Is Kim Clijsters Poised for a U.S. Open Three-Peat?

July 25, 2011

With U.S. Open Series underway, all eyes will be on the top players to see who will dominate the summer hard court season, and go on to win the ultimate prize: The U.S. Open title. World No. 2 Kim Clijsters, who is the two-time U.S. Open defending champion, and arguably the best player on the women’s tour, could potentially win her third consecutive U.S. Open title this year, her fourth overall. The last female player to win the U.S. Open singles title three or more times in a row was Chris Evert (1975-1978).

With a 31–11 W/L record on hard courts, it’s hard to imagine anyone beating Clijsters on that surface. But with Serena Williams back in contention, Clijsters will need to bring her A game in order to get past Serena, who seems to be well on her way to regaining her winning form.

Like Clijsters, 13-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena Williams has three U.S. Open singles titles under her belt. Since 1999, the two former No. 1 players have met nine times (head to head: 7-2/Serena leads). Their most recent match was the 2009 U.S. Open semifinal--a match that is much more memorable for Serena’s on-court outburst at a linesperson than Clijsters beating Serena and going on to win the U.S. Open title. Serena missed the 2010 U.S. Open due to injury, opening up an opportunity for Clijsters to win the U.S. Open title again.

Over the past few months, it has been Clijsters who has taken some unexpected time off due to injury. Her struggles with a nagging right ankle injury forced her to miss most of the 2011 clay court season, as well as Wimbledon, which has cast some preliminary doubt about her chances at the U.S. Open. Her last match was on June 14 at the Unicef Open, where Clijsters lost in the second round after bruising her right ankle and injuring her tendon. She recently bowed out of the Mercury Insurance Open in San Diego as a result of that injury.

According to her website, Clijsters has resumed training in New Jersey, and is looking forward to the U.S. Open. "All Grand Slams are special, their history, their atmosphere,” says Clijsters. I love the atmosphere that hangs around the US Open, I feel very homely, I just feel very comfortable when I'm there. It probably has something to do with the fact that my husband [Brian Lynch] is from around here and that a lot of family members re from around here."

Clijsters has tentative plans to return to competition at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, which begins on August 8, followed by the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, and the U.S. Open in New York. Her schedule will be announced next week.

Sharapova on Track

World No. 5 Maria Sharapova is feeling good after reaching the final at Wimbledon and is ready to tackle the hard court season. She will compete in the U.S. Open Series at Stanford this week, followed by Toronto, Cincinnati, and the U.S. Open. The most intriguing match-up for Sharapova could come at Stanford, where she will likely face Serena Williams in the quarterfinal (head-to-head 6-2/Serena leads).

Off-Court Musings


Who knew that a sport like boxing could bring a tennis player and a golfer together? That’s exactly what happened when 21-year-old Caroline Wozniacki met pro golfer, Rory McIlroy at a boxing match in Germany in early July. The two have since become fast friends, and are “rumored” to be an item, but nothing has been confirmed just yet. Maybe Wozniacki’s new friendship will bring a little bit of extra support into her player’s box at the U.S. Open when she makes another attempt at winning her first Grand Slam title.

Tennis or Family?

July 12, 2011

Despite appearances, tennis players lead very hard lives. When you combine a grueling schedule and non-stop travel with media and sponsorship obligations, there isn't much time for anything but eating and sleeping, nevermind attending a family wedding.

You don't hear much from tennis players about those family gatherings that pop up from time to time, or the tough choices they have to make in order to strike a balance between court-time, and making time for family.

Being a tennis player is not like having a regular job where you can either call in sick, or find someone to fill in for you for one day. And if a player does get sick (or injured) and can't play, they don't get paid, and risk falling back in the rankings. And taking time off in the summer? Not so easy. What is typically prime time for weddings, graduations, and family vacations, is also prime time for the tennis season.

It's not so difficult to envision a tennis player standing on a practice court, "Skyping" on their iPhone to make a "virtual" appearance at a family vacation. Or even a brother holding up a cell phone at a family wedding so that their globe-trotting tennis player sibling can watch the ceremony before working on their forehand.

Holidays are easy (or easier) to manage for players, since they are already scheduled years in advance. But then again, how many American players would choose to attend a Fourth of July family cookout over Wimbledon? Not many.

