There were few familiar faces but plenty of up-and-comers in the winner’s circle during Week One of the ATP/WTA 2007 season.
Former No. 1 and a fan favorite since her comeback, Martina Hingis looked poised to win her first title of the year during the first week, destroying opponents in the early rounds but in the final at Gold Coast getting a 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 surprise at the hands of Marat Safin’s sister Dinara. In Auckland another young riser, Serb Jelena Jankovic persevered as the top seed 7-6(9), 5-7, 6-3 over No. 5 seed Vera Zvonareva in the final.
It was only the second career title for Jankovic.
“I came, I saw, I conquered,” Jankovic said.
Safina also completed the singles-doubles sweep with Katarina Srebotnik.
Novak Djokovic, Ivan Ljubicic and Xavier “X-Man” Malisse were winners on the men’s side. The top-seeded Serb Djokovic turned back hot-handed local wildcard Chris “Penthouse” Guccione 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-4 for the Adelaide title; the No. 2-seeded Croat Ljubicic stopped the precocious No. 4 seed Andy Murray 6-4, 6-4 in Doha; and the Belgian Malisse, the No. 3 seed in Chennai, India, beat up on unseeded Austrian Stefan Koubek 6-1, 6-3.
In the Chennai semifinals Malisse shocked world No. 2 Rafael Nadal in straight sets, and in the doubles final extended the Spaniard’s disappointment by teaming with countryman Dick Norman to beat Nadal and countryman Bart Salva-Vidal in two tiebreaks.
“You’re always going to have a lot of confidence after beating a player like Nadal,” said Malisse, who collected only his second career singles title. “But you have to watch out as well. In the past I’ve beaten great players and kind of relaxed the next match. I think I’ve matured in that way, and I knew I had to be ready for the finals.”
Djokovic also reached the Adelaide doubles final with Mr. Martina Hingis, Radek Stepanek, falling short in a third-set tiebreak.
Adelaide was the site for the debut of the ATP’s difficult-to-follow but apparently-TV-friendly “Round Robin 32 Draw Hybrid” where marquee player Lleyton Hewitt was unable to emerge from the round robin portion of the tournament to qualify for the beginning of the knock-out competition in the quarterfinals.
Sydney is the money stop on the WTA Tour this week, featuring eight of the Top 10 in Amelie Mauresmo, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Kim Clijsters, Nadia Petrova, Martina Hingis, Elena Dementieva, Patty Schnyder and Nicole Vaidisova.
Opening-round matches to look for in Sydney are (5) Hingis vs. the Auckland winner Jankovic, and (6) Dementieva vs. qualifier Ai Sugiyama. The top-seeded Mauresmo after a bye will start against either Tatiana Golovin or qualifier Shuai Peng, and Kuznetsova against Srebotnik or Russian comeback hopeful Elena Bovina.
Russian Anna Chakvetadze is the top seed this week in Hobart, where there are few thrills in the field besides the debut of unseeded Serena Williams (vs. Sofia Arvidsson first round), and wildcard threats Alicia Molik of Australia and Indian princess Sania Mirza.
Sydney is likewise the place for the men this week, where top seed Rafael Nadal tries to log his first title of the year, joined by seeds Nikolay Davydenko, James Blake, Marcos Baghdatis, Tomas Berdych, Richard Gasquet, Dmitry Tursunov and Sebastien Grosjean.
Nadal opens against the hot-handed Guccione, and Davydenko against American rapper Vince Spadea. Other openers of interest are (3) Blake vs. Malisse, (8) Grosjean vs. Fernando “Hot Sauce” Verdasco, and all-French encounters in (6) Gasquet vs. Julien “United Colors of” Benneteau and Arnaud Clement vs. Paul-Henri Mathieu.
The Heineken Open in Auckland gets the ATP leftovers, albeit headed by two top 10ers in the maligned Tommy Robredo of Spain and Croatia’s Mario “Baby Goran” Ancic. Also seeded are Dave Ferrer, Jarkko Nieminen, Dominik “The Dominator” Hrbaty, former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, Agustin Calleri and Stan Wawrinka, joined by unseeded players of note (WC) Gael “Force” Monfils, Gaston Gaudio and American Mardy Fish.
World No. 1 Roger Federer isn’t participating in ATP events prior to the Australian Open, but last week arrived in Melbourne for some early practice on the courts, with coach Tony Roche arriving shortly after.
