Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Martina Hingis & doubles partner Sania Mirza continue winning streak at Miami Open

Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza continued their unbeaten start to life together after coming through a tougher-than-expected second round test at the Miami Open.

MIAMI, FL, USA – Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza continued their unbeaten start to life together after coming through a tougher-than-expected second round test at the Miami Open.

In their first tournament together, the Hingis-Mirza partnership gelled immediately, romping to victory in Indian Wells without dropping a set.

On Sunday evening they took on Gabriela Dabrowski and Alicja Rosolska, and initially looked set for another routine victory.

However, Dabrowski and Rosolska had no intention of going quietly, battling back from 4-1 down to come within a point of pocketing the set.

They were left to rue this missed opportunity – and the 5-2 lead they let slip in the subsequent tie-break – as the top seeds eventually prevailed, 7-6(6), 6-4.

Also through to the quarterfinals are Hingis and Mirza’s victims in the Indian Wells final, Ekaterina Makrova and Elena Vesnina. Seeded No.2, the experienced Russian pairing survived their own scare in the first round, requiring a match tie-break to see off Michaella Krajicek and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. It was business as usual next time out as the eased past Daniela Hantuchova and Karin Knapp, 6-2, 6-2.

In contrast to Indian Wells, where five of the eight seeds failed to make it past the second hurdle, surprises have been few and far between at Crandon Park. No.3 seeds Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears have been the only casualties thus far, losing to Vera Dushevina and María José Martínez Sánchez in the opening round.

For Martínez Sánchez, it was an impressive return to action, in her first match since becoming a mother at the end of 2013.

Before her maternity leave, the Spaniard was a regular contender for the game’s biggest titles, winning the WTA Finals in 2009 and three Grand Slam semifinals alongside former partner Nuria Llagostera Vives.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Roger Federer says he'll spend 25 minutes total thinking about loss at Indian Wells

Federer was beaten 6-3 6-7(5) 6-2 by the Serbian world number one, and admitted his frustration at not getting closer to a victory having fought back into the match in fine style.

The Swiss legend was down a set and a break and looked in danger of a huge defeat, but with the crowd cheering his every winner he broke back and then won the second set tie-break - only to get comprehensively dismantled in the final set.

“I definitely felt like they [the fans] wanted to see a third set,” Federer said with a smile.

"I was hoping that was not just for the match itself but for me personally. I hope it was like that, but if it's not, it's cool, too. I get it. They want to see more tennis or more drama."

Having squared things up Federer admitted that he thought he could go all the way and win his 24th Masters series title.

“I was getting the upper hand from the baseline,” he said. “I was making every return, first and second serve, so overall it was the perfect thing to happen.

"That's why I'm even more disappointed that it ended up finishing the way it did. For me, it was totally against the way the match was going.

“He found an extra gear in the end. It was tough. I enjoyed the match; it had a bit of everything. Controlled aggression was the key out there to try to play like that from the baseline.”

Federer insisted that he would not dwell on the defeat, however.

"I’m not going to look back on that match, on that moment very long. That will be forgotten probably in 25 minutes or so," he said.

" When I walk out of here, I will be like, ’It was a good tournament.’ I had a great run, a good start to the season, and wished and hoped I could have won today.

"Novak was tough and he played very well. He deserved it, and I will respect that."

For his part, Djokovic was not concerned about losing the second set - despite having done so by giving up a break, and subsequently double-faulting twice at a critical moment in the tie-break.

"We are all humans,” said the eight-times Grand Slam winner.

"We all fall under pressure sometimes. It's completely normal, even though I have had so much experience.

"Roger, as well. Today at 3-2 in the third, he made a double fault to give me the break. So it does happen; it's normal on this level with this kind of intensity and competitive spirit that is out there."

The Serbian was happier to focus on his third-set turnaround to get things going his way once more as he collected his 50th career title.

“I managed to regroup. I managed to overcome that frustration of handing that tie-break to him with three [total] double faults in crucial moments.

"But, you know, that's sport. Under pressure sometimes these things happen and it's important to regroup, bounce back and focus on next one...

"It's great that I managed to win this match in the big tournament and to win it in a way that I felt like I was the better player on the court…

"I am at the prime of my career. I'm going to try to use every part of this fact to stay where I am and to fight for as many major titles as possible. I know that my career, as any other career, cannot go forever.

