Guide To USTA League Tennis

It’s “Championship Season” in the world of U.S. Tennis Association League Tennis as its championships are determined throughout the fall season. Tony Serksnis has been playing USTA League Tennis for over 25 years and authored the book “A PLAYER’S GUIDE TO USTA LEAGUE TENNIS” available here about the ins and outs of playing on a club, town, school or league tennis team. The following is Serksnis’s introduction to the book, available exclusively to Tennis Ledger readers.

 

I hve been playing tennis in the United States Tennis Association’s League Tennis program since I moved to Mountain View, California in 1985. However, my tennis “roots” are from playing summers as a teen in Cleveland, Ohio. I wish I still had my original wooden Wilson racquet, which had one of those “racquet anti-warp” guards. It was one where you were always tightening and un-tightening the screws to make sure your racquet didn’t get a twisted head due to humidity in those regions of the Midwest. I can also recall using a single (white!) tennis ball for an entire summer. We didn’t have money to be “extravagant” with such things as tennis balls.

Upon arriving in Mountain View, I could see many public court parks that looked inviting to play at. Mountain View also had a tennis club that was mainly social at the time. After joining that club (dues were only $20 per year), I was quick to make friends with the other club members and participated in ladders and club tournaments. It wasn’t long before I noticed that there was some sort of “league play” which turned out to be the USTA League Tennis program and the club sponsored teams at a few levels.

Back in those days, we were given National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP) ratings individually by USTA officials. One would gather with several other individuals in search of their “correct” rating, play perhaps 15 minutes, and your rating was established. I started with an NTRP rating of 3.5. I did fairly well, and in two years, I got bumped up to 4.0. I stayed at that level for 23 years (yes, 23 years!) until 2009, when I was moved to a 4.5 rating at the age of 63. That is something I am very proud of. Today, NTRP ratings occur without “external verification” in that one self-rates against published guidelines. After playing a few matches, and definitely after an entire season of competitive play, one gets a computer rating based upon one’s record and “strength-of-opponent.”

League tennis has then been a serious part of my life. I used to run marathons, with tennis being a healthy “alternative” exercise, but now (due to knees being pounded by over 20 marathons) tennis is my main exercise and hobby. I hope to continue league play for as long as my body holds up and league play still remains fun. Since league play is based on playing people with similar abilities, even if one’s level decreases over the years, one can continue to compete at possibly lower levels. Players can have any skill level before their very first rating. As I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t played much tennis at all before getting an official rating and starting league play. Others may have been on high school teams or even played in college. Thus, USTA League Tennis provides for the entire range of beginning skill levels.

My viewpoint is from a player who plays in sunny California, where we are indeed fortunate to experience very tennis-friendly weather for most of the year. Here, the rainy season lasts for a short period at the beginning of the calendar year. This could lead to a rather narrow view of the entire USTA . One thing is for certain – the competition level doesn’t diminish beyond the Northern California region. Every USTA team steps out on to the court with the hopes of both winning and having an enjoyable experience.

In those 20-plus years of playing USTA League Tennis, I’ve served as team member, captain, and co-captain. In my first season, our team was fortunate enough to actually win our league and qualify for our local district championship and then went on to qualify for the USTA Northern California Sectional Championships. However, we were denied in our attempt to qualify for the USTA League Tennis National Championships. I’ve decided to position this book from the captain’s perspective. The captain certainly must function as an organizer, leader and motivational coach to the rest of the team. All of that for no overt compensation other than knowing that this was the best one could do. Most of the time, the captain is also a player, so while also trying to lead the team, the captain is also trying to improve their own game as player. The captain could be looked upon as the CEO & CFO of the team.

My first thought was to write (and title) the book from a “captain’s viewpoint” but I believe that all players of the USTA will find the book of value and thus, this is a “Players Guide.” I believe that if all players who are members of a USTA team look at the team from the perspective of the captain, the team will be richer for that perspective.

The United States Tennis Association defines its League Tennis program as follows; “USTA League Tennis is organized, competitive team play for women and men age 18 and older of all abilities and experience. Whether you’re new to the game or a former college player, there’s a spot for you. Teams are made up of a minimum of five to eight players depending upon division. Teams and matches are set up according to NTRP ratings, so your teammates and opponents will be at your skill level. The competition is exciting, the atmosphere is social, and since players compete on teams, you have a built-in cheering section. Teams compete in four national divisions: Adult, Senior, Super Senior, and Mixed Doubles. The format features singles and doubles matches for adult leagues, and three doubles for seniors, super seniors, and mixed leagues.”

