementieva (Rus) 3945.00

11 Victoria Azarenka (Blr) 3715.00

12 Na Li (Chn) 3520.00

13 Svetlana Kuznetsova (Rus) 3516.00

14 Marion Bartoli (Fra) 3455.00

15 Maria Sharapova (Rus) 3450.00

16 Justine Henin (Bel) 3415.00

17 Shahar Peer (Isr) 3295.00

18 Aravane Rezai (Fra) 3100.00

19 Nadia Petrova (Rus) 3070.00

20 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Rus) 2780.00

US Open Womens Preview

(August 28, 2010) Caroline Wozniacki huddled up with a group of formidable supporters in New Haven last week as the Yale football team, who forged a bond with the bubbly blond Dane after she visited one of their practices last season, surrounded her on court following her victory at the Pilot Pen.

Wozniacki enters the US Open seeded first for the first time in a major and while tennis is not a contact sport, the US Open runner-up faces a collision course of a quarter featuring former champions Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova as well as a slew of hard hitters capable of deterring her drive to a second straight Open final.

Defending champion Kim Clijsters was reunited with the shiny silver US Open trophy as she pulled green chips signifying the seeds during the US Open draw ceremony conducted inside the main interview room at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

While Clijsters has a strong shot to return to at least the semifinals for her fourth consecutive time, the congested top quarter is packed with a trio of potential finalists in Wozniacki, the 11th-seeded Kuznetsova and 14th-seeded Sharapova as well as Australian Open semifinalist Na Li, the No. 8 seed, hard hitting French woman Aravane Rezai, who beat Justine Henin and Venus Williams en route to the Madrid title in May, 23rd-seeded Maria Kirilenko, who upset Sharapova at the Australian Open and beat Kuznetsova in Rome, and lefthander Lucie Safarova, who has a history of first-round flame-outs in New York, but can be dangerous when her forehand is firing.

The absence of 13-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams and Australian Open finalist Justine Henin creates an immense opportunity for several players in a field that features a quartet of former champions in Clijsters, Venus Williams, Sharapova and Kuznetsova.

“The women’s side is obviously, because Serena is gone and Henin is out, wildly open,” CBS and ESPN analyst John McEnroe said. “It seems like Wozniacki is starting to find some of her form again, but obviously this is one that is open for the taking. Kim has positioned herself well, I think, in terms of what she needs to do to defend her title. Venus is obviously winging it, but if there is ever time for the draw to be open for her with players that have not played up to their recent form, if she was ever going to win anything again this would be the time if she’s healthy.”

Here’s a quarter by quarter preview of the draw.

Top Quarter

The second-ranked Wozniacki could surpass Serena Williams, who withdrew with a foot injury, for the World No. 1 ranking if she wins the Open, but a brutal draw makes that prospect look about as promising as Wozniacki playing liquid hop scotch atop the dancing water fountains outside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Wozniacki opens with American wild card Chelsey Gullickson and could face Safarova in the third round.

Three-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova has the potentially toughest test of any woman in the quarter opening against Jarmila Groth, a big server who can hammer her forehand with authority and thirves off the type of pace Sharapova brings. Still, given the fact Sharapova reached successive finals in Stanford and Cincinnati and will be pumped and primed to erase the memories of her third round loss to American spitfire Melanie Oudin last year as well as her first-round debacle in Melbourne last January, look for a supremely-focused Sharapova to take Wozniacki out in the fourth round.

Though she hasn’t won a tournament title since Strasbourg on clay in May, Sharapova has restored some of her swagger with successive finals though her serve can still be skittish.

“I absolutely do think (Sharapova has a shot). I think she’s pretty confident looking,” McEnroe said. “I was at a Nike event with her and she was pretty cocky about the dresses (she will wear at the US Open). She had this smug, confident feeling about not only the dresses. I think she’s due for some good luck. She’s had some pretty tough draws and I think she’s poised actually. She does have Wozniacki pretty early in the draw.  I think she’s put herself in position (to contend).  She’s certainly one of the top four choices.”

