Venus Williams Is Back In Winner’s Circle
Mondays with Bob Greene
Venus Williams beat Alise Cornet 6-3 6-0 to win the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Rafael Nadal beat Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-3 7-6 (3) to win the Rio Open by Claro hdtv men’s singles in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Ernests Gulbis beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (5) 6-4 to win the Open 13 in Marseille, France
Marin Cilic beat Kevin Anderson 7-6 (6) 6-7 (7) 6-4 to win the Delray Beach Open by The Venetian® Las Vegas in Delray Beach, Florida, USA
Kurumi Nara beat Klara Zakopalova 6-1 4-6 6-1 to win the Rio Open by Claro hdtv women’s singles in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Somdev Devverman beat Aleksandr Nedovyesov 6-3 6-1 to win the ONGC-GAIL Delhi Open in New Delhi, India
“It’s great to be back.” – Venus Williams, referring to winning the Dubai title for the third time, but the first time in four years.
“I haven’t talked to my mother yet, but I think she’s crying again.” – Kurumi Nara, after winning her first WTA title, talking about how her mother had cried when she reached the final.
“I think (the top players) feel threatened by my game, because they know if I serve well and I’m aggressive, then it’s tough to play against me. I don’t feel I’m in the same league as the (top four) yet; I need to prove it. Game-wise, I think that I can be.” – Ernests Gulbis, after beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to capture the Open 13 title.
“I have no regrets. I gave everything I had. I played a pretty good match, but I needed a bit more belief and needed to show a bit more instinct on my returns of serve. But he was solid, he served very well and took a lot of risks.” – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, after losing the Marseille final to Ernests Gulbis.
“Winning all those Grand Slam titles and playing deep and getting to the final so many times, those are amazing accomplishments. It takes a lot of nerve, takes a lot of mental prowess, so I’d like to think I’m on that path. I’m not looking to do anything I did in the past because I already did that. I’m looking to improve and be a better, smarter Venus. I think, obviously, this week is a step.” – Venus Williams.
“I’m so excited. I didn’t expect that definitely, and I’m really, really happy and proud of myself. She’s one – or maybe THE biggest champion of history, and, wow, just thinking that I beat her today.” – Alize Cornet, following her upset win over Serena Williams in the semifinals of the Dubai Championships.
“I’m a wee bit embarrassed. She played really well. I just didn’t play today. I tried, though.” – Serena Williams, after losing to Alize Cornet.
“I know her, and I know she feels the moment when she has to put more into making the opponent feel that she’s still here. But I did it, too. I showed her that I would be there till the end. So when she was screaming louder, I was screaming louder. She was hitting harder, I was hitting harder.” – Alize Cornet, after her win over Serena Williams.
“I didn’t really feel like I could go out and play what I wanted to play. Once I got going, she started to play better as well. It was kind of uphill today.” – Carolina Wozniacki, after losing to Venus Williams in an early round match in Dubai.
“I’ve had a few wins I’ll never forget, and this is one of them.” – Steve Johnson, after upsetting Tommy Haas at Delray Beach.
“I struggled at times with the lights and my focus, but I’m not going to take anything away from (Johnson). I hate to lose, but I’m happy for him.” – Tommy Haas, following his loss to Steve Johnson.
“I feel my best tennis is around the corner. I’ve said that quite a few times, but I feel this time it’s really the case. I wake up with zero pain. I’m excited playing tournaments.” – Roger Federer.
STANDING TALL AGAIN
It was the Venus Williams of old who captured the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships for the third time – but the first time in four years. At the age of 33, it was Venus who proved she could still win, collecting her first title in 16 months. The older sister, Venus needed a wild card to enter the Dubai tournament. The only Williams stutter in the hard court event was when sister Serena Williams – the world’s top-ranked player – was upset in the semifinals by Frenchwoman Alize Cornet, thus denying the tournament of an all-Williams final. “I was expecting to be playing Serena,” Venus said, “but Alize played an amazing game in the semis, so congratulations on that.” While Venus had a huge smile on her face, Cornet twice broke into tears during the match. The win ensured that Venus would climb back into the world’s top 30 in the rankings. “I have continued being able to practice, and I have been getting healthier,” Williams said, referring to the long-term effects of the immune deficiency which has threatened her career. “It hasn’t been easy. I have to thank the tournament for a wild card, and my family and Serena for encouraging me. They all kept me up when I was down.”
By winning five matches at Dubai, Venus remains ahead of sister Serena as the active player with the most WTA Tour wins, 647 to Serena’s 641. “When things got tough, I definitely got going this week,” Venus said. “If I was down break point, when push came to shove, I was pushing and shoving, I guess.”
