By Bob Greene
Rafael Nadal beat Gael Monfils 6-1 6-7 (5) 6-2 to win the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha, Qatar
Serena Williams beat Victoria Azarenka 6-4 7-5 to win the Brisbane International women’s singles in Brisbane, Australia
Lleyton Hewitt beat Roger Federer 6-1 4-6 6-3 to win the Brisbane International men’s singles in Brisbane, Australia
Li Na beat Peng Shuai 6-4 7-5 to win the Shenzhen Open in Shenzhen, China
Stanislas Wawrinka beat Edouard Roger-Vasselin 7-5 6-2 to win the Aircel Chennai Open in Chennai, India
Ana Ivanovic beat Venus Williams 6-2 5-7 6-4 to win the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand
Joao Souza beat Alejandro Gonzalez 6-4 6-4 to win the Aberto do Sao Paulos in Sao Paulo, Brazil
France beat Poland 2-1 to win its first Hopman Cup title in Perth, Australia
“It’s a good rivalry. She’s so intense on court, and off court she’s so cool. So that’s what makes the rivalry the best, is because when you step on the court I don’t know her and she doesn’t know me, and we fight like crazy. When it’s over, it’s over. There’s a lot of mutual respect there.” – Serena Williams, on her rivalry with second-ranked Victoria Azarenka.
“It’s definitely always interesting to play someone like Victoria – I know her game, I know what she does – but she goes out and improves, so every time I go out there and play her, things I thought were her weaknesses are now her strengths.” – Serena Williams, after beating Victoria Azarenka to win the Brisbane Open women’s singles title.
“Playing the best players in the world and finals of tournaments, always it’s exciting. That’s why you still play the game. For me it was motivation enough just to try to get the win out there and obviously win another title. It’s been a couple years.” – Lleyton Hewitt, after upsetting Roger Federer in the Brisbane men’s final.
“I didn’t play great today which is a bit unfortunate. But also Lleyton was the best player I played this week. He made it toughest on me. So I have a clear idea what I need to work on, and I have a clear idea where my mind and body is at.” – Roger Federer.
“Every victory is important and the title today means a lot to me. It is the first time in my career that I am able to start the season with a victory. That’s always important.” – Rafael Nadal, after winning in Doha.
“Rafa put pressure on me from the first point. He was very aggressive from the first game and it was tougher for me to adjust. It’s always tough to play against him and at the end he was a bit better than me.” – Gael Monfils, following his loss to Rafael Nadal in the Doha final.
“I always enjoy playing you and I hope to meet you again in Melbourne.” – Victoria Azarenka, congratulating Serena Williams on winning Brisbane.
“I hope we do play in Melbourne too because that would mean we’d be going the farthest.” – Serena Williams, noting the world’s top two players will not meet in the Australian Open before the final.
“You never know what to expect from yourself after such a long break, but I think I did pretty well here.” – Jelena Jankovic, following her semifinal loss to Victoria Azarenka.
“I’m happy to defend my title for the first time. It proved I can do it.” – Li Na, who won the Shenzhen Open for the second straight year.
“Every victory is special, this one even more so because it’s been a while since I’ve won a tournament.” – Ana Ivanovic, following her win over Venus Williams to capture the ASB Classic women’s singles.
“Today for me it was all about fighting, because I didn’t feel I was playing my best. I fought as hard as I could no matter what the score was, but I just ran into a better player today.” – Venus Williams.
“I’ve improved a lot through the last year and am trying my best to give the top guys a run for their money.” – Stanislas Wawrinka, after winning the Chennai Open for the second time.
“The quality of the match was very high, especially from Maria’s end, so it was good for me to come up with a win in that match.” – Serena Williams, after defeating Maria Sharapova 6-2 7-6 (7) in the Brisbane semifinals.
“I had a few missed chances. It was tough being a small break up in that tiebreaker and also missing that forehand just a little bit wide. But overall I was happy I could compete at this level in my third match back.” – Maria Sharapova, following her semifinal loss to Serena Williams.
“I haven’t won a title before in Australia and it feels amazing.” – Anastasia Rodionova of Australia, after teaming with Alla Kudryavtseva to win the women’s doubles crown in Brisbane.
“It was a really difficult decision for me to pull out because I hate losing and not competing. I love being out on the court and I’m playing really well right now. But I just have to look out for my health.” – Vania King, who withdrew from her semifinal match in Shenzhen with a right thigh injury.
