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By Bob Greene

STARS

Novak Djokovic beat Roger Federer 7-6 (6) 7-5 to win the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London, Great Britain

Lukas Lacko beat Jarkko Nieminen 6-3 6-4 to win the IPP Open in Helsinki, Finland

DAVIS CUP

The Czech Republic beat Spain 3-2 to win the 2012 Davis Cup title

SAYING

Radek Stepanek wins decisive fifth rubber to give Czech Republic Davis Cup title

“I was dreaming about it my whole life and now we’re standing here as Davis Cup champions. It’s amazing.” – Radek Stepanek, after he won the decisive fifth rubber to lead the Czech Republic to the 100th Davis Cup title.

“These are very tough moments. But we can’t be down on ourselves in any way as we fought to the last moment.” – Nicolas Almagro, who lost the final match as the Czech Republic beat Spain 3-2 in the Davis Cup final.

“I wasn’t really feeling this surface very well in the past couple of years. But this year has been different. I got motivated, got a little bit more physically fresh. I wanted really to fight and I really wanted to get as far as I can in this tournament. Winning all the matches I played makes it even more special.” – Novak Djokovic, after winning the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

“Today we had times where we had longer rallies, we had times where we had shorter rallies. I think we had some great stuff out there. It was good playing such points. I think the quality was good. I shouldn’t have been broken as often as I was broken today. But then again, that obviously has something to do with Novak, as well. It was extremely close today.” – Roger Federer, after losing in the final at London.

“We finished here winning the title, so it’s incredible for us. We try to play as best as we can always. I think we have very good relationship. So I think that’s one of the keys of our success.” – Marcel Granollers, after teaming with Marc Lopez to win the doubles at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

“It’s always tough playing them. They’re not a conventional doubles team. They make it very, very difficult in more ways than one, no matter who they play. We were expecting that. We fought hard to stay in the match. We got ourselves again into a match tiebreak. This time I think we just played a bad tiebreak. That sums it up.” – Mahesh Bhupathi, after losing the doubles final in London.

“I think it’s been a fantastic season to be part of. Four different Grand Slam champs. Then having the Olympics, as well, was obviously very unique. I’m very happy I stayed injury free throughout. That allowed me to basically play a full schedule almost. I’m very pleased that I was able to pick up my performance at the end of the season … so obviously gives me confidence for next year.” – Roger Federer.

“Suspension of (Bob) Hewitt is appropriate given the serious allegations that have been made and the findings presented to our executive committee.” — Mark Stenning, chief executive officer of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, after Hewitt was indefinitely suspended from the shrine.

SIZZLING STEPANEK

Veteran Radek Stepanek pulled off two remarkable victories, including the final rubber, to lead the Czech Republic to a 3-2 victory over Spain and capture the 100th Davis Cup final. When Nicolas Almagro’s final shot ended in the net, Stepanek tearfully sank to his knees on the court. His 6-4 7-6 (0) 3-6 6-3 victory gave the Czech Republic its first Davis Cup title since Czechoslovakia captured the crown 32 years ago. It also made the Czech Republic the first country to win the Davis Cup and Fed Cup team trophies for men and women, respectively, and the mixed Hopman Cup event in the same year. At the age of 33, Stepanek became the first man in 100 years aged 30 or above to win the decisive fifth Davis Cup rubber. On Saturday, Stepanek had teamed with Tomas Berdych to upset the Spanish team of Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez and capture the doubles, giving the Czech Republic a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five competition. When David Ferrer beat Berdych 6-2 6-3 7-5 in the first of the reverse singles, Spain had pulled even, making the Stepanek-Almagro battle decisive. “I can’t describe what I’m feeling right now,” Stepanek said. “I came on the court with the mindset that I had to stay calm, hungry, motivated and concentrate … I was playing very aggressively today. I wanted to be the one who was active, who was controlling the game, and it paid off.” Spain, playing without former world number one Rafael Nadal, was trying to win its fourth Davis Cup title in five years and sixth overall. “We are runners-up in the Davis Cup, not what we wanted as we came here to win the title, but we are leaving with our heads held high knowing that we did a good job,” Almagro said.

SHOW STOPPER

Novak Djokovic made sure they were no doubts as to who is the world’s top-ranked male player. The Serb ended the year by defeating second-ranked Roger Federer and capturing the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in one of the best matches played in 2012. There had been questions about Djokovic regaining the number one spot from Federer. After all, Djokovic hadn’t won a Grand Slam tournament since the Australian Open in January, with Rafael Nadal taking home the French Open title, Federer reigning at Wimbledon, and Great Britain’s Andy Murray triumphant at both the London Olympics and the US Open. In London, Djokovic knocked off Murray before beating Federer. It was the first time the Serb had won the season-ending event since 2008, when he emerged victorious in Shanghai, China. It was only the fourth time in the tournament’s 43-year history that the world’s top two players had contested the season finale.