I would add that USTA League Tennis is a way for people, who have just taken up the game of tennis, to play the sport in a competitive format. The USTA sets up this competitive format at various levels of skill, so that a person just needs to join and participate on a team to enjoy the competition. Playing against people of similar skill, who also are trying to win for their teams, will certainly improve one’s own personal skills. It is a major charter of USTA League Tennis to permit tennis players to work on improving their personal tennis skills through a competitive (yet fun) environment. Any level of player is given the chance to compete against like-skilled players in a team environment.

USTA League Tennis is an organized way to compete at your own particular level. Thus, one just needs to join a team and the USTA will set up leagues within a local geographical area where the team can win local leagues and progress all the way to a national championship. There are few other sports that allow competition to continue beyond winning their local and regional championships and lead to a recognized national championship. If a tennis-playing person moves from one “region” (or state) to another, USTA League Tennis provides an organized and consistent method to participate in a league that has uniform rules across the USA. As the USTA has 17 geographical regions within the USA, a player can expect a consistent set of league-playing rules and skill-level consistency throughout the entire league.

USTA League Tennis is fun. It’s a low-expense hobby with a decent chance of improving one’s fitness through competitive play. There is a social aspect to it in that one can pull for one’s teammates and acquire a healthy respect for the skill of the opposition. Also, the USTA rules as stated in this book could be slightly different for your particular USTA Section, or may change slightly from year to year. The team captain should actually review the USTA rules for their USTA Section each year and print those rules out to keep with them. When issues arise during a match, the rules can be quoted to help resolve that issue. The USTA general rules are meant to cover all players in the USTA , but some different “interpretations” are offered by each USTA Section.

Each player of the game of tennis should be familiar with all of the basic rules so that they can contribute towards issue resolution. I’ve found that tennis players (with rare exception) are not prone to arguments even under extreme “important match considerations.” If every USTA League Tennis match being played under a USTA sanction resulted in a negative aftermath, I’m sure the league wouldn’t be growing in members as it has. Tennis remains a game that is largely self-umpired, and 99 percent of the players “get it right” and thus the game continues to be an overall enjoyable experience.

The USTA ’s national website is www.usta.com. I’m sure all USTA players are already familiar with the site. It is certainly full of the most up-to-date information of a more general nature. In addition, each USTA Section has its own website. For example, for the Northern California (Norcal) Section, it is www.norcal.usta.com. That site would have the most information on the local league schedules, rule interpretations, and events in one’s local area. The rules, of course, must be consistent across the USTA , but I would check one’s local USTA Section’s website as they clarify certain rules for their area. I’d also like to encourage any reader of this book to consult these rules directly as I may have inadvertently put an incorrect interpretation on the particular rule for a USTA Section.

There are over 300,000 league participants throughout the USTA ’s 17 Sections, and I salute them all. I hope you enjoy my book and take something away from this that can help you and your team. Best of luck!

Tony Serksnis

Mountain View, Calif.

Tennis Reacts To Roddick’s Retirement

The news of Andy Roddick’s retirement sent some shockwaves through the tennis world and many of his contemporaries gave their thoughts on what the 2003 US Open Champion meant to them.

James Blake was getting ready to play when the press conference happened. He wasn’t told by Roddick but did see the presser before his second round win.

“I had an inclination from the beginning of the year,” he said. “But I really thought his success at Eastbourne, success at Atlanta, the fact he was playing well again could have possibly changed that.

“To be honest, I thought it would have changed his mind when he beat Federer in Miami. To me that showed he could still beat the top guys.”

Serena Williams, said she knew about the announcement, so it didn’t come as a surprise.

“He told me a while ago, last year, this would be it,” Williams said. “I was at his house at Austin and we were talking about it.

“He’s been great for American men’s tennis, great for the US Open, doing so much and playing so well, just being a great player. A great attitude, incredibly fun to watch. You know, I know a lot of people look up to Andy Roddick. That’s who I want to be like.”

Sam Querrey also described him as his idol and a great help.

“He’s been my biggest role model the last 10 years playing tennis,” Querrey said. “He’s been a great guy, great leader to us all. Nice and kind. Real generous to the up-and-comers.

“For me, for [Ryan] Harrison, for the 18 year-olds now, he’s just been an unbelievable champion, a Hall of Famer, just a great guy, great person for the sport of tennis.”

Then there is Roger Federer, the man he just never could beat.

“Look you are always going to have someone around,” he said. “I had many guys who denied me many things. That was the last thing that came to my mind when he told me he was going to retire.

“He was happy to go into retirement. He had an amazing career. Some expected better; some expected worse. But I am sure he is happy with what he achieved because he achieved everything he wanted.

“Maybe to lose that Wimbledon title potentially, but let’s forget about that. He was in those Wimbledon titles. He could have gotten that title. That’s what I said when I beat him in ’09. He deserves this title as well. In my mind, he is a Wimbledon Champion as well, a wonderful ambassador for the game.