Kuznetsova, who recalls Marat Safin as arguably the most talented head case in the game, is a woman to watch in this quarter. She opens against 39-year-old Kimiko Date Krumm, who toppled former No. 1 Dinara Safina in the French Open first round. Kuznetsova, the 2004 US Open champion, brings a unique fear factor to New York: she deconstruct the game of any woman in this field or completely detonate herself in self-doubt and frustration. the scary thing is Kuznetsova herself rarely seems to know what type of tennis or attitude she brings to the event until it actually starts.

If Kuznetsova can keep her head together and prevent her rabid emotions from cannibalizing her game, she should beat Li and create a blockbuster all-Russian quarterfinal with Sharapova in what would be a rematch of the Cincinnati first round. Sharapova won that match as a weary Kuznetsova, coming off a win over Agnieszka Radwanska in the Cincinnati first round, faded in the third set. But Kuznetsova has a better and more reliable serve, she’s a better mover and has more variety in her game though Sharapova is a better pressure player.

The winner of the Sharapova-Kuznetsova match should go on to reach the final from the top half of the draw.

Quarterfinal Conclusion: (11) Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. (14) Maria Sharapova

Second Quarter

Hobbled by a creaky ankle and haunted by the timid tennis she played in losing to Samantha Stosur in the French open semifinals, Jelena Jankovic’s game and confidence has been in shambles since Wimbledon. Can the 2008 finalist turn it around in New York?

Jankovic has a kind draw, opening with Simona Halep in the first round followed by a second-round match with Alicia Molik or a qualifier. Yanina Wickmayer, carrying the burden of defending her 2009 semifinal points, looms as a potential fourth-round opponent for the speedy Serbian.

If Jankovic, who seems to create more drama than a soap opera, can work her way through the first week she should get to a quarterfinal against either Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva or the ninth-seeded Radwanska. Jankovic must be willing to play more aggressive and be patient when pulling the trigger on her best shot, the backhand down the line, which she sometimes over plays.

Radwanska is often overlooked because she is not a hard-hitter who lights up the radar gun. In fact, she’s prone to hitting some sub-75 mph second serves that wouldn’t burst a balloon, but she has soft hands, shrewd court sense and is a stubborn competitor who knocked defending champion Sharapova out of the 2007 US Open. She has the ability to reach the semifinals if she can adapt to the court speed and find a way to diffuse the bigger hitters.

Similarly, Zvonareva, who blew six match points in an emotional implosion to Flavia Pennetta at the Open last year, can beat anyone in this quarter or beat up herself in the process. The image of a tearful Zvonareva tearing the tape off her leg and slapping her thigh in frustration during the 2009 Open remains one of the most unsettling moments of the tournaments as she unraveled before the eyes of 23,000 spectators.

Still, Zvonareva, like Kuznetsova in the top quarter of the draw, showed the type of tennis she can play in reaching the Wimbledon final in both singles and doubles. Zvonareva can go deep here if she doesn’t blow up in a temperamental tirade.

Quarterfinal Conclusion: (4) Jelena Jankovic vs. (7) Vera Zvonareva or (9) Agnieszka Radwanska.

Third Quarter

The good news for Venus Williams is she has a soft draw, the bad news is it’s a hard road to reach a Grand Slam semifinal when you haven’t played a match in more than two months, own a temperamental forehand that can go from as fierce as a flame thrower to as sketchy as a leaky water pistol, and are staring down a possible third-round match against the woman who beat you at Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

Third-seeded Venus opens against Italian Robert Vinci and could face her major nemesis, 32nd-seeded Tsvetana Pironkova, in the third round in a rematch of the Wimbledon quarterfinals that saw Pironkova sweep the five-time Wimbledon winner in straight sets.

If Williams can get to the second week she could square off with the dangerous Italian Pennetta, who has reached consecutive quarterfinals in New York. Pennetta pushed Serena Williams in a tight test in the ’09 quarters and has beaten Venus at the French Open in the past.

Look for Venus or Pennetta to play Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals. The 10th-seeded Belarusian retired from the Montreal semifinals on Monday with a blister, but says she will be ready for the Open. Azarenka owns the fast, flat strokes that play well on the Deco Turf. Though she’s never been beyond the fourth round in four career appearances at the Open, Azarenka beat Sharapova in the Stanford final, beat Serena to win Miami last year, and has the game to reach the semifinals. Does she have the nerve?

We’ll find out.

