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By Stuart Fraser

A good week in Glasgow

It is a million miles away from the glitz and glamour of the main ATP tour with little prize money, precious few rankings points, no ballboys and only one line judge and umpire.  Whereas the players lounge at ATP events can boast luxuries including sofas, computer games and pool tables, Glasgow could only offer a few fold-up chairs and tables in a carpeted sports hall.

But that is no criticism.  This is simply the ITF futures circuit where most of todayís tennis professionals play.  Itís a crucial stepping stone on the way to bigger things as highlighted by a statistic released earlier this year which states that 99 of the top 100 players in the ATP rankings released on the 5th January had competed on the ITF pro circuit.

Like so many of the other events on the ITF circuit, the Glasgow futures isnít at all glamorous but I have to admit, I find it utterly fascinating.  I went along to Scotstoun for a few days and what I seen was high quality tennis from players fighting and scrapping for every extra ranking point they can get.

The star attraction for British fans in the menís draw was Dan Evans.  Fresh from his Davis Cup appearance against Poland last month, the 19-year-old had, not surprisingly, received a wild card for the main draw and en route to the final, he did not drop a single set.  From what I seen, he was in good form and a class act for this level.  Sadly, he was well beaten in the final by Yannick Mertens 6-0 6-2 on what must have been an off day for the young Brit.

While his form at futures events has been impressive, thatís not really been the case at the challengers he has played.  Although he does have a title and a semi-final appearance under his belt this year, he has suffered early exits from a number of the challengers he has played.  Speaking to Dan last week, he feels itís not the talent he is lacking at this level but perhaps confidence. 

That will no doubt come with age and I expect that the results will come as he matures in the game.  Next up for Dan is another futures in Cardiff followed by the Jersey challenger which starts on the 9th of November.  He also has the Australian Open in his sights and some good results in his next couple of events should hopefully secure his place in qualifying for Melbourne.

Must also give a mention to the doubles team of Chris Eaton and Dominic Inglot.  The pair won their third futures title in two months in Glasgow without dropping a set all week and it would be great to see another British doubles team climb up the rankings and follow in the footsteps of Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski.  Flemski won the title in Glasgow last year and look what they have gone on to achieve since.

There was also a $25k womenís event held in Glasgow last week which combined with the menís futures as part of the Aegon Pro Series.  Congratulations must go to Melanie South who was runner-up in the singles and winner of the doubles with Emma Laine of Finland.

For me personally though, the one to watch in the womenís side of the draw was US Open Junior champion Heather Watson.  She did fantastically well to come through qualifying with a double bagel in her first match and a great victory in her second match over strong hitter Mona Barthel who is ranked over 200 places above her.

The 17-year-old sadly went out in the first round of the main draw going down in the final set tiebreak to Tunisian Selima Sfar.  It was a tough match up for Watson who came up against a far more experienced opponent who is 15 years older and plays a different style of game that the young Brit has no doubt rarely come up against. ďShe played quite old school with the slice and volleys,Ē Watson said.

Itís all experience though for Watson who really is one to watch.  Last time I seen her in action, it was in plus 40 degree heat in Melbourne which wasnít really an opportunity to see her at her best.  The conditions were obviously very different though in the Scotstoun Leisure Centre last week and I was impressed with the variety in her game.  She is a good all-round player who may lack a bit of height but makes up for it with her solid hitting off both sides.

She also always seems to have a smile in her face off court and in the couple of times I interviewed her last week, her bubbly personality and enthusiasm for the game shone through.  Remember that this is a girl also having to juggle her last year at school with her tennis which canít be easy.  However, she seems to be handling it well and it will be interesting to see how she performs when she eventually joins the tour full-time.

We may also see more talented youngsters like Watson coming through thanks to the work being done by Tennis Scotland.  Some other futures events just hold a tennis competition and thatís it but it was great to see free fun coaching clinics being run for schools and clubs alongside the competition last week.  The kids seemed to have a ball and thatís what it should be all about at that age.