John Isner, who won the Campbell's Hall of Fame Championships in Newport, RI this past weekend (his second career title), was faced with a tough decision heading into the tournament. Family or tennis? Isner wasn't planning on coming to Newport at all, but entered the tournament at the last minute as a wildcard. By choosing to play, he knew there was a chance he'd have to miss his brother Nathan's wedding on Saturday, but had hoped that this tournament would give him a shot at a title.

"The only way that I was going to miss the wedding is if I got to the semifinals," said Isner, who was the No. 1 seed in Newport. "It definitely turned out to be a great decision, and I owe a huge thanks to Mark Stenning for the wildcard. This is a perfect start to the summer. I feel like my best surface is hardcourt in the US, so I should get a lot of confidence from this."

Isner was on top of his game in Newport, defeating Olivier Rochus in the final in straight sets, and scored 22 aces (76 in all for the tournament). He was serving at his best, and didn't drop a set during the entire week. As a bonus, Isner broke the "Curse of the Casino", becoming the first ever No. 1 seed in Newport to win the title. As a result of his win, Isner has jumped 10 spots in the rankings to No. 36.

So what did Nathan have to say about his brother's excuse for not being there on his big day? "He understood," said Isner. His new sister-in-law? Not so much. Isner will be paying for their honeymoon, which will likely keep the family peace. Good thing he won.

Peachy Kellmeyer Gets Her Day in the Sun

July 11, 2011

Newport, RI
—On Saturday July 9, Peachy Kellmeyer was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the highest honor in tennis. Over the past four decades, Peachy’s impact on women’s tennis has been far reaching. Known as an unsung hero to many, she demonstrated her passion and love for the game of tennis through the tireless work she put in to help establish what today has become the No. 1 professional sport for women.

“You’ve always been in my Hall of Fame,” said Stacey Allaster, CEO of the WTA, who was chosen by Peachy to give her presentation speech at the induction ceremony.

Allaster, along with former CEO of the WTA, Larry Scott, spearheaded Peachy’s nomination to the Hall of Fame. Scott, who attended the ceremony, couldn’t have been more pleased to celebrate Peachy’s induction. Chris Clouser, Chairman of the Tennis Hall of Fame, actually flew down to Australia in January (just after the holidays) to make an in-person announcement at the Australian Open about Peachy’s induction to the Hall of Fame. He flew back home the next day. “He’ll be forever my Santa Claus,” said Peachy.

Heading into the induction ceremony on Saturday, Peachy knew that she might be overshadowed by Andre Agassi’s induction, but she was able to maintain a good sense of humor about it. “I know I’m not the main attraction today, but I just want you to know Andre, I will be the opening act for you anytime,” said Peachy.

Fern Lee “Peachy” Kellmeyer was born in 1944 and was raised in Wheeling, West Virginia. In 1959, Peachy became the youngest woman at that time to compete in the US Open, at age 15. Despite being born with a club foot, Peachy was able to overcome her physical challenges to become a successful junior and college tennis player. Her physical challenges taught her an important lesson in life: “You don’t have to be 100 percent to give 100 percent.”

At the University of Miami, Peachy became the first woman to compete on a men’s division 1 collegiate team (that’s right -- men’s division 1). In her post-college years, Peachy was ranked nationally in both singles and doubles, and competed at Wimbledon and the US Open.

She evolved into a pioneer for equal rights for women in sport. As a Physical Education Director at Marymount College in 1966, Peachy was instrumental in overturning a rule that prohibited college scholarships for women, in a lawsuit known as The Kellmeyer Case. “That’s the thing I’m most proud of in my life, because to me, it was so unfair and so wrong for women,” said Peachy. In her presentation speech, Allaster made sure to point out the lasting impact of Peachy’s efforts when it came to this victory. “Every woman today who has a college scholarship should thank Peachy.”

The WTA was formed in 1973, and it was at that time that Peachy was hired as the organization’s first official employee. Back in those days, there were only 23 US-based tournaments. Today, there are 53 tournaments in 33 different countries.

During her tenure with the WTA, Peachy focused her efforts on player and tournament relations, and operations, and was instrumental in the fight to gain equal pay for women at Grand Slam tournaments. Since 1973, prize money has increased from $309,000 to more than $89,000,000 in 2011.

