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STARS

Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer 7-6 (4) 7-6 (3) to win the Mubadala World Tennis Championships in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Kim Clijsters beat Caroline Wozniacki 6-3 4-6 12-10 (champions tiebreak) to win the 84 World Tennis Invitation exhibition at Hua Hin, Thailand.

SAYINGS

“I never lost my serve, but I still lost the tournament. It’s kind of tough, Rafael (Nadal) and myself must have played so many times, and so many times it has come down to a few shots here and there. He is an amazing shot-maker. Me as well, but today he got the better of me.” – Roger Federer, after losing to Rafael Nadal in the final of the Mubadala World Tennis Championships in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

“Missing so much tennis has made me hungry and I’m really looking forward to the competition again.” – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, returning to play after being sidelined with a knee injury.

“I try not to think about making it a mental battle out there because I will have enough of those in the next few years.” – Roger Federer, when asked about losing to Rafael Nadal in the Abu Dhabi exhibition final.

“The pressure is every day about winning matches. I don’t think about winning the Australian Open. I think about Doha.” – Rafael Nadal.

“It’s a great accomplishment. There’s so many names – any hockey player that you see on there is a fantastic athlete, guys that I grew up watching and idolizing. So, to be part of that list is amazing.” – Daniel Nestor, after being appointed to the Order of Canada.

Kim Clijsters & Caroline Wozniacki in Thailand

“This sort of opportunity you do not turn down. The right to play against Federer cannot be bought, so I just got lucky. I’ll try to get the maximum benefit for myself.” – Michael Przsiezny, who had been invited to train with Roger Federer for a week.

SPANISH REIGN

It was the same top two players clashing in the final of the invitational World Tennis Championships. This time, like most times, it was Rafael Nadal getting the best of Roger Federer 7-6 (4) 7-6 (3). With the triumph, Nadal retained his title at the exhibition played in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. “I never lost my serve but I still lost the tournament, it’s kind of tough,” said Federer, who committed several unforced errors at crucial times in the match. “For both of us, these are the first matches of the season, so it is special for us,” Nadal said. “This is the perfect place to start the season here in Abu Dhabi.” Both Federer and Nadal were given byes into the semifinals of the six-player tournament. Federer beat fifth-ranked Robin Soderling and Nadal ousted Tomas Berdych.  The final was the fourth time in the past five week that Federer and Nadal have squared off. Last month the two split charity matches, with Nadal winning in Spain and Federer prevailing in Switzerland.  In tournament play, Nadal has a 14-8 record against Federer, with the Swiss master winning their most recent meeting, a three-set victory in the title match of the ATP World Tour Finals in London.

STILL THE BEST

Belgium’s Kim Clijsters has this way of reminding top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark just who is the world’s best player. Clijsters beat Wozniacki 6-3, 4-6, 12-10 (Champions tiebreaker) in an entertaining exhibition match at the 84 World Tennis Invitation in Hua Hin, Thailand, on New Year’s Day. The match celebrated the 84th birthday of His Majesty the King. There set a power failure midway through the opening set, but it didn’t seem to affect the two players. After Wozniacki leveled the match, she raced to a 9-3 lead in the tiebreak, needing only one more point to win. Instead, Clijsters rallied, winning the next six points to pull even, then took three of the next four points to close out the victory. After the match, the players hit 84 autographed tennis balls into the stands. Clijsters, who is ranked third in the world, also beat Wozniacki in the title match of the season-ending WTA Tour Championships in October and in the 2009 US Open final.

In a doubles match, American twins Bob and Mike Bryan defeated the Thai twins Sonchat and Sanchai Ratiwatana 6-1, 6-4.

SPORTS’ BEST

Tennis star Rafael Nadal of Spain and high jump queen Blank Vlasic of Croatia have been named by the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) as the best male and female athletes of 2010. Winner of three Grand Slam tournaments in 2010, Nadal narrowly beat Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi for the award. Another Spaniard, Andres Iniesta, who stars on the Spanish national soccer team, finished in third place in the voting. Vlasic became the world champion in 2010 for the second time in her career. She finished ahead of skier Lindsey Vonn of the United States, while Belgian tennis star Kim Clijsters finished third in the balloting. AIPS voting for the best athletes of the year involved 515 sports journalists from 93 countries.

Nadal also was voted the best sportsman of the decade in a Spanish poll and was chosen “Spanish Sportsman of the Decade” in a poll by a Spanish website, while another poll on a different website chose him as the “Best Spanish Athlete of the Year.” The 24-year-old Nadal won both polls by an overwhelming majority.