Quarterfinal Conclusion: (10) Victoria Azarenka vs. (3) Venus Williams or (19) Flavia Pennetta

Fourth Quarter

A simple rubber band rather than the familiar Fila visor kept Clijsters’ halo of hair from falling onto her face as the reigning US Open champion arrived at Arthur Ashe Stadium already on the move. Only this time, Clijsters wasn’t skidding into the sliding splits she’s performed beneath the bright lights of the blue stadium court in winning the Flushing Meadows major in each of her last two appearances.

It was the mad dash from the interview room, site of today’s US Open draw ceremony,  to ESPN’s outdoor set across from the practice courts, during a commecial break that kept tennis’ top working mom in motion.

Even when she’s not playing matches, Clijsters always seems to be going places.

The demands of defending the Open are greater than the seven matches required to win the season’s final Grand Slam. To master the season’s final major you must embrace the experience that is New York, navigate the hustle, bustle and muscle of a city that seems to operate at the manic pace of an overcafenated bicycle messenger zipping through traffic.

The question is can Clijsters, who made a memorable, magical run to her second US Open
title as a long shot wild card last year, bear the burden that comes from being a
favorite this time around?

It’s been a bit of an up and down season, but Clijsters says she will start the Open in sound shape mentally and physically despite suffering a hip strain in Montreal last week.

“I know if I play good tennis I can beat anyone out there,” she said.

The second-seeded Belgian opens against Greta Arn and could be looking at a fourth-
round meeting with either 21st-seeded Jie Zheng or former World No. Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round. Neither Zheng nor Ivanovic have played their best tennis in New York. Zheng, who opened the season reaching the Australian Open semifinals, has never been beyong the third round in five appearances in New York. Ivanovic, who retired from the Cincinnati semifinals against Clijsters after sustaining a foot injury, bottomed out of the Open in a first-round loss to Kateryna Bondarenko last year after suffering a shocking second-round setback to 188th-ranked qualifier Julie Coin as the top seed in 2008.

Typically, Clijsters has not always played her best tennis when she’s a favorite. This year could be different. Why?

Because without Serena in the field, Clijsters is the best hard-court player in the sport, she is riding a 14-match winning streak in New York, she is comfortable with the city and spends several weeks every summer with husband Brian Lynch, a New Jersey native and daughter Jada in the couple’s Jersey home, she likes the speed of the court and enjoys as much fan support as any non-American in the field.

Clijsters could be looking at a fourth-round match with Marion Bartoli and a potential quarterfinal with 2004 finalist Elena Dementieva, arguably the best woman yet to master a major.

Quarterfinal conclusion: (2) Kim Clijsters vs. (12) Elena Dementieva

See more of Rich’s work at TennisNow.com, where this article first originated.

The Tour Is Better With Henin

For a while there, it looked like Justine Henin’s comeback would mirror fellow countrywoman Kim Clijsters by winning her first major on her first try.

Alas though, this time Serena Williams did not melt down and the former No. 1 had to settle for runner up in the Oz Open, after she lost the final. 4-6 6-3, 2-6.

“Of course disappointed, I mean, when you lose in the final of a Grand Slam, especially in three sets, and I got a few opportunities that I haven’t been able to take,” Henin said.“But this feeling of disappointment cannot take advantage on all the things I’ve done in the last few weeks. And it’s just more than what I could expect for. I just have to remember that.

“Even if it’s quite soon after the match now, I’m sure there will be a lot of positive things I can think about in a few days. It’s been almost perfect. Just the last step, I couldn’t make it.”

It really was almost perfect for Henin after she came back from almost a two year absence. Retiring on May 2008, the tour really hasn’t been the same without her. Too many nondescript beautiful Eastern Europeans competing along with the Williams Sisters dominated the tour and not enough of the pizzazz Henin brought to the table.

Maybe that’s why the press went ga-ga for Melanie Oudin at the US Open. The sport needed an everywoman – an average sized powerhouse that tramples the competition.

With Henin, it has it back.

“She can go really far,” said Williams after the final match. “As you saw today, she took me to the umpteenth level. She clearly hasn’t like lost a step at all since she’s been gone.

“So I feel like I played a girl who’s been on the tour for the past five years without a break.”

Henin being back the sport has someone all fans can love. She’s not a model, nor does she act like a superstar. Rather, you have the girl next door, who hasn’t changed since the world first saw her back in 1999.

