By Bob Greene
Tsvetana Pironkova beat Angelique Kerber 6-4 6-4 to win the Apia International Sydney women’s singles in Sydney, Australia
John Isner beat Lu Yen-hsun 7-6 (4) 7-6 (7) to win the Heineken Open in Auckland, New Zealand
Juan Martin del Potro beat Bernard Tomic 6-3 6-1 to win the men’s singles at the Apia International Sydney in Sydney, Australia
Garbiñe Muguruza beat Klara Zakopalova 6-4 6-0 to win the Hobart International in Hobart, Australia
“I won my first doubles title in Hobart last year so I guess I’m in love with Hobart now.” – Garbiñe Muguruza, who won her first WTA singles title by beating Klara Zakopalova in Hobart, Australia.
“My forehand worked perfect, I made a lot of winners, many aces, played good slices. Every long rally we played, I won all of them, which is good for my confidence.” – Juan Martin del Potro, after easily beating Bernard Tomic to win the Apia International Sydney men’s singles title.
“I got killed. There was nothing I could do.” – Bernard Tomic.
“Under pressure, I’ll probably choke. Expect that to happen.” – Pat Rafter, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame who at the age of 41 will play doubles at the Australian Open with fellow Australian Lleyton Hewitt.
“He is human. He does make mistakes, obviously not as much as the other players, but I’ve got to play very, very good tennis to have any chance.” – Bernard Tomic, on his first-round Australian Open opponent, top-ranked Rafael Nadal.
“I was trying to concentrate so hard that I only saw the ball – I was only watching the ball. I was like, ‘OK, just watch the ball and follow every point.” – Tsvetana Pironkova, who won her first WTA title at the Apia International Sydney tournament.
“I gave everything but she was too good.” – Angelique Kerber, following her loss to Tsvetana Pironkova in the women’s singles final in Sydney, Australia.
“I wish it didn’t have to be so close at the end. It gives me a lot of grey hairs.” – John Isner, who edged Yu Yen-hsun in three tiebreak sets, winning the third 9-7 to capture the Heineken Open.
“He just served incredibly. There was one period of time when I couldn’t read his serve. Even sometimes, when I guess right, I still couldn’t really get the ball back.” – Yu Yen-hsun, after falling in the Heineken Open final to John Isner.
“I love playing tennis. I feel that’s just where I’ve been blessed with talent. It’s something I’ve done since I was young. I just haven’t accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish because of injuries. It’s kind of always having that goal in mind. That’s kind of what brings you back. I love playing tennis. I love competing. I want to say that’s what keeps me motivated.” – Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who at 41st in the world is at her highest ranking since September 2011.
“It would have been the end of the world if I didn’t get through.” – Heather Watson of Britain, commenting on qualifying for the Australian Open where she reached the third round last year.
“Eighteen in a row, and in the singles main draw as well. I wouldn’t have dreamt of that at my first one in 1997 as a 15-year-old, that’s for sure.” Lleyton Hewitt, on playing in his 18th consecutive Australian Open.
“The knee that I had hurt at the end of last year is feeling good, so that injury is fine. I just have to be careful. I’ve probably injured every part of my body at some point in my career. I just have to be smart about it. I want to keep playing throughout this whole year.” – Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
It was the best week of Tsvetana Pironkova’s career. The Bulgarian battled her way through both qualifying and the main draw at the Apia International in Sydney, Australia, to capture the first WTA singles title of her career in her first trip to a final. It’s not that it was unexpected. Pironkova, after all, has reached seven semifinals, including at Wimbledon in 2010. With her victory in Sydney over fifth-seeded Angelique Kerber, Pironkova became the first qualifier to win a Premier-level title since Ekaterina Makarova captured Eastbourne in June 2010. The Bulgarian was joined later in the day when another qualifier, Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, won in Hobart, Australia. Pironkova defeated three Top 10 players – Kerber, Petra Kvitova and Sara Errani – en route to the title. “Winning a WTA title is something I’ve been waiting for so long and something that I’ve missed so much,” Pironkova said. “Now that I finally have it, it’s all surreal. I still cannot believe it, honestly.”
SIZZLING DEL POTRO
Juan Martin del Potro showed he was ready for the Australian Open as he completed his preparations at the Sydney International with a 6-3 6-1 trouncing of defending champion Bernard Tomic. Del Potro wrapped up the 53-minute match with his eighth ace and committed only four unforced errors to capture his 18th career title. “I think Bernard was a little frustrated to see me very focused on the match and hitting the ball so well,” del Potro said. The Argentine right-hander has won five straight tournaments when he is the top seeded player. Against Tomic, del Potro lost only six points on his serve. “Juan played too good,” Tomic admitted. “There was nothing I could do. I knew it was going to be like that where either he plays very good or gives me more chances.” The 25-year-old del Potro is the first Argentine to win the Sydney title since David Nalbandian captured the crown in 2009.
Rafael Nadal is unhappy with the courts at the Australian Open. The world’s top-ranked player believes they have made the courts faster this year. “The conditions of play are very different from the ones I remembered in this tournament,” Nadal said. “Many things have changed. I think that the court is faster and so is the ball. So it makes it a different tournament for me. I didn’t remember it like that. It’s a little bit a pity for me.”
The big serve has been John Isner’s calling card his entire career. Taiwan’s Lu Yen-hsun now knows all about it. The big American pounded out 23 aces to edge Lu in three tiebreak sets and capture the Auckland Open title. “This is the only title I’ve won outside the U.S.,” Isner said. “This is an amazing feeling. I will cherish this one for sure. I’m going to go into the Australian Open with a lot of confidence, which players will tell you is sometimes hard to come by.” It was Isner’s eight career title, but his first outside the United States. He was taken to break point in his very first service game. After that, he serve was never seriously threatened. Lu twice had to fight back from 0-40 to hold serve in the second set, which he won in the tiebreak. Ranked 62nd in the world, Lu was playing in his first ATP World Tour final, having upset third-ranked David Ferrer in the semifinals.
