By Bob Greene
Mondays with Bob Greene
Novak Djokovic beat David Ferrer 7-5 7-5 to win the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris, France
Simona Halep beat Samantha Stosur 2-6 6-2 6-2 to win the Garanti Koza WTA Tournament of Champions in Sofia, Bulgaria
Zhang Shuai beat Ayumi Morita 6-4 retired to win the Nanjing Ladies Open in Nanjing, China
Italy beat Russia 4-0 at Caliari, Sardinia, Italy
“There is no room for prejudice of any kind in sport or in society.” – Ricci Bitti, International Tennis Federation (ITF) president, announcing Tunisia has been suspended from Davis Cup competition in 2014 after the country’s tennis federation ordered a Tunisian player not to compete against an Israeli during a tournament.
“I am definitely playing the best tennis this year, including the start of the year with the Australian Open and Dubai that I had a great run.” – Novak Djokovic, after winning the Paris Masters.
“It’s one of the highlights for all the players. All the top 10, top 20 talk about that from the beginning of the year or during the off-season. Being among the very best is very enjoyable. Also it’s one of the tournaments where I haven’t had the greatest success.” – Roger Federer, on the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
“There is no easy opponent on a surface like this one, in a tough tournament like this one. But hopefully for my opponents I’m not going to be good news either.” – Rafael Nadal, about the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
“It’s down to a marvelous team and above all the fact that we are always united. We are very happy. It was a very good week for us.” – Sara Errani, after she capped Italy’s Fed Cup victory over Russia.
“There was no sort of pressure on me. I tried to do my best, but this is the first official match I’ve played on clay since 2011. I tried to do my best but Sara was really in form.” — Alisa Kleybanova, after losing 6-1 6-1 to Sara Errani in Italy’s Fed Cup championship-clinching match.
“That’s the beauty of the round robin – you can lose and still win the event. You don’t want to lose, but you have that next chance.” – Samantha Stosur, on playing in the WTA Tournament of Champions.
Novak Djokovic is making a late-season bid for the number one ranking. The super Serb won his 17th consecutive match, beating David Ferrer in the final of the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris. It was Djokovic’s sixth title of the year and gave him a slim chance to finish the season ranked ahead of the current world number one, Rafael Nadal. “Summer was up and down, and now again I’m playing on a very high level and have lots of confidence in myself, in my game,” Djokovic said. “I’m at a good spot at this moment.” The victory was Djokovic’s 200th match win in an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level. He also became the 15th player and third active one in the Open Era to win 40 ATP World Tour titles, joining Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It was the Serb’s 16th Masters 1000 level championship as well.
Romania’s Simona Halep completed her breakthrough season by capturing the Tournament of Champions, her sixth career title – all coming this year. Playing with a muscle strain in her left leg, Halep won the final five games of the match to defeat Australian Samantha Stosur 2-6 6-2 6-2. The 22-year-old won more titles in 2013 than any other player on the WTA tour with the exception of top-ranked Serena Williams, who won 11. “I really wanted to win this tournament, so I’m just happy,” Halep told the crowd in her post-match interview. “It has been a great tournament for me.” The first 31 minutes wasn’t that great for the Romanian. But she dominated the next two sets, winning 20 of the last 26 points in the match, completing the victory with a forehand down the line winner.
Halep was cheered on during the week by crowds of supporters from neighboring Romania, including former tennis stars Ilie Nastase and Virginia Ruzici. Nastase was the ATP World Tour’s first number one-ranked player in the early 1970s, while Ruzici is the only Romanian woman to win a Grand Slam tournament title, the 1978 French Open.
SUCH SWEET SUCCESS
The world’s top-ranked doubles team, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, didn’t need to take the court as a pair. But they led Italy to its fourth Fed Cup title by sweeping past a Russian team that was without any of its top players. Errani won both of her singles matches, needing less than an hour to crush Alisa Kleybanova 6-1 6-1 to clinch the international team trophy for Italy. Vinci had begun the victorious weekend by edging Alexandra Panova 5-7 7-5 8-6 before Errani beat Irina Khromacheva 6-1 6-4. With victory in hand, Vinci didn’t play her reverse singles match, then joined Errani on the sidelines to watch Flavia Pennetta and Karin Knapp wrap up the victory with a 4-6 6-2 10-4 (match tiebreak) doubles win over Russia’s Margarita Gasparyan and Khromacheva. “This is a really great group which has now gone down in history in the sport,” Italian captain Corrado Barazzutti said. “They are girls who are attached to the national team. You win with that kind of spirit. Italy has tied Russia with four Fed Cup titles, one behind Spain. The leaders are the United States, with 13 titles, while Australia and the Czech Republic have seven titles each.
