Nadal, Clijsters Win Titles; Federer Returns at Cincy

Posted on August 15, 2005

Nadal Legend Grows With 1st Hardcourt Title

French Open champ Rafael Nadal silenced his hardcourt critics Sunday with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 power display over Andre Agassi in the final of the Masters Series-Canada in Montreal.

It was the first career hardcourt title for the Spanish teen, who earlier in the year led world No. 1 Roger Federer two sets to love in the MS-Miami final before succumbing.

"Now I know I can play on hardcourt," said Nadal, who surpasses Federer with 10 titles in 2005. "That gives me confidence going into the US Open.

Agassi chose to slug it out from the baseline with the Spanish teen in the early goings, but found Nadal's speed and tenacity often brought back one ball too many, eventually forcing errors from the American.

Often Agassi would get Nadal on the stretch-run with the Spaniard then slicing back a floater, but rather than being at the net for the put-away, Agassi stuck to the baseline with a total of two net approaches during the first set.

"I controlled play in the first set. He let me play my game," Nadal said of Agassi's suspect strategy.

In the second set, after a rain delay and some coaching from Darren "Killer" Cahill, Agassi switched gears and won seven of his 10 net approaches, breaking Nadal with the Spaniard serving at 4-5 to force a third set.

"After the rain delay, he changed his strategy and played his backhand against mine, which got to me," Nadal said. "In the last set, he started strong, but I managed to win the points."

The No. 2-ranked Nadal is now within 73 points of the world No. 1 Federer in 2005-only points, with a renewed race for the coveted year-end No. 1 ranking.

Agassi said the teen's ball control and speed were too much in their first-time meeting.

"He does a lot of things really well," Agassi said. "Just a great mover on the court. Gets good power from very stretched positions so you're never quite sure if you have complete control of the point. I found his serve more awkward than I was anticipating because if you don't hit a good return, he immediately gets on the offense. That's a sign of a great player -- somebody who can play good defense, but also when they get ahold of a point, they don't let go of it."

In the doubles final the No. 4-seeded team of Zimbabweans Black/Ullyett defeated unseeded Israelis Erlich/Ram 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-0 for their second title of the year in their fourth final, first winning the Australian Open in January.

Clijsters Wins 5th 2005 Title at WTA Los Angeles

With the Williams sisters and Justine Henin-Hardenne on the sidelines, Kim Clijsters collected her tour-leading fifth title Sunday at the WTA stop in Los Angeles, rolling over Daniela Hantuchova 6-4, 6-1 to up her stock as a competitor for the year-end No. 1 ranking.

"I've been working hard to try to stay healthy so I can be in that position again," said Clijsters, the new leader in the US Open Series who sat out much of last year with a wrist injury. "Things are falling into place."

Clijsters is an amazing 31-1 in the U.S. since winning the WTA Championships in November 2003.

The Belgian is projected to move from 10 to No. 8 on the WTA Rankings.

"Since my injury, every victory that I get means more and is a lot more special," Clijsters said.

For Hantuchova it was her first final in over a year.

"She proved she really deserves to be one of the best players in the world," Hantuchova said. "She's just playing unbelievable tennis."

Clijsters raised her career record versus Hantuchova to 7-0.

The Slovak hung tough in the first set but was forced to go for more after dropping the opener.

"(Hantuchova) kept hitting the lines and going for her shots, but the closer it gets, she misses a smash," Clijsters said. "They'll go for more risks and you get them out of their comfort zone. That's what sometimes makes a difference."

In the all-unseeded doubles final the Russian/Italian tandem of Dementieva/Pennetta beat American wildcards Haynes/Mattek 6-2, 6-4.

Myskina Denied 1st 2005 Title by Srebotnik in WTA Stockholm Final

Rumors of the demise of Russian Anastasia Myskina have not been exaggerated.

The physically and mentally-fragile Russian, who despite some bouts of choking last year dominated play on the WTA Tour, winning the French Open and threatening the top spot on the WTA Rankings, rising to a career-high No. 2, has this year slid from the Top 10 after a family illness and a lack of confidence removed her ability to win the big matches at crunch time.

Case in point was the Sunday final at the WTA Stop in Stockholm against No. 5-seeded, No. 62-ranked Katarina Srebotnik.

Myskina had her phaser set on 'spray' throughout the first set, and when it came down to the big points the Russian handed her opponent the first set 7-5 before all but throwing away the second set 6-2.

The Russian is still searching for her first title of 2005, while to Srebotnik's credit she collected her second title of the year after Auckland.

"It's been a great week, we had some trouble with the weather, but we made it," said Srebotnik, who needed five points before the final to finish off a rain-delayed semifinal 6-0, 7-5 in an upset of No. 3 seed Vera Douchevina.

