With a Little Help from My Friends


Roddick can still dig down and fight. Photo: Andy J. Gordon

There’s nothing that compares to the excitement and anticipation in tennis when it comes to the four majors, and there is nothing more at stake either. Then there are the exhibitions in the sport which, aside from Word Team Tennis, typically occur in the short off-season (December).

Even the most rabid tennis fan can’t be blamed for not caring about these exos as they are often scripted, and there is no reward for winning matches and/or competing at the highest level. The feeling here is that a tennis exhibition event has but one purpose: to entertain. “Maria Sharapova & Friends, presented by Porsche” took place at the UCLA Tennis Center this past weekend and featured Sharapova, along with former world No. 1 Andy Roddick, world No.4 and 2014 US Open finalist Kei Nishikori, Mardy Fish American rising stars Madison Keys, Jack Sock, Sloane Stephens, and Shelby Rogers along with Britain’s Laura Robson.

I was intrigued. This was a legitimate card, and the event planners played an even stronger hand by recruiting Fish to replace Michael Chang in the opening singles match against Roddick. This match did not disappoint. While Roddick was rusty, his competitive spirit shone brightly. Fish was only of  removed from playing on the tour and looked as if he had never left the game.

This skirmish between old rivals did not disappoint. I would pay money to watch these former high school buddies play Scrabble.


Host Sharapova was a main draw. Photo: Andy J. Gordon

The match was settled in a deciding set, ten-point tiebreak, in which Fish had to save a match point before closing out the contest. It was tough act to follow, or so it seemed.

The host of the event was pitted against the promising AmericanMadison Keys. While their playing styles and physiques are similar, the comparisons end there. Even though the temperature was plummetingthe level of play did not. It was like deja vu; the match went the distance and Keys also held a match point, but she ultimately came up short and, like Roddick, lost the final set in a match tiebreak. The day concluded with a celebrity hit and giggle doubles match. The tennis was nothing to write about, but the entertainment value of the match was crowd pleasing.

While Sundays matches featuring Sock vs. Nishikori and Stephens vs. Rodgers did not have the same competitive spirit of day one, they more than made up for it with humor and flashy shot making.
The final match of the day was a mixed double match between Sharapova and Nishikori vs. Robson and Sock. Sock demonstrated why he is a Wimbledon double champion and was clearly the best double player on the court. The only double fault that plagued the exhibition was not having microphones on the players, particularly in all the double matches. The event could have served the fans and TV viewers better by simply miking the players. Unless one had a court side seat, most of the good-natured banter between the players was missed. The good news is that it’s an easy fix.

To her credit, Sharapova pulled off the weekend with a little help from her friends.

To catch re-airings of “Maria Sharapova & Friends, presented by Porsche” go to www.tennischannel.com for times and dates.

Brad Falkner has worked in tennis media since 2002.

2013 TR Annual Readers Poll: final results

Thanks to our very loyal and active readers and for the thousands of votes we received. We love the responses.

Don’t forget to vote in our (Nearly) Daily Poll, that shows up on our home page and all posts.

Sexiest Male Player


Grigor Dimitrov 61%
Rafael Nadal 17%
Ernests Gulbis 10%
Novak Djokovic 2%
Feliciano Lopez 2%
Tommy Haas 3%
Benoit Paire 1%
Fernando Verdasco 1%
Jo-Wilfred Tsonga 1%
Pablo Andujar .2%

Sexiest Female Player


Maria Sharapova 40%
Caroline Wozniacki 23%
Victoria Azarenka 21%
Maria Kirlenko 6%
Julia Goerges 3%
Daniela Hantuchova 3%
Alize Lim 2%
Elena Vesnina 1%
Sloane Stephens 1%
Bojana Jovanovski 1%
Zheng Jie .2%

Tweeter of the Year


Laura Robson 25%
Roger Federer 24%
Serena Williams 19%
Tomas Berdych 13%
Stan Wawrinka 5%
Maria Sharapova 4%
Andy Murray 3%
Ivo Karlovic 3%
Caroline Wozniacki 2%
Sofia Arvidsson 1%

Coach of the Year/ATP


Toni Nadal/
Rafael Nadal
Magnus Norman/
Stan Wawrinka
Ivan Lendl/
Andy Murray
Marian Vajda/
Novak Djokovic

Coach of the Year/WTA


Patrick Mouratoglou/
Serena Williams
Carlos Rodriguez/
Li Na
Sam Sumyk/
Victoria Azarenka
Marko Jankovic/
Jelena Jankovic