It was great also to see Miss Scotland, Katharine Brown lending a helping hand as well and she wasnít just there for show.  Katharine is a qualified coach and her enthusiasm was clear to see.  After the coaching session, she spoke of her hopes that more Scottish kids become involved in sport, not just tennis, and as an ambassador for the country, she is keen to encourage this as much as possible.

All in all, a great week in Glasgow and I already look forward to the next professional event at Scotstoun which is scheduled for sometime in January.

Baghdatis is back

Looking at the entry list for the ATP 250 event in Stockholm last week, I made the usual predictions on who I thought would win the event.  My first pick was home favourite Robin Soderling and other players that I thought may have a chance were Tommy Haas, Juan Carlos Ferrero and possibly Feliciano Lopez after his semi-final run in Shanghai a fortnight ago.  How wrong was I?

I will be honest.  As my eyes scanned down the drawsheet at the start of the week, Marcos Baghdatis was not one of the names that jumped out at me.   Yes, he may have won a challenger in Uzbekistan the previous week but an ATP 250 event in Europe is a different prospect altogether.  Again, how wrong was I?

Baghdatis had a fantastic week en route to the title where he didnít drop a set.  He may have benefited from a walkover against top seed Soderling in the semi-final but itís still a hugely impressive win for the Cypriot who has had a tough time due to injury over the past couple of years.

Baghdatis is a thoroughly entertaining player and character who the spectators love.  The Australian public treated him as one of their own when he reached the Australian Open final in 2006.  In that same year, he reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon before reaching a career high ranking of No.8 in August.  Sadly after that, the injuries came and he plunged down the rankings.

After his win in Stockholm yesterday, he is now ranked No.41 and is well positioned to make a push for a seeding at the Australian Open in January.  Astonishing considering that he was ranked at No.151 on the 6th of July this year.  Baghdatis is far too talented to be that low and hopefully we will be seeing a lot more of that smile once again in the coming months.

Brewer is back

Browsing through the qualifying draw for the Cardiff futures, I noticed the name of Scot David Brewer on the drawsheet.

Brewer last played a professional event in September 2008 and now at the age of 24, I wasnít sure we would see him on the tour again.  Not sure of the reasons behind his comeback this week or if it is just a one-off but always good to see a Scot giving it a shot at professional level.  His career high ranking is 811 which he attained back in 2005.

Brewer won his first qualifier against Chris Priddle in straight sets but lost his next match to James Marsalek 3-6 6-2 6-3.  Not a bad scoreline though considering he has been away from the tour for over a year and if he is making a permanent comeback, then it will take a bit of time to get back into the groove again.  Just ask Colin Fleming.  He only achieved his first main draw win and ranking point in his fifth event back on tour last year.  Itís not easy!

P.S. Interesting tie in the first round in Cardiff this week.  Dan Evans V Chris Eaton!

Womenís season draws to a close

Regular readers of ĎTalking Ballsí will have gathered that Iím more a fan of menís tennis than the womenís game.  However, I always like to keep an eye on the latest on the WTA tour and the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha is well worth a mention.

The eight best female players in 2009 are there including Serena and Venus Williams, Svetlana Kuznetsova and current world No.1 Dinara Safina.  The Russian today reclaimed the No.1 ranking but may not be there for long as it is possible for Serena to regain the top spot this week.

The Williams sisters have been drawn in the same group so at least one meeting between the two is guaranteed in Qatar.  They may be on opposite sides of the net in singles but both will also be occupying the same side of the court during the week as they qualified for the four team doubles event.

Shame Kim Clijsters isnít there.  The US Open champion has only played four tournaments this year since coming out of retirement so could only finish 17th in the race.  Some say that a grand slam champion should automatically qualify.  Others say that the season-ending championships should feature the best players throughout the year and not players who just win one event such as Clijsters.  In this case, I would have to edge towards the former.

Anyway, British viewers can see the event on Eurosport UK throughout this week and Iím sure it will whet the appetite for the menís version in less than four weeks time at the O2 Arena in London.  Bring it on!