Zhang Shuai was the beneficiary when Ayumi Morita ran out of gas. Zhang took the winner’s trophy at the Nanjing Ladies Open when her Japanese opponent retired while trailing 6-4. Morita had been the star of the tournament, scoring come-from behind victories in consecutive matches earlier in the week. She saved seven match points in her second-round match against Petra Martic, then another match point against Anna Schmiedlova in the quarterfinals. She won her semifinal against Jarmila Gajdosova in straight sets before retiring from the title match with a left hamstring injury. Zhang, however, earned her title, the second of her career crown, both coming this fall.
Zhang attempted to become a double winner at the Chinese tournament, but she and partner Yaroslava Shvedova lost the final to Misaki Doi and Xu Yi-Fan 6-1 6-4.
Tunisia will not be able to participate in Davis Cup play next year. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) Board of Directors found that the Tunisian Tennis Federation had ordered Tunisian player Malek Jaziri not to compete against Israel’s Amir Weintraub at the Tashkent Challenger in October. The board voted to suspend Tunisia from the 2014 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas competition. The vote was unanimous although the ITF board member from Tunisia, Tark Cherif, recused himself from the discussion and the vote. “The ITF Board decided to send a strong message to the Tunisian Tennis Federation that this kind of action will not be tolerated by any of our members,” ITF president Ricci Bitti said. “The Board felt that suspension from Davis Cup, a competition that was founded 113 years ago to encourage better understanding through sport, would provide a good lesson for the federation and a fitting penalty for their unfortunate action.”
For just the fifth time in their 25 career meetings it was David Ferrer coming out on top of Rafael Nadal. And that leaves the door open for Novak Djokovic to wrap up the season with the year-ending number one ranking. Nadal entered the BNP Paribas Masters semifinal with a nine-match winning streak over his fellow Spaniard. But this time Ferrer broke Nadal for a 3-1 lead in the opening set. Ferrer did the same in the second set, getting an early break. This time it was Nadal who got the break as Ferrer served for the match in the 10th game. But Ferrer broke right back and on his next serve held for the victory. The loss kept Nadal from becoming the first player to win six ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles in the same season.
In recognition of her performance during Italy’s semifinal victory over the Czech Republic in April, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) presented Italy’s Sara Errani with the 2013 Fed Cup Heart Award. ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti presented Errani with a check for USD $10,000, which is being donated to her chosen charity, Care and Share, to benefit children in a village in India, Vijayawada. Besides Errani, other finalists for the award included fellow Italian Roberta Vinci and Russians Maria Kirilenko and Ekaterina Makarova.
Longtime Italian Fed Cup captain Corrado Barazzutti was presented the 2013 Fed Cup Award of Excellence by the International Tennis Federation (ITF). Lea Pericoli, who played Fed Cup for Italy in the 1960s and 1970s and a past recipient of the Award of Execllence, participated in the presentation ceremonies held just prior to the start of the Fed Cup final between Italy and Russia. Each year since 2001 the ITF and International Tennis Hall of Fame have presented the Award of Excellence to a person it feels represents the ideals and spirit of the Fed Cup competition. As Italian Fed Cup captain since 2002, Barazzutti has led his team to a 21-8 record and three Fed Cup titles: 2006, 2009 and 2010. Barazzutti also serves as Italian Davis Cup captain.
Past recipients of the Fed Cup Award of Excellence have been Jana Novotna of the Czech Republic in 2012; Anastasia Myskina of Russia in 2011; Billie Jean King of the United States in 2010; Mary Joe Fernandez of the United States and Silvia Farina of Italy in 2009; Miguel Margets of Spain in 2008; Lea Pericoli of Italy in 2007; Sabine Appelmans of Belgium in 2006; Françoise “Frankie” Durr of France in 2005; Olga Morozova of Russia in 2004; Larisa Savchenko of Latvia in 2003; Virginia Wade of Great Britain in 2002; and Spain’s Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Conchita Martinez in 2001.
