February is the only month in the tennis season without at Grand Slam or top-tier event – meaning a Premier Mandatory for the women or a men’s Masters 1000.
But what any tournaments may lack in quality they make up for in diversity. For the second week in a row the WTA and ATP World Tour feature events on four continents. There’s a women’s Premier 5 in Asia (Dubai), men’s tournaments in Europe (Marseille) and North America (Delray Beach) as well as a combined event in South America (Rio de Janeiro).
A highlight of last week was Stan Wawrinka’s win at the ATP 500 event in Rotterdam, the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament.
It was the 29-year-old Swiss’ ninth title and gave him career victories at ATP 250, 500 and 1000 tournaments to go along with his Grand Slam – the 2014 Australian Open.
The Rotterdam semifinals showcased the two losing semifinalists – Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych – from the Australian Open, with Wawrinka defeating Milos Raonic 7-6(3), 7-6(7) and Berdych outhitting Gilles Simon 6-2, 6-1.
Wawrinka took a 10-5 head-to-head advantage, including winning the last five in a row, into the final and that psychological edge seemed to be the difference as he held steady to gradually break down an in-form Berdych 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Raonic continued his solid play so far in 2015 – final in Brisbane, quarter-final at Melbourne Park and semifinal in Rotterdam. In a match with no service breaks (1/1 break points saved for Raonic and 6/6 for Wawrinka) in the semis, Raonic’s errant forehand at 1-2 in the first-set tiebreak and a missed backhand volley on set point at 6-4 in the second set tiebreak were critical moments in the tiny margins of error that determined the outcome.
At the WTA’s event in Antwerp, top-seeded Genie Bouchard exited in her first match, playing well below her best in a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 loss to Mona Barthel.
The champion at the BNP Paribas Fortis Diamond Games wound up being the charismatic Andrea Petkovic of Germany. It was a significant victory in many ways for the 27-year-old from Darmstadt. After ranking as high as No. 9 in October 2011, following major, right-knee anterior cruciate surgery in 2008, she suffered through more woes. There were knee, back and ankle injuries and she fell to as low as No. 192 during the 2013-2014 seasons. But her title in Antwerp has got her back in the Top 10 at No. 10.
The final was anticlimactic – a walkover win when her opponent Carla Suarez Navarro could not play because of a neck issue. But there had been plenty of drama along the way. In the first round Petkovic saved an amazing eight match points against 20-year-old Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck in a 6-7(7), 7-6(5), 6-2 win that took three hours and 19 minutes, and she also scraped through her semifinal, keeping her cool to edge the temperamental Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 7-6(2), 7-6(6).
Petkovic has always been discreet about her love life but did reveal, during a post-match interview last week when asked about speaking four languages – German, Serbian, English and French – that, “I always learn the language that my current boyfriend is speaking.”
With Suarez Navarro unavailable for the final, Petkovic played an exo with tournament director Kim Clijsters and was beaten 5-3 by the four-time Grand Slam champion. Clijsters, who had taken part in a mixed doubles exhibition on the same court with fellow Belgians Sabine Appelmans, Xavier Malisse and Dick Norman right before facing Petkovic, looked remarkably good – especially her movement. But the 31-year-old mother of two nixed any talk of a possible comeback.
BTW – the tennis racquet trophy Petkovic is holding in the picture here is worth $1.5 million (US) and is made up of 4.5 kg of gold and 2,008 diamonds. If she is able to win the event in one of the next two years, she will get to keep it.
Imagine this – next year she is in the final again and playing a good friend, say Ana Ivanovic. How would the Serb feel if she won and denied Petkovic that very valuable piece of jewelry?
(Note: It looks like Petkovic paid the price for her fatigue from Antwerp as well as having to make the transition from indoor to outdoor tennis. She was beaten Tuesday in her opening match in Dubai – 7-5, 6-3 by No. 33-ranked Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan.)
Karolina Pliskova, who the previous weekend led the Czechs to a Fed Cup victory over Canada in Quebec City, reached the Antwerp semifinals before running out of gas – 6-2, 6-2 – against Suarez Navarro. On Monday, Pliskova completed a ‘four continents’ streak as she defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-4 in Dubai (Asia) following on the heels of match wins in Australia (Australian Open), North America (Quebec City) and Europe (Antwerp) in her last four events.