Coolest Male Player


Roger Federer 64%
Novak Djokovic 15%
Tomas Berdych 14%
Dimitry Tursunov 7%

Coolest Female Player


Andrea Petkovic 48%
Laura Robson 35%
Marion Bartoli 11%
Bethanie Mattek-Sands 5%

Laura Robson wins Player Tweeter of the Year Poll over Federer

Tweeter of the Year


Laura Robson 25%
Roger Federer 24%
Serena Williams 19%
Tomas Berdych 13%
Stan Wawrinka 5%
Maria Sharapova 4%
Andy Murray 3%
Ivo Karlovic 3%
Caroline Wozniacki 2%
Sofia Arvidsson 1%

What entices a person to follow a particular player on Twitter whom they are not a huge fan of? A great sense of humor? Strong opinions? Honesty about matches and tour issues? Profound statements? Great photos? Some or all of those qualities apply to the 10 following nominees for Tweeters of the Year. Here are examples of each of their work. All are worth following, but the spunky teen Laura Robson took 2013 honors.

Sofia Arvidsson Sofia_Arvidsson 10 Dec

I love going to the dentist…#SaidNoOneEver


Tomas Berdych @tomasberdych 17 Nov

Why I deleted?I wanted to dance with Djoky tonight…I am #sad he is not here!?!


Roger Federer For his #AskRF sessions, @shankerer:

And what is Mirka getting for Christmas? 🙂 #AskRF @rogerfederer: A hashtag


Ivo Karlovic @ivokarlovic 9 Dec

Nadal would of have triple double. #KobeReturns


Andy Murray @andy_murray 8 Nov

who loses their hair first out of me and rafa?


Laura Robson  ‏@laurarobson5 12 Dec

You know you’re injured a lot when your hospital invites you to the opening of the new MRI machine. #athleteproblems

Stan Wawrinka @stanwawrinka retweeted this, @svenja_mastro 14 Sep

Luthi was asked who he’d like to play next year. “There’s no more Ecuador?”, was Stan’s reaction when someone named the potential opponents.


Maria Sharapova @MariaSharapova 23 Sep

Strapless dresses continue to dominate award show red carpets. Not exactly pushing the envelope.


Serena Williams @serenawilliams 30 Nov

I did something I have never done before today-I played tennis in Argentina with blind kids. The ball made noise. They listened and than hit


Caroline Wozniacki @CaroWozniacki 21 Sep

Not good for your confidence when you go from being a small to an extra large over night! #japanesesizes #asia



Petkovic takes “Coolest Women Player” category

Germany’s Andrea Petkovic is dancing now as she has won the 2013 TennisReporters.net Readers Poll for Coolest Woman Player. She had a 13% lead over Laura Robson.

Coolest Woman Player


Andrea Petkovic 48%
Laura Robson 35%
Marion Bartoli 11%
Bethanie Mattek-Sands 5%

There are plenty of great personalities on the WTA. In fact, outside of the generally outstanding level of play, it’s that element that has made it the world’s most popular women’s sport. A good 50 players could have been nominated for the “Coolest Women’s Player” category in the 2013 Tennisreporters.net readers poll, but four caught our eye: the honest and eclectic Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli; the carefree and outspoken Bethanie Mattek-Sands; the introspective yet bold Andrea Petkovic; and the precocious and daring Laura Robson. Make your voice heard by voting on the right.

Robson Destined for Greatness


Now that Murray is at the top of his game, debate swirls around Robson’s future.

Britain has a tendency to overhype their young players to the point where they can seemingly do no right in their bid to live up to expectations – only Andy Murray has bucked that trend in the last two decades.

However, in Laura Robson, could the expectant Brits have another Grand Slam champion in the making? Or is she destined to be the next Annabel Croft, more well known for her television exploits than tennis ones?

The debate about Robson has been raging on the betfair.com forums since she won the Wimbledon girls’ event at the age of 14, the British media describing her as the “new darling of British tennis” following her success at SW19. Since then there has been plenty of pressure placed upon Robson’s shoulders to fly the Union Jack flag for Britain in the women’s game.

After an understandably slow start given her age, Robson showed glimpses of what she is capable of in the latter part of 2012, picking up a silver medal in the mixed doubles at the Olympic Games with partner, Murray. That was followed by a run to the fourth round of the US Open, which included victories over Kim Clijsters and perennial favourite in the Betfair odds, Li Na.

Since then, Robson has made steady progress up the rankings ladder and returns to Flushing Meadows this year as a seed for the first time in her career. While a wrist injury sustained in Toronto hindered her build-up to the US Open, Robson was able to blow away the cobwebs with a straight sets win over Lourdes Dominguez Lino in the first round.