Rafael Nadal continued his victorious cruise through the WTA World Tour, capturing his 62nd tour-level title at the inaugural Rio Open Presented by Claro hdtv. The victory over Alexandr Dolgopolov also moved the Spaniard up in the record books, tying Guillermo Vilas with number of titles won in the Open Era, and now just two titles away from Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras. Nadal now has a 16-1 record in 2014, his lone loss coming in the Australian Open final to Stanislas Wawrinka. The 27-year-old left-hander barely got past countryman Pablo Andujar in the semifinals, staving off two match points. The same wasn’t true in the final as he needed just one hour and 41 minutes to hoist the trophy.
Whenever Ernests Gulbis reaches a final, he becomes unbeatable. The Latvian extended his perfect record in finals to 5-0 by stopping defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and winning the Open 13 title. “It’s a really nice record for me. Five-nil is really good,” Gulbis said. “I remember when I used to play Futures and Challengers, I think I lost maybe one or two finals. When I get into finals I really have good form and good confidence and play my best tennis.” Ranked 23rd in the row, Gulbis needed only the minimum of four sets to beat France’s top two players in the Marseille, France, tournament. He beat Richard Gasquet 6-3 6-2 in the semifinals and Tsonga 7-6 (5) 6-4 in the title match. “My long-term goal in tennis isn’t to be Top 20,” Gulbis said. “It’s to be number one. Anything less than that wouldn’t make me fully satisfied. I don’t want to get to 30 years old, look back on my career and say I didn’t make something of it. Everybody’s looking for satisfaction in life.” The 25-year-old Gulbis finished with 14 aces and hit 41 winners compared to just 22 for Tsonga.
Japan’s top player is now a WTA champion. Kurumi Nara beat Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic 6-1 4-6 6-1 to win the women’s singles title at the Rio Open presented by Claro hdtv. The 22-year-old was seeded fifth in the tournament. She is Japan’s top player and is ranked 62nd in the world. Zakopalova saw her losing streak in title matches stretch to 12 in a row. She had won two WTA titles 10 years ago before the long losing streak began. With the victory, Nara moves into the Top 50 in the WTA rankings. “It’s really amazing,” she said. “I try not to think about being number one in Japan. I really just try to focus on my game and my tennis every day. I just try my best every time and now I have my first WTA title. I’m so happy right now.”
Tomas Berdych believes the Davis Cup competition should be held every other year. Berdych, who has led the Czech Republic to the last two Davis Cup titles, said the international team competition has come at a considerable cost. “In my last two years I missed eight weeks for Davis Cup – four to play the matches and then a week after. You are dead to play a tournament or even prepare yourself,” said Berdych who criticized the Cup’s schedule, with the first round played in the beginning of February, the quarterfinals in April, the semifinals in September and then a two-month break before the final in late November. “It ends up so late and makes a difficult season even more difficult,” Berdych said. “I think it would make sense and the players would really like to play if the Davis Cup was every two years. Berdych, who reached the Wimbledon final in 2010, calls the two Davis Cup championships the greatest achievements of his career.
STOPPED BY INJURY
Japan’s Kei Nishikori’s bid to win this second straight title was halted by a hip injury. Seeded third in the Delray Beach Open, Nishikori had to retire from his second-round match against Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia. “I tried to play, but if you’re not 100 percent, it’s tough,” Nishikori said. “I couldn’t do anything today. It’s going to take some time to recover. It’s shocking this happened, especially since I’ve been playing well.” The right-hander won his fourth ATP World Tour title last week in Memphis, Tennessee, USA. After retiring, Nishikori withdrew from next week’s tournament in Acapulco, Mexico.
Steve Johnson is one of those players who seem to travel the world, toiling in qualifying, and only rarely making it to a main draw. And even if they are successful, they are little more than fodder for first-round winners. Not so this past week. The unheralded American knocked off top-seeded Tommy Haas in the second round of the Delray Beach Open, 6-4 2-6 7-6 (2). Johnson banged out 13 aces and dominated the tiebreaker for the huge win.
One thing’s for sure. It wasn’t pleasantries Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic were exchanging during their Dubai Open match. And it wasn’t the first time. The two have exchanged testy words on several occasions, the last time at the WTA Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, in October when Jankovic appeared to question Serena’s sportsmanship. In Dubai, the dispute came over the time taken between points. When Jankovic appeared to take her time before serving, Williams held her arms out wide in a questioning gesture. Jankovic walked towards umpire Kadir Nouni while complaining, and once gesturing towards Serena as she did so. Four points later Williams wrapped up her 6-2 6-2 win and there was a further exchange of words between the two players. Jankovic later suggested the umpire might have been at fault. “First he tells me I’m serving too fast,” the Serbian said. “Then when I took my time, it was like one minute. So you never know what to do. Usually if I go over 25 seconds with whoever I play, you know, warning, time violation. Here it’s like you can do pretty much whatever. I have to follow who knows which rules. If it’s 25 seconds, you play 25 seconds. If it goes over, someone’s not ready, you should be ready. I follow when she (Serena) serves, no matter how fast or slow she plays.” Talking after the match, Serena refused to be drawn into a disagreement. The world’s top-ranked player said, “I told her at the end I didn’t mean anything, and I’m sorry if I played slow. She was like, ‘no,’ it was more that they say she plays too fast and then they say she played too slow.”