The Fed Cup final is being moved to a later date in 2014 to avoid competing with other events. This year the Fed Cup final between Russia and Italy was held at the same time as two WTA events: the Garanti Koza WTA Tournament of Champions in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the Nanjing Ladies Open in Nanjing, China. Two of Russia’s highest-ranked players played in the Tournament of Champions. International Tennis Federation (ITF) president Ricci Bitti said the calendar change will help players “continue to represent their country in this prestigious competition.” The 2014 final will be held November 8-9.
SET FOR LONDON
Roger Federer and fellow Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka along with Frenchman Richard Gasquet completed the singles field for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London, Great Britain. All three clinched their berths in the elite eight-player field with their results at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris. Earlier entrants included Rafael Nodal, defending champion Novak Djokovic, Davis Ferrer, Juan Martin del Potro and Tomas Berdych. Great Britain’s Andy Murray also qualified, but withdrew after undergoing back surgery. Wawrinka will be making his debut in the season-ending event, making it the first time two Swiss players will be competing in the finale. Federer is playing in his 12th consecutive Finals, tying the record set by Ivan Lendl.
The eight-team doubles field will include brothers Bob and Mike Bryan, Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and Jean-Julien Rojer, Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares, Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo, Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez, David Marrero and Fernando Verdasco, Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek, and Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski.
Venus Williams will waste no time hitting the courts in 2014, actually starting two days early. The seven-time Grand Slam tournament singles winner will open her season at the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand. The 33-year-old has been hampered by a back injury and autoimmune disease Sjogren’s syndrome, an ailment that saps her strength. Now ranked 49th in the world, Williams withdrew from the Auckland tournament t two years ago because of health problems. Ana Ivanovic, who like Williams was once ranked number one in the world, will also play in the tournament that begins December 30.
STILL THE BEST
It’s been a while since brothers Bob and Mike Bryan won a doubles title. Since August, actually, when the American twins captured the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. The Bryans beat Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares 6-3 6-3 at the PNP Paribas Masters in Paris, France, for their 11th tour-level title of the season and their fifth ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown of 2013. “It was great week for us,” Bob Bryan said. “We’re very happy with our performance against a team that has had a fantastic year and who is playing with a lot of confidence at the moment. Hopefully this bodes well for the last tournament of the season.” That, of course, is this week’s Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London, Great Britain.
SECOND WORLD TENNIS DAY
The second annual World Tennis Day will be held Monday, March 3, 2014, according to the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and StarGames. World Tennis Day will center around a series of high-profile special events featuring current and former ATP and WTA players. The number of cities hosting the special events will double from 2013, with Bangkok, Thailand, and London, Great Britain, joining Hong Kong, China, and New York, New York, USA. World Tennis Day was held for the first time this year with 55 nations staging events. In New York, the 2014 BNP Paribas Showdown will once again be held at Madison Square Garden and be part of the United States Tennis Association’s (USTA) Tennis Night in America initiative. The MSG event will feature Novak Djokovic playing Andy Murray, as well as Bob and Mike Bryan taking on John and Patrick McEnroe.
Swiss police have questioned Hall of Famer Martina Hingis about claims that she assaulted her husband, Thibault Hutin. “The three individuals cited in the complaint were questioned last week, and we prepared a report which was transferred to the justice authorities,” a police spokesman told the AFP news agency. Hutin filed a complaint in September claiming he had been assaulted by the 33-year-old Swiss former world number one as well as her mother, Melanie Molitor, and the mother’s boyfriend, Mario Widmer. The 27-year-old Hutin claims that the trio beat and scratched him and that Widmer struck him in the head with a DVD player during the altercation in the couple’s home in the Swiss village of Feusisberg. The alleged incident came in the wake of what Hutin and Hingis had earlier said were rocky relations between them which reportedly led them to separate at the beginning of this year.
Russia’s Maria Kirilenko withdrew from the Garanti Koza WTA Tournament of Champions in Sofia, Bulgaria, after she injured her knee. Kirilenko was trailing Alizé Cornet in her opening match when she retired due to a left knee injury. “I just want to say that I can’t continue playing this tournament,” Kirilenko said in announcing her withdrawal from the tournament. “During the match I made a wrong step and felt pain in my knee. I feel so much pain right now that I can’t continue here. Before the match it was fine. It happened during the match.” Kirilenko was replaced in the tournament by Elina Svitolina, the first alternate in the eight-player field.