In his first tournament of 2014, Rafael Nadal captured his 61st career title, beating Frenchman Gael Monfils in three sets. It was the first time in six tries that Nadal has won the Doha stop on the ATP World Tour. The win moved Nadal past Andre Agassi for the sole ownership of the eighth spot on the of most Open Era titles for men. His 663 match victories also moved him past Michael Chang into 13th position on the all-time ATP World Tour list. Monfils has made it a habit of reaching the final in Doha, but has yet to capture the title. He lost to Roger Federer in 2006 and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2012. Nadal has now won titles in 17 different countries.
OK, so it wasn’t a thing of beauty. But Serena Williams peaked whenever she had to beat the world’s number-two ranked player and successfully defended her Brisbane International title. Williams extended her win streak to 22 matches and beat both of her two main rivals, Maria Sharapova in the semifinals and Victoria Azarenka in the title match. Azarenka, who has won the last two Australian Opens, beat Serena twice last year, but still trails in their head-to-head battles 14-3. Azarenka was the last player to beat Williams, that coming at Cincinnati last August. Azarenka won four straight games to take a 4-2 lead in the second set. She didn’t win another. Serena has now won 34 of her last 36 matches against players ranked in the top five in the world – her only two defeats coming against Azarenka. The American also is the first player in the tournament’s 18-year history to successfully defend her title.
Lleyton Hewitt kept hanging around until he finally won her first ATP World Tour title since 2010. That was when he beat Roger Federer in the final at Halle, Germany. This time he beat the Swiss superstar for the Brisbane title. “It means a lot with the caliber of players here as well in this tournament,” Hewitt said. “It’s not an easy tournament to win. I wasn’t one of the top four seeds, so I had to win all five matches to get through. There are pleasing parts and massive positives to take out of it.” Hewitt broke Federer three times in winning the opening set in just 27 minutes. Federer fought back and leveled the match at one set apiece. But the 32-year-old Australian captured the third set and his first title on home soil since the 2005 Australian Open. “It took Roger a bit of time to get into the match,” Hewitt said, “then I just had to fight hard at the start of the third set.” Federer had sailed through the tournament without dropping his serve until the final.
|Hewitt was joined in the Brisbane quarterfinals by fellow Australians Marinko Matosevic and Samuel Groth. It was the first time since 2004 that three Australians reached the final eight at an ATP World Tour event.|
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Alize Cornet won the mixed doubles to give France its first Hopman Cup title, edging Poland 2-1. Tsonga began the final by beating Grzegorz Panfil before Agnieszka Radwanska pulled Poland even by edging Cornet in an epic 2-hour, 33-minute battle 6-3 6-7 (7) 6-2. The French pair then claimed the title with a 6-0 6-2 win in the mixed doubles. “We made history today and France finally won the Hopman Cup,” Cornet said. “I think we deserved it. We played a great week.” France had previously lost in the 1998 and 2012 finals. Tsonga began the day by beating Panfil 6-3 3-6 6-3, but Panfil came away from the tournament with his best week yet. Ranked 288th in the world, Panfil beat two top-30 players: Milos Raonic and Andreas Seppi. The Pole also pocketed easily the biggest paycheck of his career, USD $137,936.
Fans at the Shenzhen Open couldn’t have asked for more. Two local lasses battled for the title, with Li Na topping Peng Shuai. Even though Li won in straight sets, Peng made it interesting by winning four straight games to take a 5-4 lead in the second set. Li then won the last three games to win at Shenzhen for the second straight year. It is the first time Li had successfully defending a title. Li’s success has sparked Chinese interest in tennis, and China’s state broadcaster CCTV named her rise to third in the world in the WTA rankings as the second best sports story of 2013.
Ana Ivanovic won her first tournament in more than two years when she outlasted another former top-ranked player, Venus Williams. “It’s amazing,” Ivanovic said after capturing the 12th title of her career but her first since Bali in 2011. It was only the Serbian’s second win in 10 career meetings with Venus, the other victory coming almost six years ago in the quarterfinals of the 2008 Australian Open. “Coming into this week I didn’t really have any expectations,” Ivanovic said. “I didn’t even think about making the finals or winning it. I just tried my best.” Ivanovic served for the match at 5-4 in the second set when Williams came alive. Venus staved off two match points and sent the match into a third set. “Venus showed again what a great sport she is and what she has done in the past,” Ivanovic said. “At the end of the second set … I just decided I would try to enjoy it and play and move forward and be aggressive.” It paid off with the 12th title of her career.