“I’m thankful for everything he’s done for the game, especially here for tennis in America. It’s not been easy after Agassi and Sampras, Currier, Chang, Connors, McEnroe, you name it.”

Clijsters Pulls Out Of Beijing

Because of a foot injury, Kim Clijsters has bowed out of the WTA tournament in Beijing. She had surgery on her sole of her foot after the Open, but it hasn’t healed quickly enough.

“I am very sorry to have to cancel for Beijing,” Clijsters said on her official site. “After I returned from New York, I had some moles removed. The operation had been planned for quite a while. However, the wound on my foot sole heals really bad. Therefore playing tennis is not possible.”

Clijsters’ next tournament should be the WTA Championships (Masters) in Doha. Physically, she will be ready for it, no doubt about that. It is just a matter of reeling in enough points to make it to the top 8 who are allowed to play there. On December 8 Clijsters also plays the Diamond Games in the Antwerp Sportpaleis.

Women’s Professional Tennis Celebrates 40th Anniversary

ST. PETERSBURG, FL, USA – Forty years ago today, women’s professional tennis was born when nine players, called the Original 9 and led by Billie Jean King, signed symbolic $1 contracts with the late Gladys Heldman, publisher of World Tennis publications, to compete in the newly-created Virginia Slims Circuit.  On September 23, 1970, Billie Jean King, joined by Rosemary Casals, Nancy Richey, Kerry Melville, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kristy Pigeon, Judy Dalton, Valerie Ziegenfuss, and Julie Heldman, decided to participate in the inaugural $7,500 Virginia Slims of Houston event that was financially backed by Phillip Morris’ Joe Cullman.  The Virginia Slims of Houston paved the way for other tournaments of its kind and led to the creation of 19 others, offering total prize money of $309,100.  Subsequently, in 1971, King became the first female athlete in history to pass the six-figure mark in single season earnings.

“When the nine of us signed $1 contracts with Gladys, one of our goals was to create opportunities for new generations,” said Billie Jean King.  “We wanted to make sure that any young girl, if she was good enough and if she wanted to, would have the opportunity to make a living playing tennis. Now, 40 years later, we are seeing our dreams come to life.”

“Billie Jean King and her team of pioneers – the Original 9 – will forever serve as inspiration for every woman who has ever had a goal and a dream,” said Stacey Allaster, Chairman and CEO of the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association). “Sports are a microcosm of society and Billie Jean and her fellow players were able to use tennis as a platform for social change, one that’s led to incredible opportunities for millions of women around the world.”

The WTA was founded following a meeting held during the 1973 Wimbledon Championships at the Gloucester Hotel in London, which united all of women’s professional tennis into one Tour.  Billie Jean King was the original president of the Women’s Tennis Association, which in 1974 further increased its financial stature by signing a television broadcast contract with CBS, the first in the history of women’s professional sports.  Also in 1974, the US Open offered women tennis players equal prize money to their male counterparts.

By 1980, there were more than 250 professional women tennis players competing all over the world in the WTA’s 47 events with total prize money of $7.2 million.  During the 1980’s, Martina Navratilova became the first woman to earn more than $1 million in a single season.  She bettered that effort in 1984 by crossing the $2-million mark in single season prize money, earning more than John McEnroe, the men’s World No.1 at the time.

In 2001, overall WTA prize money increased to $50 million with 63 events, including inaugural tournaments in the Middle East’s cities of Doha, Qatar and Dubai, UAE.  In 2005, the WTA struck a landmark 6-year, $88 million deal when Sony Ericsson agreed to become the sport’s worldwide title sponsor, marking the largest and most comprehensive sponsorship in the history of tennis and of women’s professional sport. By 2009, the WTA total prize money had grown to $85 million.

The historic achievement of equal prize money at Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2007 meant that following a 37-year campaign that began with Billie Jean King and the Original 9, all four Grand Slams offered parity for the first time.  Six other tournaments have followed in the Grand Slams’ footsteps and now offer equal prize money, including the year-end WTA Championships.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Billie Jean King is Newest Inductee Into Tennis Industry Hall of Fame

NEW YORK, NY (Sept. 10, 2010) — Few players, male or female, have had the large-scale impact on or off the tennis court as Billie Jean King—in fact, last year King was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her impact and influence on the sport and industry of tennis are so significant that she is the newest member inducted into the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame.

“It’s an honor to be a part of the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame, and to follow in the footsteps of Dennis Van der Meer, Howard Head and Alan Schwartz,” said King in a ceremony at the Tennis Industry Association’s Tennis Forum in New York City, during the 2010 US Open tennis tournament. Van der Meer and Head were inducted in 2008, the inaugural year for the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame. Schwartz was inducted last year.

