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post #1 of 84 (permalink) Old Dec 30th, 2002, 05:16 PM Thread Starter
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Hopman Cup

Hopman Cup Preview
By Bob Larson (www.tennisone.com )

Hopman Cup Preview
With the tennis year set to start next week, we're going to have so much previewing to do next Monday that we thought we should do Hopman Cup a little early.

In any case, Hopman Cup is an interesting event, unlike any other on either the ATP or WTA tours. It is a national event -- like Davis and Fed Cup and the ATP's Team Cup -- but it involves both men and women. It is, in fact, the only event other than the Slams to feature "pro" mixed doubles. Unlike Davis and Fed Cups, it is not associated with Olympic eligibility -- and yet, in many ways, it's a harder task. A Davis or Fed Cup tie involves at most two singles and one doubles match, and so you can qualify for the Olympics with a maximum of six matches (and often less) spread out over four years. But when you sign up for Hopman Cup, you're signing up for a minimum of six matches (three singles, three mixed), and it may be more. (If you can't tell, we think Hopman Cup should also confer Olympic eligibility.)

The format is as follows: Each team consists of a man and a woman. There are eight teams, grouped into two halves. Each round robin tie involves three matches: Men's singles, women's singles, and mixed doubles. As in, say, the ATP year-end championships, the teams with the best round robin records advance to the final.

This makes for a team strategy even more fascinating than in Davis or Fed Cups. In either of those events, you get two singles players and, potentially, two doubles players. In Hopman Cup, the players have to play singles and doubles. And, with only two singles matches, doubles becomes especially important. You have to be able to win one singles match to win a tie -- but the other win can be in either singles or doubles, which means that it may be better to select a great doubles player than a good singles player who isn't good in doubles. At least one country -- Spain -- may have made that choice: Their female player is Virginia Ruano Pascual, who is Spain's #3 active singles player (behind Conchita Martinez and Magui Serna as well as the retired Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario) but who is #2 in the world in doubles.

So who are the teams involved in this contest? Glad you asked.

The #1 seeds are the United States, with Serena Williams and James Blake. Clearly they deserve the top seeds: Serena is the world's #1 player, and she has two mixed doubles Slams to her credit. Few of the other women in the field can trouble her -- Kim Clijsters might, and maybe Daniela Hantuchova, but that's not much. Blake isn't quite as strong, but at #28 in the final Race rankings, he's the #4 singles player in the field. The biggest question for these two may be doubles: Blake plays doubles in Davis Cup a lot, and did win Cincinnati with Todd Martin, but he isn't really a regular doubles player. And Serena played only three doubles events last year, and hasn't played mixed in half a decade. It probably won't be a problem -- but if something breaks down, it will probably be there.

Australia is seeded #2, which shows something about the seeding system. Australia has the world's best male player in Lleyton Hewitt -- but he's teaming with Alicia Molik. In one sense, they meet the criteria for a good doubles team: A big power player and a scrambler. (Molik, in fact, is taller than Hewitt.) And Hewitt has decent doubles skills; he did win the 2000 U. S. Open with Max Mirnyi. But Molik has slumped this year, to #94 in singles and #104 in doubles. And she's pretty much a pure fastcourt player, and this is Rebound Ace. Hewitt, on this surface, ought to win all his singles matches. But Molik may lose all of hers. Can they win enough doubles matches to advance? We really don't have enough history to guess.

The Czech Republic fields a team of Daja Bedanova and Jiri Novak. This team could be real trouble. Novak, of course, had a career year last year and hit the Top Ten. He's also a very solid doubles player, with fifteen doubles titles. Bedanova is the weak link on the team, having fallen to #37 in the WTA rankings. But she is a very streaky player, certainly good enough for the Top 20 when she is on. A lot will depend on whether she is happy and healthy and in-form.

The #4 seeds are Belgium with Kim Clijsters and Xavier Malisse. (Expect a fair bit of fraternizing with the Australian enemy....) Clijsters is the #2 singles player in the field, after Serena, and she beat Serena at the end of last year. She also had good doubles results in 2002 -- though, like many of today's young bashers, she had her best doubles results with other bashers rather than conventional doubles players. But even that may be good news, since Malisse is hardly a doubles player at all. And he's the #3 male singles player. With luck, they may succeed on pure singles prowess.

Our dark horse pick is the unseeded Slovak Republic, which features Daniela Hantuchova and Dominik Hrbaty. It's a fairly good surface for Hrbaty, though it remains to be seen if the Slovak (who turns 25 on the final Saturday) can removed his form of 2000. And Hantuchova has been improving steadily. And she likes doubles. If all the pieces work, these two could be trouble.