"I don't play only for myself. I play for my family, friends, my country, the people around the world that support me... I basically attract from that a lot of inspiration to play and work hard."

Sunday, March 29, 2015

How Martina Hingis resurrected her career and remained a champion

When Martina Hingis began yet another comeback on the WTA Tour, she wasn't just returning to play tennis again -- she was returning to win again.

"That's my nature," she said during the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells earlier this month. "When I first started, it was like, 'OK, am I ready enough, am I good enough?' That's what actually got me back.

"I wouldn't do it if I didn't feel like I still had game."

It's more than a feeling. The 34-year-old from Switzerland teamed up with Sania Mirza for the first time at Indian Wells last week and won the title. This after winning the mixed doubles title with Leander Paes at the Australian Open and the women's doubles title in Brisbane playing with Sabine Lisicki.

All this is an unlikely career twist for Hingis, who spent 209 weeks as the No. 1 singles player in the world and won five solo Grand Slam titles, the last coming 16 years ago at the at the 1999 Australian Open. 

But Hingis is committed to her doubles career, and even if today's matches don't come with the same attention and tension as her big singles performances, they're not taken lightly.Hingis now stands at No. 5 in the WTA Tour's doubles rankings. 

With the top team of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci deciding to go their separate ways, it seems likely that Mirza, who is ranked third, and Hingis could be the best team in the world in short order. Hingis and Mirza are the No. 1 seeds this week at the Miami Open, a tournament Hingis won last year alongside Lisicki.

"No, this is still part of my career," Hingis said. "People pay attention. I consider myself fortunate to be in this position, still being able to play tennis competitively."

The former teenage prodigy first walked away from the game in 2002 and returned a couple of years later before retiring again in 2007, having won a few tournaments in her comeback but falling well short of the success she enjoyed the first time around. 

Then came some horse riding, marriage, divorce, a bit of coaching. She decided in 2013 to make a return to doubles, where she also had once excelled, reaching No. 1 and winning nine Grand Slam doubles titles in the first iteration of her career. While her skillful game could be squashed by the increasing power and physicality of the women's game in singles, the movement, creativity and net play of doubles suits her well.

"It's a treat to play with Martina," Paes said following their win at the Australian Open. "Martina is such a smart tennis player and she knows exactly what movements I'm going to do; I know what movements she's going to do."

Mirza agrees, saying Hingis is enjoying success again because of her abilities and competitiveness, not her reputation.

"She had a couple of retirements and stuff but she has an amazing understanding of the game," said the 28-year-old Mirza, who reached a career-high ranking of 27th in singles in 2007. "She reads the game really well on court and I'm able to learn some stuff from her as well.

"Nothing comes easy, no matter if you've been a champion or not. You still have to fight for each point. ... Names don't win you matches."

Indeed, Hingis has had to work her way back up, spending almost two seasons trying to get back in the business of winning big titles. The idea of coming back began when she was coaching young talent Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova as part of her work with the Mouratoglou Academy, a place since made famous by Serena Williams

Playing a practice match with Pavlyuchenkova against top doubles players Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, the player-coach combo won -- "This is actually pretty cool. I still got it," Hingis told herself -- which prompted her to agree to one of the occasional requests from friend and fellow player Daniela Hantuchova to join her in a doubles draw. 

Of course, the tour Hingis returned to was not quite the same as the one she had left, not least in the way players communicate. "Do you guys talk? Everyone is on the phone all the time," she asked the younger players in the locker room.

As for on the court, Hingis and Hantuchova had only limited success. Hingis had taken up coaching the big-serving Lisicki when the German asked her coach to play doubles so she could get some more matches. "So I wasn't really prepared for that, but we actually played quite well. I started feel more comfortable on the court," Hingis said.

The two fell in the first round in their first tournament last year at Indian Wells, but then won the title at the Miami Open. The thrill of lifting a trophy led Hingis to drop coaching and make a full commitment to doubles. Teaming with Flavia Pennetta, Hingis reached the final of the US Open last year.

Then, in March, Hingis and Mirza -- who has focused solely on doubles since 2012 -- announced that they would be teaming up. Days later, they were hoisting that trophy at Indian Wells. Hingis had previously teamed with primarily singles players, and the advantages to playing with a doubles specialist were immediately apparent.

"Now we can practice against who we play," Hingis said. "And we practice doubles."

Hingis, who in 1996 became the youngest player to win a Wimbledon title when she teamed with Helena Sukova, also sees her experience as an advantage.

