Venus Williams Partners With Jamba Juice

On the Baseline Tennis News
April 29, 2011

Former No. 1 player and entrepreneur Venus Williams has set the wheels in motion for a new franchise partnership with Jamba Juice Company. She has signed a non-binding letter of intent to open five Jamba Juice stores in the Washington D.C./Maryland area over the next two years.

“I have been a long-time fan of Jamba Juice and its mission to help inspire and simplify healthy living,” said Venus Williams. “Jamba offers a fantastic line-up of tasty, better-for-you products that I can feel good about eating. I am excited to be a part of Jamba and, through that partnership, to be bringing a healthy lifestyle brand to the D.C. Metro area that can offer others an easy way to maintain their focus on staying active and eating right.”

Aside from her record-setting tennis career, Venus Williams has achieved a multitude of off-court accomplishments. She earned a degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, and started her own interior design firm, V Starr Interiors. In 2007, she launched her own athletic clothing line, EleVen. In 2009,  Williams expanded her entrepreneurial muscle, becoming a limited, part-owner of the Miami Dolphins, along with her sister Serena Williams. In 2010, Williams released her first book, “Come to Win” co-written by Kelly E. Carter. It’s not so surprising that Williams would take on yet another business venture.

“This partnership is a perfect match between two brands that are both passionate about creating viable and healthy communities while helping people achieve their lifestyle goals of being more active and eating better,” said James D. White, chairman, president and CEO of Jamba Juice Company. “Regardless of her endeavor, Venus goes after everything with gusto and a motivation to win.”

The terms of the Jamba Juice deal are expected to be finalized by mid June, and the first store is scheduled to open later this summer.

Founded in 1990, Jamba Juice offers health-conscious products, including whole fruit smoothies, fresh squeezed juices, hot beverages, wraps, salads, sandwiches, frozen yogurt, as well as baked goods.

How the Mighty Fall (and climb back again)

There’s a common story among tennis players: They rise, they fall, and rise again. Equally common are the causes: Injuries, unsteady nerves, waning confidence, as well as the inevitable, physical decline. But even the top players who are seemingly born with the best DNA can experience moments when they unexpectedly fall hard. It isn’t just how or when players fall that matters most, but rather, how they respond to it, both physically and mentally.

Roger Federer: The Old Goat

Based on his recent form (and results), will 29-year-old Roger Federer be considered “over-the-hill” if he drops to No. 4? Hardly. But, for a player who remains at the top of the tennis world and is revered as the greatest player of all time, how can anyone be sure if he’s past his peak? Could the tip-off be when he is only able to reach the quarters of a masters or a Grand Slam? Can failed attempts to re-capture the No. 1 position be the sign? Or, is it when he consistently loses to a much lower ranked player that confirms the inevitable? 

Aside from Federer’s on-court duals (or, duopoly) with Nadal, he has been virtually unstoppable for the past eight years. Which is why it is surprising that Federer has been on the losing end of his last three matches against world No. 2 (and his latest rival) Novak Djokovic, fueling the debate about Federer’s future. Another problem for Federer: Being in the top three, there’s more room to go down than up. But rest assured, when the seeds of Federer’s decline have been planted, we’ll know it, and he’ll know it. For now, let’s enjoy his mastery of the game.

Judgement Call: Federer could take a page from Kim Clijsters’ play book and just play the Majors and a few other big tournaments. He’d never lose and would be able to maintain a top three ranking.

Li Na: Trailblazer in a Slump

No. 6 in the world and can’t win a match? That’s the situation that Li Na is currently in. The 2011 Australian Open finalist and the first Chinese player in tennis history to crack the top 10 has now had a five-match losing streak since the Australian Open final. Li Na has suddenly become consistently inconsistent, with little explanation for her slump. Can she rebound in Stuttgart? Her record on clay isn’t great (0-2), but she was a runner-up in Estoril twice (’05-’06).

Judgement Call: As the defending champ at Birmingham, the grass court season could be the time when Li Na can break out of her slump and get back on a winning track.

Juan Martin del Potro: Just a Matter of Time

Many were at a loss for words when former world No. 4 and US Open champ Juan Martin del Potro announced in 2010 that he would be having wrist surgery, which could have kept him out of competition indefinitely. After a nine-month absence, the 22-year-old has made an impressive comeback, advancing to the semis in San Jose and Memphis, and winning Delray Beach. He has climbed back from No. 236 in the rankings at the start of 2011 to No. 46, and is likely headed back to the top 10 by the summer hard-court season.

Judgement Call: Juan Martin still looks a bit tired after matches. Hopefully he can pace himself a bit better in between matches and tournaments. As they say, you don’t know if you’ve done too much, too soon until it’s too late.