SUSPENDED

South African tennis player Bob Hewitt has been indefinitely suspended from the International Tennis Hall of Fame by the organization’s executive committee. The suspension followed an investigation into multiple allegations concerning sexual misconduct involving Hewitt and minor students he coached. “After carefully considering the issue, we commissioned a thorough investigation by outside legal counsel,” said Mark Stenning, CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. “Our executive committee considered the findings of the investigation and has voted to suspend Bob Hewitt indefinitely. We feel suspension is the proper course of action on behalf of the Hall of Fame, the women who have made these allegations, and our sport.” Hewitt was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.

STELLAR AWARD

Ivan Lendl, an integral member of the Czechoslovakian Davis Cup team before becoming an American citizen, is the recipient of the 2012 Davis Cup Award of Excellence. The award was presented to Lendl in Prague, Czech Republic, in a special ceremony at the 2012 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group Final between the Czech Republic and Spain. “The Czech Republic has been one of the most successful teams in Davis Cup World Group history, and Ivan Lendl is undoubtedly one of its most influential and inspiring team members,” said ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti in presenting the award to Lendl, who was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2001. “We are pleased to recognize Ivan’s contributions to the competition by honoring him with the 2012 Davis Cup Award of Excellence.” Lendl competed for eight consecutive years on the Czechoslovakian team and in 1980 led it to its only Davis Cup title, defeating Italy in the final in Prague. Lendl and the other members of the 1980 team were on hand to see the Czech Republic win this year’s Davis Cup title by defeating Spain.

Past recipients of the Davis Cup Award of Excellence have been Emilio Sanchez of Spain in 2011; Slobodan Zivojinovic of Serbia in 2010; Manuel Orantes of Spain in 2009; Guillermo Vilas of Argentina in 2008; Stan Smith of the United States in 2007; Alex Metreveli of Georgia in 2006; Miloslav Mecir of the Slovak Republic and Goran Ivanisevic of Croatia in 2005; Manolo Santana of Spain in 2004; John Newcombe of Australia in 2003; Pierre Darmon of France in 2002; and Neale Fraser of Australia in 2001.

SLOVAK TOPS IN HELSINKI

Lukas Lacko slammed 12 aces as he defeated top-seeded crowd favorite Jarkko Nieminen to capture the IPP Open in Helsinki, Finland, 6-3 6-4 in less than an hour. Besides the aces, Lacko’s huge serve produced numerous service winners or set up easy winners. The Slovak won 37 of his 42 first-serve points as he dominated the match. “Today was my day,” said Lacko. “I do not remember when I served so well. I not only hit the ball hard, but also was able to serve into the corners. The 31-year-old Nieminen is Finland’s top player and was ranked as high as 13th in the world in 2006.

SWITCHING SPORTS

International Tennis Hall of Famer Gustavo Kuerten beat Novak Djokovic 7-6 (9) 7-5 in an exhibition match in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The indoor clay court match was played before more than 10,000 people at Maracanazinho Arena. Ranked number one in the world, Djokovic is coming off his latest victory, capturing the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. In Rio de Janeiro, he entertained fans by dancing and putting on a big wig to imitate the hairstyle of the 36-year-old Kuerten, a former number one and a three-time French Open champion. The two stars help inaugurate a public tennis court in the Rocinha shantytown in Rio. And both Djokovic and Kuerten scored in a charity soccer game played before a Brazilian league match. Djokovic’s Serbian countryman Dejan Petkovic, who starred for several Brazilian soccer clubs in the last decade, organized the exhibition, which also featured former Brazilian stars Zico and Bebeto.

STARS ON CSI

Chris Evert and Lindsay Davenport will play themselves when they appear on an episode of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” in January. Also appearing in the show about the death of a professional female tennis player will be another retired player and television commentator, Justin Gimelstob. A member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Evert won 18 Grand Slam tournament singles titles, while Davenport won three Grand Slam singles crowns to go along with an Olympic gold medal.

SPANISH DELIGHT

Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez became only the second Spanish team to win the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals doubles title when they outlasted the Indian pair of Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna in London. It was the third title of the year for the pair. The only other Spanish team to win the championship was Juan Gisbert Sr. and Manuel Orantes, who captured the title at Stockholm, Sweden, in 1975. Granollers and Lopez were the first Spanish duo to qualify for the elite season finale since Sergio Casal and Emilio Sanchez accomplished the feat in 1994. Casal and Sanchez were runners-up in both 1988 and 1990.