Jeff Williams, publisher of Tennis Magazine and chairman of the TIA’s Hall of Fame Committee, introduced King at the Tennis Forum. “We are honoring you because you were the spark,” Williams told the crowd, “the spark that caused a boom. A boom that gave rise to the tennis industry as we know it today. We are all part of an industry that is bigger, an industry that is better, and an industry that is stronger because of you.”

King started playing tennis only because a childhood friend in fifth grade asked her to play. “If she hadn’t asked me, I wouldn’t have started playing,” says King, who likens her experience in tennis to life itself. “Tennis teaches you to keep playing, keep going and maintain optimism in life.”

King began playing Grand Slam tournaments as a teenager in the 1960s. She won her first doubles title at Wimbledon at age 17, and went on to rack up 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles and mixed-doubles titles, including a record 20 titles at Wimbledon (six singles, 14 doubles and mixed doubles).

It wasn’t enough just to play the game, though; King made it better. She campaigned for equal prize money for men and women; her efforts helped make that goal a reality at the US Open in 1973, and eventually at all four major tournaments. She led efforts among players to support the first women’s professional tour.

A defining moment for King, for tennis, and for women in sports came in 1973, when she beat Bobby Riggs in the nationally televised Battle of the Sexes match. Her 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 win was a pivotal point for tennis, and it cemented her status as an icon in both the sports world and in pop culture in general.

She founded the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973, the Women’s Sports Foundation and Women’s Sports Magazine in 1974, and also in 1974, co-founded World TeamTennis, the groundbreaking co-ed professional tennis league. She also founded the WTT Recreational League, one of the most popular recreational tennis formats in the U.S. Her involvement with the sport continues today; she is a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition and remains involved with the U.S. Tennis Association.

King continues to push barriers, both inside and outside of tennis. In 2007, she co-founded GreenSlam, an environmental initiative for the sports industry. She was named Global Mentor for Gender Equality by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2008. She continues to be a leader in the fight for equality and recognition in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community.

In 2009, at the White House, President Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, making her the first female athlete to be so honored. “We honor what she did to broaden the reach of the game, to change how women athletes and women everywhere view themselves, and to give everyone—including my two daughters—a chance to compete both on the court and in life,” the President said in presenting the honor.

King’s significant contributions on the court, to the sport itself, and to society were noted when in 2006, the National Tennis Center was renamed the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The court on which generations of players will set their own milestones and break their own barriers now carries the name of one of the first players to do that.

About the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame
Created in 2008, the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame recognizes those individuals who have made a significant impact on tennis, from the 1960s to the present. Nominations can be made in four categories—inventors, founders, innovators and contributors. The first two inductees were Dennis Van der Meer and the late Howard Head. Last year, Alan Schwartz was the sole inductee. Plaques for all Tennis Industry Hall of Fame inductees are on permanent display at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. For more information, visit TennisIndustry.org/HOF.

Celebrity Tennis Premieres Tomorrow

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 28, 2010 – Tennis Channel, the only 24-hour, television-based multimedia destination dedicated to both the professional sport and tennis lifestyle, will premier original series Celebrity Tennis, Monday, Feb. 1, at 6:30 pm ET.  The half-hour show is hosted by film, television actor and commentator of The World Poker Tour, Vince Van Patten, who takes viewers inside the lives of celebrities who are passionate about watching and playing tennis.

Van Patten grew up in New York playing tennis near the US Open’s then-Forest Hills home and took up acting when his showbiz family moved to California.  He became a professional tennis player in 1979 and spent eight years on the pro circuit.  In Celebrity Tennis Van Patten unearths the ways his guests are influenced by tennis and how the sport is a regular part of their lives, and offers a demonstration of their on-court strengths.

“The worlds of tennis and celebrity have long been intertwined,” said Laura Hockridge, vice president, original programming, Tennis Channel.  “Professional stadiums are filled with newsmakers of every type, from entertainers and politicians to business people and other sports’ athletes.  Pro tennis players today are just as likely to appear on red carpets or magazine covers.  Vince Van Patten is a perfect host for Tennis Channel’s Celebrity Tennis, having navigated both of these environments throughout his life.”

The premier edition of Celebrity Tennis profiles television’s top advice guru, “Dr. Phil” McGraw, on a red clay court at Church Estate Vineyards in Malibu, Calif., where he declares his backhand to be his best shot.  A serious tennis player who uses the game as his own form of therapy, McGraw hits the court six-to-eight times a week, and admits to Van Patten that he builds his daily schedule around getting in an afternoon match.  McGraw also offers viewers a glimpse inside his overstuffed tennis bag, which he says he always has on hand, as well as a look into his vast closet full of treasured tennis T-shirts.

“It is good to be back in the game I love and a relief to be away from the high stakes poker games for awhile,” said Van Patten.