Earlier, he had been honored as BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year and won the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship award at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

SHARAPOVA FANS

Maria Sharapova’s fans in New Zealand aren’t up to date. The Russian’s fans bought a corporate box for the entire week of the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, and planned to wear Los Angeles Lakers uniforms in a tribute to Sharapova’s basketball-laying fiancé Sacha Vujacic. There is one problem. The Lakers traded Vujacic to the New Jersey Nets two weeks ago.

SUCH AN HONOR

Canada’s most decorated tennis player, Daniel Nestor, has received another. He joined many other top Canadian athletes and was appointed to the Order of Canada. During his 20-year career, Nestor has won all four Grand Slam doubles titles, including Wimbledon in 2008 and 2009 with Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia. And Nestor has sat atop the ATP doubles rankings for a total of 87 weeks. In Sydney, Australia, in 2000, Nestor teamed with Sebastien Lareau to win the Olympic doubles gold medal. His 71 career doubles titles places him fifth on the all-time list behind Todd Woodbridge of Australia, who has 83. “It’s a lot of hard work, competing and not giving up,” said Nestor, who is currently co-ranked number three in doubles. “I think you get more appreciated the older you get.” Admitting he wasn’t familiar with the Order of Canada when Tennis Canada first put his name forward, Nestor said: “I did some research into it and realized it’s one of the biggest honors you can have as a Canadian. I’ve seen the list of the people and it’s pretty special.”

STAR POWER

James Blake and John McEnroe will represent the Americas at the World Tennis Challenge in Adelaide, Australia, while Michael Llodra and Henri Leconte will represent the Europeans. World Tennis Challenge co-director Mark Woodforde said he is thrilled Blake and Llodra are returning to Adelaide to participate in the exhibition. “Both James and Michael are thrilled to be coming back to Adelaide after previously playing in the Australian Men’s Hardcourt Championships,” Woodforde said.  “The relaxed atmosphere, three solid matches before the Australian Open and the opportunity to play with some of their heroes were the major reasons these players have chosen Adelaide over some of the other options on the table.”

STRANGE JOURNEY

Elena Vesnina had a long, exhausting trip from her home in Russia to Auckland, New Zealand, to play in the ASB Classic. A finalist in Auckland in 2009, Vesnina ran into the terrible weather that has battered Europe this winter. She battled chaos at the Moscow airport, where she spent 16 hours before boarding her plane. But she then spent another three hours on the tarmac before her flight finally department the Russian capital.

SHAHAR SPOTLIGHTED

Shahar Peer has been named the Jerusalem Post Israeli Sports Personality of the Year for the second time. The 23-year-old tennis star received more than 45 percent of the total vote to beat out last year’s winner, Sacramento Kings forward Omri Casspi. Olympic swimmer Gal Nevo finished a distant third in the balloting. Peer is the first two-time winner in the award’s history, having taken first place in 2007 as well. She wound up 2010 at a career-high 13th in the world, posting five victories against top-10 opponents, including a win against current top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki.

STARTING YOUNG

Miko Eala of the Philippines crushed American Myles Decoste, 6-1 6-0 to win the 8-and-under boys singles in the Little Mo International Tennis Tournament held at the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Dubbed “the world’s greatest tournament for kids,” the event drew more than 200 boys and girls aged 8 to 12 from 32 countries. Former Little Mo champions include Andy Roddick.

STUNNED

The Lafayette, Louisiana, home of tennis pro Chanda Rubin was destroyed by a fire that was apparently started by a bolt of lightning during a thunderstorm. The 34-year-old Rubin had completed the building of her dream home about 2½ years ago, and “was just beginning to enjoy it,” according to Chanda’s mother, Bernadette Rubin. The player said she is not sure if she will rebuild on the same site, but said she has adequate insurance coverage. “I’m going to take it one day at a time,” she said. Most of Rubin’s memorabilia, including her trophies and pictures, is still at her parents’ home, and some of what was in her home was spared. The upstairs of the home appeared to be a total loss, while the bottom floor sustained major smoke and water damage. Rubin reached as high as sixth in the world in the rankings in 1996, the year she reached the semifinals of the Australian Open where she lost to eventual champion Monica Seles.

SAYONARA

Nicolas Kiefer has called it a career. The 33-year-old German announced his immediate retirement from professional tennis and said on his website that he wants to spend more time with his daughter, Mabelle Emilenne, who was born in August. Ranked as high as fourth in the world in 2000, Kiefer won six tournaments during his career and reached the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2006. He represented Germany in Davis Cup and teamed with Rainer Schuettler to win the doubles silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

STANDOUT PERFORMER

Lu Yen-hsun, considered the best male tennis player in Taiwan’s history, has been selected as his country’s 2010 “Man of the Year.” The 27-year-old Lu won 60 percent of the votes. Bread maker Wu Pao-chun was second in the voting, followed by Taiwan President May Ying-jeou. United States-based fashion designer Jason Wu was fourth, while singer Lin Yu-chun was fifth. In a statement, Lu said his selection as Man of the Year was an unexpected honor. At Wimbledon last year, Lu became the first Taiwanese man to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament. He currently is ranked 35th in the world.