At least one Swiss player ended the week with a title. Stanislas Wawrinka didn’t drop a set all week as he regained the Chennai Open crown by stopped Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the final. It was fifth ATP title for Wawrinka, who also won the Chennai tournament in 2011. Roger-Vasselin is still seeking his first ATP World Tour title and was playing in his second final. “I tried everything, but Stan was simply too good,” Roger-Vasselin said. During the week Wawrinka became just the fourth Swiss player to win 300 matches in his career when he stopped Aljaz Bedene in the quarterfinals. The others to reach that mark are Roger Federer, Marc Rosset and Jakob Hlasek.
After reaching the final of the Auckland Classic in New Zealand, Venus Williams needs a rest. The American has pulled out of this week’s Hobart International. “After a long week during my first tournament of the year, my body needs time to rest and recover,” Williams said. “Unfortunately I am not able t4o play this week in Hobart. I was looking forward to playing in Tasmania and I sincerely do hope to play there in the coming years.” The 33-year-old Williams has not won a title since October 2012, and Auckland was her first appearance in a WTA final since then. The former world number one has been suffering from an auto-immune disease and injuries over the past two years.
Bernard Tomic says he’s ready to get serious about tennis again. The young Australian ended 2013 with five straight first-round losses, then celebrated his 21st birthday in November with lap dancers at a Gold Coast night club. “Everyone has their off time. Some people use it differently than others,” Tomic said. “But I’m back into tennis now, back into tournaments, and this is something that is very important for me. I’m ready for the Australian summer and hopefully I can do better because each year I’ve started doing better and better in Australia. So hopefully this is going to be an even better one.”
Monica Niculescu and Klara Zakopalova may have had a hard time telling their opponents apart in the final at Shenzhen, China. They didn’t have a hard time winning, however. Niculescu and Zakopalova beat the Kichenok twins – Lyudmyla and Nadiya – in straight sets, 6-3 6-4 for their first WTA doubles title as a team. Each of them won their third individual WTA doubles crown. The Kichenok twins were trying to become the second pair of twins to win a WTA doubles title together. The first to achieve that feat were Karolina and Kristyna Pliskova at Linz, Austria, last fall. Despite the loss, the Kichenoks were thrilled with their week. “It’s been a great tournament for us,” Nadiya Kichenok said. “The fans have been great and we hope to come back again and win next time.”
Italy’s Flavia Pennetta has withdrawn from the Hobart International tournament this week because of an injury to her right wrist. “Unfortunately I felt some pain in my wrist in Perth and it hasn’t had time to recover, so sadly I have to withdraw from the Hobart International.” An-Sophie Mestach of Belgium will replace Pennetta in the main draw as a “lucky loser.”
Auckland: Sharon Fichman and Maria Sanchez beat Lucie Hradecka and Michaella Krajicek 2-6 6-0 10-4 (match tiebreak)
Brisbane (men): Mariuz Fyrstenberg and Daniel Nestor beat Juan Sebastian cabal and Robert Farah 6-7 (4) 6-4 10-7 (match tiebreak)
Brisbane (women): Alla Kudryavtseva and Anastasia Rodionova beat Kristina Mladenovic and Galina Voskoboeva 6-3 6-1
Chennai: Johan Brunstrom and Frederik Nielsen beat Marin Draganja and Mate Pavic 6-2 4-6 10-7 (match tiebreak)
Doha: Tomas Berdych and Jan Hajek beat Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares 6-2 6-4
Sao Paulo: Gero Kretschmer and Alexander Satschko beat Nicolas Barrentos and Victor Estrella Burgos 4-6 7-5 10-6 (match tiebreak)
Shenzhen: Monica Niculescu and Klara Zakopalova beat Lyudmyla Kichenok and Nadiya Kichenok 6-3 6-4
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
$514,345 Heineken Open, Auckland, New Zealand, hard
$511,825 Apia International Sydney, Sydney, Australia, hard
$710,000 Apia International Sydney, Sydney, Australia, hard
$250,000 Hobart International, Hobart, Australia, hard
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
MEN & WOMEN
$14,600,000 Australian Open (first week), Melbourne, Australia, hard