Monday, January 21, 2008

Back to the futures!

With the Australian Open still in progress this week solely looks at the wonderful world of future and challenger events. A place where the up and coming meet the down trodden and journeymen (and women) and this week was no different!

1. Sesil Karatantcheva

Ms Karatantcheva returned to professional tennis this week following her two year ban for drug offences. The 18-year-old Bulgarian still maintains her innocence however we are not here to judge, she has served her punishment. Her first tournament was a complete success - coming through qualifying before winning the $25K Surprise Futures title in Arizona. Considering her situation it was a remarkable achievement. Whethere she will be welcomed back on to the tour with open arms is another matter...

2. Uladzimi Ignatik

The 17 year old Belarussian won his first futures title in only his sixth ever professional tournament at North Miami. Ignatik finished 2007 as the #2 ranked junior despite winning the French Open title and finishing runner up at Wimbledon. He is currently ranked 876 though his ranking will move up significantly after this result and there's no doubt he's one to watch in 2008.

3. Ricardas Berankis

Lithuanian Berankis was the junior who beat Ignatik to the World Junior #1 ranking at the end of 2007 (he was also US Open junior champion). Berankis took part in the North Miami tournament but could only manage a semi-final finish losing to American Todd Paul who in turn lost to Ignatik. Berankis however has already won a futures title and is ranked 706. So who transfer their junior success best on the senior circuit? Only time will tell...

4. Anastasia Pivovarova

Another year another potential female Russian star. 17-year-old Pivovarova currently ranked 234 has had a fantastic start to the year winning the Tampa Bay futures title last week (the 5th of her career) and the semi-finals this week at the Surprise tournament (where she lost to Karatantcheva). In 2007 she picked up wins against established players Benesova, Knapp and Makarova. Though Anastasia, who trains at the Evert Academy, has a bright future she will have climb over a lot of her Russian counterparts to reach the top of the game - she's ranked only 27 in her native country.

5. Michelle Larcher De Brito

What a difference a week makes. Last week the 14-year-old (soon to be 15) was playing at the JB Group Classic in Hong Kong with Venus Williams, Sharapova and Dementieva (who she teamed up with in doubles). A week later Michelle, who is ranked #296, lost in the last round of qualifying at the Surprise futures tournament in Arizona. However after a strong 2007 where the young Larcher De Brito defeated Shaugnessy at Miami (the 7th youngest female ever to win a main draw match), she is in prime position to make a strong impact on the women's tour in 2008. Watch this girl, she will be a world beater!

6. Xin-Yuan Yu

With the Chinese female game taking off the men's game has been left, well, quite far behind. There is however some hope in the year of the Beijing Olympics. 22-year-old Yu has won 7 futures titles and this week reached the semi-finals of the most recent Chinese future title. Though singles is not where Yu excels- with Shao-Xuan Zheng he has formed a solid doubles partnership. The title the pair took out this week was the 20th of Yu's career.
Yu has improved his doubles ranking very year and is currently #191. The Chinese men, who reached the semi-finals at the Beijing ATP tournament in 2006 and won a challenger title in 2007 , have unfortunately not been offered the same chance to excel as their female counterparts. Yu has played virtually all his tennis in Asia with only a short stint last year in Europe. With Yu and Zheng given the opportunity to compete on a consistent international basis a good showing at the Olympics is more than likely. (I'm not brave enough to predict a medal yet!)

7. Miles Kasiri

In 2004 a British junior made the junior boy's final at Wimbledon - the first time in over thirty years. You maybe surprised to find that this was not Andy Murray but a lad by the name of Miles Kasiri. Since then the young Brit has done little except court controversy. He was suspended from the LTA training programme for lack of effort, something he blamed on a constant injury.
With that behind him Miles, now 21, has started to make consistent progress and is now at a career high 514 in the world. He has made the quarter finals or better at nine futures titles in the past 12 months, including last week's futures tournament in Sunderland. With a mature outlook and injury free 08 another young Brit could be making the headlines at this year's Wimbledon.