SERBIAN SUPPORT

Under fire from Novak Djokovic and the player’s father, the president of the Serbia Tennis Federation, Slobodan Zivojinovic has received support from an entrepreneur, Philip Zepter, owner of Zepter International. Zepter said he has no problem with publicly supporting the reigning Serbia Tennis Federation administration, including the embattled president. “I am in favor of Slobodan Zivojinovic. Why would I oppose him?” Zepter said. “You shouldn’t change the winning team.” After Serbia won the Davis Cup for the first time, Djokovic and his father have led the call for changes in the federation and for a new president.

STAYING HOME

The new year is starting off wrong for China’s Zheng Jie.  A persistent wrist injury means the 27-year-old will miss January’s Australian Open. The injury has sidelined Zheng since she reached the second round of the US Open in September. “It’s a hard decision for me to make,” Zheng wrote on Twitter. “But I believe there will be more Australian Opens for me to attend if I can regain my health.” Last year Zheng reached the semifinals of the year’s first Grand Slam tournament where she lost to eventual runner-up Justine Henin. The Australian Open in 2006 was where Zheng won one of her two Grand Slam doubles titles. In 2008, Zheng became the first Chinese player to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament, losing to Serena Williams in the last four at Wimbledon. The following year she became the first woman from her country to be ranked in the top 15 in the world. She has since been overtaken by compatriot Li Na, who ended 2010 ranked 11th after also reaching the semifinals in Melbourne last January – the first time two Chinese players had done so in the same Grand Slam event.

SO BE IT

Magdalena Maleeva is ending her retirement to play on Bulgaria’s Fed Cup team in 2011. Once ranked as high as fourth in the world, the youngest of the three Maleeva sisters to play on the WTA tour told Bulgarian Fed Cup captain Dora Rangelova that she would be ready to play in the first round of the Europe/Africa Zone Group February 1-5 in Eilat, Israel. Among others who will be named to the squad are Tsvetana Pironkova, Dia Evitmova, Elitsa Kostova and Viktoria Tomova. “I am very happy that Maggie Maleeva wanted to participate in the team,” Rangelova said. “She is a big name in tennis. Her experience and routine will in all cases contribute to our good performance. The fact that she will participate would be an additional motivation to the other tennis players.” Maleeva retired from the WTA tour in 2005, but this past September played in and won the Bulgarian national championships. She last played Fed Cup in 2005 when she was captain of the team. Magdalena was the third Maleeva sister to play on the WTA tour, following Manuela and Katarina. Roland Garros in 1990 marked the first time in tennis history that three sisters appeared in the main draw of a Grand Slam event. All three sisters were seeded at three Grand Slam tournaments in 1993 – the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon. And all three reached the fourth round at Roland Garros that year, then repeated the feat four months later at the US Open.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Hua Hin: Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan beat Sonchat Ratiwatana and Sanchai Ratiwatana 6-1 6-4

SITES TO SURF

Brisbane: www.brisbaneinternational.com.au/

Chennai: www.aircelchennaiopen.org/2011/

Doha: www.qatartennis.org/

Auckland: www.asbclassic.co.nz/

Perth: http://hopmancup.com

Sydney: www.medibankinternational.com/

Auckland: www.heinekenopen.co.nz/

Hobart: www.hobartinternational.com.au/

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

MEN

$1,024,000 Qatar ExxonMobil Open, Doha, Qatar, hard

$398,250 Aircel Chennai Open, Chennai, India, hard

$372,500 Brisbane International, Brisbane, Australia, hard

$100,000 Aberto de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil, hard

WOMEN

$220,000 ASB Classic, Auckland, New Zealand, hard

$220,000 Brisbane International, Brisbane, Australia, hard

MEN AND WOMEN

Hopman Cup, Perth, Australia

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

MEN

$372,500 Medibank International Sydney, Sydney, Australia, hard

$355,500 Heineken Open, Auckland, New Zealand, hard

WOMEN

$618,000 Medibank International Sydney, Sydney, Australia, hard

$220,000 Moorilla Hobart International, Hobart, Australia, hard



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About Bob Greene
Bob Greene, the esteemed former Associated Press tennis writer, wraps up the week that was in international tennis with his “Monday’s With Bob Greene” column – a revival of his popular weekly feature at the AP.

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