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By Bob Greene

STARS

Petra Kvitova beat Sara Errani 6-2 1-6 6-1 to win the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Kei Nishikori beat Feliciano Lopez 6-2 6-3 to win the US National Indoor Championships in Memphis, Tennessee, USA

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Tomas Berdych 3-6 7-6 (6) 6-4 to win the Open 13 in Marseille, France

David Ferrer beat Stanislas Wawrinka 6-4 3-6 6-1 to win the Copa Claro in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Marina Erakovic beat Sabine Lisicki 6-1 retired to win the US National Indoor Tennis Championships in Memphis, Tennessee, USA

Jelena Jankovic beat Paula Ormaechea 6-1 6-2 to win the Copa Claro Colsanitas in Bogotá, Colombia

Carlos Moya beat John McEnroe 6-4 6-2 to win the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships in Delray Beach, Florida, USA

SAYING

Marina Erakovic wins Memphis

“If paying your dues is putting all the hours in on the tennis court, getting injured and going back at it again, then I’ve definitely paid my dues. I just like playing tennis. It’s not always fun and it’s not always great, and it doesn’t always work out the way you want it to, but when you win tight matches or win titles, it’s all worthwhile.” – Marina Erakovic, after winning the US National Indoor Tennis Championships, her first WTA title.

“It’s hard to play because her ball is very flat. I don’t have time to do the points that I want to do, to play the game I want to play.” – Sara Errani, following her loss to Petra Kvitova in the Dubai Championships final.

“I found the way to stay in this match and it’s not just a miracle. He will tell you that I played well on these points. In moments like these, you need to be brave to overcome your fear and I, personally, have to play more aggressive.” – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, after he saved five match points to defeat Bernard Tomic in a Marseille Open quarterfinal match.

“I have played some good tennis. It’s improving all the time.” – Caroline Wozniacki, who made her first semifinal appearance since October.

“It was very tough playing against a friend. Sometimes it happens and you just have to try to play normally.” – Sara Errani, after beating her doubles partner Roberta Vinci in Dubai.

“I thought it would get better as the week went on, but it didn’t. I don’t want to keep pushing it and make it worse.” – Serena Williams, pulling out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships because of a back injury.

“I just went out there and laid an egg really. It’s hard to explain. I guess sometimes it happens. You go out there and don’t play too well.” – John Isner, after being upset by Denis Istomin at the US National Indoor Tennis Championships.

“I think it means quite a bit for New Zealand. We’re a small place, we’ve got about four million people, and tennis isn’t the most popular sport. But whenever I’m somewhere else in the world and someone asks me where I’m from and I say New Zealand, they always say they love New Zealand. And there are always a lot of Kiwis supporting me around the world. So this is great.” – Marina Erakovic, after winning her first WTA title in Memphis, Tennessee, USA.

“It’s very unfortunate I wasn’t able to finish the match. I put all the energy I had left in my body into the match, but I just couldn’t keep going. I had been sick the last three days already. But Marina had a great tournament and I want to congratulate her for her first WTA title.” – Sabine Lisicki, after retiring during the US National Indoor Tennis Championships final.

“Winning 20 ATP tournaments is tough to do. Never in my life did I think I would win 20. It is something that, well, dreams come true more than we think.” – David Ferrer, who won his second straight Copa Claro crown.

“Way too many errors. She did well to not be bothered by anything I was trying to do. She used her slice very well, which kept all the points neutral. I made way too many mistakes on those neutral balls.” – Samantha Stosur, after making 28 unforced errors in her quarterfinal loss to Roberta Vinci in Dubai.

“To handle … stardom, the red carpets, the photo shoots, people all of a sudden recognizing you and following you in everyday life, it’s a bit weird. It’s strange and it can have funny effects on you in terms of do you like it or don’t you like it. Some people run away from it, some people embrace it. I found a good middle ground.” – Roger Federer, when asked about pressure put on professional athletes.

“After the Australian Open when I came back into tournaments I just didn’t find that spark in myself. I thought maybe it would come back to me, but the more I started playing the more I found it was becoming more-and-more apparent I didn’t have the passion it would take.” – Rebecca Marino, announcing she was stepping away from tennis.

“John (McEnroe) was my idol growing up, so just being on the court with him is special. John has a tricky game, he’s not easy to play. He still serves really well and has great volleys so he isn’t an easy opponent. He’s fun to play and I think that match would have been good to watch.” – Carlos Moya, after beating John McEnroe in the final of a seniors tournament in Delray Beach, Florida, USA.

“Realizing that you play five days in a row against top players, sometimes it is too much. You just try to play. And I tried, but my body says no. I cannot force (it). I cannot put myself in a position to hurt myself. That would just be stupid.” – Victoria Azarenka, pulling out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships with an injured foot.

