Archives for March 2012

Obsessed from a young age

Djokovic recalled his roots

FROM THE BNP PARIBAS OPEN AT INDIAN WELLS -Picture the little Novak Djokovic peering out of the windows of his family pizza and pancake restaurant when he was a kid, watching laborers dump a ton of crushed red brick on the ground, roll it over and over, nail down some white plastic tape, raise some fences and eventually, view a proud woman stride onto the surface and begin hitting balls.

Such was the scene in Serbia back in the early 1990s and one day little Novak walked across the street, and met the woman who would teach him to play, Jelena Genie, whom he still keeps in contact with. You can still see a few videos of the two working together online and it was clear then she knew exactly what she was doing and pretty soon, he had his base down.

He could have played water polo or basketball, but he liked the self-reliance that tennis presented to him

TR Retro: Aussie Open ’08, Sharapova Eliminates Ivanovic in Emotional Final

Yuri finally spoke after Maria's 3rd Slam crown


MELBOURNE – About 15 minutes before the tall blonde skipped happily down the hallway after grabbing her third Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, the tall brunette had walked gingerly down the same corridor, still weeping quietly.

Maria Sharapova was full of joy while Ana Ivanovic was deeply sad, unable to understand why she couldn’t bring out her best again in a Slam final in a 7-5, 6-3 loss.

Ivanovic put on a brave face later and she will certainly have more chances in the future, but on court, she pursed her lips, yelled in anguish at her Friend’s Box and cried through her speech when accepting the runner up trophy.

She may have the biggest forehand in the women’s game, but the shot completely deserted her against Sharapova. Had she not served very well and had Sharapova played anywhere close to the level she showed in stomping Justine Hein, the match could have been over much quickly.

Ivanovic has one small opportunity in the match, up 5-4 in the first set and holding a 30-0 lead on Sharapova serve, but she went for a silly drop shot and after that, Sharapova proved unbreakable and crunched her.

“Yes, it hurts, I can tell you that,” Ivanovic said. ” Yeah, it was a little bit poor shot selection, I would say. Obviously I was emotional out there and I was really disappointed I couldn’t take these chances I had. But, at the other hand, I’m still young and I still think I have a lot of Grand Slam finals in front of me. So it’s just a learning experience and learning process.”

Sharapova could lecture Ivanovic long and hard on tough losses. She’s had plenty of them in the past year, on court and off. Saddled with a bum shoulder in 2007, she was blown out by Serena in the Aussie Open final, was bullied by Ivanovic in the French Open semis, was run over by Venus at Wimbledon and then in the biggest shocker of her career, was made to look clumsy by teen Agnieszka Radwanska at the US Open. “That was horrific tennis,” Sharapova said, who added of her lost season where she only won one title.

“It kept rolling and rolling and you think good things were going to happen and they will, but it seemed like no good things were happening. There were so many setbacks and I was left in so many tough situations. You have appreciate every single moment you have, which is why this one is so much sweeter. When I was going through all those setbacks I tried to remember what it was like to hold those Wimbledon and US Open trophies and know that I was capable doing before and doing it again. But I’m human and have emotions.”

Sharapova matured in ’07, but that was evident more off court then on, because she became so frustrated with her right shoulder injury that took away her service speed and then a left cyst in her wrist that didn’t allow her to hit backhand in the fall that she was ready to shut her year down in October.

But she did learn to contend with personal loss, as she had grown close to her coach Michael Joyce’s mother, Jane, whom she had known she was 12.

Jane passed away last spring after a long battle with cancer.

“Maria kind of went through the roller-coaster, and I think having such a hard year last year with her injuries, in a way that put things into perspective for her, and at the end of last year when she was still struggling, we just kept talking about it and just saying there’s so much more to life than just winning or losing tennis matches,” Joyce said. “For a young girl at her age, sometimes when you’re there it’s the biggest thing, and when you go through something like that I think it puts things in perspective a little more, so maybe my Mum was helping her from up above.”