AROUND THE DIAL:
Why tennis is confusing, courtesy of Reuters: “Ljubicic wins Qatar Open to lead ATP Race: Croatian Ivan Ljubicic defeated Andy Murray 6-4 6-4 on Saturday to lift the $1 million Qatar Open title and take the number one ranking in the ATP Champions Race.” Who cares? Is it worth confusing fans (Ljubicic is not No. 1 and never has been) each year to trumpet that the player who wins Doha is No. 1 in the “Race”? The ATP needs to drop the “Race” debacle, for good or at least until the US Open…Tennisreporters.net’s Matt Cronin says many tournaments on the women’s tour are failing to submit applications to the WTA Tour to be designated as either an “A” or “B” tournament for their Roadmap 2010 plan. Other sources say the WTA hopes to sort out their new future calendar and A/B status by March…Old news, but ahead of a critical Davis Cup tie against the U.S., Czech player Radek “Mrs. Hingis” Stepanek announced his retirement from the Czech Republic’s Davis Cup team after the Czech tennis federation appointed Jaroslav Navratil captain over his personal choice, coach Petr Korda. Stepanek was expected to team with Tomas Berdych against the U.S. after not playing Davis Cup since 2004. The Czech tennis federation in a statement said the move “unequivocally confirmed that he is completely indifferent to playing for the Czech Republic and that he despises Czech tennis, his teammates, officials and Czech tennis fans.”…Kim Clijsters beat Maria Sharapova in straight sets to win the Hong Kong Invitational exhibition…From The Age: “Marcos Baghdatis Fan Club president Chris Vlahogiannis said members had been designing banners and working on chants for their hero’s return to Melbourne. “It’s going to be wild,” Vlahogiannis said. “We are the best tennis fans in the world in the whole world. There’s no one better than us…No doubt about it. We are the craziest. We are better than the Fanatics and the Barmy Army. We chant for five, six hours straight.” Baghdatis has been in regular touch with his Melbourne fans during the past year and expects them to be bigger and better this year. “That’s what I heard,” he said.”…Gavin Hopper, Scott Draper and Wally Masur are names being thrown around to temporarily or permanently fill in as Lleyton Hewitt’s new coach, replacing Roger Rasheed who quit the Aussie No. 1…From Grant Boone writing for PGA.com, slamming The Tennis Channel: “[Tiger] Woods didn’t inspire The Golf Channel, but he has legitimized it. Consider that TGC signed on in January 1995, five months after Tiger’s first U.S. Amateur and 19 months before he won his third straight, turned pro, and changed the entire landscape of the sport. Without Tiger, TGC would more likely be The Tennis Channel. The latter signed on in 2003, the year Roger Federer won his first Grand Slam title and began establishing himself as perhaps the finest player in the history of that sport. Federer hasn’t failed to win at least two Slams in each season since. Last year, he won three of four, had an absurd match record of 90-5, and even had Tiger nominating him for Athlete of the Year. And yet, The Tennis Channel is still The Tennis Channel, a non-factor when you finger the remote control. Granted, TTC is younger, but its golf counterpart was a more formidable three-year-old, and Tiger’s the reason why. Federer is Fenomenal, but he hasn’t transcended tennis or managed to move his league to the front page of the sports section. He’s more like golf’s other No. 1, Annika Sorenstam — merely brilliant, graceful, and historic but not transcendent — than he is Tiger Woods.” — Ouch…Joachim Johansson blogging for the ATP: “Ah ha! I think I’ve found a way to win a round robin tournament by losing four matches and winning just three! You have to be a lucky loser in qualifying, a lucky loser in main draw elimination and then lose both matches in round robin, but the other two guys both have to pull out before they play each other!! Giorgio [Di Palermo] from the ATP hasn’t got back to me yet on this, but I think I’ll make it my plan for round robins!”…From Peter Bodo’s TennisWorld blog (written by “Steggy“) taking shots at fellow tennis writers, including Matt Cronin: “Unfortunately, somewhere along the way he started to merge solid content with overtones of arrogance and the latter has begun to leach out of his columns — in particular, examples of this can be found over at TR, where Matt has complete freedom to say what he thinks. Scarcely a week goes by without Cronin reminding his audience of his extensive resume (15 years of experience!), that he made a correct pick, managed to get an exclusive scoop, or how his peers and readers are substandard in their deportment or analysis…The end result? Major audience and professional turn-off. Here’s a handy tip for 2007: Skip the pontificating and self-promoting antics and stick to solid tournament reporting.”…Russia won the Hopman Cup…Nicolas Kiefer has pulled from the Aussie Open with a wrist injury…Tim Henman says he will return to Davis Cup play (if healthy) for Britain in 2007…Belgian newspapers are reporting Justine Henin-Hardenne is skipping the Aussie Open to separate from her husband.
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