Rafa Continues Love Affair with Clay:
Rafael Nadal remains unbeaten on clay since 2009 after a battling 6-4, 7-5 victory over David Ferrer in the Monte Carlo final. It was his 37th straight victory at the Masters tournament and his seventh consecutive title there, a new record. “It would have been impossible to imagine a few years ago winning seven titles here,” said Nadal. “I’m a lucky guy to have done this by age 24. I’m really enjoying everything. This was a very important win for me. I don’t think about defending points from previous years, only about playing well. I just keep trying to improve every day, train humbly and improve. Winning this week was so important.” Ferrer seemed at as much of a loss as the rest of us as to just how Rafa can be stopped on his favourite surface. “Well, he’s not a machine. He can lose,” Ferrer pondered. “Maybe if Rafa has an injury, I will have a chance.”
Federer Refutes Criticism:
Roger Federer refused to be downbeat following his slightly surprising defeat to Jurgen Melzer at Monte Carlo last week. The Austrian left-hander bested the No.2 seed 6-4, 6-4 and many saw it as another step back for the former world No.1 who now hasn’t won a tournament since Doha in January. But Federer refused to be troubled by the result: “I didn’t think I played terrible,” he said. “It’s the first week of play (on clay) so I didn’t expect to play my best. It’s been a solid tournament. I think I should have definitely gotten one of the sets. Every time I had this slight opening, things didn’t go my way. Even in the wind, I had all my chances to come back into the match. He did well. I think he played aggressive, was able to mix it up. Obviously, I wasted way too many break-point chances today, which was unfortunate.
Azarenka not risking it in Stuttgart:
Victoria Azarenka explained her reasons for retiring from her first-round Stuttgart match against Julia Georges despite taking the first set. She revealed that a shoulder injury suffered while on Fed Cup duty had been behind the withdrawal. “I picked up a shoulder injury during Fed Cup,” said the Belarusian. “I have been trying to rehab the last few days and tried my best here but it keeps getting worse. I didn’t want to push it any further at the start of the clay season. I’ll go back to do some therapy in Monaco so hopefully I’ll have time to recover and play Madrid.”
Nadal: “Barca Crucial to No.1 Ranking:”
World No.1 Rafa Nadal believes that Barcelona is a vital stop on the ATP Tour this year as he looks to keep up the gap over his closest rival Novak Djokovic. Nadal realizes he has a difficult challenge over the coming months as an incredible clay season during 2010 means he has 4,000 South African Airways ATP World Ranking points to defend. With his lead over Djokovic standing at 3,230 he is looking to open that up a little before the Serb begins his clay-court season. “Every year I did a fantastic clay court season. I have to try to do it another time,” Nadal stated after winning his seventh straight Monte-Carlo title on Sunday. “With these four or five tournaments, if I am playing very well, I’m going to have the biggest chances to have enough points to try to be in the top position at the end of the year ranking. Nole will always be on the opposite side of the draw, which means that I can only meet him in the final. For now I have to focus on my upcoming opponents. Djokovic has started the season in great shape and why should this not be his season?”
Almagro to Crack Top Ten:
25-year-old Nicolas Almagro will enter the world’s Top 10 next week for the first time in his career having overcome the freefalling Russian Nikolay Davydenko in the third round at Barcelona. The Spaniard has had most of his success on clay, particularly this year, and only David Ferrer prevented him picking up triple titles on the South American “Golden Swing” circuit by defeating him in the final at Acapulco after he had taken home Costa do Sauipe and Buenos Aires. “I knew that today’s match could have a special reward,” he said. “It was the third time I had a chance to get to the Top 10, after Acapulco and Monte-Carlo first. It’s an incredible feeling. There’s no better place to achieve it than in my home club in front of my own people and my family and all the home support. It’s a great reward for myself and the work of my whole team.” Almagro will become the 17th Spaniard since the rankings’ inception in 1973 to crack the Top 10.