Peachy’s current role as the WTA Operations Executive Consultant has given her a bit more freedom from the 9-to-5 schedule that she became accustomed to in her 38 years with the WTA, but at age 66, she isn’t anywhere close to retirement. She also serves as a member of the ITF Fed Cup Committee and oversees the WTA’s alumni program.

“I’m the happiest peach in Newport,” said Peachy, on her induction to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Congrats, Peachy. Well deserved.

Mr. Opportunity: Andre Agassi

July 10, 2011

Newport, RI —On Saturday, July 9, a boy from Las Vegas, who grew up to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time, was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. A man who, in many ways, has lived a life filled with disconnected opportunities. But somewhere along the way, through all of the ups and downs in his journey through life, Andre Agassi found a way to connect the dots, and in the process, found his life’s work.

When it comes to tennis, Andre Agassi is, without question, a legend. During his illustrious (and occasionally tumultuous) tennis career, he amassed eight Grand Slam titles, an Olympic gold medal, and two Davis Cup titles as a member of the US Davis Cup squad. He is also the first male player in tennis history to have achieved a singles Career Golden Slam.

On Saturday, friends, family, and fans gathered together to celebrate a tennis career that has touched the lives of many, and served as inspiration to current and future generations of tennis players. Agassi’s parents, Mike and Betty were both in attendance to watch their son receive the highest honor in tennis, along with his wife Stefanie (“Steffi”) Graf, their two children, Jaden and Jazz, and his older brother, Phil. Also in attendance were Agassi’s former coaches, Brad Gilbert, Darren Cahill, and Nick Bollettieri, as well as Gil Reyes, whom Agassi described as his friend, protector, and trainer.

The newly inducted Hall-of-Famer, who delivered an emotional, heartfelt speech, said that he has stood at the podium at the Tennis Hall of Fame on two occasions: Once as a presenter for his wife, Stefanie, when she was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2004. The other was in his father’s imagination. “From the day I was born, my father Mike saw this day in my future, and described it to me many times,” said Agassi, as his father sat nearby, proudly listening to his every word.

Agassi also said that one of the most influential people in his life was Nelson Mandela. A man whom he met just once. In their brief meeting, Mandela explained to Agassi the reason why we were placed on this earth. “We must be careful in our decisions, careful in our words, and we must be careful in our relationships,” said Mandela. “We must live our life carefully.” Agassi admitted in his speech to not always living his life carefully, which at a low point in his career, landed him at No. 141 in the world. Agassi said that his successful journey back to No. 1 “was the symptom of good choices and the result of being careful.”

It’s no secret that Andre Agassi has paid a heavy price for his success as a tennis player. An overbearing father, a tennis career that he didn’t choose, and a life not lived on his terms all contributed to his inability to make the right choices when it mattered most. It wasn’t until later in life that Agassi was able to recognize the teachable moments and hidden opportunities that came his way as a result of personal and professional adversity.

“Tennis teaches you the subtlety of human interaction, the curse and blessing of cause and effect,” said Agassi. “After playing tennis for a living, you never forget that we are all connected, and there’s nothing quite like a tiebreak that teaches you the concept of high risk, high reward. Tennis teaches you there’s no such thing as perfect. You want to be perfect, you hope to be perfect. Then you’re out there, and you’re less than perfect. And you just realize, I don’t have to be perfect today. I just have to be better than one person.”

Having been on the receiving end of so many opportunities over the course of his life has enabled Agassi to take everything he has learned and turn it into learning opportunities for those who need them the most. Agassi Prep, a charter school which Agassi started in 2001 (and became his life’s work), has opened many doors that were once closed for thousands of children in his hometown of Las Vegas.

Agassi’s generosity was on full display at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, where he gave two Agassi Prep graduates a chance to shine on a big stage. And shine they did. Simone Ruffin, valedictorian of the first graduating class at Agassi Prep, and a bundle of energy, was Agassi’s choice to give his presentation speech. The 18-year-old referred to Agassi as “My hometown hero” as well as “A game changer.” Ruffin didn’t shy away from making fun of her hometown hero. “He wasn’t always perfect,” said Ruffin. And that’s ok. There was that wig/mullet thing.” Ruffin, who met Agassi for the first time in grade school, said “He provided us with the tools to build our own lives. Because of him, I will never forget to look back and lift up others.” 