Maria Sharapova: The Summit is in Clear View

The former No. 1 and winner of 22 singles titles is as close to being “back” as she’s ever been, and has returned to the top 10 for the first time since 2008. Maria Sharapova's shoulder surgery in 2009 was a significant setback for her, but Maria’s never-give-in, never-give-up mentality has served her well over the past two years…well enough to make a successful climb back to the No. 9 spot. Speaking of serves, we all know that there is more to a player’s arsenal than just a serve. However, Maria’s serving problems have been holding her back, and were likely the main cause of her loss to Victoria Azarenka in the final of the Sony Ericsson Open.

Judgement Call: It’s not clear if Maria’s serving problems are physical, mental, or a combination of both. If she can get beyond that, we may be seeing her raise the Venus Rosewater dish once again at Wimbledon.

Mardy Fish: Version 2

Few people can call Mardy Fish an underachiever these days. But there was a time when he was just that. Mardy enjoyed a stretch of great results during 2003-2004 (when he was consistently ranked in the top 20), but has had streaky results since then. Dealing with multiple injuries hasn’t helped much, keeping him out of the game for extended periods, and causing his ranking to plummet. Now at age 29, he’s the No. 1 ranked American (at No. 10), passing Andy Roddick (who has fallen outside of the top 10). Despite his new career-high ranking, Mardy is no stranger to top 10 opponents. Over the past few years, Mardy has been tested by some of the giants of the game, and won. Most notably, Roger Federer, whom he beat at Indian Wells in 2008. “I think people can tell that I’ve changed my work ethic (physically and mentally) in the past two years,” said Mardy in a recent interview. His next goal: playing in the semis of a Grand Slam. He has made it to the quarterfinals of the US Open (2008) and the Australian Open (2007).

Judgement Call: Mardy’s success over the past nine months makes me wonder: Can he keep up his momentum in 6 or 7 five-setters over a fortnight, or will he be overpowered by the bigger, more resilient players? This could be a true test for him.

Serena Williams: Is the Climb Too Steep?

For many years, Serena Williams was at the pinnacle of women’s tennis, and has been an undeniable force on the big stages, amassing 13 Grand Slam singles titles in her 16-year career. She’s had her fair share of injuries, but has always managed to rebound, and come back stronger. Weeks have turned into months since Serena last set foot on a tennis court (Wimbledon 2010). We all know the story of her foot injury (no need to repeat), as well has her recent health scare from a pulmonary embolism and subsequent hematoma. But Serena’s indefinite absence from competition is making her fans and the media a bit antcy (not to mention her sponsors). It remains to be seen if Serena can, or even will rise again. If her health holds up and she wants to play tennis again, it’s all up to her. The DNA will always be there.

Judgement Call: If Serena chooses to stage her comeback at Wimbledon, can she rise to the occasion? If not, something tells me she isn’t the type to retire while the world is watching her game in decline. She’s not wildcard material.

Injured Bethanie Mattek-Sands Out of Fed Cup Tie

USA Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez selects Vania King to replace Bethanie Mattek-Sands in this weekend’s Fed Cup tie.

On the Baseline Tennis News
April 14, 2011

Bethanie Mattek-Sands will not be able to join USA’s Fed Cup team in the upcoming tie against Germany in the World Group Playoffs April 16-17. She has been suffering from a lingering hip and back injury, which has flared up recently as a result of almost constant match play since the start of 2011.

US Captain Mary Joe Fernandez will now lead a team consisting of Vania King, Melanie Oudin, veteran doubles player Liezel Huber and newcomer, 18-year-old Christina McHale, who is playing in her second Fed Cup tie. Venus Williams will also make the trip to Germany to support the team.

Mattek-Sands, who holds a 2-0 record on clay in Fed Cup ties, expressed her disappointment via her Twitter page about not being able to play. “Really bummed I couldn’t make it to Stuttgart with the rest of team USA!! But getting some much needed recovery time. Go USA!!”

Vania King was excited to get the call to play in the tie. “I got the call out of the blue, and was on my way back to Miami that day. I made the decision in thirty minutes. I love playing Fed Cup and I’ve played with all of these players before so I know them well and we also get along very well. So I’m looking forward to a good match.”

The German Fed Cup is looking to rejoin the World Group after losing last year’s World Group play-off 3-2 to France. Their Fed Cup team consists of Andrea Petkovic, Julia Goerges, Sabine Lisicki and Anna-Lena Groenefeld.

The U.S. holds an 8-4 all-time record against Germany in Fed Cup competition, including a 6-3 record against the former West Germany. In 2008, the Americans defeated Germany 4-1 in their quarterfinal tie in La Jolla, California. The last victory for the Germans was in 1992.

The last time the USA competed in a World Group play-off tie was in 2002, defeating Israel 5-0. The USA has never been out of Fed Cup’s top flight, and has been the most successful Fed Cup nation, being crowned champion 17 times.