Italy, with Silvia Farina Elia and Davide Sanguinetti, doesn't look nearly as threatening. Farina Elia is Top Twenty, but she rarely beats top players, and doubles isn't really her strength. Sanguinetti had the best year of his career last year, but he faded by year-end, and he is not a noteworthy doubles player. It's hard to envision them in the final.

If this were clay, Spain might have a real chance. Even if it were grass, they might do something. Hardcourts -- even Rebound Ace hardcourts -- make that harder. Tommy Robredo is a solid young singles player, with some doubles experience, but he's still learning to play away from clay. Virginia Ruano Pascual has a Conchita Martinez-like game that's produced a fair number of upsets -- but not on this stuff. Her best results have been at Wimbledon; she took out Serena Williams at Wimbledon 1998 (Serena retired, but Ruano Pascual had her beaten), and she beat Martina Hingis at Wimbledon 2001. She won two doubles Slams last year, and is #2 in the world in doubles -- but she plays back rather more than is comfortable on this surface. This is a team that can perhaps pull off an upset, but is unlikely to make the final.

The two teams in qualifying are Paraguay and Uzbekistan. Paraguay has the slumping Ramon Delgado and the steady but by no means spectacular Rossana Neffa-de los Rios. Uzbekistan has Iroda Tulyaganova, who was Top 20 last year but slumped this year (though presumably she's healthier now) -- but also has Oleg Ogorodov, who is probably the weakest male player in the field. Tulyaganova is the best doubles as well as singles player; Uzbekistan probably has the edge to make the main draw. Whether they can do anything from there remains to be seen.

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post #2 of 84 (permalink) Old Dec 30th, 2002, 05:18 PM Thread Starter
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post #3 of 84 (permalink) Old Dec 30th, 2002, 05:19 PM Thread Starter
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post #4 of 84 (permalink) Old Dec 30th, 2002, 05:21 PM Thread Starter
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post #5 of 84 (permalink) Old Dec 30th, 2002, 05:21 PM Thread Starter
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post #8 of 84 (permalink) Old Dec 30th, 2002, 05:23 PM Thread Starter
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post #9 of 84 (permalink) Old Dec 30th, 2002, 05:23 PM Thread Starter
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Clijsters ready to stop Serena

30dec02
A HUNGRY Kim Clijsters reinforced her status as one of the few players capable of derailing Serena Williams' Australian Open campaign with an impressive start to the new tennis season.

The 19-year-old Belgian wiped hapless Spaniard Virginia Ruano Pascual off the court with a 6-1 6-0 belting in 43 minutes at the Hopman Cup in Perth.

Clijsters then carried teammate Xavier Malisse in the mixed doubles to win the tie 2-1 after Tommy Robredo downed the enigmatic Malisse 7-6 (7-1) 3-6 6-3.

She somehow managed to turn around the doubles rubber sealing the victory 10-7 in a super tiebreak after being a set and 4-2 down with the defending champion country seemingly cruising to victory.

Although world No.65 Ruano Pascual is considered a claycourt specialist, Clijsters' movement in the singles match looked sharp and her groundstrokes packed with plenty of venom on rebound ace.

The world No.4 is one of a handful of players - along with Venus Williams and Jennifer Capriati - who can match the muscular younger Williams' powerful groundstrokes.

She proved she could mix it with the flamboyant American in Los Angeles by snapping Serena's 18-match winning streak in the final of the WTA Championships on November 11.

And the girlfriend of world No.1 Lleyton Hewitt said that surprise win had spurred her to break the dominance of the Williams sisters in world tennis.

She plays Serena, who is chasing her fourth straight grand slam next month in Melbourne, on Friday when Belgium meets the USA at the Burswood Dome.

Clijsters has been in Australia since the beginning of the month with Hewitt and felt the extra time here could be a major advantage.

"I think I have a bit more of an advantage because I've been in Australia already for a month almost," she said.

"I think that's definitely good and I'm feeling very fit at the moment, after winning LA this year I really wanted to work hard again to get fitter and to get stronger."

Serena's record at the first grand slam event of the year is hardly encouraging with a quarter-final in 2001 her best effort after missing last year with an ankle injury.

But a 56-5 record since the start of this year has shown what a frightening new level her game has climbed to.

However, Clijsters said she believed she could knock the Williams sisters off their perch if she was more consistent on the court.

"It is just a matter of being a little bit more consistent than I was at the beginning of the year," she said.

"If I keep my consistency up I believe I am capable of doing it."