The second episode of Celebrity Tennis (Feb. 8) visits all-American supermodel Christie Brinkley in East Hampton, N.Y., at a charity benefit for the Ross School, where she is joined by actor Alec Baldwin, tennis legend Andre Agassi and famed tennis coach Nick Bollettieri.

Brinkley, who coincidentally grew up in California on Rod Laver Lane (a street named for one of the sport’s all-time champions), hits with Van Patten on the court at her house, built to the same specifications as center court at the US Open.  Brinkley also demonstrates her air-guitar skills on a tennis racquet, plays tennis with neighborhood kids and divulges funny anecdotes about her many trips to the US Open.

Poker champion Gus Hansen is the focus of episode three (Feb. 15), which takes viewers to Las Vegas’ Stirling Club.  Hansen explains that, although he played in junior tennis tournaments as a youngster, he realized he did not have the goods to go all the way.  Having made close to $10 million as a career gambler, however, he tells Van Patten that he stopped putting his money down on tennis after losing seven figures on a bet that Rafael Nadal would win the 2009 French Open.  (Though at the time of the bet Nadal had never lost a French Open match, the perennial clay-court champion ultimately lost to Robin Soderling in an upset for the ages.)

Television and music superstar Brandy is profiled in the fourth episode of Celebrity Tennis (Feb. 22).  In addition to revealing herself as the hardest working tennis student in show business, Brandy notes that her introduction to the sport came at the hands of none other than her best friend, American superstar Serena Williams.  Van Patten goes for a workout with Brandy and her demanding tennis fitness routine as they get in court time in Calabasas, Calif.

Additional episodes of Celebrity Tennis will follow these initial editions.

Tennis Channel (www.tennischannel.com) is the only 24-hour, television-based multimedia destination dedicated to both the professional sport and tennis lifestyle.  A hybrid of comprehensive sports, health, fitness, pop culture, entertainment, lifestyle and travel programming, the network is home to every aspect of the wide-ranging, worldwide tennis community.  It also has the most concentrated single-sport coverage in television, with telecast rights to the US Open, Wimbledon, Roland Garros (French Open), Australian Open, Olympus US Open Series, ATP Masters Series, top-tier Sony Ericsson WTA Tour championship competitions, Davis Cup and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, and Hyundai Hopman Cup.  Tennis Channel is carried by nine of the top 10 MSOs, Verizon FiOS TV, and has a national footprint via DIRECTV and DISH Network.

The Biofile: Roger Federer

Status: World’s #1 tennis player. Winner of this year’s French Open and Wimbledon.

Tennis Inspiration:  “Watching my idols play back at Wimbledon or at the U.S. Open, wanting to maybe be like them one day. Practice hard. Maybe when I was #1 junior in the world when I was 17 years old, I hoped to maybe one day maybe equal that feat on the men’s tour, also become #1 on the world there. So I’m happy I chose tennis, put it that way.”

Ht: 6-1    Wt: 177

Born On: August 8, 1981    In: Basel, Switzerland

Childhood Heroes: “Stefan Edberg – actually my favorite of all-time. Boris Becker – first favorite when I was small. Pete Sampras.”

Nicknames: Rogie, Federer Express.

Hobbies/Leisure Activities: “Sports in general, cinema, deep sea fishing, relaxing in the beach, friends, music, skiing.”

First Tennis Memory: “I remember always loving to play against the cupboards, against the doors at home. With any kind of ball…soft ball, tennis ball. My mom (Lynette) always got pissed off at me, because, Bang, bang, bang!, all day long [smiles].”

Favorite Movies: “Good Will Hunting, Entrapment, Enemy of the State.”

Musical Tastes: “Anything on top of the charts all over the world, AC/DC, Metallica, Lenny Kravitz.”

Pre-Match Feeling: “As always, before an important match, always very nervous. It’s a good feeling. It shows I think that match is very important to me. Once I’m on the court, that’s not so much the pressure, that’s the easy part. It’s what I love to do. In the beginning of the match, you hope you just play okay. Which is, start to play, get the rhythm and everything. And after two or three games, you’re not nervous anymore.”

First Job: “Never had one. I stopped school at 16 and started playing tennis.”

Early Tennis Memory: “I was playing a friend named Marco (Chiudinelli) when I was 14. Playing in Basel. And it was like six o’clock. And this bird just goes on the net [smiles]. My friend – he didn’t see the bird – and he starts serving. And he serves…and the little bird, Boom! Right on the body. The bird fell on my side of the net. And it was on the ground, like shaking, then, Boom, dead. Feathers all over the court. He didn’t know what happened. I’m like, Stop, stop! There’s a bird on the net. And he goes, Boom, and just hits it. That was unbelievable.”

Childhood Dream: “Always had tennis in my mind. Tennis was my dream. To me, Wimbledon was always the special one. Because my heroes were Becker, Edberg and Sampras. I just hope that I always be healthy and not injured.