Sony Ericsson Open: Final Preview

 Maria Sharapova

On the Baseline Tennis News
April 1, 2011

The 2011 “Glam Slam” final is almost upon us, but is likely not the final that anyone anticipated at the Sony Ericsson Open. No underdogs. No clear favorite. No Kim, No Caroline. It will be an exciting match for sure, and undoubtedly, loud. Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, known for their high-decibel “shrieks” while striking a ball, haven’t faced each other in a final since Stanford (2010).

The final on Saturday will be Sharapova’s fifth meeting against Victoria Azarenka. They are evenly matched at 2-2 in their head-to-head.

This year, Maria Sharapova is playing in her first Sony Ericsson Open since 2007, and her first final of 2011. On Thursday, Sharapova advanced to her third final in Miami, powering through Andrea Petkovic in three sets. She also gutted out a quarterfinal win vs. Alexandra Dulgheru, which was the longest singles match of the Sony Ericsson Open, at 3 hours, 29 minutes (past midnight). “I’m pretty fortunate to be in the finals after having a few tough ones like I had the previous rounds,” said Sharapova.

Safe to say, it’s been a long and bumpy road back for Sharapova. After having shoulder surgery in 2009, most people expected her to make a swift and steady comeback, but the expected took longer than expected. Now, Sharapova is on the verge of winning her first title since 2010 (Strasbourg). She won her last WTA Premier title in 2009 (Tokyo). A title win in Miami would be Sharapova’s biggest win since the 2008 Australian Open.

At 23, Sharapova is a veteran on Tour, but first gained attention as a teenager, winning Wimbledon at the tender age of 17, and has already amassed 22 singles titles, including three Grand Slams. The former No. 1 is now on her way back to the top 10. Currently ranked at No. 13, Sharapova is projected to return to No. 9 (win or lose in Miami).

Sharapova is fitter than ever before, and has been returning extremely well in Miami, which she says will be important in the final against Azarenka. But if Sharapova has had any trouble at all (and you have to really look for it), it has been in the double fault area…39 so far, and 17 in her match against Dulgheru, which could be costly for her on Saturday.

The mental side of Sharapova’s game is (and has always been) the hallmark of her career, which is something that has plagued Azarenka’s game over the past few years.

Victoria Azarenka, who won the Sony Ericsson Open title in 2009 (vs. Serena Williams) is playing in her first final of the year. She hasn’t won a title since 2010 (Moscow). Azarenka has looked sharp in Miami, defeating the No. 2 and 3 players, Kim Clijsters (in straight sets) and Vera Zvonareva, in what most will agree was a self-esteem-shaking defeat for Vera. Azarenka’s confidence with her ground strokes and  second serve, as well as her consistency, will make her a tough opponent for Sharapova on Saturday. Azarenka has also won 74% of her service games (compared to Sharapova’s 68%). “She plays really aggressive and swings really hard from both sides. You know, a great returner,” said Sharapova about Azarenka. ” It’ll be tough. I lost to her the last time we played.”

Currently ranked at No. 8, Azarenka is projected to rise to No. 7, and to a career-high equal of No. 6 if she wins the Sony Ericsson Open title.

In every measurable way, both Sharapova and Azarenka have had many venerable opponents to test themselves against, as shown below.

Maria Sharapova’s Road to the Final:

R128: bye
R64: def. [WC] Petra Martic 6-3, 6-2
R32: def. [WC] Sabine Lisicki 6-2, 6-0
R16: def. No. 5 Samantha Stosur  6-4, 6-1
QF: def. No. 28 Alexandra Dulgheru 3-6, 7-6(6), 7-6(5
SF: def. No. 23 Andrea Petkovic 3-6, 6-0, 6-2
Total games: 106
Won/lost: 68-38
Sets won/lost: 10-2
Total time on court: 9h 04
Average time on court: 1h 49
Average rank of opponent: 76

Victoria Azarenka’s Road to the Final:

R128: bye
R64: def. [Q] Lucie Hradecka 7-5, 4-6, 6-0
R32: def. No. 25 Dominika Cibulkova 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
R16: def. No. 21 Anastasia Palyuchenkova 3-6, 6-1, 6-4
QF: def. No. 2 Kim Clijsters 6-3, 6-3
SF: def. No. 3 Vera Zvonareva 6-0, 6-3
Total games: 115
Won/lost: 71-44
Sets won/lost: 10-3
Total time on court: 9h 29
Average time on court: 1h 54
Average rank of opponent: 24

Now they face the ultimate test. Who’s going to win the title? Whichever side you take, this match is sure to be one to watch.

My Prediction: Sharapova in three sets.

Let the shrieks begin.