(Simone Ruffin, pictured with her brother, Christian)

AJ Green, another Agassi Prep graduate and choir member, had a chance to show off his vocal talents, singing the United States national anthem at the start of the induction ceremony.

With his tennis career in the rear-view mirror and his life's work in full swing, Andre Agassi’s true legacy will no doubt be based on the opportunities he has given, not the ones that he has received.

Cast Your Votes for the 2011 ESPY Awards

July 5, 2011

Have you voted for the ESPY awards yet?? If you haven't, then now is your chance. Voting closes on Saturday, July 9. Watch the awards show LIVE on Wednesday, July 13, at 9pm (ET) on ESPN. 

Who knows? You could see Serena Williams singing, er, embarrassing herself on live TV.

Here Are the Tennis Nominees:

Best Male Athlete
Rafael Nadal

Best Championship Performance
Serena Williams

Best Breakthrough Athlete
Li Na

Best Male Tennis Player
Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal

Best Female Tennis Player
Kim Clijsters, Li Na, Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki

 Click HERE to vote for your favorite players.

Wimbledon: 21 Reflections of the Fortnight


July 5, 2011

1) Let's get right down to it. Most tennis fans harbor a bit of resentment towards NBC regarding their questionable decision to air big-name matches at Wimbledon on tape delay vs. live. Most notably, the semifinal between Maria Sharapova and Sabine Lisicki. Imagine if game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals were to be aired on tape delay. Hockey fans from across North America would be outraged. Whatever logic NBC lacked in its scheduling of live matches at Wimbledon will not be such a problem in the future. It was recently reported that after a 43 years, NBC will be backing out of its Wimbledon TV coverage, and handing over the reins to ESPN. After signing a 12-year agreement with the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, ESPN will have exclusive U.S. television rights for Wimbledon's live tennis action, starting next year. 

2) John Isner and Nicolas Mahut (a.k.a., “Isnut”) will forever be linked together as the two who played the longest match in Wimbledon history. The peculiarity of having the two meet again this year in the first round, combined with the "can it happen again" fever made it all a bit anti-climactic when they played a ho-hum, three-set match that didn't even come close to last year's record of 11 hours and 5 minutes over three days. But Isner and Mahut, who are likely still recovering from their match from a year ago, are probably content to let the original record stand. It would have been nice to see Mahut defeat Isner this time around, just to even the score. Maybe next year, on Court 18.

Can you say upsets? The middle Monday (or "Manic Monday" as it was appropriately named)  produced a flurry of fourth round upsets on the women's side that would make anyone dizzy. Venus Williams lost to Tsvetana Pironkova for a second straight year. The No. 1 seed and Slam-less superstar, Caroline Wozniacki lost to Dominika Cibulkova. Not such a shocking upset, given that Wozniacki hasn't been able to advance beyond the fourth round at Wimbledon in previous attempts, but expectations were understandably high. Next on the exit list was Serena Williams. The defending champion and most talked about player heading into Wimbledon was shut down by Marion Bartoli. This wasn't really an upset in the true sense, given that Serena had been out of competition for 49 weeks with an injury and health issues. But with all of the hype surrounding Serena's comeback, there were a lot of eyes on her progress. Serena's inability to defend her title at Wimbledon has pushed her outside of the top 100 -- No. 175 to be exact. She's now in wildcard territory.

4) Speaking of Serena, the former No. 1 and tennis diva typically has something interesting to say in her press conferences. This one from her third round presser was particularly priceless: "Then Venus looked at me and she said I'll never forget. What did she say? She said I pissed someone off. I don't remember what she said now." I guess we all have flaky moments like that one.

5) Jo Wilfried Tsonga. Hard to forget this guy after he beat Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. He was also the ace leader for the tournament (108), as well as the double fault leader (27). He's also the guy who likes to dive for tennis balls. "This is the only surface you can really dive [on], because on the others, if you dive you go directly to the hospital. So this is good," said Tsonga, regarding Wimbledon. He's knocking on the door of the top 10, climbing to No. 14 after his semifinal run.

6) The return of Chris Evert to tennis commentating. How’d she do? It's probably very hard for a former player to be completely objective when commentating on a match, but I give her high marks for being forthright without being know-it-all-ish. And with 18 Grand Slams under her belt, Evert's ESPN colleagues could learn a few things from her. Rumor has it that she has joined Twitter: @ChrissieEvert.