SPLITTING UP

After proving they were one of the best doubles teams in the world, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna are breaking up. They teamed up so they could represent India at the London Olympics. They ended their partnership with a 34-22 record, having won their first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophy at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris, France. Bhupathi has finished runner-up in the season finale five times – in 1997, 1999 and 2000 with Leander Paes and with Max Mirnyi in 2010. “There were times in the year where the pundits of Indian tennis threw us under the bus, said that ‘we’re not good enough,’ said that, ‘these guys are jokers,’ in a diplomatic way,” Bhupathi said. “But we believed in ourselves. We reached three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 finals, won one Masters 1000 title and finished runners-up here. We’ve beaten all the top teams there are to beat. We came through with flying colors, which I think is credit to us at the end of the day.” Bopanna will be playing with American Rajeev Ram next season.

SIGNED FOR STOCKHOLM

Two American Hall of Famers, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, say they will compete in the Kings of Tennis ATP Champions Tour event in Stockholm, Sweden, next March. It will be the first appearance for Connors in the event, which will also feature fellow Wimbledon and US Open champion Stefan Edberg. “These are some of the absolute biggest and most entertaining players of all time,” said tournament director Thomas Enqvist. “It feels great to follow up a successful first year and to give our audience a possibility to see these players.” McEnroe is the defending champion, having beaten Sweden’s Magnus Larsson in the final last year. Connors and McEnroe have played each other 34 times, with McEnroe holding a 20-14 edge. Between the two, Connors (8) and McEnroe (7) won 15 Grand Slam tournament singles titles.

STARGAMES

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) and StarGames have joined forces to promote tennis participation around the world. The inaugural World Tennis Day will be held March 5 as part of the 2013 ITF Centenary activities. World Tennis Day will be centered on a series of high profile exhibition events around the world, including the BNP Paribas Showdown in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Each of the events, organized by the promoter StarGames, will feature current and former professionals together with demonstrations of the ITF’s program aimed at increasing participation among young players around the world. The ITF will also be encouraging its 210 National Associations to support World Tennis Day with their own grassroots and club activities to attract new participants to the sport.

SO LONG

Argentina’s Gisela Dulko is calling it a career. The 27-year-old Dulko made the announcement on her website. She won four singles titles and 17 doubles titles in her career, reaching a high of 26th in the world in singles and number one in doubles, teaming with Flavia Pennetta. The two won the 2011 Australian Open women’s doubles after capturing eight titles in 2010, including the season-ending WTA Championships. “This was not an easy decision, despite the fact that it has been on my mind for quite some time,” Dulko wrote on her website. “Tennis has been my life for the past 20 years. I started playing when I was 7 and knew from a young age that I wanted to be a professional tennis player … Along the long road there were many moments and some which were not so great. … The reason why I have decided to retire from tennis is because I now have other priorities on which I want to focus. As a result I don’t have the same desire or ability to make the sacrifices which are necessary to live the life of a tennis professional.”

SPONSORS

NH Hoteles has extended its sponsorship of Davis Cup by BNP Paribas for an additional three years through 2015. The company and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) signed the new agreement in Prague, Czech Republic, during the 2012 Davis Cup final. NH Hoteles became an international Davis Cup sponsor in 2004.

Rolex also will continue as an international sponsor of Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. The company first joined the Davis Cup family of sponsors in 2007 and is the Official Timekeeper of Davis Cup. “We are delighted that Rolex is extending its association with Davis Cup and look forward to working with them over the coming years,” said ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti. “The company’s commitment to tennis is good for the sport as a whole and we thank them for that. We think that the Davis Cup is an excellent fit because of its prestigious history that, for over a century, has asked each player and each team to strive for the very best.”

SAD NEWS

The wife of tennis great Rod Laver is dead following a long illness. The 84-year-old Mary Laver died at their home in Carlsbad, California, USA. “We had a wonderful life together,” Laver said. “We did a lot of traveling, a lot of tennis tournaments, tennis events.” The two were married for 46 years and had one son, Rick, who was born three weeks after Laver won his second Grand Slam in 1969. She had three children from a previous marriage.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Helsinki: Mikhail Elgin and Igor Zelenay beat Uladzimir Ignatik and Jimmy Wang 4-6 7-6 (0) 10-4 (match tiebreak)

London: Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez beat Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna 7-5 3-6 10-3 (match tiebreak)

SURFING

Toyota: http://www.dunlop-tennis.jp

Dubai: www.dubaitennis.com

ITF: www.itftennis.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

WOMEN

$75,000 Dunlop World Challenge Tennis Tournament, Toyota, Japan, carpet

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

MEN

$220,000 ATP Challenger Tour Finals, Sao Paulo, Brazil, hard

WOMEN

$75,000 Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 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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