Srebotnik received the Stockholm crystal trophy from men's former No. 1 Bjorn Borg.

In the doubles final the No. 2-seeded Czech-Italian team of Birnerova/Santangelo rolled the unseeded Austrian Klemenschits sisters 7-5, 6-0 for their first title as a team.

WTA Toronto Preview: Sharapova Pulls, Henin Returns

With Lindsay Davenport sitting out this week with a back injury, Maria Sharapova Sunday also chose to sit out this week and rest up her injured chest muscle.

"I have to take care of my body for the US Open," said the 18-year-old who will take over the No. 1 ranking next week regardless of her results. "It's a grand slam and that's where you always want to be ready."

Last week seven of the Top 11 players were sidelined with injuries or illnesses, yet that was not enough to ring the alarm bells for WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott.

"Injuries are a part of every sport," Scott told Reuters. "It is a bit of a flukish that so many players are injured at the same time and I don't expect this to happen next summer. Having said that, we want to do everything possible to keep the players as healthy and playing as much as possible."

The No. 3 seed Kuznetsova was moved to the top of the draw replacing Sharapova, and Ai Sugiyama was added as the No. 17 seed.

Other seeds in the Top 8 are Amelie Mauresmo making her first appearance on tour since the second week of July, Justine Henin-Hardenne returning from a hamstring injury, Serena Williams returning from an ankle injury, Russian Nadia Petrova, last week's L.A. winner Kim Clijsters, and Mary Pierce who is returning from a thigh injury.

ESPN commentator Mary Joe Fernandez says don't believe the spin -- the modern game has become too demanding and the players are asked to play too many tournaments to keep up their ranking.

"We need to cut the season back and players need to know their bodies better, when to play and when to not to," Fernandez said. "When Steffi Graf, Monica Seles and I used to play, we had a (ranking) divisor of 12 tournaments. Now you have to play 18 to stay ahead. That's' too much."

Early-round match-ups of note in Toronto are (16) Tatiana Golovin vs. Karolina "The Spreminator" Sprem, (10) Nathalie Dechy vs. the winner of Nicole Vaidisova-Anna Chakvetadze in the second round, (6) Petrova vs. Sesil "The Mouth" Karatantcheva in the second round, and (15) Dinara Safina vs. former No. 2 Conchita Martinez in the second round.

Potential quarterfinal meetings include (3) Kuznetsova vs. (9) Myskina, (5) Serena vs. (7) Clijsters, (4) Henin-Hardenne vs. (8) Pierce, and (2) Mauresmo vs. (6) Petrova.

In last year's final the No. 2-seeded Mauresmo demolished unseeded Russian Elena Likhovtseva 6-1, 6-0.

Former champs in this year's field are Mauresmo (2004,'02), Henin-Hardenne (2003), and Serena Williams (2001).

Top 10 All in Attendance This Week at ATP Cincinnati

Following up on the blockbuster Andre Agassi-Rafael Nadal final at the Masters Series-Canada, this week's Masters Series-Cincinnati looks to keep the US Open Series momentum going with the return of world No. 1 Roger Federer from a foot injury, and a total of seven current or former No. 1s on the ATP Rankings in the field.

Federer is joined among the Top 8 seeds by Nadal, Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin making his return from knee surgery, Andy Roddick, another Russian in the hot-handed Nikolay Davydenko, Agassi, and Argentina's Gaston Gaudio.

Among the bottom eight seeds are French Open finalists Guillermo Coria and Mariano Puerta, Argentine countryman David Nalbandian, the struggling Tim Henman, and French teen hope Richard Gasquet.

While the Grand Slam events boast the biggest draws and garner the worldwide headlines, the ATP Masters Series tournaments are clearly the more difficult conquests, with only one day of rest for players during the week and finals-quality matches from the get-go.

Players can relax during the slams with a day of rest between matches and a liberal quantity of players ranked No. 60-100 scattered about the draw, neither of which apply during the demanding Masters Series stops.

In the top quarter of the draw at Cincy, Federer will have some testers against some of the hotter players on tour this summer, with wildcard James Blake in his opener, then probably Nicolas Kiefer in the second round and then the No. 14 seed Ivan Ljubicic.

Also in the quarter are (9) Coria opening against Paradorn "The Thai Fighter" Srichaphan, and (8) Gaston Gaudio against the hardcourt-proficient Tommy Robredo.

Marat Safin, whose mental state will be on display in his opener against a seasoned qualifier, heads the second quarter of the draw with fellow former No. 1 Carlos Moya, who was slated to meet Andre Agassi before the Las Vegas star's withdrawal from the event. 

