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TALKING BALLS 016 Ė MONDAY 11TH JANUARY 2010
By Stuart Fraser
First week back
We are only just a week into the 2010 season and already there is so much to talk about. And if that isnít enough for you, if you donít know already, the first grand slam of the year is just around the corner.
From a British point of view, story of the week was obviously Andy Murray and Laura Robsonís run to the final at the Hopman Cup in Perth. For Murray, it was expected to be a decent warm-up for the Australian Open. For Robson, it was a chance to gain some invaluable experience. However, for the British pair, it became so much more.
The pair formed a remarkable partnership in the mixed doubles with Murray taking Robson under his wing and immediately making her feel at ease on court. Brother Jamie had obviously stressed the importance of keeping the lady happy on court to his younger sibling and it clearly worked. Three mixed doubles victories during the week coupled with Murrayís three singles wins were enough to clinch a place in the final against Spain.
It was a shame the pair couldnít claim the diamond encrusted tennis balls on offer for the winners. Robson surprised us all by winning her singles match against world No.25 Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and with Murray having won his previous singles matches comfortably, the stage was set for the first ever British Hopman Cup triumph.
Murray got off to a storming start against Tommy Robredo taking the first set 6-1 and judging by the Scotís performance, it looked as if the tie would be all over before the mixed doubles. However, Robredo produced a stunning comeback to level the match at one set apiece and shocked us all by taking the deciding set 6-3. If Robredo can re-produce that level of tennis in the Australian Open next week, then he may be one to look out for.
Sadly from a British point of view, Spainís experience showed in the mixed doubles and they clinched the match in straight sets to deservedly win the event. It was the first loss of the week for Murray & Robson in the doubles but despite the disappointment of narrowly missing out on the title, there was still so much to take from the week for both players.
Some had been critical of Murrayís Australian Open warm-up schedule but I think these critics have been silenced after seeing the Scotís performances in Perth this week. Yes, he suffered a disappointing loss against Robredo but for seven and a half sets out of nine this week, he was in stunning form.
Murray is already accustomed to the time difference and heat down under and has a week to concentrate purely on practice in Melbourne. Had he competed in Doha last week, he would likely have just arrived in Australia today which would mean he would still be acclimatising to conditions this week. And looking at his Australian Open results in previous years, that has perhaps not been the best approach.
15-year-old Robson has had the opportunity of testing herself against stronger, higher-ranked opponents such as Elena Dementieva and Sabine Lisicki, and even the men in the mixed doubles. At times, she was going toe-to-toe in the hitting stakes with Robredo and Phillip Kohlschreiber. All this will do wonders for her confidence and her performances on court have also earned her a wildcard for Australian Open Qualifying this week.
Itís no certainty that these two will return to Perth next year but after a week in which the British pair captivated the crowd and added so much to the tournament, Iím sure the tournament organisers will be keen to persuade them to come back in an attempt to try and go one better and win these diamond encrusted tennis balls.
A few thousand miles west, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were the big crowd-pullers in Doha but once again, just as he did at the ATP World Tour Finals in London in November, Nikolay Davydenko highlighted his hard court credentials with consecutive wins over the worldís top two to win the Qatar Open.
The Russian was hugely impressive en route to the final. He didnít drop a set, even against Federer in the semis, and his win against Nadal in the final was stunning. He recovered from a first set bagel and saved two match points before edging the match 6-4 in the deciding set.
We know Davydenko can perform at this level of tournament. Can he now up his grand slam game and do the same in Melbourne next week? He has never got past the semi-finals of a slam but the signs are there that this year, he will make the breakthrough.
In the womenís game, there was a thrilling final between Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin in Brisbane which has further whetted the appetite for the Australian Open.
It was only four months ago that Clijsters completed a remarkable comeback by winning the US Open title. After witnessing Heninís performance, it would be no surprise if she emulates her fellow countrywoman by winning in Melbourne.
Henin looked out of it at a set and 4-1 down but Clijstersí game fell apart and Henin battled back. The match went to a final set in which Clijsters saved two match points before it went into the deciding tie-break and it was Clijsters who eventually won the match on her fourth match point.
If this first week is anything to go by, then bring on Melbourne!
The Magician is back
One of my most memorable moments at last yearís Australian Open was seeing Fabrice Santoro fall to his knees in pain under the floodlights immediately after clinching a five set second-round epic against Kohlschreiber. The Frenchman had cramped up on match point but he provided some magic by converting it to clinch a third round tie against Andy Roddick.
That match against the American was to be Santoroís last singles match at the Australian Open. Or so we thought.
The Frenchman announced last week that despite his retirement after the Paris Masters in November, he will compete at Melbourne Park next week in the 70th grand slam of his career.
There are those that may criticise Santoro for this considering the retirement ceremony that was held for him in Melbourne last year. But remember, he didnít ask for this. As always, Iím sure he was very humble in accepting the champagne presented to him by the tournament organisers.
At the end of the day, he is still ranked No.68 in the world and this entitles him to direct entry into the main draw in Melbourne which he has decided to accept. It clearly means a lot to him as last week, he said: ďThis is just a very personal thing. There is nothing else to it, and it certainly is not a comeback.Ē
Playing in the Australian Open next week means he becomes the only player to have competed in a major in four different decades. Iím sure it means a lot to him and he has quite rightly decided not to let the chance of holding this unique accolade pass by.
Brits aim to qualify for AO main draw
Iíll have a full preview of the Australian Open in next weekís Talking Balls but we canít let this weekís edition go by without wishing the best of luck to the British participants in qualifying this week.
Alex Bogdanovic, Dan Evans and James Ward are our male entrants and all three have a chance. Evans and Ward all come into qualifying on the back of successfully going through the same process in ATP events recently whilst Bogdanovic is always capable of producing high level performances, although itís a shame they arenít a bit more consistent.
Iím sure all three will also be eager to impress Davis Cup captain John Lloyd who will be in attendance at Melbourne Park. With Murray pulling out of the forthcoming Lithuania tie, there are two free singles spots alongside doubles experts Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski, who will surely be picked after their semi-final run in Chennai last week.
Naomi Cavaday, Melanie South and Robson are the females with British interest in qualifying this week. It was a successful period last year for the female Brits with Elena Baltacha and Katie OíBrien joining Anne Keothavong and South in the main draw in Melbourne and letís hope for more of the same this year.
Itís a tough ask for Cavaday but South is more than capable of making it through. And as we seen with Robson at the Hopman Cup last week, she has the talent to join the worldís best in the main draw next week.
More Futures action at Scotstoun
It only seems like yesterday that I was at Scotstoun for the Futures back in October and here we are again for the first event of the 2010 AEGON Pro-Series.
If truth be told, Iím sure most of these players would rather be competing down under this week rather than in Glasgow but this is the level that these players have to be successful at in order to be competing at a higher standard in future.
In fact, some of these players could have been in Australia this week as their rankings were high enough to get them into qualifying but for financial circumstances and other reasons, they decided against making the long trip to Oz.
Jamie Baker is one of those players. Despite having an inclination he would make it into qualifying, he thought it would be too much of a risk so instead, he plays in his home city this week. When speaking to him earlier, he put it nicely when he said: ďItís also nice to play at home because I get a little bit of extra time staying in my own bed which I wonít be getting much of this year.Ē
From a Scottish point of view, Baker is the most high-profile player here this week. Other players of note include Chris Eaton and Josh Goodall who return to the city in which they made their Davis Cup debuts against Ukraine last year.
Considering there is a grand slam upon us, there is a high quality field of both male and female players at Scotstoun this week so why not come along and see it for yourself. Entry is free all week!