America on the Decline:
A 5-0 defeat to Germany in the Fed Cup World Group play-offs means that the USA will drop out of the top tier of the competition for the first time. A youthful side, still missing both Serena and Venus Williams who haven’t represented their country since 2007, were no match for an Andrea Petkovic-inspired German side and it was the creator of the ‘Petkodance’ who won the deciding rubber, 6-2, 6-3 over Melanie Oudin. A tearful Venus could be seen courtside after traveling with the squad despite injury for moral support. Speaking of the all-important rubber, Oudin said: “I tried not to think about it but it was extra weight on my shoulder.” The USA have won the Fed Cup a record 17 times and have finished as the runners up to Italy in the past two years.
Venus “Unsure” on Return:
Venus Williams admits that she is unsure when she will be fit enough to return to the WTA Tour. She has not played since the Australian Open and has penciled in Madrid, next month, for a return. Yet she says she won’t start playing until she is 100% fit again, unlike in Melbourne when she only troubled her existing hip injury. Meanwhile, Serbia’s team doctor has confirmed that the abdominal injury that forced Ana Ivanovic to retire from her Fed Cup match against the Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova is not that serious and she will only be out for around a week. It has been troubling the former world No.1 slightly since the Aussie Open but it is not thought that surgery is required to fix the problem.
Will Chakvetedze return to Dizzy Heights:
Former Top 10 player Anna Chakvetedze retired from her first-round encounter against Zuzana Kucova in Stuttgart after becoming ill and suffering from dizzy spells, the third tournament in a row (Dubai and Indian Wells) she has retired from for these reasons. “I started the match feeling fine but I knew it [the dizziness] was coming and started to feel worse in the second set, the same feeling as the last two times,” Chakvetadze said in a statement distributed by the WTA. “I have seen a doctor and don’t really have anything more to update at the moment. I saw the doctors at home before the tournament and they told me everything would be OK, which is why I decided to play here.” At the time the scoreboard read 6-1, 5-7, 4-4.
Boldly Going Where no Moroccan Woman Has Gone Before:
Before this week Morocco’s Nadia Lalami had played four WTA Tour matches, which had all been first round defeats. Now she finds herself in the quarterfinals of the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem and in the history books too. The 20-year-old shocked No.1 seed Aravane Rezai to become the first Moroccan to reach a WTA Tour level quarterfinal in the organisation’s history. She dropped the first set before racing to a 5-1 lead in the second. She almost let it slip before beating Rezai in the tiebreak and going on to nick the third set.
American Mardy Fish enters the Top 10 of the South African Airways ATP World Rankings this week while Jurgen Melzer is up to No.8 and Frenchman Gael Monfils moves up to No.9. Fernando Verdasco is the unlucky Spaniard who drops out. Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov continues his ascent since January and finds himself in the Top 20 for the first time. Xavier Malisse is in to the Top 50 at No.47 while Italy’s Fabio Fognini joins him at No.49. Federico Gil had an impressive run at Monte Carlo, which sees him jump 18 to No.64 while Dudi Sela (19 places to No.96), Donald Young (24, No.98) and Germany’s Matthias Bachinger (35, No.99) all took big leaps in to the Top 100. Li Na has equaled her career-best in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings this week after returning to No.6 in the world. She is the only mover within the Top 20. Britain’s Anne Keothavong is enjoying her return from injury and jumps 15 to No.95 this week while the Czech Republic’s Sandra Zahlavova is also in to the Top 100.
Rafa Closes GOAT Race Gap:
Rafael Nadal continued to claw in to Roger Federer’s GOAT race lead by continuing his mesmerizing run on clay courts to lift the Monte Carlo title. Roger Federer reached the quarter final stage before losing to Jurgen Melzer so adds 25 points to his running total while Rafa’s title gives him 200 points to cut the deficit to just 35 points. By then entering Barcelona, Rafa adds another 10 to his score to make Roger’s lead now just 25.
Roger: 595 Rafa: 570