7) Caroline Wozniacki crashed Novak Djokovic’s pre-Wimbledon press conference. I’m not completely sure, but Caroline is either poking fun at the media, or she is considering a new career in tennis journalism. Stick to playing tennis, Caroline--better hours, and a MUCH higher income.

8) Twitter is a useful source of information (and occasionally fun), but Judy Murray (mother of Andy and Jamie) may have crossed a delicate parental line, giving Feliciano Lopez the nickname, Deliciano. Some may say it's all in good fun, but try picturing your own mother doing that sort of thing. You'd be looking for a big rock to crawl under, too. 

9) Bethanie Mattek-Sands. She is an original who isn't afraid to take chances. Unfortunately, the No. 1 ranked American seemed to be wearing a lot more tennis balls at Wimbledon than she was hitting. She lost in the first round.

10) The resilient Sabine Lisicki was clearly the comeback story of Wimbledon. In addition to her incredible win over Li Na, she was the ace leader (44) and serve speed leader (124 mph) for the tournament. She made it to her first semifinal of a Grand Slam, but was stopped short by the more experienced Maria Sharapova. Advancing to the Wimbledon doubles final with Sam Stosur likely took some of the sting away from Lisicki's singles loss. Jumping 35 spots in the rankings (to No. 27) probably helped her as well.

11) Serena Williams wasn't out of the Wimbledon spotlight for very long when this promo for the ESPY awards appeared on YouTube. Serena, dressed as a prom queen, singing and playing the clarinet. LOL/OMG.

12) It was announced during Wimbledon that Ana Ivanovic has hired a new coach: Nigel Sears. He just recently left his post as the Head of Women’s Tennis at the Lawn Tennis Association to work full time with Ivanovic. Fingers crossed that this guy has what it takes to instill more confidence in her game.

13) The Bryan brothers carried the American torch again, winning their second Wimbledon doubles title, as well as their 11th Grand Slam title. These guys just keep getting better. Same goes for Mardy Fish, who achieved his best result at Wimbledon this year, and now holds the No. 8 spot in the rankings.

A sad loss for Nadal in the Wimbledon final. Combine that with losing the No. 1 ranking two days before, and it became a day of mourning for Nadal fans. Not too long after the final, the phrase #poor nadal was trending worldwide on Twitter. Now Nadal has to figure out a way to deal with a guy (Djokovic) who has beaten him five times in one year--each time in a final, and on three different surfaces. The shoe is officially on the other foot.

Observation: What was with the Federer TV commercials during the men’s final on Sunday? I wonder if the timing of those commercials was really pre-planned, or if it was just a subtle reminder that Federer isn't out of the picture just yet.

We all know who the King of Clay is, but who exactly is the King of Grass these days? With six Wimbledon singles titles, I like to believe that Federer still has a solid hold on the crown. But after losing in the Wimbledon quarterfinals two years in row, the crown may be up for grabs.

17) Nadal has held the No. 1 ranking for a total of 102 weeks: Aug. 2008-July 2009 (46 wks.), and June 2010 -July 2011 (56 wks.). Now he is ranked No. 2. Not easy to swallow that one.

18) A tough loss for Andy Murray. He just can't seem to get beyond the semis at Wimbledon. I'm not sure if the pressure got inside his head, or he just isn't ready. His time will come.

19) Novak Djokovic ended Nadal’s 20-match winning record at Wimbledon, and fulfilled two lifelong dreams (the No. 1 ranking and a Wimbledon title). Djokovic now seems to be completely at home on grass. So much so that he ate a piece of grass on Centre Court after his win. Well, it's gluten-free.

20) A well deserved win for Petra Kvitova over Maria Sharapova in the ladies' final. The lefty from the Czech Republic sealed the win with an ace at 40-0, and was the first Czech to win the title at Wimbledon since Jana Novotna in 1998. Despite Sharapova's success at Wimbledon, her serve is still a road block to another Grand Slam title. In fact, she was the double fault leader for the tournament, with 38.

Are tall girls making a comeback in tennis? Seems that way, after watching the Wimbledon ladies' final. Kvitova stands at 6', and Sharapova at 6' 2".