STRONG PERFORMANCE

Even Petra Kvitova admitted her performance was up and down. But it was up more than down, giving her an erratic win over Sara Errani and her 10th WTA career singles title. “It was very tough, up and down – she can catch a lot of balls and get them back,” Kvitova said of her Italian opponent. “I tried to stay focused and calm in the last set.” The Czech left-hander finally prevailed 6-2 1-6 6-1 to win the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Kvitova gained a berth in the final by beating defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska and two former world number ones, Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki, in the earlier rounds. In the final she faced Errani, who at seventh in the world was ranked one spot ahead of Kvitova. “She was hitting so strong, making winners everywhere. I had to change something to try to win the match, to be more aggressive,” said Errani, who did just that to level the match at one set apiece. Then, just like the first set, it was all Kvitova again. With the victory, Kvitova swapped places in the rankings with Errani.

STOPPED BY INJURY

Serena Williams pulled out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships because of a lower back injury. She withdrew just minutes before she was to go on court for a second-round match against Marion Bartoli. “I’ve just had some back problems the past couple weeks,” Williams said. “It’s not at a level where I can compete where I feel comfortable to not make it worse.” It was the first tournament for Williams after she had reclaimed the world number one ranking. The 31-year-old American said her back had troubled her a week earlier in the Qatar Open, a tournament where she lost in the final. Williams hurt her back in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, where she had to leave the court for medical treatment.

Earlier in the week Victoria Azarenka, who beat Williams in the Qatar final, also pulled out of the Dubai event, citing a bone bruise in her right foot. “I have been playing on it a lot over the last five days, so going to a new tournament is too much to handle right now,” Azarenka said. “It keeps getting worse. It was an unfortunate decision that I had to make, and I’m very disappointed.”

STRAIGHT-SET WIN

The final day proved to be easy for Kei Nishikori as Japan’s top player won his third ATP Tour career title. In a match that lasted just 67 minutes, Nishikori crushed Feliciano Lopez 6-2 6-3. “To win this title is an amazing feeling,” Nishikori said. “Hopefully I can win a couple more titles.” Nishikori won his semifinal when Marinko Matosevic retired with a foot injury following the opening set. Against Lopez, Nishikori was overpowering in the beginning of the match. The Spaniard never recovered as he missed an opportunity to get his first win since 2010. “He was very aggressive from the beginning,” Lopez said. “I have no regrets. I tried everything I could and he was just the better player today.” Nishikori agreed. “It’s been a good start to the year,” the winner said.

SUCCESSFUL RETURN

David Ferrer has a winning touch in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Ranked fourth in the world, the Spaniard won his second straight Copa Claro crown, defeating Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka in the final on the clay courts of the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club. “I’ve always preferred even number to odd ones, but I never thought I’d reach a figure like this on the ATP (tour),” Ferrer said of capturing his 20th career title. It was the fifth consecutive Spanish win in Buenos Aires: Tommy Robredo in 2009, Juan Carlos Ferrero in 2010 and Nicolas Almagro in 2011. The last Argentinean to win the title was David Nalbandian in 2008. Ferrer’s victory was his 10th career clay-court title, moving him into a third-place tie with Nikolay Davydenko and Roger Federer among active players for the most titles on the surface. “I am very happy for this title. I cannot describe it with other words,” the winner said. “It’s very hard to win back-to-back titles, and this tournament in Buenos Aires is always very tough. I am very proud. … Tennis is smiling on me and I’m happy for that.”

SABINE STOPPER

Run up the flags. New Zealand finally has a winner again. Marina Erakovic won her first WTA title when third-seeded Sabine Lisicki retired with gastrointestinal illness after losing the opening set 6-1. But the win gave New Zealand its first women’s champion since Belinda Cordwell won in Kallang, Singapore, in 1989. It was the third time Erakovic had reached a tournament final, and the first time she collected the biggest trophy. The guitar trophy couldn’t have fit a player better. Erakovic not only plays guitar, she also travels with one. “I really couldn’t have thought of a better moment in time than that,” she said. The US National Indoor Tennis Championships are held in Memphis, Tennessee, the home of Elvis Presley.

SAYONARA

Tired of battling depression and cyber-bullies, Canada’s Rebecca Marino decided to quit tennis. Ranked 38th in the world two years ago, the 22-year-old said she has long suffered from depression and was no longer willing to make the necessary sacrifices to improve her game. “After thinking long and hard, I do not have the passion or enjoyment to drive myself to the level I would like to be at in professional tennis,” Marino said. “I have previously been number 38 on the WTA singles rankings, so I realize the amount of work and sacrifices that have to be put in, and at this point I do not think it is worth sacrificing my happiness. I feel there is more to life than just tennis.” Last year Marino took a seven-month break from the sport, citing mental and physical fatigue. She also was the target of cruel attacks on Twitter, some from gamblers who had lost money on her matches, while others poked fun at her weight and appearance. “I was getting some comments that were really hurtful, as well as some great comments, but the hurtful ones stick with you a bit more,” she said.

SPIRITED CHAMPION

Playing in his native France, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga showed plenty of fighting spirit as he rallied from a set down to defeat Tomas Berdych and win the Open 13 in Marseille. Berdych had beaten the Frenchman in four of their five previous matches, but this time it was Tsonga who came through in the two-hour, 10-minute battle. The top-seeded Berdych had no problems winning the opening set. But Tsonga staved off a match point before sending the match into a third set. The Frenchman had saved five match points in his semifinal win over Australian Bernard Tomic. It was Tsonga’s second victory in Marseille, having also won in 2009. “This victory, I owe it to you,” Tsonga told the crowd.