The record book confirms Serena Williams has had a remarkable two-year run. Serena won consecutive WTA Championships titles, at least four Grand Slam tournaments and at least 15 WTA titles over two seasons. It’s the seventh time in WTA history that that feat has been accomplished. However, Serena still has a way to go to catch up with the leaders. Martina Navratilova has done it three separate times, winning 29 titles and six Grand Slam tournaments along with consecutive WTA Championships in 1983-84. She won 25 titles, six majors and two season-ending titles in 1984-85. And the Hall of Famer won 26 titles, four Grand Slam tournaments and three WTA Championships in 1985-86, the extra season-ending event coming when two editions were held in 1986. Monica Seles did it in 1990-91 and 1991-92, while Steffi Graf did it in 1995-96.
Seven times Petra Martic reached match points. Seven times Ayumi Morita prevailed before earning a spot in the quarterfinals of the Nanjing Ladies Open in Nanjing, China. Morita staved off two match points at 5-4 down in the second set and two more at 6-5 down before play was suspended at the start of the tiebreak. When they returned to the court the following day, Morita fought off three more match points in the second-set tiebreaker before prevailing 6-7 (7) 7-6 (10) 6-4. “It was a tough match,” Morita said. “I think we both played very well. It was very close. I think I was a little bit better than her on the important points. I’m very happy about the win.”
Morita didn’t stop there. Continuing to live on the edge, the Japanese player saved one match point before knocking off Anna Schmiedlova 6-7 (8) 7-6 (0) 7-5 and advancing to the semifinals in Nanjing.
Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka are going their separate ways. After being teammates for five years, the two have decided to split up on the WTA tour. Hlavackova will play with Michaella Krajicek next while, while Hradecka will partner with fellow Czech Lucie Safarova.
SEEING THE FUTURE
Jelena Dokic is planning a comeback next year. Once ranked as high as fourth in the world, Dokic has not played since April 2012 because of a wrist injury. “With my wrist, I thought I would never hold a racquet again after my surgery,” Dokic told the Sydney Morning Herald. “The day after I couldn’t move my hand. Even three months later I couldn’t even write, let alone play tennis. From that point of view, I’m very lucky to be on the court and very lucky to be able to train to try and come back.”
A Rosary that had been blessed by Pope Francis was stolen from Juan Martin del Potro at a train station in Paris, France. The Argentine star was checking in at the Gare du Nord train station when he was stopped for an autograph. When he finished signing his name, he realized his briefcase has been stolen. Besides the Rosary, del Potro also lost his passport and money. “It was weird and very fast. I don’t know if I was set up,” del Potro said. “I was signing autographs and taking pictures at the Paris train station. I checked and my bag was missing. … Among the things I had stolen was the Rosary blessed by Pope Francis when I was in Rome. It was very valuable to me and I’m sad I lost it. I also lost my passport, some personal documents and money, but the Rosary was the most important thing.”
SÃO PAULO BOUND
Colombia’s Alejandro Gonzalez and Oleksandr Nedovyesov of the Ukraine will lead the field of eight in the year-ending ATP Challenger Tour event in São Paulo, Brazil. The November 13-17 tournament, which will be played on clay, will feature seven qualifiers and one wild card. Contested in round-robin format, the top two from each group advances to the semifinals. Besides Gonzalez and Nedovyesov, also qualifying were Jesse Huta Galung of the Netherlands, Filippo Volandri of Italy, Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia, Adrian Ungur of Romania and Andrej Martin of Slovak Republic. Brazil’s Cuilherme Clezar, at 20 the youngest player in the field, was awarded the tournament’s wild card.
Leave it to the “older” crowd. Pat Rafter, Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski, Mark Philippoussis and Mansour Bahrami will play either singles or doubles in a Grand Opening Night at the Statoil Masters to benefit the tournament’s charity, Best Beginnings. Twenty percent of hospitality sales for the December 4 event will go to Best Beginnings, a child health charity. The event will be held at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The Statoil Masters Tennis is part of the ATP Champions Tour, a circuit of former world number one players, Grand Slam tournament singles finalists and Davis Cup winners.
Nanjing: Misaki Doi and Xu Yi-Fan beat Zhang Shuai and Yaroslava Shvedova 6-1 6-4
Paris: Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan beat Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares 6-3 6-3
Davis Cup: www.daviscup.com
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
$6,000,000 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, London, Great Britain, hard
$125,000 Seguros Bolivar Open, Bogotá, Colombia, clay
$125,000 OEC Taipei WTA Ladies Open, Taipei, Chinese Taipei, hard
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$220,000 Challenger Tour Finals, São Paulo, Brazil, clay
$75,000 Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, hard
Czech Republic vs. Spain at Prague, Czech Republic, hard