8. Naomi Broady

British women's tennis has had little to cheer about for some time.... 17-year-old Broady is no certainty to improve upon this however she is certainly making some progress. Last week, unseeded, she made the semi-finals at the futures event in Sunderland. An achievement she also made last November in the same city. In 2007 she also took top 100 player Casey Dellacqua to a third set tiebreak at the Surbiton event. Currently ranked #723 it seems the only way is up for Broady, however how far that is, is anyone's guess.

9. Gaston Gaudio

This week has featured many fresh faced future champions... however the other side of the challenger and futures tournaments is the fading stars... In 2004 unseeded Gaston Gaudio swept to a dramatic victory at the French Open where he came back form two sets down to defeate Coria. He went on to win 8 titles and reach a career high of #5 in the world. A few years later Gaudio is ranked 176 and losing 6-0 6-3 to rising star Nishikori in the first round of the Miami Challenger. Granted it was his first tournament back since an ankle injury in September last year but his lack of form has been going for some time. Quite the fall from grace.

10. Jan-Michael Gambill

The pretty all-American boy reached a career high of 14 in 2001, won three ATP titles and was a Wimbledon quarter-finalist. He is now in the twilight of his career aged 30 and his form in the last 12 months has been woeful. He has played 7 matches in the last year and has lost all games without winning one set. His most recently 6-4 6-4 loss was to the eventual champion of the Miami challenger, Eric Prodon. Gambill, who has been out injured, has only played ATP or challenger events in his 'comeback' so if he is serious about some form of professional career in 2008 he's going to have to win some matches - so off to the futures tour Mr Gambill!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sydney, Hobart and Auckland

1. Justine Henin

There is just no stopping Justine! The dominant force in women's tennis took her 40th career title in Sydney this week defeating Kuznetsova in the tight three sets. This is Henin's 6th straight tournament win - her last loss was to Bartoli at Wimbledon last July.

She is a hot favourite for the Austrailan Open and will certainly take some beating

2. Philipp Kohlschreiber

The german number two has been making consistent progress since entering the top 100 back in 2004. He finished a career high 30 at the end of 2007 and started 2008 with a bang defeating former world number 1 Ferrero to take the title in Auckland - the second of his career. This moves him to a career high 27 and in a prime position to take 2008 by storm. Ferrero on the other hand continues his title drought, his last coming in Madrid in 2003 - the year he hit the dizzy heights of grand slam victory and world number 1. How the mighty fall.

3. Young Australians

It was a good week for young Australians. 22-year-old Chris Guccione reached his second ATP tour final in Sydney this week defeating Hewitt, Berdych and Stepanek en route and fast improving Casey Dellacqua reached her first Quarter-final on the WTA tour in Hobart. However the biggest name for the future could 15-year-old Bernard Tomic. The world junior number 13 is unranked on the men's circuit however this did not stop him defeating world number 147 Yeu-Tzuoo Wang in the first round of Australian Open qualifying. A result reminiscent of a 15-year-old Lleyton Hewitt at the Australian open in 1997.

4. Dmitry Tursunov

The unpredictable and talented Russian took the Sydney title - the fourth of his career. Three of those titles have come since July last year however in the same period his ranking has dropped from the low 20s into the 30s. Testament to the Russian's inconsistency - a focused Tursunov could easily be a top 10 player by the end of 2008. Whether this is possible is another matter!

5. Eleni Daniilidou

The greek female start took her fifth career title in Hobart this week. Eleni, who reached a career high of 14 in 2003, didn't drop a set on the way to the title however was handed a walk over in the final when Vera Zvonareva pulled out with an injured ankle. With the large greek population in Melbourne Eleni will have strong support and chance to make a real dent at a grand slam. Her last 4th round appearance being the 2004 US Open.