"I see the court quite well," said Hingis, adding that many of her opponents don't know how to adjust to the doubles court. "They're like two singles girls playing doubles together. They don't know how to move together."

Hingis also is enjoying the perks of being back on the circuit; her more relaxed, doubles-only schedule allows her to soak up the atmosphere and amenities of the tour in a way she couldn't when she was at the top of the game.

"It's a great life," she said, gesturing at the bright desert landscape surrounding the Indian Wells tournament. "It's beautiful to be here, it's sunny. A lot of people would like to change the lifestyle with us. We're in the sun playing tennis like the whole year.

"People, they come here on vacation, and we get to do our job here."

But she is enjoying winning even more than the weather, satisfying her competitive instincts and champion's desire on the court in a way she couldn't in retirement.

"As long as it goes well, and I'm happy and healthy playing, I'd rather win the championships in doubles than playing one or two matches in the singles," she said. "Because physically, I couldn't cope with it any more. So that's why I'd rather practice as much as I can and be competitive in the doubles."

As for what keeps her coming back, Hingis says tennis is where she belongs.

"Well, this is kind of my family too," she said. "Like, this is coming back to a place where I feel comfortable, confident, respected. That's all you can ask for."

That, and a few additions to her already large trophy case. She's now getting those as well.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The new Indian Wells tennis balls are not liked by the top elite

In 2014, the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells was named the ATP’s Tournament of the Year. Judging by the reactions of some top players, it may not receive the same distinction in 2015, not because the tournament is any less accommodating or the facilities have gone downhill or the fans have been any less than wonderful, but because the tennis balls in use have left players complaining and uneasy.

The Penn balls in use this year are evidently different than they’ve been in the past, a development that hasn’t been popular amongst players. Three of the world’s top four men have complained about the ball when asked about it in press.

Roger Federer:

I think I talked about that yesterday, that I just felt like it was tough for me to control the ball. [Andreas] Seppi said the same thing at the net, just like not really feeling the balls. Normally you put too much spin on the ball you shank it. Sometimes is it just flies on you. I think it’s been a difficult tournament for many players, because as you progress in the tournament you get more match court time, you get used to the balls better.

Rafael Nadal, who has expressed dissatisfaction with Penn balls in the past:

“With a normal ball during day and night there is differences, but with that ball is completely dramatic how the things change. During the day especially the ball is very, like you are touching a stone. There is no feeling. […]

“The other day the ball make big change with the weather conditions. Ball today was softer, bigger. The whole day yesterday was very small and very hard. No control. Today you have more control of the ball.”

Andy Murray said the difficulties on the court included the ball, but agreed with Nadal that court conditions and the time of day play a part as well.

Nadal, for his part, is baffled that a brand which has made good balls in the past suddenly can’t:

“Because if it’s a new brand creating new ball, you can understand that they make not a bad ball. But the same brand five years ago had a great ball, very good ball. Is difficult to understand why today they are not able to do it.”

Frankly, it’s never made any sense that different tournaments use different tennis balls. The Australian Open and U.S. Open use Wilson, the French Open currently goes with Babolat and Wimbledon has been playing Slazinger balls since 1902. In theory, these balls are expected to conform to the same standards, but like with golf balls, there are subtle variations in each.

It all comes down to money, of course, and manufacturers pay a premium to have their balls used at various tournaments, which makes sense. 

If I’m a 4.5 player looking for a good ball to play with, seeing the ones used by the pros might compel me to make that choice. 

That’s why all golfers, from scratch to 20 handicap, want Titleist ProV1s. But if a tennis ball manufacturer is going to pay for the privilege and then get complaints the entire tournament, maybe it’s not worth it after all.

Or maybe Rafael Nadal should just chill out for once and play the tournament without complaining about the conditions.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Williams sisters name Martina Hingis as one of their greatest rivals

Venus and Serena Williams continue to solidify their status as the most successful sister act in sports.

Which players do the Williams sisters regard as the best they've ever faced?

Given the fact both Venus and Serena have played the best of the best of each generation for the past two decades, it's not a question that's easily answered.

Both Venus and Serena named two Hall of Famers who have hit the courts in Indian Wells this week,Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport, as the best non-Williams opponents.

Both Grand Slam champions have been busy in the desert.

Hingis has partnered Sania Mirza to the BNP Paribas Open doubles semifinals. Davenport, who made her on-court coaching debut with charge Madison Keys earlier this week, covers the tournament daily as a Tennis Channel analyst.