SENIOR WINNER

John McEnroe may have been the childhood idol of Carlos Moya. McEnroe’s also a victim of the Spaniard, who successful defended his Delray Beach International Tennis Championship title. Eighteen years younger that McEnroe, Moya beat the American left-hander 6-4 6-2. The win – Moya’s seventh straight at the tournament – puts him once again at the top of the ATP Champions Tour Rankings. Though disappointed, the 54-year-old McEnroe said he was pleased with his game. “I think it’s not a bad effort, I’m pleased with how I played,” he said. “The conditions today were tough. I don’t think either Carlos or I are used to playing in this kind of heat and humidity any more.”

SAYS SHE’S THROUGH

The biggest winner is tennis history has called it quits. Esther Vergeer, a wheelchair champion who has not lost a match in the last 10 years, announced she is retiring from the sport. The 31-year-old Dutch standout has won 120 consecutive tournaments while dropping just 18 sets. In the last 10 years she had faced just one match point – that against fellow countrywoman Korie Homan in the women’s gold medal match at the 1008 Beijing Paralympics. Vergeer began playing wheelchair tennis at the age of 12 after surgery on her spinal cord went wrong. She has been named International Tennis Federation (ITF) Wheelchair World Champion for the last 13 years, winning 169 titles and ending her career on a 470-match winning streak. Her last defeat was to Daniela di Toro of Australia on January 30, 2003, in Sydney, Australia. In Grand Slam tournament play, the Dutch star won every singles event she entered, capturing 21 singles titles and 23 doubles titles at the majors. She won eight Paralympic medals during her career, seven of which were gold. She was part of the Netherlands’ team that won the World Team Cup 12 times.

SEEKS A BREAK

Following the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, USA, Roger Federer will take a break from the ATP Tour of nearly two months. The 31-year-old Swiss star is playing in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, this week, but took time to tell of his plans. “The last few years have been really tricky in terms of my practice schedule, especially through an Olympic year (in 2012),” Federer said. “This year is totally different. Family is very important, so I also want to spend quality time with them.” In a news conference, Federer also stressed that his lighter schedule will help prolong his playing career and hopefully add to his record haul of 17 Grand Slam tournament singles titles. After the California tournament, which begins March 4, Federer’s next scheduled event will be the Madrid Open in early May. “I can’t play a year like I did last year every single season, because that isn’t the point I’m at in my career. I’m not 22 where I have to play 25-30 tournaments a year,” said the world’s second-ranked player. “Plus, I believe I’ll be really ready for the tournaments I’ve entered.”

SURVIVOR

You can call her a survivor. You can also call Jelena Jankovic a champion. The former world number one barely made it to the final day of the tournament in Bogotá, Colombia. After all, she battled for more than three hours before posting a first-round victory over Julia Cohen. Then she needed a third-set tiebreaker to edge Karin Knapp in the semifinals. But in the title match, Jankovic put on display the game that once took her to the top of the WTA rankings. She blasted Paul Ormaechea 6-1 6-2 in just 74 minutes to collect her 13th WTA title – her first since Indian Wells, California, USA, in 2010. In between the two titles, Jankovic had lost all five of her finals since: Rome in 2010, Monterrey and Cincinnati in 2011, and Birmingham and Dallas in 2012. Ormaechea was playing in her first WTA final.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Bogotá: Timea Babos and Mandy Minella beat Eva Birnerova and Alexandra Panova 6-4 6-3

Buenos Aires: Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini beat Nicholas Monroe and Simon Stadler 6-3 6-2

Dubai: Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Sania Mirza beat Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik 6-4 2-6 10-7 (match tiebreak)

Marseille: Rohan Bopanna and Colin Fleming beat Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and Jean-Julien Rojer 6-4 7-6 (3)

Memphis (men): Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan beat James Blake and Jack Sock 6-1 6-2

Memphis (women): Kristina Mladenovic and Galina Voskoboeva beat Sofia Arvidsson and Johanna Larsson 7-6 (5) 6-3

SURFING

Dubai: www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com

Acapulco: http://abiertomextenis.com.mx

Delray Beach: www.yellowtennisball.com

Florianopolis: www.brasiltenniscup.com.

Kuala Lumpur: www.bmwmalaysianopen.com

Indian Wells: www.bnpparibasopen.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

MEN

$1,785,500 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, hard, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
$1,212,75 Abierto Mexicano Telcel, clay, Acapulco, Mexico
$455,775 Delray Beach International Tennis Championships, hard, Delray Beach, Florida, USA

WOMEN

$235,000 WTA Brasil Tennis Cup, hard, Florianopolis, Brazil
$235,000 BMW Malaysian Open, hard, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
$235,000 Abierto Mexicano Telcel, clay, Acapulco, Mexico

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

MEN

$4,330,625 BNP Paribas Open, hard, Indian Wells, California, USA (first week)

WOMEN

$5,185,625 BNP Paribas Open, hard, Indian Wells, California, USA (first week)



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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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