The other winners last weekend included Daniela Hantuchova in Pattaya City, Thailand. Like Petkovic, the Slovak had to save match points on her way to her 7th career title – surviving two in a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(3) victory over Marina Erakovic in the semifinals.
The final wasn’t much easier, a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Ajla Tomljanovic, the 21-year-old Croat who is now representing Australia.
Hantuchova, 31, deserves credit not only for a gutsy week but for making a serious effort to rejuvenate her career by consulting with Carlos Rodriguez, former coach of Li Na and Justine Henin, and travelling with coach John Laffnie de Jager, the ex-captain of the South African Davis Cup team.
In Memphis, Kei Nishikori won his third title in a row in the music city, signaling that he’s in good form heading into a Davis Cup match-up against Canada in Vancouver from March 6-8.
Finally, in the most unlikely final, Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay beat Luca Vanni of Italy at the ATP 250 tournament in Sao Paulo. It was a third ATP title for the 29-year-old Cuevas but the story of the week had to be Vanni, also 29. A qualifier, the 6-foot-6 Italian had never before won an ATP-level match but won three (not including a first-round bye) to reach the final where he lost a nail-biter to Cuevas by a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(4) score.
The huge-serving Vanni’s ranking moved up from No. 149 to No. 108, Cuevas went from No. 32 to No. 23.
After his surprising form in Sao Paulo, Vanni had to travel back to Europe to Marseille for the Open 13, an ATP 250 event. He received a special exempt entry because he was in the final in Brazil and will play his compatriot Simone Bolelli in the first round on Wednesday.
Raonic, here being interviewed with tournament director Richard Krajicek in Rotterdam last week, is the top seed at the Open 13. He will face the winner of Bolelli – Vanni in his first match on Thursday. If it’s the No. 53-ranked Bolelli, it will be their second meeting in as many weeks. Raonic beat the 29-year-old Italian 6-3, 7-6(2) in the round-of-16 in Rotterdam.
Potentially looming in the quarter-finals for Raonic could be No. 7 seed Gael Monfils.
Wawrinka, ranked one spot behind the No. 6 Raonic, is the tournament’s second seed.
No. 60-ranked Vasek Pospisil was playing Robin Haase in the Marseille opening round today as TebbuttTuesday was being posted.
NOTE: For all Rafael Nadal fans in Canada, the great Spaniard’s opening-round match in Rio de Janeiro against Thomaz Bellucci is scheduled to be on Sportsnet One at approximately 6 p.m. (EDT) today(Tuesday) following an all-Spanish first-rounder between David Ferrer and Daniel Gimeno-Traver.
Room with a view in Rio
Here’s what Rafael Nadal’s hotel room looks like in Rio de Janeiro where he plays this week’s Rio Open during that city’s famous ‘Carnival.’ Nadal, a nine-time Roland Garros champion, has been a total dynamo on red clay, the surface he returns to in Rio.
Since 2005, his record on clay is 291-14, which comes out to a .954 winning percentage. He is 45-7 in clay-court finals.
He won in Rio a year ago, one of his three (Madrid and Roland Garros) titles on the surface in 2014. But he also had three losses on clay last year – to David Ferrer in Monte Carlo, Nicolas Almagro in Barcelona and Novak Djokovic in Rome.
These are the notes that Andy Murray took to the court with him last week when he played in the Rotterdam ATP event. He was beaten in the quarter-finals by Gilles Simon.
Pretty in White
Caroline Wozniacki was all over tennis websites last week after her appearance in Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue in revealing white bathing outfits.
This week, again in white, the 24-year-old Wozniacki was more fully clothed as she did a publicity photo on a snowboard in the sand for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in the United Arab Emirates.
Feliz San Valentin! Hasta luego…
Happy Valentine's day! See you… pic.twitter.com/cZT8PkSWFj
— Garbiñe Muguruza (@GarbiMuguruza) February 14, 2015
This was an unusual Valentine’s tweet by 21-year-old Garbine Muguruza. The popular Spaniard, currently ranked No. 24, is one of the most promising young women on the WTA tour.