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TALKING BALLS 020 – TUESDAY 9TH FEBRUARY 2010
By Stuart Fraser
Disappointing week for the Brits
Some weeks are good, some are bad. For British tennis, last week was one to forget.
Just when British Davis Cup Captain John Lloyd was willing someone to help make his job just that little bit easier, not one of his potential team members stepped up to the plate.
Out of the six squad members that were announced yesterday, who were all competing in either ATP World Tour events, Challengers or Futures, only Ross Hutchins managed to win a main draw match, in the doubles in Zagreb with Australian partner Jordan Kerr before bowing out in the second round.
But these kind of weeks are the ones you have to confine to the past and move on from. Over the next three weeks leading up to the Davis Cup tie away to Lithuania, Hutchins, Jamie Baker, Dan Evans, Colin Fleming, Ken Skupski and James Ward will all be aiming for some good results to clinch their place in the team.
The squad announcement by Lloyd yesterday came with no real surprises to be honest. With the absence of Andy Murray, these six players were all expected to be in the running for a call up.
The real focus on Lloyd’s picks will come when he has to make the final choice on who to field in the singles and doubles rubbers, having faced criticism for some of his selections in the past.
It may be the chance for some of the Brits, other than Murray, to get used to winning live Davis Cup rubbers. At the same time though, a win in this tie is by no means certain.
Lithuanian No.1 Ricardas Berankis will be a tough opponent for the British singles players. The 19-year-old was world No.432 when the draw was made back in September, but since then he has risen to No.255, only three places behind Ward, the highest ranked Brit in the team.
Despite still being in his teens, Berankis also has plenty of Davis Cup experience, having won five out of the nine singles matches that he has played. All wins were in live rubbers, something which no Brit other than Murray, Tim Henman or Greg Rusedski has managed to do in more than a decade.
It remains to be seen who will get the chance to change this statistic. Results on the tour over the next few weeks should give us an idea.
In the women’s game, it was a tough week for Britain in the Fed Cup play-offs in Lisbon, Portugal.
With two play-off spots being competed for by sixteen nations, including Denmark with world No.3 Carolina Wozniacki and Belarus with world No.6 Victoria Azarenka, it was always going to be a tough ask for the British women to come through.
A 3-0 loss to Austria in the round-robin phase ended any hopes of promotion, and Britain now remain in the same group for next year.
On a positive note though, Anne Keothovang returned from injury and won two singles matches. It’s great to see her back and let’s hope she can return to the top 50.
Remarkable rise for Stephane Robert
Players struggling on the Futures circuit should look no further than Frenchman Stephane Robert for inspiration.
Robert reached his first ATP World Tour final in Johannesburg last week, losing in straights to Feliciano Lopez. This comes around 11 months after beating Fleming in the final of a futures in Bath, when ranked world No.278.
The Frenchman then moved up to the Challenger circuit where tournament wins in Kosice and Alphen, plus a number of impressive runs in other events, helped him to a year-end ranking of No.108 which was high enough to assure him of a place in the Australian Open and direct entry into ATP World Tour events.
And he has certainly taken advantage of it. First-round wins in Chennai and Melbourne were followed by this fantastic run to the final in South Africa last week, which included a win over Spain’s David Ferrer in the semi-finals.
What makes this story even more remarkable is that he has reached his career-high ranking of No.67 this week at the not so ripe age of 29. Inspiring stuff for any player of any age currently competing at Futures level.
Ancic & Philippoussis return
Two interesting names popped out at me when scouting the draws at Challenger and Futures events last week.
The first was former world No.7 Mario Ancic. The Croat’s career has been plagued by injury and illness, so it was a pleasant surprise to see his name in the draw for a Futures in Germany.
A first-round win was sadly followed by a retirement in his second round match against Poland’s Dawid Olejniczak, at 1-0 down in the deciding set. Thankfully though, he was only suffering from a sore throat and some shoulder problems, and is planning to play in a Challenger in Belgrade next week.
Perhaps even more surprising than the return of Ancic though is the comeback of former Wimbledon and US Open finalist Mark Philippoussis. The Scud has suffered from knee problems throughout his career, but appears to be giving life on the tour another go.
The 33-year-old Australian lost his first round match at the Dallas Challenger to American Michael Yani, 6-4, 6-4. Not a bad effort though against the world No.159 in his first tour match for over three years.
Reports from Texas are that his serve was solid, but his movement was poor. No surprise considering his lack of game time, and I would expect this to improve as he gets more matches under his belt over the coming months.
Sampras exhibition in San Jose
Reports were also similar on Pete Sampras’ game when he took on Fernando Verdasco in a charity exhibition match in San Jose last night.
The 38-year-old gave a respectable display, but it was never going to be enough to overcome the big-hitting Spaniard who won 6-3, 7-6 (7-2) in 57 minutes.
Sampras hit nine aces in the match, including back-to-back deliveries of 127 and 129mph, but just like Philippoussis, his movement wasn’t the best. The American put it well when he said after the match: “I felt a little old.”
No surprise considering he was facing an opponent 12 years his junior. All a bit of fun though for a good cause!