While Sharapova was clicking on all cylinders on court, off court, there was no smooth sailing for the world’s wealthiest women’s athlete. After Sharapova had blown out Henin 6-4, 6-0 in the quarters, her controversial; father Yuri, was caught on camera giving a throat slitting gesture while dressed in a Nike fatigue hoodie.

Yuri was ripped on TV, in the papers and online, even though the gesture was supposed to be an inside joke between he and Maria, who had taken to telling him that he looked like an assassin in the outfit. But even though Maria tries to shut out outside criticism during the tournament, she was very aware of what had transpired.

“It was a tough night,” said Joyce. “It turned into this thing, but she’s used to that. I think she read one morning that some seal was born to her grunts or something, so you just try to look past all that stuff.”

After the Ivanovic victory, a jolly Yuri walked by this reporter and a TV analyst in the hall, beer in hand, and said, “See, I’m a great guy, a great guy. Why were you talking about the hood?”

Whether Maria told him to keep contained in her next three matches isn’t known, but Yuri behaved in the Friend’s Box afterward and when she asked if they have enough of an equitable relationship to where she can tell him to put a lid on it, she said,

“Even when I was a kid I did that. That’s never stopped me before. He knows me very well with that. Some things never change.”

While Sharapova may have not captured the hearts and minds of tennis fans the world over (at the Australian Open crowd gave her a lukewarm reception), Joyce considers she and Yuri to be good friends, saying that Maria and Yuri were there for him and his mother during her final days. Sharapova even helped Joyce Christmas shop for his sister last month, as without his mother around, who used to do loads of shopping for his sister, he felt lost.

“She must have bought my sister 25 presents,’ Joyce said. “It kills me sometimes when I hear things about her Dad. I know he can do some things in the box and this and that, but the family is so supportive to me. They were both at my mom’s funeral. They were there for me.”

What also hasn’t changed is how fast the young champs are forced to grow up. Sharapova is no different than any of the other teenagers who broke out as stars – Evert, Austin, Hingis, Graf and Seles – in that she feels much older than her 20 years. She and her $30 million a year portfolio will out earn all of them soon, but while she’s become an international crossover celebrity, there’s still a lot of Masha from Siberia in her. She feels likes she earned every ruble and penny.

“When I see other 20-year-olds driving in their Range Rover and I get dirty looks and they are saying ‘That spoiled brat, who is that, her father probably bought her Ranger Rover.’ And I’m like, no, honey, I bought that for myself. I know that I worked for mine.”

Even though she’s only ranked No. 5, Sharapova is now firmly back in contention for the world’s top ranking. Her run to the title was nothing short of phenomenal, as she lost 32 games in seven matches without dropping a set, thrashing the likes three-time Grand Slam champ Lindsay Davenport, two-time Slam finalist Elena Dementieva, top-ranked Henin number three Jelena Jankovic and number two Ivanovic.

She was rarely threatened in the final, simply because she was more composed and served big and with placement when she needed to. Ivanovic could never find her money shot, while Sharapova was solid enough all around not to have to go in search of one. The Serbian ended the match with 33 errors to only 16 for Sharapova, who only lost two points on her serve in the second set.

Sharapova has won three Slams and now is in the hunt to catch Venus Williams (six), Henin (seven) and Serena Williams (eight) before she retires. She may be an old 20 mentally, but she’s still has at least seven good years ahead physically if she can stay healthy. Plus, she an unfinished product on court.

” Everybody forgets she’s young and she can improve lots of things.,” Joyce said.

A real Ivanovic revival this time?

Ivanovic is coming alive.

FROM THE BNP PARIBAS OPEN AT INDIAN WELLS – Ana Ivanovic has had plenty of coaches, trainers and physios. Some have connected with her, some haven’t, but it’s fair to say that despite getting some pretty good advice since she won 2008 Roland Garros and briefly rose to No. 1, that she didn’t heed much of it, or was unable to absorb it, didn’t believe in it, or just wasn’t in then the mental state to make use of it. On Thursday after she reached her first WTA Premier mandatory semifinals since Indian Wells 2009 by whacking an ill Marion Bartoli 6-3, 6-4. Like she was in her upset of Caroline Wozniacki, she was quick and lethal off her forehand side and her often spotty first serve help up very well. She was vicious with her return and closed out points quickly.