Greatest Sports Moment: “I think I have so many [smiles]. I think the four Grand Slams are fantastic and each has a special place for me. Australian – I became number one in the world. Wimbledon – I broke Pete’s record there (for 15 slam titles). The U.S. Open – I won it five years in a row. French Open (became third man in Open era to win all four slams). And the Olympic gold medal in doubles last year. So I think those are the best moments of my career.”

Most Painful Moment: “One good thing about me is that I forget matches, even bad matches, very quickly. I get sad about not having played well but I don’t really get (upset). By the time I get back to the hotel, it’s completely forgotten and I’m fine.”

Favorite Meal(s): “Tomatoes and mozzarella di buffala. And gnocchi and gorgonzola, sausage, cheese, salad.”

Favorite Breakfast Cereal: “Rice Crispies [laughs].”

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “Strawberry.”

Closest Tennis Friends: “I am lucky to speak three languages, and this opens many doors to making friends with other players. I reckon I have an excellent contact with many other players on the Tour. I do spend a lot of time with the other Swiss players when they are also at the tournaments.”

Toughest Competitors Encountered: “Nadal.”

Favorite Athletes To Watch: “FC Basel. Zinedine Zidane. Francesco Totti. Michael Jordan. Lennox Lewis – the best. Big and strong. Wladimir Klitschko. I liked his style. Peter Forsberg. More and more hockey. American football was not too interesting to me. Too many breaks in the action. Plus I don’t understand the rules too good.

Favorite Tennis Players To Watch:  “I just like to watch tennis. I’m flippin’ through the channels and see a match – really no matter who is playing – I just like the game very much. One player I would really like to watch is Bjorn Borg. Because I never really had the chance to see him when he was at his best. And from what I’ve seen and heard, he is a very special player and obviously a great champion.”

People Qualities Most Admired: “That they smile a lot. Friendly. Helpful. I have a motto that I like: It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice. And don’t lie. I don’t like it when somebody lies. Because I never lie.”

Honor Thy Mother

There she was winning on the big stage once again. Sometimes, Mom really does know best.

That proved true in Kim Clijsters’ amazing comeback story as she ran all the way to her second U.S. Open title with cute 18-month old daughter Jada looking on before a great Ashe Stadium environment in Flushing.

In just her third tournament back after taking two and a half years off to marry former Villanova hoops star Brian Lynch and start a family, the delightful 26 year-old Belgian’s experience proved too much for first-time slam finalist Caroline Wozniacki- besting the sweet ninth seed from Denmark 7-5, 6-3 in a match which took over an hour and a half.

“It was not really our plan,” an exhilerated Clijsters said after becoming the first Mom to win a grand slam title since Evonne Goolagong Cawley back in 1980 (Wimbledon). “I just wanted to start these three tournaments and get back into the rhythm of playing tennis and get used to the surroundings again.”

“You know, little nervous today and probably didn’t play as well as I did against Serena [Williams], but I still won. That’s all that counts for me now.”

Though it was the 19 year-old Dane’s first time playing for a major, she acquitted herself well proving that her run was no fluke. Following a shaky beginning in which she fell behind an early break 0-2, Wozniacki played some serious defense to reel off four consecutive games against a nervous Clijsters who began spraying shots.

“No, actually I wasn’t too nervous. I mean, you’re always excited when you’re going out to a match. But, you know, I just thought, I’m playing a Grand Slam final. I have nothing to lose. I just need to go out there and try to do my best, and that’s what I did,” Wozniacki said after becoming the first ever Dane to ever make it this far in a slam.

During that run, the New York crowd got to see some excellent rallies between the two in which Wozniacki mixed up her shots well including a solid two handed backhand and topspin forehand to gain an edge. After breaking back to get on the board, she settled down playing the conservative hustling style that had suited her well during the two weeks that included a straight set quarter ouster of American Melanie Oudin.

While Wozniacki’s ground attack was working, Clijsters’ went off going for too much which put the 2005 Open champ in a hole. Her opponent also showed strong will fighting off three break points by drawing errors before holding in the sixth game for 4-2.

The set nearly slipped away from the fan favorite who gave Wozniacki two more break opportunities in the next game. But that’s when her true mettle showed saving both including one with an inside out forehand crosscourt winner before gaining a critical hold for 3-4.

“She [Wozniacki] hits the ball very heavy, but she doesn’t miss. Against the Williams sisters, you always have the feeling that if you can just hang in there, they might give you more easy points,” assessed Clijsters on the style adjustment..

“She didn’t do that today. I think I really had to be patient, as well, but also try not to play along with her game. So I didn’t have that feeling until, you know, when I had match point. I was like, Okay, maybe I can do this.”