The teenager’s powerful groundstrokes and ability to cover the court have made her a force to be reckoned with on Tour. Robson looks to have all the makings of a Grand Slam winner, especially considering she will be hitting her peak after Serena Williams has called it a day.

However, while the Brit has the potential to be a superstar, she still needs time and fans and Betfair pundits will have to be patient with her. While a major title isn’t just around the corner, the signs all point to her having “Grand Slam winner” under her name when she does make the move to TV punditry, rather than the more common “former British number 1”.

The views expressed here are by Betfair.com and do not represent those of TennisReporters.net.

Carlsbad: In search of the tennis there there

Azarenka IW 13 TR MALT6285


By Matt Cronin

FROM THE BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC AND THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA OPEN (Day 1) – It’s been about 27 hours since Dominica Cibulkova took out Aga Radwanska in a terrific three setter to win the Stanford and I am still amazed how she managed to mentally turn things around post her double bagel devastation at the hands of the Pole in Sydney. Some players have short memories when it comes to losses, and others have very long ones.

The best thing that Cibulkova did was watch a replay of that first set in Australia, and in her mind she was convinced that it was close and some games could have gone either way. I wasn’t that convinced, but I was sitting on the sidelines that evening and didn’t have a racket in my hands so there is no way I can really known how close she felt to winning certain points had she swung her racket a bit differently, moved her feet into another position, or changed her game plan.

Once she won the first game of the Stanford final, she let out a sigh of relief and looked at her coach and said ‘Here we go, I am here and it’s going to be good today.’

But she still had to win the match and after dropping the first set due to some sloppy play, it sure didn’t look like she was going to establish the proper rhythm to pull off the upset. But she did and not only did she smack her groundies and returns with force, but she mixed up her attack very well, especially employing a deft drop shot and charge maneuver time and time again. She varied her angles off the ground and went to a 3/4 first serve so that Radwanska wouldn’t easily get in front of points.

All that mattered a great deal, but somehow Radwanska got off to a 4-2 lead in the third set. She was not playing all that well – in fact later on she said she had virtually no rhythm the entire week and had plenty of problems in her game – but she did push Cibulkova very hard to close it out and actually could have won the match if the Slovakian failed to convert one of the five matches points. But Cibulkova did after a long rally and a bullet backhand crosscourt winner.

A hearty 3-6 6-4 6-4 victory was hers and now, once again, the 24 year old has shown that on a great day she can play with likes of Radwanska, Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki. Can she stay with Serena or Maria Sharapova at a Slam? Sure she can if she maintains focus and plays the right way, which hasn’t been able to do often enough because she loses her temper, as well as her nerve and begins spraying he ball. But she feels older and wiser and will have a stern test in the first round of the Southern California Open in Carlsbad when she faces seventh seed Ana Ivanovic. She feels up to the challenge, but going deep and back to back tournaments is a challenge for any player.

Once again I drove from Stanford to Carlsbad on Sunday night and Monday morning, arriving at 4:30 AM after a weaving through a sneaky Caltrans detour off the 405 in Seal Beach. This is more than likely the last time that I will have to do that drive, as it by all accounts it appears that the tournament will move out of La Costa Resort, even though Omni Resorts bought La Costa last month and is said to be pro professional tennis. The word off court is that Octagon wants to get rid of the tournament, that a group in Japan really wants it and unless some group in the US can match that bid it will leave US shores.

Like Ana Ivanovic, who spent sometime at the beach on Monday, I am very much of a beach person and La Costa is just a few miles east from some gorgeous coastline. For myself and others who have made the trek over the years, there is nothing quite like body surfing (or some other water activity) in the morning, having a meal while inhaling the Pacific breezes and then heading out to the tennis. That’s how the event always should have been marketed: ‘Surf and Serve,’ but it was not and is currently being treated like a mere commodity. There isn’t enough tennis community involvement and in some senses when it returned from exile in 2010, it would have been better off played at the Barnes Center, a beehive of activity that will host the Girls 16s and 18s Nationals next week. Now, when I walk around La Costa Resort & Spa, it feels like to me that a ticket to see some of the finest women’s players in the world bang it out is treated just the same as any other product on the grounds: would you like a massage and a pedicure, or a massage and ticket to a late afternoon WTA doubles match? As Gertrude Stain might say, ‘There is no tennis there there.”

Nonetheless, the Carlsbad draw is stronger than Stanford’s and has a lot of flavor to it: Azarenka returns from her knee and hip injuries and seems to be itching to get back on hard courts and strut her stuff once again. Here’s an interview I did with her today where she talks about raising the bar for herself, among other things.