6. Evgueni Korolev

The 19-year-old Russian cousin of Anna Kournikova was certainly the luckiest player this week. After losing to Darcis in qualifying Korolev he snuck into the main draw as a lucky loser. His luck continued when his first round opponent Mathieu retired and then a lucky draw saw him make the quarter finals by defeating qualifier Ivo Minar. However to Korolev this was nothing new - he made the Sydney quarter finals in 2007 after also scrapping into the main draw as a lucky loser!

7. Ashley Harkleroad

It wasn't too long ago 22-year-old Harkleroad was touted as the next big American female tennis star. After reaching a career high 39 in 2003 Ashley has had little to cheer about. However this week saw her best result since reaching the Auckland final in 2004 - a semi-final appearance in Hobart. A result that sees her move to a ranking of 58.

8. Jelena Dokic

The former Australian-Serbian world number 4 and Wimbledon semi-finalist made a successful come back to the WTA tour this week. Jelena who is still only 24, received a wild card into the Hobart qualifying where she won three matches to reach the main round. She then defeated Martina Muller (ranked 54) before retiring to Penetta in the 2nd round. The first round win was her first on the WTA tour in almost three years. Although she failed to qualify for the Australian Open her first round qualifying win against rising star Marina Erakovic shows that a comeback is more than possible in what could be the story of 2008.

9. Somdev Dev Varman

The 22-year-old Indian qualifier took out his second ITF futures title in Florida this week. Why is this such an interesting story? Well firstly this was only Somdev's third tournament in the last 12 months - the other two being at the ATP tournaments Washington (where he qualified) and Mumbai. Dev Varman is also the 2007 NCAA champion where he defeated top American rising star John Isner in the final. In Florida he defeated Giovanni Lapentti and 152nd ranked Dusan Vemic on the way to the title. He also took out the doubles title. He is currently ranked 1037 however with a dedicated year to tennis Dev Varman's career is a certainty to take off.

10. A bad week for...

Lleyton Hewitt - Hewitt has won the Sydney tournament four times. His 2nd round exit to countryman Chris Guccione this week and last week's disappointing quarter final loss in Adelaide suggests he has very little hope of progressing far in Melbourne.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Doha, Chennai, Adelaide, Gold Coast, Auckland...

The top tennis stories from the first week of the tennis year!

1. Joseph Sirianni

The 32 year old(soon to be 33) Australian journeyman is no doubt the story of the week. Before 2008 Sirianni had only won 1 ATP tour match but did finish 2007 with two challenger titles and a victory in the Australian Open wild-card playoff. With the home crowd support in Adelaide he defeated Stepanek (ranked 30), Querrey (60) and Matthieu (25) before losing to eventual champion Llodra in the semi-finals. An amazing achievement.

What makes this more remarkable is that in the semi-final of his Adelaide wild card play off Joseph was down 6-0 5-3 to up and coming Greg Jones before coming back to win.

Sirianni moves to a career high 146 in the world and could be a chance of making the Australian Davis Cup team. You can follow Joseph's progress on his website

2. Lindsay Davenport

Lindsay's comeback keeps going from strength to strength. Her victory in Auckland, where she only dropped one set, was her 3rd tournament win since her comeback at Bali in September last yera. In fact since her comeback she has only lost once - to Jelena Jankovic in the semi-finals of Beijing. It will be interesting to see how she does in her first grand slam since the 2006 US Open.

3. Andy Murray

The injury prone Brit (or Scot if he's not doing so well...) signalled his intentions for 2008 when he took out the Doha tournament with the drop of only two sets. Six of the ten sets he won were by a margin of 6-2 or less. All this without a full time coach since his split with Brad Gilbert.

However admitting to being tired in the final could raise questions over his fitness going into the Australian Open. Though no doubt a fit Murray in 2008 will be at least a top 5 player and who knows... a grand slam champion?

4. Chinese Comeback

Na Li
made a triumphant return to the WTA tour by winning the Gold Coast tournament. Li who has been out of action since June 2007 defeated Vaidisova, Schnyder and the up and coming youngster Azarenka on her way to the title.