Asked to identify the best non-Williams opponent she faced, Serena paused as if preparing to hear the "Final Jeopardy" song while running through leading candidates in her mind.

Eventually, Serena named four players: Davenport, Hingis, Steffi Graf, whom Serena beat to win her first Indian Wells title in 1999, and Monica Seles. Former No. 1 Seles has cited Serena the greatest player of all time.

"Okay. I have played a lot of people," Serena told the media in Indian Wells after defeating Sloane Stephens. "I'm like... I have a whole load of people. Let me think. I'm starting in the '90s and thinking in the '90s and then 2000s. It's so hard to say. I have played so many great players from Hingis to Davenport, Monica, Steffi. I have played some unbelievably tough players. It's a weird position.

"I think I have been able to play so many different generations that I don't think I could just give one answer. I have played Henin, who has been amazing. Monica was great. Lindsay. Hingis, she was also a super tough opponent.It's kind of hard to just say one person."

A 17-year-old Serena defeated then world No. 1 Hingis, 6-3, 7-6 (4) to capture her first career Grand Slam championship at the 1999 U.S. Open. Serena held a 7-6 career edge over the Swiss Miss.

In an interview with Tennis Now earlier this month, Venus said she regards Serena, Hingis and Davenport as her greatest rivals.

"You know what? I think that I played Martina and Serena and Lindsay the most so those were my greatest rivals," Venus told Tennis Now.

Hingis' creative court sense, flair for finesse and ability to create absurd angles were elements of the distinctive style that made her the youngest world No. 1 in tennis history. One of the few players to hold the singles and doubles top spot simultaneously, Hingis has said both sisters were her toughest rivals and called Venus her favorite rival.

"I liked playing Venus. I think it always brought out the best in both of us," Hingis said. "Serena is one of the only top rivals of my time that I don’t have a winning record against. We had some great matches. Lindsay is another one where I started off pretty well against her and then she started beating up on me—she’s four years older than me—(laughs) and then it got kind of even at the end.

"I would say the toughest rivals for me were players who had big serves and could hit winning shots off the first ball. Those were the type of players I can honestly say I really don’t like facing. You have to be 100 percent at all times to deal with those kind of players."

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza play a guessing game at BNP Paribas Open

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Roger Federer reveals the secret to his longevity

INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA — Known for his classic groundstrokes and graceful movement around the court, Roger Federer gave intriguing insight at the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday about how carefully he has mapped out his career.

Just over a decade ago, the Swiss master became world No 1 for the first time but, instead of deciding to "chase money or more tournament victories", he and his team opted to focus on extending his competitive career for as long as possible.

"The idea was always (about) trying to be around the game for a long time," Federer, the current world No 2, told reporters after cruising into the third round of the BNP Paribas Open with a commanding 6-4 6-2 victory over Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman.

"And for that in 2004, when I became world No1, I took a decision with my fitness coach at the time that we’re going to plan long-term.

"Sure, we can chase money or more tournament victories.

"We can play more frequently, train harder, whatever we will do. But we decided we will try to stay (at) around 20 tournaments during the year, which is a lower number."

During the 1990s, many players competed in at least 30 tournaments a year.

Federer cited the example of Russian former world No 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who won the 1996 French Open and 1999 Australian Open.

"If you look back, Kafelnikov used to play 30 or 32 events back in the day," said the 33-year-old Swiss, a 17-times grand slam singles champion. "I said that’s not something I really want to do.

"If I play, I want to play good. I want to play injury-free if possible, but of course all the top guys, we also play hurt.

"But the goal was to stay around for a long time. I did get inspired by seeing 32-year-olds, 35-year-olds, and actually I felt they almost did me a favour that I could play against them."

Federer, who believes he is playing some of the best tennis of his career at the age of 33, says he continues to learn about the game and is proud to be able to inspire younger players through his own example.

"My best memories are playing against the guys I used to see on TV," he said.

"It’s not like I’m doing the young guys now a favour to still be around, but I think down the stretch it might be appreciated.

"For me, it was important trying to stay around for as long as possible because I do love the game. I’m happy the plan worked, that at 33 I’m still being super competitive and healthy and happy to be on tour.

"I still believe I can improve my game … I think you have to try to reinvent yourself. Tennis is one of those sports where I feel like you can always do better."