Now we may see a new Henin, who will pick and choose her matches, much like Clijsters, who could not follow up her Open win. She says she will play in Indian Wells in March and then look forward to Roland Garros in May, so obviously this is just the beginning.

Yet, the tour has their star back, as Henin looks refreshed from her absence from the game and she knows there’s plenty of work to be done if she wants to be No. 1 again.

“I’ll be focused on what I have to improve in the next few weeks, the next few months,” she said. “I’ve only played two tournaments. It’s the end of January. The season is still very long. I want to enjoy every moment I spend on the court and be very smart about the calendar and everything.

“Winning big tournaments, just get better, get better, get better. That’s my motivation, and the rest comes. If I get better, if I improve, if I work hard, the rest will come. So I’m not focused on who’s No. 1 or whatever at the moment or where I can be in a few months.

“I have some goals, of course, but I just don’t want to look too far. Everything went pretty fast, fast enough already in the last four weeks. It’s just time to calm down and think about the future.”

And with that, another successful comeback is in the books and the women’s tour is so much better for it.

Serena Continues Legacy in Oz

[CHICAGO] – Each and every time Serena Williams reaches the semi-finals of the Australian Open, she goes on to win the title. This first Grand Slam of 2010 was no exception. Williams dominated this all Wilson final, putting an end to the amazing return of former #1, Justine Henin.

With her [K] Blade Team racket, the 12 time Grand Slam champion held strong throughout the entire tournament despite being injured. The final match was all about Serena’s well known power game as she defeated Henin 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. Fans knew they were watching a great champion doing what she does best. Serena pushed through her injury and played like a true champion, running down every ball and leaving it all on the court.

“It feels incredible to defend my title here in Melbourne,” Serena said after winning against Henin. “Justine is a great competitor but I knew this was my time to shine and gave it everything I had.”

This was Williams’ fifth Australian Open title and she is the first woman in the Open Era to win five Australian Open titles. She is also the first to win back-to-back Australian Opens since Jennifer Capriati in 2002.

Before winning her singles championship, Serena defended the doubles title with her sister Venus and their [K] Blade Team rackets. The sisters rolled over the world’s top-ranked women’s doubles team of Cara Black and Liezel Huber in two sets 6-4, 6-3. It’s their fourth Australian Open title together; part of their collection of an astonishing eleven Grand Slam women’s doubles championships.

“It is just great to continue this success with Serena,” said Venus after winning her doubles title. “We know each other’s game so well– we’re the perfect match.”

Wilson Racquet Sports is a division of Chicago-based Wilson Sporting Goods, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of sports equipment and owned by Amer Sports. Wilson designs, manufactures and distributes sporting goods throughout the world and focuses on making technologically advanced products which help players of all levels perform better. Wilson’s core sport categories include: Football, Basketball, Baseball, Volleyball, Soccer, Youth Sports, Uniforms/Apparel, Golf, Footwear and Racquet Sports (Tennis, Racquetball, Squash, Badminton and Platform Tennis). For more information, visit www.wilson.com.

Dinara Just Like Marat

There’s no denying Dinara Safina’s talent. At 23, the younger sister of former Grand Slam champion Marat Safin has accomplished plenty, joining older brother as the only siblings to ever reach No.1 in the world.

Despite holding the top spot after finishing runner-up at the first two grand slams (Australian, French), the enigmatic Safina has fizzled lately with a poor second half this season that’s included a blowout Wimbledon semifinal defeat in which she got only a game off Venus Williams and a third round U.S. Open exit at the hands of unheralded Czech Petra Kvitova to conclude a disappointing stay in New York.

Though it’s been a breakthrough year in terms of rankings and reaching her first ever major finals, something seems to be missing. After another disappointment at the upset marred Pan Pacific Open, falling to unknown qualifier Chang Kai-Chen in three sets, Safina continues to receive heavy criticism for something she can’t control. When she became the 19th women’s top ranked player on April 20, it was due to hard work.

Not long ago, the second ever female Russian to hit No.1 (joined Maria Sharapova) was ranked just outside the Top 15 when she upset seven-time slam winner Justine Henin in a French tuneup, sending the Belgian to retirement. Two and a half years later, the 27 year-old saw that it was possible to return thanks to countrywoman Kim Clijsters’ impressive run claiming her second Open earlier this month with triumphs over both Williams sisters, completing it with a straight set victory over current No.5 riser Caroline Wozniacki.