So what if Garbiñe Muguruza had to play qualifying to gain a spot in the main draw of the Hobart International? When the tournament was over, the tall 20-year-old Spaniard was the champion, defeating Czech Klara Zakopalova in the title match. “I was like a big bull,” Muguruza said after capturing her first WTA singles title. Following Wimbledon last year, Muguruza underwent surgery on her right ankle and recovery took longer than expected. “I didn’t expect to win a lot of matches in the second tournament of the year,” she said, “but I just know that I’d worked so hard before.” Muguruza didn’t drop a set the entire week, including the qualifying. “I can’t explain in words how happy I feel,” Muguruza said after receiving her trophy. “Last year I was injured for six months and it’s amazing to be here.”
Eight years after being inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Pat Rafter is returning the Australian Open as a player. The two-time US Open winner will team up with fellow Australian Lleyton Hewitt to play doubles in the year’s opening Grand Slam tournament. At 41 years old, Rafter is by far the elder of the two. The 32-year-old Hewitt is also in the singles draw where he is seeking his first Australian Open and third Grand Slam title. Rafter hasn’t played since Davis Cup appearance in 2001. Hewitt said the doubles pair will be out for “just a bit of fun.” Rafter agreed. “I’ll have fun,” he said. “I’m playing with one of the best players in the competition. Figure it’s like eating chocolate or having broccoli, sort of equal it out.”
SITTING IT OUT
A hip injury has forced American Jamie Hampton to withdraw from the Australian Open. Hampton will be replaced in the women’s singles draw by another American, Irini Falconi. Her 27th seeded spot will go to Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia.
Novak Djokovic is seeking his fourth straight and fifth overall Australian Open title. Still, he decided he needed a little help, so he called in a former world number one, Boris Becker, as a coach. Djokovic will be playing the year’s first Grand Slam tournament without Marian Vijda, his coach for the last eight years. Vijda wanted to spend more time with his family after 35 years of traveling the tennis circuit and suggested Becker. “I’m really excited about this cooperation,” Djokovic said. “I’m excited about this partnership that I have with Boris that also has been approved and supported by Marian, who is still on the time.” Becker won six major titles in the 1980s and 1990s. The game has changed since then, but Djokovic is not worried. “I believe with his great volleys, that aggressive kind of mindset also, from that point of view he can help me,” the Serbian right-hander said.
The International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum (ITHoF&M) has opened a special exhibition in Barcelona, Spain, titled “Tennis and the Olympic Games.” The exhibition is on display at the Olympic and Sports Museum Joan Antoni Samaranch, where it is open to the public through April 2014. “Tennis and the Olympic Games” will offer a comprehensive look at the most successful tennis Olympians in history. The exhibition, presented by the ITHoF&M in partnership with the Barcelona Olympic Foundation, features Olympians from many nations, including a full listing of every Olympic and Paralympic tennis medalist in history. There is special emphasis on Spain’s celebrated players, such as Hall of Famer Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Rafael Nadal, Conchita Martinez and Sergi Bruguera.
SET FOR FED CUP
Tara Moore will make her Fed Cup debut when Great Britain will compete in the 17-nation Europe/Africa Group I in Hungary next month. Moore is ranked 212th in the world and was named to the squad along with Laura Robson, Johanna Konta and Heather Watson. All four are 22 years old or younger. Great Britain has not played a Fed Cup home tie since 1993, and lost at the playoff stage against Sweden and Argentina in the past two years. “Our aim in 2014 is to win through to the World Group II, which would give us a number of home and away ties,” Great Britain captain Judy Murray said. “That would really help us to promote women’s tennis through this fun team competition.”
Maria Sharapova’s premium candy line – Sugarpova – is partnering with the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum in Newport, Rhode Island, USA. Sugarpova is now the official sponsor and an underwriter of the Hall of Fame’s Kids Free program, which provides free admission to the museum for children ages 16 and under. The International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum is the world’s most comprehensive museum dedicated to the sport of tennis. In addition to sponsoring the Kids Free program, Sugarpova candy will be featured in the three retail stores on the Hall of Fame property in Newport, and Hall of Fame fans will have access to special offers throughout the year. The retail stores will offer all 15 variations of the brand, which includes gumballs, gummy candies, sours and more. Sharapova created her own candy business in 2012. A portion of sales from Sugarpova are donated to the Maria Sharapova Foundation.
Auckland: Julian Knowle and Marcelo Melo beat Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares 4-6 6-3 10-5 (match tiebreak)
Hobart: Klara Zakopalova and Monica Niculescu beat Lisa Raymond and Zhang Shuai 6-2 6-7 (5) 10-8 (match tiebreak)
Sydney (men): Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic beat Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and Rohan Bopanna 7-6 (3) 7-6 (3)
Sydney (women): Timea Babos and Lucie Safarova beat Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci 7-5 3-6 10-7 (match tiebreak)
ATP World Tour: www.atpworldtour.com/
WTA Tour: www.wtatennis.com/
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
MEN & WOMEN
$14,600,000 Australian Open (first week), Melbourne, Australia, hard
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$14,600,000 Australian Open (second week), Melbourne, Australia, hard
$145,540 Heilbronn Open, Heilbronn, Germany, hard
$14,600,000 Australian Open (second week), Melbourne, Australia, hard