There is absolutely no guarantee that this solid and inspiring play will continue throughout the year, but the world No. 16 does seem to get along well with the experience Sears, and does trust him. There have been so many times over the past few year that Ivanovic has spoken about playing aggressive and then was unable to keep the ball in the court, so her attempt to dictate was scoffed at by her foes. So what’s different now? “I worked so much on trying to get cover on the ball and just staying low,” she said. “I think also with confidence it comes that you sort of finish your shots. I felt like lots of times I would execute well in the past and I would doubt it so I would pull out a little bit, and then the result wouldn’t be as good as if I stayed through the ball. This is what I really work hard on, just finishing my shots and getting cover, especially on my forehand. It’s really weird that forehand has been my best shot, and Nigel, the first thing he said, ‘We have to work on your forehand. I’m like, why? It is the case, and I feel a lot more confident executing.” MORE FOR SUBSCRIBERS…

Maria Sharapova and her once close friend Maria Kirilenko has a bang-up, three-hour match that ended in a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 win for the taller Maria. Kirilenko played brilliantly during the first set and half, mixing speed, power and inventiveness, but eventually Sharapova found her range, became less predictable and took over. Kirilenko had real chances to ward the end of the second set, but Sharapova out-toughed her mentally and finally began to win their forehand battles. Interestingly, Sharapova agreed with chair umpire Marija Cicak of Croatia

The ‘other’ Maria

Try your Best or be Boring

Nadal just can't stop competing.


By Matt Cronin

FROM THE BNP PARIBAS OPEN AT INDIAN WELLS – Rafael Nadal is the ultimate athlete. He is just so specific about everything that has to do with his involvement in sports, from taping and re-taping four of the fingers on his left hand to avoid blisters (he never takes the tape off during matches now), to going to the driving range with the same battered hand if he has a bad round of golf. Sports is his cathedral, and he is spiritually devoted to worshiping at the altar while following a decisive code of morals.

TR Retro: Nadal vs. Nalbandian, Indian Wells 2009

Nalby had Rafa's back up against the wall

FROM THE BNP PARIBAS OPEN AT INDAIN WELLS – In the end, it looked nothing like the middle, which was almost the end of Rafael Nadal at Indian Wells. Then, David Nalbandian was having his way with the Spaniard, caning the ball with such force off both wings that he was one point away from going up two breaks in the second set.

But there are reasons why Nadal has won six Slams and the multi-talented Nalbandian is 0 for the majors: one is that Nadal never believes he

Bottom lines for Roddick and Fish

An Isner charge could help folks forget Roddick and Fish's woes GEORGE ANICH PHOTO


FROM THE BNP PARIBAS OPEN AT INDIAN WELLS – Before Andy Roddick went off to fill out his

Wanting a piece of the elite kids

Nadia is seeking relevancy

FROM BNP PARIBAS OPEN AT INDIAN WELLS – I sometimes ask myself why Nadia Petrova fell out in my internal hard drive when I am re-filing my folders on current notable players. Wasn

Sometimes a Golden Girl

Hanging in there and more

McHale backed up her 2011 win over Caro with a huge one over Kvitova


FROM THE BNP PARIBAS OPEN AT INDIAN WELLS- After a rapid first set that saw Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova hit through and around her and only drop one point with her tricky lefty serve, it looked like that U.S. teenager Christina McHale might be shown the door early. But if nothing else, the scrappy and quiet girl from New Jersey is incredibly resilient and an hour and a half later she had shocked the tall Czech 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 for the one of the greatest victories of her young career.

McHale had come into WTA Premier mandatory event seeded for the first time and has already made the most of it: yes Kvitova is still sick post her bout with virus that she caught in the middle east; and could not crack in a serve more than 100 mph and or keep her usually lethal forehand in check in the last two sets, but McHale showed off terrific counterpunching ability, and served tremendously well, hitting one serve winner after another down the tee, once that reached 113 mph.

She dug in after the first set and began to extend the Czech point after point until the strength began to leave Kvitova