Radwanska is the second seed and will play the winner of Daniela Hantuchova and Tamira Paszek, and Kvitova is the third seed and when I spoke with her today, she still seems unsure about how she will faire on North America hard courts given her allergy troubles in humid climates, but she did have a  strong US Open Series last year until Marion Bartoli stopped her at the US Open, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that she makes another solid run. But despite her immense talent, it’s so hard to predict where she will end up. She defines puzzling.  Here are a few of her thoughts on her loss to Kirsten Flipkens at Wimbledon.

Some other names we didn’t see last week outside of Ivanovic are Jelena Jankovic, who out-lasted Mallory Burdette in three sets; Virginie Razzano, who took down Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets; Carla Suarez Navarro, Roberta Vinci and Laura Robson, whom if she bests Ayumi Morita could play Kvitova in an Aussie Open rematch.

I heard Robson saying today that when she introduces herself in the US so few people hear the name Laura and call her all sorts of different names. While it could be the lack of exposure by many Americans to a British accent, it could also be that the cultured English can be hard to understand at times: when asked by the WTA LIVE host what her second favorite sport was, Robson answered darts, and Cibulkova, who was co-hosting asked, ‘Dancing? You dance well?’ They all had a good laugh and then Cibulkova said that she finds it harder to understand the Brits more than she does the Americans, which is no insult to the UK as many people there have a richer way of speaking and some Americans speak with a flat accent, or almost none at all.

It should be noted that CoCo Vandeweghe qualified for a tournament for the second straight week, besting Olga Savchuk.  Francesca Schiavone overcame her Fed Cup teammate Flavia Pennetta  7-6(4),6-7(8),6-4 in three hours. Pennetta lost 11 of the last 13 points. In that stretch, Schiavone only had to paste one winner. It’s going to be a long road back for Flavia from injury and it’s possible that she will never see the top 10 again in singles. She’s playing doubles this week with Sania Mirza as Bethanie Mattek-Sands won’t play doubles the rest of the summer in order to save wear and tear on her body.



Rafa’s worst hour followed by rise of Robson

wimbledon ct_2_view_aeltc_art_seitz

WIMBLEDON – Whether his knee was killing him or not, Rafael Nadal’s 7-6(4) 7-6(8) 6-4 defeat to the Belgian journeyman Steve Darcis in the first round was a true shocker. The Spaniard had just come off perhaps his most impressive run ever at Roland Garros ever and as a stunned John Isner said when he found out about the defeat :”He’s been the best player in the world this year, and that’s with missing Australia, too. He’s only lost two matches, right? I don’t care what the surface is, it’ll be a big shocker…So much for that Roger vs. Rafa.”

Yes, so much for that highly anticipated quarterfinal. Nadal would not blame the loss on painful knees and that was a wise choice because Darcis played one of the best matches of his life and while even the Belgian conceded that the Spaniard was not at his best, he certainly had to earn the victory in a tight match and that he did, as he was the more creative and accurate player. Nadal was bit slow, and therefore lacked response time and Darcis kept pushing ahead and ended up making him uncomfortable. Of course Darcis has to be applauded for not letting down toward the end of the second or third set, when the match was essentially won or lost. Even if Nadal was aching, had the Belgian let go of his momentum, he might have grown shaky and handed Nadal the victory. But he did not and in the opinion of one of Nadal’s confidantes, it was better for Rafa to lose in the first round than the second or third, largely because his physical agony would have been extended and could have lead to more time off the tour.

What that contention indicates is that the Spaniard was never going to win the tournament in the first lace, because his body was too beat up to do so.  It is not too forward to venture that sometime in the future Nadal is going to admit that his knees were hurting even at the end of Roland Garros. So for all his success from February through early June, it appears that he has not fully healed and perhaps never will be.

The good news for Nadal fans in North America is that he unequivocally said that he is planning to play the US Open. The bad news is that he may decide to play a tournament on clay after Wimbledon, which very well could take him out of Canada or Cincinnati or both, if he gets hurt there.

Nadal’s most notable quote after the defeat was this one:  “Nobody remember the loses. People remember the victories. And I don’t want to remember that (loss).”

Actually people do remember the losses of he great champions to marginal players. Within minutes after the loss, folks were debating whether it was the biggest upset in the history of Wimbledon. Given that The Championships is still considered to be tennis most valued and important event, that discussion alone shows just how significant the upset was. After bad day for Rafa on court, his reputation took a hit, and his assessment appeared as far off the mark as some of his shanked forehand against Darcis.