STRENGTHENING THE MIND
In an attempt to regain the world’s number one ranking, Novak Djokovic says his new coach, Boris Becker, will held him acquire more mental toughness. Djokovic hired Becker in December after losing to Rafael Nadal at the US Open and to Andy Murray at Wimbledon. “We’re not significantly changing anything in my game. No one-handed backhands, stuff like that,” said Djokovic, who has won six Grand Slam tournament titles. “The biggest part he can contribute is the mental approach. That’s one of the reasons Boris is here, because of the big matches and Grand Slams. I felt I dropped two or three titles in the last two years I could have won. I felt there was a mental edge I was lacking.”
After dominating men’s tennis for a decade, holding the number one ranking for a record 237 consecutive weeks, Roger Federer has slipped down the rankings to number eight in the world. Still, the 32-year-old Swiss master is convinced he will have a good season this year. “What was very encouraging was my off-season,” Federer said. “I trained really hard in Dubai for a month. That was key, for me to know my body was able to handle that stress level. For that reason I’m confident for the year.” The father of twin girls, Federer will become a dad again later this year. “They are coming to matches from time to time, depending on the stadiums,” Federer said of his family. “In the beginning it was very much different. You’re not as flexible and can’t just change flight tickets or just leave after you lost. It’s almost better to stay on the road.”
STIFFED BY STATE
Rio de Janeiro’s state government reportedly owes the ATP World Tour USD $3 million. And the men’s tennis organization doesn’t expect to get paid. ATP President Chris Kermode said the Brazilian state government and the tour agreed to end a contract that allowed Rio de Janeiro to promote itself at ATP events. Rio de Janeiro is the site of the 2016 Summer Olympics. The conflict is the latest in a string of cancellations of sports-related events in Rio de Janeiro. The Soccerex football conference was called off last year in a funding dispute. In January, the 2014 Laureus World Sports Awards – which were to be held in Rio – were called off. Brazilian officials are under pressure to stop funding sports events. Brazil is estimated to be spending about USD $14 billion on this year’s World Cup and a similar amount on the 2016 Rio Olympics. “It’s left a very bad taste, to be honest,” Kermode said of the decision to end the contract. “We had an agreement with Rio Tourism. We came to a mutual agreement to terminate and the terms were very clear. Unfortunately we haven’t been paid. It doesn’t look as though we are going to be paid.”
Former player Todd Martin is the new CEO-designate of the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum in Newport, Rhode Island, USA. Martin will succeed Mark L. Stenning, who is stepping down in September after 35 years with the ITHF, the last 14 as CEO. Ranked as high as fourth in the world, Martin will begin his new post on April 1. “Not only was Todd a great player – one of the very best in the world – but he is also a tremendous leader and he has been widely respected in his role as president of the ATP Players Council and as a member of the USTA Board of Directors,” said Christopher E. Clouser, ITHF chairman of the board.
Delray Beach: Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan beat Frantisek Cermak and Mikhail Elgin 6-2 6-3
Dubai: Alla Kudryavtseva and Anastasia Rodionova beat Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears 6-2 5-7 10-8 (match tiebreak)
Marseille: Julien Benneteau and Edouard Roger-Vasselin beat Paul Hanley and Jonathan Marray 4-6 7-6 (6) 13-11 (match tiebreak)
New Delhi: Saketh Myeni and Sanam Singh beat Sanchai Ratiwatana and Sonchat Ratiwatana 7-6 (5) 6-4
Rio de Janeiro (men): Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah beat David Marrero and Marcelo Melo 6-4 6-2
Rio de Janeiro (women): Irina-Camelia Begu and Maria Irigoyen beat Johanna Larsson and Chanelle Scheepers 6-2 6-0
São Paulo: www.brasilopen.com.br
Indian Wells: www.bnpparibasopen.com/
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
$1,928,340 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, hard
$1,309,770 Abierto Mexicano Telcel, Acapulco, Mexico, hard
$474,005 Brasil Open 2014, São Paulo, Brazil, clay
$250,000 Brasil Tennis Cup, Florianopolis, Brazil, hard
$250,000 Abierto Mexicano Telcel, Acapulco, Mexico, hard
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$6,169,040 BNP Parabas Open, Indian Wells, California, USA, hard
$5,427,105 BNP Parabas Open, Indian Wells, California, USA, hard