With momentum, Clijsters broke back in the eighth game to draw even. Following a nifty backhand defensive lob by a grinning Wozniacki to win a highly entertaining point for 15-30, a focused Kim locked in earning the break when her younger opponent double faulted.

However, she couldn’t keep it going blowing a 40-Love lead as a determined Wozniacki used some sheer hustle to get back in a point before a couple of nice half volleys forced a Clijsters’ miss for her third break of the opening set.

“But actually I was surprised myself that I wasn’t more nervous,” mentioned Wozniacki who still took plenty of positives from the tough defeat.

“And I just think that the thing that I was just thinking about one point at a time, one ball at a time, and I was really focused on what I really wanted to do out there. I think that really helped me. I think that helped me through the whole tournament.”

A game away from closing out the set, Wozniacki ran into trouble getting broken back by an equally focused Clijsters who began the game with a great backhand crosscourt. Wozy rebounded to grab the next pair moving two points from the set after a backhand winner. But Kim didn’t give in taking the next three including a return forehand winner to setup the break chance which she converted on a wide Wozniacki forehand making it five all.

Finally looking settled, she took the first three points. But again, Wozniacki came back getting it to Deuce before some big serving which included one of Clijsters’ three aces allowed her to escape for 6-5 swinging the momentum.

Finally more under control, she applied pressure to the teenager by continuing to dictate points with more pace forcing errors off Wozniacki’s racket to break at love, claiming the set.

“She’s playing because she thinks it’s fun and because she likes it,” said Wozniacki, who faced someone she admired for the first time. “I really think she might be a better player now than she was before.”

Perhaps the situation got to the Great Dane with Clijsters’ experience pushing her through a seesaw set that had seven combined breaks of serve. Not surprisingly, Kim had double the winners (16-8) and five more unforced errors (20-15) but most importantly, pulled the tight set out.

“Actually, I didn’t think too much about the score. I was just focused a lot about just playing one point at a time,” explained Wozniacki.

“But, you know, the thing was I couldn’t keep my serve in the end of the first set, and that just caused me trouble. She was right there. She started serving well, and, yeah, that’s why I lost the first set.”

During her run to the final, Wozniacki had only dropped one set with it coming against former Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova in a come from behind three set Round of 16 win.

Could she mount a comeback? There certainly was no quit from her side as she continued to stick to the strategy of staying in rallies by making Clijsters hit another ball. The contrasting styles made for more intriguing points with the New Haven champ not afraid to come to net where she fared well taking 11 of 17 (65 percent) while Kim countered with a solid 10 of 15 (67 percent).

Indeed, the Ashe crowd enjoyed the variety as opposed to what the women’s game has become lately. With big girls swinging for the fences point after point without any alternative plan.

“I think Wozniacki is a great player. I think she’s someone who is going to have a really great future ahead of her. She’s a smart girl. I think she played some smart tennis today. That’s something I think we want to see. It’s not just the hard hitters,” praised Clijsters while adding:

“She’s really someone who thinks out there, and that is fun to see, as well.”

No wonder most games were so competitive. Despite that, each player did a better job protecting their serve with no breaks the first five games following another Clijsters ace for 3-2.

That’s when she sensed the finish line using powerful strokes and splendid angles to break Wozniacki at love highlighted by a forehand pass for Love-30 beating Caroline at the net along with a nice rally which finally drew an error for 4-2.

If she was going to make history becoming the first ever women’s wildcard to win the Open (Venus Williams made ‘97 Final-lost to Martina Hingis), it was gonna be tough.

Wozniacki didn’t go away getting a couple of tight long backhands from Clijsters to pull within two points of getting back on serve. But Kim wouldn’t allow it taking the next four including an ace and forehand winner for 5-2. Suddenly, she was a game away.

With the fans encouraging Wozniacki because they wanted more tennis, she held her nerve to hold for 3-5 putting it on Clijsters’ racket.

“You know, Kim just played a great match. She really showed that she’s playing great tennis, and I’m happy to have her back. But of course I’d like to have taken the next step and have won this match. I mean, she played better to me today, and that’s why she won,” credited the runner-up.

Here she was needing four more points to complete one of the greatest storylines ever. It wasn’t long ago that she retired because the game wasn’t fun anymore and she wanted to start a family. And now, here she was having already knocked off both Williams sisters along with Marion Bartoli back in the second round to reach this point.

“Well, the motivation was missing then. It was something that, yeah, I came to an age where I really felt like, you know, combined with the injuries, I think, I wasn’t really 100% focused on my tennis anymore.”

“But I’m just very lucky that I’m able to combine both and that my family supports me in doing this.”

With that family behind her including Jada who made the funniest gestures all night, Clijsters seized the moment. Following two shaky points giving Wozniacki hope, she recovered well with a service winner pulling her even and then struck a forehand winner to setup championship point.