Other opening-round match-ups of note in the second quarter are American Taylor "Acci-" Dent vs. Brit-Scot wildcard Andy Murray in a competition to see who can stay uninjured or not fatigue in a match; (13) Thomas Johansson vs. Dominik "The Dominator" Hrbaty; and (10) Mariano Puerta vs. hot-handed U.S. wildcard Robby Ginepri.

Hewitt heads the third quarter of the draw, opening against Russian Igor Andreev, with a grin-inducing match with Greg Rusedski looming in the second round.

A plethora of Euro-heavy opening-round matches make the third quarter a toss-up, including (6) Davydenko vs. Sebastien Grosjean, former No. 2 Tommy Haas vs. MS-Canada semifinalist Paul-Henri Mathieu, (11) Nalbandian vs. Andrei Pavel, and (16) Gasquet vs. Feliciano "F-Lo" Lopez.

Nadal and Roddick headline the bottom quarter, with each facing their own unique challenges.

Nadal, coming off a physically-draining run at the Masters Series-Canada, faces the crushing game of hardcourt specialist Tomas Berdych in the first round. Roddick faces the pesky Jurgen "Tuna" Melzer in his opener, then possibly former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, then Tim Henman.

Last year Agassi's triumphant run as the No. 11 seed including wins over the former No. 1 Moya in the quarterfinals, defending champ and No. 2-ranked Roddick in the semis, and former No. 1 Hewitt in the three-set final.

Scheduled for Monday in Cincy are Massu vs. (12) Henman, (5) Roddick vs. Melzer, (9) Coria vs. Srichaphan, (1) Federer vs. (WC) Blake, (16) Gasquet vs. F.Lopez, Volandri vs. O.Rochus, (15) Stepanek vs. (WC) Monfils, (Q) Koubek vs. Ferrero, Gonzalez vs. (Q) Djokovic, Pavel vs. (11) Nalbandian, Kiefer vs. (Q) N.Lapentti, Santoro vs. (14) Ljubicic, Youzhny vs. Saulnier, Novak vs. Beck, Ancic vs. Mello, A.Martin vs. Chela, and (Q) Horna vs. C.Rochus.

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With the plethora of injuries on the WTA Tour, and CEO Larry Scott making bland statements about how injuries are normal, the USTA's Chris Widmaier is quick to jump in and remind everyone that the US Open Series is kicking ass -- and the WTA needs to get these non-slam-non-Series events under control. "While we are seeing the impact of a season that is too long on these world-class athletes, we are also seeing the success of the US Open Series as television viewership continues to increase. Nevertheless, the problem created by the length of the season needs to be addressed before it further affects the sport," said Widmaier. Between the ATP's doubles scoring/ranking changes and the players just lighting up tour officials in the media, and the WTA's injury problems and the women players lighting up the tour for not making concessions to their health, can anyone remember such a no-response void of leadership from both the men's and women's governing bodies?...Bill Lankhof of the Toronto Sun getting creepy/stalker-like on Maria Sharapova pulling out of the Toronto event: "Maria Sharapova may be the new queen of tennis, preparing to usurp Lindsey Davenport of the game's No. 1 ranking, but she has joined a long list of n'er-do-wells by finding a body part that hurts enough to keep her from competing here. She reports a sore chest muscle. And a lovely muscle it is. At least that's the rumor. Not that anyone around here will get to see for themselves...Sharapova's walk-off in Toronto should not be surprising. With the U.S. Open just two weeks away, the top players often develop hangnails and dangerous paper cuts. Serena had a hotel room booked in Toronto but has a history of getting lost in a hospital ward somewhere south of Buffalo. She has withdrawn from this tournament due to injuries five of the past six years and promoters quietly admit an ankle injury that has limited her to four matches since April could see her withdraw again."...Andy Roddick v Jurgen "Tuna" Melzer will be the 1 p.m. match on ESPN in the U.S. Monday, with Roger Federer v James Blake shown on tape at 11 p.m. (times EST)...Kim Clijsters on her website ripping the WTA: "I'm getting tired. These three weeks in the US have been quite exhausting. And it isn't over yet. I only just arrived in LA and will be off to Toronto next week. I didn't want to play that tournament, but every year the WTA obliges us to play one specific tournament and this year it will be in Canada for me. I could have done with a week of rest right before the US Open."...The 16-year age differential between Rafael Nadal and Andre Agassi in the MS-Canada final was the largest in an ATP final since Tel Aviv in 1979 when Tom Okker (35) of the Netherlands defeated Per Hjertqvist (19) of Sweden. Nadal is the first teenager to win nine titles in a season since Mats Wilander in 1983. Nadal has won 16 consecutive matches since his second-round loss to Gilles Muller at Wimbledon.