So, Safina’s path to winning that elusive major just got tougher. She certainly hits one of the biggest balls on the WTA Tour. But thus far, her struggle to gain worldwide respect reminds us too much of Marat, who’s hanging it up later this year. Sadly, one of the game’s most gifted players on the ATP is burnt out at 29. While that’s an age when many in tennis call it quits, one ponders how many more majors he could’ve won if he’d put his mind to it.

Back in 2000, anything seemed possible with the then 20 year-old destroying Pete Sampras in straights at the Open. Something unheard of. With a great serve and blistering ground strokes that included a deadly backhand, the big man’s future looked very promising. Instead of continuing to win majors, he enjoyed his success a little too much. Perhaps the new lifestyle contributed to him not fulfilling potential.

Though the root of the problem couldn’t really be blamed on partying but rather Safin losing concentration during matches. He was always a tough out making three Australian Open finals. After dropping the first two due to an admitted bout with confidence, he won his second slam in grand fashion by upsetting Roger Federer in a memorable five set semifinal that saw him fight off match point. Fresh off ending the Swiss Maestro’s 26-match win streak over Top 10 foes, he completed it by besting Aussie hometown favorite Lleyton Hewitt in four sets.

Following the impressive run, many including us expected him to get back in contention. However, that never came to fruition with Safin teasing many with his immense skills. Amazingly, he had his best run at Wimbledon in 2008 going all the way to the semis before Federer drove him nuts in three tight sets. That it came with him ranked No.75 was no shock. You never could tell what you were getting from the only Russian man who ever made the Final Four at the All England Club.

Maybe that helps better explain Safina who’s still young enough to have a great career. She can take solace knowing that Marat has a Hall of Fame resume featuring the two slams, two Aussie runner-ups, No.1 ranking and helping their home country Russia win its first ever Davis Cup in 2002 on a stacked team that included former No.1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Mikhail Youzhny and Andrei Stoliarov. They also won in 2006 with Safin an integral part winning doubles with Dmitry Tursunov and a singles win over Argentina’s Jose Acasuso.

For the younger Safina, she’s already won 12 titles, reached two slam finals, hit No.1 and won Olympic silver in singles when she fell to countrywoman Elena Dementieva in three tight sets at Beijing. So, her career has hardly been disappointing. If only she could get over the hump and win a slam, it would silence many critics. But hey. We could easily say the same thing for the talented Dementieva and former outspoken No.1 Jelena Jankovic, who’s dipped to No.8.

For the ladies, it’s not easy to win majors when you’re competing with Venus and Serena Williams. If Sharapova returns to form next year, watch out. With Clijsters and Henin back along with Wozniacki looking to take the next step, the women’s game has become much better. Another proven Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova also won her second slam routing Safina at Roland Garros earlier this year. American Melanie Oudin made a name for herself at Flushing Meadows as did German Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon.

There’s plenty of talent which also includes Russian enigmas Vera Zvonareva and Nadia Petrova, who have big enough games to compete but lack the mental capacity. This is a similar issue Safina’s dealing with as is former 2008 French Open winner Ana Ivanovic, who continued to struggle in a first round loss to Czech Lucie Safarova in which she had 11 double faults. Italian Flavia Pennetta, who reached the Open quarters before falling to Serena also is a good player. So too is 20 year-old Serbian Victoria Azarenka who after a strong start has experienced growing pains which have included temper tantrums.

So much of the battle is the head. Something Safina’s older brother referred to when he conquered Federer down under, terming the big upset a “head battle.” Very little separates the top players on each side. However, sometimes it’s what’s going on upstairs which can determine the outcome. This is also true of sports in general where even the biggest stars such as Alex Rodriguez can struggle under the spotlight. Whether that continues for the Yankee star third baseman on a superb team this October, we’ll know soon enough.

Aside from dealing with confidence issues, there’s also strategy which comes into play in an ultra competitive sport like tennis. Players who can adjust during matches usually have success. That can sometimes require alternating game plans. Something we haven’t seen a whole lot of on the women’s side where a plethora of top ranked players go bigger and bigger 24/7. Even with her injuries, Sharapova’s been a disappointment who should have more than two slams (2004 Wimbledon, 2007 U.S. Open). Power can only take you so far.