Robson comes alive

There wasn’t nearly as much drama on Tuesday, unless you are British and became very pumped up after Laura Robson’s excellent 6-3 6-4 upset of No. 10 Maria Kirilenko. Robson has really stepped up to the occasion in three out of the last four Slams. She clearly likes the big courts in intense atmospheres. Not only that, when she is brimming with self-belief, she can really play. She certainly need to improve her foot speed, balance, court positioning, volley and second serve, but the lefty was cracking first serves against the savvy Kirilenko, dictating with her huge forehand and popping some nice two- handed backhands also. Plus with the pressure on, she easily closed out the final game, which was critical.

So now after a pretty lousy spring, Robson has put herself in a solid position to make second week run. She’ll be substantially favored to take out Mariana Duque in the next round, and at the level she played on Tuesday, will have real chances against Peng Shuai in round three should they met, and even Angie Kerber if she get to the round of 16. How about this tantalizing possibility: a quarterfinal match up against the mighty Serena Williams next Tuesday. Talk about pre match drama—Princess Kate, Prince William,  Pippa and maybe even the queen would be scrambling for Royal Box seats for the that one.

I am writing about the US players for USTA.com and focused on Madison Keys and Dennis Kudla’s wins today. I looked at Sloane Stephens win over Jamie Hampton yesterday.  There were some disappointing by the defeats US crowd, specifically Sam Querrey going down in five to Bernard Tomic and Kerber’s win over Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who had a 2-0 record against the German heading into the match.

The upset of the day on the women’s side went to Karolina Pliskova who bested Nadia Petrova 6-3 6-2.  Quality wins were scored by Sabine Lisicki over Francesca Schiavone 6-1 6-2, Elena Vesnina over Andrea Hlavackova 6-2 7-5, Marina Erakovic over Ayumi Morita 4-6 6-0 7-5, and Kimiko Date-Krumm over Carina Witthoeft 6-0 6-2.

As good as Tsvetana Pironkova can be on grass, here’s a result that should make now ex-coach Martina Hingis’ head spin: the Bulgarian beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-0 6-1.

But it gets worse: Alexandra Cadantu overcame grass lover Tamira Paszek 6-2 7-5. The Austrian is now 2-15 on the season. But how about this: Arantxa Rus lost a record-breaking 17th consecutive main-draw, tour-level match today

Men’s wins of he day go to: the serve and volleying Feliciano Lopez over Gilles Simon 6-2 6-4 7-6(11); another serve-and-volleyer, Michael Llodra over Jarkko Nieminen 7-6(3) 6-4 6-3; Tomas Berdych over Martin Klizan 6-3 6-4 6-4; Richard Gasquet over Marcel Granollers 6-7(2) 6-4 7-5 6-4; Grigor Dimitrov over Simone Bolelli 6-1 6-4 6-3 and Tommy Haas over Dmitry Tursunov 6-3 7-5 7-5. Juan Martin Del Potro deserves kudos too given his recent long illness and his 6-2 7-5 6-1  win over Albert Ramos.



When in Roma: Serena dusts Robson

Federer, Djokovic shake off Madrid defeats

The last player to beat both Williams sisters as a teenager at a tournament was Kim Clijsters as a 19-year-old back at the 2002 WTA Championships. As promising as a player as she is and the Briton clearly has at least top 20 stuff, Laura Robson is not as advanced as the Belgian was at the age. After upsetting a physically struggling Venus Williams in her opening match in Rome, Robson went down to No 1 Serena Williams 6-2, 6-2.

The left-handed Robson did crack some winners in the contest but committed way too many unforced errors and, against as player as powerful and consistent as Serena (consistent being the key word here), that is not going to get it done. Robson is currently working with Adidas Player Development coach Sven Groeneveld, who surely must be trying to help get her serve under control, as her toss is all over the place. She

Aussie Open Day 4: Quick Picks




The only thing even worth discussing in the first three matches of the day here is whether the underdogs can get a set and I just can

Heads or Tails: Who will have a better 2013?

wozniacki asian swing 12

Is Caro her generation’s leader?

Going into every new season, hundreds of questions exist in trying to determine who will be able to reach their peak and who will falter. Predictions are always difficult to make as the injury factor consistently plays a huge role in tennis. However, just for the fun of it I thought I would pose a few different opposing scenarios and select which ones I think are more probable in 2013. I will begin with the WTA.

‘Gen Caro’

Who will have better season collectively of the current top 10, these “Gen Caro” members (Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, Aga Radwanska, Angelique Kerber & Petra Kvitova) or the old guard (Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Li Na, Sara Errani and Sam Stosur)?

At some point in the future the old guard is going to fall off and Gen Caro is going to completely take over the WTA, but it