The pioneer of the Chinese tennis revolution, Jie Zheng also made her comeback from injury at the Gold Coast tournament. In the year of the Beijing Olympics Zheng and doubles partner Zi Yan are big favourites to medal and they made a solid start to 2008 by reaching the final in Queensland. Zheng has been out of action since the French Open.

5. Mikhail Youzhny

The under achieving Russian took out the fourth title of his career in Chennai. The most notable match was his demolition of Rafael Nadal in the final 6-0 6-1. Nadal's marathon four hour contest with Carlos Moya in the semi-final may have had something to do with the one sided result...

Youzhny has a career high ranking of 10 but has only gone beyond the 4th round of a grand slam once. With a decent draw at the Australian Open this could well change...

6. The Williams Sisters

Both Serena and Venus had valuable match practice before the first grand slam of the year. Serena took part in the mixed international competition in Australia, the Hopman Cup. Serena and Mardy Fish won the event for the United States with Serena defeating Safarova and Molik as well securing three mixed doubles victories.

Venus took out the JB Group Classic in Hong Kong, defeating Peng, Dementieva and Sharapova without the loss of a set.

7. Marina Erakovic

New Zealand has had little to celebrate since Brett Steven retired from the ATP tour however this could change with 19-year-old Marina Erakovic. Erakovic was ranked as high as number 5 as a junior and won the 2004 US Open double titles with Michaela Krajicek. She has yet to break through on the WTA tour though with home crowd support Marina reached her first semi-final defeating Zvonareva en route. Her ranking has moved to a career high 139 and will no doubt be a top 100 player in 2008. Something for the Kiwis to celebrate!

8. The Ratiwatana Twins

Thailand's Sonchat and Sanchai Ratiwatana captured their second ATP tour doubles title in Chennia this week. The twins, who were the 38th ranked doubles pairing in 2007, moved to a career high equal individual doubles ranking of 56. The only grand slam tournaments the twins have played were the 2006 and 2007 Wimbledon championships (both as lucky losers) with their best result being the 2nd round in 06. Will the grand slam of the Asia Pacific - the Australian Open - provide them with an opportunity to improve on this record? Nevertheless their improvement is a boost for tennis in Asia and certainly makes the Thai Davis Cup team formidable opponents.

9. Brazilian giantkillers in Sao Paulo

Brazilian qualifier Thiago Alves, ranked 383rd, sensationally took out the $100,00 Sao Paulo challenger title. Alves who played in the 2006 US open and was ranked as high as 95 defated three seeds including 85th ranked Carlos Berlocq in the final.

This however was not the only remarkable Brazilian result. 23-year-old Eric Gomes, ranked 710, was unseeded in the pre-qualifying tournament however still won through to gain a wild card entry to the tournament. He then secured two victories (including 5th seed Brian Dabul) to reach the quarter finals before finally losing out to 107th ranked Brzezicki.

Alves moved up to 238 in the latest rankings whilst Gomes moved up 112 spots to a career high 599. A much needed boost for Brazilian tennis after no men featured in the top 100 in 2007.

10. A bad week for....

Igor Andreev finished 2007 ranked 33rd, his second highest year end finish. So hopefully his first match isn't indicative of his 2008 fortunes. Travelling all the way from Moscow to Doha for the first tournament of the year, Andreev could only manage to win won game. Losing in the first round 6-1 6-0 to Thomas Johansson.

Poor Meghann Shaugnessy. First she was a substitute for an 'ill' Serena Williams at the Hopman Cup where she helped secure an American victory over India before being booted back out to make way for the reigning Australian Open champion. (USA went on to win the title). She then had to scurry to the other side of the country to sign in for the Gold Coast tournament. But it gets worse... up 6-0 1-0 against Italian Schiavone poor Meghann had to retire. Not the best start for 2008!

Martina Hingis was suspended for two years after tesing positive for cocaine at Wimbledon last year. Hingis has already retired from tennis (again) and has claimed she is 100% innocent. The jury's out on public opinion. But an international 20 something visitor of London using a bit of charlie - never!!!