Tennis can use players who think outside the box like former No.1 Martina Hingis. Precisely what they’re getting with Clijsters and Henin who can hit with the best of them but also possess great speed and balance which helps create angles. They also aren’t afraid to come to the net to finish points. Something we saw the 19 year-old Dane Wozniacki do in her loss to Clijsters. Another player who closes well is Venus by using her size and athleticism effectively. Younger sis Serena is capable but usually prefers outslugging opponents while playing great D.

To truly be great, a player must always be willing to adjust on the fly. If something’s not working, change it up. How many times do you hear the frustration in Brad Gilbert or Martina Navratilova’s voice? They beat it over and over again and probably shake their heads in disgust at such gifted players not getting the most out of their God given ability.

For Safina, who can implode on the court similarly to emotional brother Marat, she must address this. It will be crucial to her future. She’s plenty good enough to win majors. But it’s taking that next step which will help determine how successful she is.

She seems like a wonderful person with her entertaining brother’s winning personality. So, she knows what’s wrong. It’s how she goes about fixing it that could wind up in even better results.

The Pizazz Is Back With Henin Returning

The worst kept secret is finally official. Justine Henin is returning to tennis. The seven-time grand slam champion announced her intentions earlier today.

“Justine Henin is one of the great champions in the history of women’s tennis, and we, along with millions of her fans around the glob, are thrilled with her announcement today,” said Tour CEO Stacey Allaster. “Justine was that rare athlete who decided to step away from the game at the height of her powers, and no doubt she will be a force to be reckoned with from the get go. Her career was marked by so many amazing moments, and a new chapter begins today.”

One of the biggest reasons for her return to a sport she once was on top of ranked first over a year ago when the gritty Belgian called it quits is because she’s never won Wimbledon. The only major that’s eluded her from achieving a career grand slam.

“It is a dream of mine,” the 27 year-old Henin said who lost twice in finals (2001, 2006) while also coming close in a 2007 semifinal loss to runner-up Marion Bartoli. “I want to work to get it. I make it a priority.”

“I can see her winning it,” long-time coach Carlos Rodriguez told RTL-TVI network. “This fourth title, it is one of the reasons for coming back.”

During her impressive WTA career, Henin’s captured one Australian Open (2004), four French (2003, 2005-07) amd two U.S. Opens (2003, 2007) while totaling 41 singles titles, taking her place among the best. Pretty amazing stuff considering her small frame that lists her under 5-6 at 126 pounds.

On a tour dominated by heavy hitters Serena and Venus Williams along with Maria Sharapova, the feisty Henin proved her mettle by being able to go toe to toe with her bigger competition. Thanks to a solid forehand along with her signature one-handed backhand which is easily one of the best in the game, Henin has proven size doesn’t matter as much as heart to win. Along with her speed, she’s been able to come up with great angles keeping points alive while also faring well during exchanges, making for fun tennis.

Indeed, there’s plenty to admire about one of a handful of players who defeated both Williams sisters en route to winning a slam. Something her one year younger countrywoman Kim Clijsters accomplished in a successful comeback following a two and a half year break, finishing it off by besting Caroline Wozniacki for her second U.S. Open.

“Subconsciously, it might have had an impact,” Henin admitted of seeing what Clijsters accomplished in just her third event. “But it certainly was not the most important reason.”

“The last 15 months, I’ve been able to recharge the batteries, emotionally as well.”

During her time away, she became a UNICEF goodwill ambassador focusing her attention on finding cures for struggling children in Congo, Cambodia and Denmark. Certainly admirable work from a player who made history by becoming the first ever No.1 to retire, stunning the tennis world following some early exits prior to defense of Roland Garros.

That included a three set defeat to current No.1 Russian Dinara Safina in Berlin. At the time, Safina was ranked outside the top 10. It turned out to be Henin’s final match. She seemed fairly certain a return wouldn’t happen. But as so often happens in sports, the burning desire to compete never goes away.

“A flame I thought was extinguished forever suddenly lit up again,” she pointed out on a TV appearance while also noting a desire to play at the 2012 London Summer Games. Henin won gold in singles in 2004 at Athens.