Of course, Wozniacki wouldn’t give it to her getting into one more fun rally before an aggressive Clijsters nailed a forehand which drew a short reply giving her an easy putaway into the open court for the win.

“I’m still, whenever I see my group, every time I say, like, I can’t believe this happened. Because it still seems so surreal that, yeah, in my third tournament back won my second Grand Slam,” the emotional winner pointed out.

“It’s a great feeling to have, but it’s confusing in a lot of ways, as well. It went so quickly, everything, so I didn’t really- especially after yesterday’s match. And then with the rain delays and everything, it just felt like especially these last couple of days everything went so quickly.”

The emotional champion dropped to her knees and then received a nice hug from Wozniacki before turning emotional with tears of joy as Jada held up 1 finger for Mom and her box cheered on. She then made it up there to celebrate with them embracing everyone and receiving a kiss from her proud husband.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world being a mother,” the two-time Open champ said while reminding fans that she finally got to defend her 2005 title to chuckles. “I just can’t wait to spend next the few weeks with her and have her routine schedule at home again.”

A special moment for a wonderful player who handles herself so well. This was the kind of champion the Open deserved and the crowd let her know it just by their reaction.

If one great Belgian can do it this way after playing only two tournaments, might we get the other one back in Justine Henin? For another day.

Wozniacki also got plenty of love from the crowd who enjoyed Sunshine’s easy demeanor and smile which was still there when she received the runner-up crown even speaking three languages including her native Danish and Polish thanking all her supporters. Why not? This was a major breakthrough for the WTA Tour wins leader who entered with 62. It just wasn’t her time which should come soon enough.

“I think it’s important to thank all my fans in Poland, as well, because I know that there are a lot of fans out there that are rooting for me. I think it’s important just to give something back,” she wisely noted.

This was Kim’s moment. Her tournament writing a perfect script which you only get in movies.

“Well, I mean, if I inspired them, great. But, you know, this is something that I, yeah, in my wildest dreams could never imagine happening.”

Twenty nine years later, Mom won and she got to celebrate with family including Jada who came onto the court taking cute pictures with Brian and Kim along with the trophy.

“That’s why it’s good all the photographers were there. Maybe I can get some pictures.”

Somehow, we don’t think that will be a problem. A night she’ll never forget.

Wickmayer Enters The Radar

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – With all the press Melanie Oudin received at this Open, Yanina Wickmayer has flown under the radar.

Yet, like her American counterpart, this Belgian has surprised everyone at Flushing Meadows and now is on the verge of the Finals.

“It has surprised me in one way,” she said. I have been feeling really well the last few weeks. I’ve been playing a couple of great matches, and I’m really playing under a lot of confidence.

“So coming here I was feeling pretty good, and physically and mentally I was feeling really strong. So the first couple of matches, yeah, of course you’re always a little bit surprised of winning great matches in a Grand Slam.

“For sure if it’s the first great Grand Slam you’ve played, because before this my best result was second round. So of course when you get to the third, fourth round, you start surprising yourself. But actually, I’ve been staying pretty calm. I’ve worked really hard for this.”

She defeated Kateryna Bondarenko today, 7-5, 6-2, to earn a date with Caroline Wozniacki. The 19 year-old is very confident, mainly because the bad bounces are now going her way.

“The last couple of weeks I lost some tight matches to the top players,” she said. I lost 6-4 in the third, 7-6 in the third. So it was always like those few key points that I lost.

“I guess now those key points I just feel more concentrated physically and mentally. I feel stronger on the court. I’m sure that those two points has helped me a lot this few weeks.”

It’s been a long road for Wickmayer, who moved to the United States to learn at the Saddlebrook Academy back in 1999. Her mother Daniella passed away from cancer and she convinced her grieving father Marc to move away from Belgium and her family.

“I lost her in ’99, and I just started playing tennis a few weeks or a few months before that just to get my mind off things,” she said. “I guess I just decided as a little girl to get away from home and put my memories and thoughts to something else, so we moved to Florida just to, yeah, my dad and me, just to get things off, just to, yeah, focus ourself on other things in life and try to move on.”

And move on she has. Although she will never forget her mother, the bond she developed with her father is unbreakable. Wickmayer now is realizing her dream. Never past the second round before – she made it past the first at Roland Garros this year – the young rising star is now on the verge of the spotlight.

How she will shine is anyone’s guess, but Wickmayer is ready for Wozniacki, a person she played back in juniors.

“I’ve not really watched her play a lot, so I’m going to watch a little bit on TV today,” she said. “But like I said before, every match I play, I just go on the court and play my own game.

“Sometimes I’ll adjust a little bit during my match, but not really a lot. I just go out there, have fun, and do everything I can.”