“Adrenaline is part of my life, my existence. It is in my character.”

That character is ready to be tested with her scheduling exhibitions in Charleroi, Belgium and Dubai as preparation before returning to compete down under in next year’s first slam, the Australian Open.

“The fire within burns again. I want to come back in January.”

If she still has it and there’s no reason to believe she won’t, the WTA just got a lot better. With both Clijsters and Henin back along with emerging 19 year-old Dane Wozniacki and soon to be 18 year-old American phenom Melanie Oudin plus Svetlana Kuznetsova, it looks like Serena and Venus will have plenty of competition in the future.

So, while Safina, Jelena Jankovic and Elena Dementieva continue to struggle for that elusive slam, it promises to be much more challenging. Especially if Sharapova returns to form. Keep a close eye on talented Bulgarian Victoria Azarenka who has a big enough game to make a dent. Ditto for 20 year-old German sensation Sabine Lisicki who made a surprise quarter run at Wimbledon that included wins over Kuznetsova and Wozniacki.

Can Yanina Wickmayer carry forward her surprise semifinal Open appearance? Will the Ana Ivanovic that won a French and made it to No.1 ever return? What about talented Russians like Nadia Petrova or Vera Zvonareva? Can they ever get over the hump?

The women’s game just improved leaps and bounds. The pizazz is back.

Serena Needs To Cut The Diva Act

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – A few years ago, it seemed like Serena Williams was more concerned about her social life, fashion, and her brand name, rather than her play on the court. And it got so bad in 2006, she was unseeded in the US Open, because her ranking was so low.

Yet, Serena learned something about herself. She liked to win and as long as she is successful on the court, the other things off of it would come much, much easier.

So in 2007, Williams rejuvenated herself, winning the Australian Open and impressive runs in the other three Grand Slams, all resulting in Quarterfinal losses to Justine Henin.

More importantly, though, the diva went away. Williams was much more pleasant to deal with, even poking fun at herself from time to time.

Last night, though, the diva returned…big time. And Serena’s actions not only cost her a repeat at the Open Title, but also her reputation is going to take a hit.

For those of you who didn’t see, Williams was down a set in the second to Kim Clijsters with the score 5-6, 15-30 in the game. The lineswoman, who was not identified by the USTA, called a foot fault on Serena’s second serve, causing a double fault and the score to go to a match point for Clijsters.

Already warned after she smashed her racquet after losing the first set, Williams took a tirade at the lineswoman, threatening to shove a few tennis balls down her throat in a profanity laced tirade.

The lineswomen then went over to chair umpire Louise Engzell and tournament umpire Brian Earley to discuss the situation. She told them that Williams threatened to killer her, which Serena clearly denied. Sure, she didn’t. Serena is just promoting a new tennis ball diet.

Anyway, because it was her second violation, a violation point was awarded to Clijsters.

Game. Set. Match.

Afterwards, Williams was unapologetic about the situation.

“Well, how many people yell at linespeople?,” she said. “So I think, you know, if you look at –I don’t know. All the people that, you know, kind of yell at linespeople, I think it’s –kind of comes sometimes. Players, athletes get frustrated. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen that happen.”

Frankly, this diva routine needs to stop. It’s one thing to lose your temper. I’ve done it. I am sure you have as well. It’s another to think it’s alright to treat people that way. The WTA needs to fine and possibly suspend Williams for her actions.

The USTA has done a great job making tennis the fastest growing sport in the county. This grass roots effort produced players like Melanie Oudin and Carly Gullickson, who are young kids making their mark at this year’s Open.

But Serena is the lead horse here and her actions will be copied by young girls everywhere. If she gets away with abusing a linesperson, then other players will do the same. It will create a vicious cycle which will haunt the sport of tennis.

Because of her actions, Serena already cost herself $450,000 by losing the match. She needs to pay more, unless we see some kind of contrition soon. Williams still has a chance to do it at this Open, because she is playing in the doubles final with her sister Venus.

She needs to call a press conference and read a statement saying how she was wrong, sorry to the lineswoman, and she will be making a donation to the lineswoman’s favorite charity.

Otherwise the WTA needs to step in and do something. If they don’t make an example of Serena, the WTA will once again prove that it’s an empty authority that will let its stars run wild.