However, she denied there was additional pressure on her to stop their grip on women's tennis.

"I definitely don't feel any pressure there, I think it is more like a motivation for me," she said.

"I hope that I can get other players to work harder and to get fitter knowing that they are beatable."

Clijsters made the semi-finals at Melbourne Park last year before losing to Jennifer Capriati who went on to win back-to-back titles.

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post #10 of 84 (permalink) Old Dec 30th, 2002, 05:26 PM Thread Starter
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post #11 of 84 (permalink) Old Dec 30th, 2002, 05:27 PM Thread Starter
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Serena warms up as Clijsters storms Hopman Cup


By Ossian Shine

PERTH, Australia (Reuters) - Serena Williams (news - web sites) cleared away holiday cobwebs but Kim Clijsters tore through the Hopman Cup as Group A of the ITF mixed team competition got underway on Monday.



Making her debut at the Burswood Dome, world number one Williams did just enough to beat Uzbek Iroda Tulyaganova 6-3 6-2 but looked far from her powerful top form on the indoor court.


James Blake was also far from his best when he later gave the top-seeded United States an unassailable 2-0 lead in the round robin match, struggling past Oleg Ogorodov 2-6 7-5 6-1 in the men's singles.


Blake and Williams both picked up their games in the final match, however, and won the mixed doubles 6-3 6-1 to complete a 3-0 whitewash.

While the Americans warmed up slowly, Clijsters showed the scintillating form that saw her beat Williams in the final of the season-ending WTA Championships last month.


The Belgian swatted Spain's Virginia Ruano Pascual 6-1 6-0 in just 44 minutes before carrying Xavier Malisse through the decisive mixed doubles as Belgium beat holders Spain 2-1.


The world number four rallied an under-par Malisse throughout the Group A doubles match and the pair scraped it 2-6 7-5 10-7 on a super tiebreak after Malisse had earlier been beaten by Tommy Robredo 7-6 3-6 6-3.


RAZOR-SHARP GAMES


Champions Spain had looked favourites to win the round robin encounter when they led by a set and 4-2 in the mixed, but Clijsters had other ideas and almost single-handedly carried Belgium through.


"She played really well...helped me through, that's for sure," Malisse smiled afterwards.


"Yes I played really well," Clijsters grinned. "We made it turn around so that was good.


Any thoughts that Clijsters might be resting on her laurels following her spectacular WTA Championships success last month had earlier been banished in 13 razor-sharp games during her singles match.


She capped 2002 with the women's season-ending championships in Los Angeles in November but instead of revelling in that success, the 19-year-old has been working out harder than ever.


"After winning in LA this year I really wanted to work hard again to get fitter and to get stronger."


Clijsters said she hoped she now had the magic formula to beat the powerful Williamses -- ranked one and two in the world. She will get another chance to beat Serena on Friday when the pair clash in the final Group A match.


SERENA SLAM


Serena will be tough to topple, though. She has already declared her intention to go through 2003 undefeated.


"It is going to be really hard because there are a lot of tough players but whatever happens, happens," she said.

The French Open (news - web sites), Wimbledon (news - web sites) and U.S. Open (news - web sites) champion sets her sights on what she calls a "Serena Slam" at the Australian Open (news - web sites) in two weeks and on Monday did enough to get her season off to a winning start.

Making her debut in the A$1 million ($560,900) competition, the runaway world number one's victory eased the U.S. into a 1-0 lead over qualifiers Uzbekistan in the Group A clash.

James Blake lines up opposite Oleg Ogorodov in the men's singles later on Monday before the mixed doubles.

Twelve months ago an ankle injury caused Williams to miss the opening grand slam of the year in Melbourne, but she recovered her fitness to dominate the women's season in sensational style.

She won eight of the 13 tournaments she entered in the 2002 season, beating sister Venus in the last three grand slam finals.

She had not played a competitive match since losing in the final of the season-ending WTA Championships in early November, however, and appeared a little rusty in opening exchanges against Tulyaganova.

But the 21-year-old could well afford to allow the Uzbek a little seasonal charity and still rack up a comfortable victory in 56 minutes.

"I just got in yesterday, but I'm doing all right," she said."

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post #12 of 84 (permalink) Old Dec 30th, 2002, 05:28 PM Thread Starter
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Serena shares big plans with Perth crowd
By Ossian Shine

PERTH, Australia (Reuters) - Serena Williams (news - web sites) skipped into the Hopman Cup on Monday and although her tennis was far from sparkling she treated the Perth crowd to a show-stopping performance off the court.



A gleaming, brilliant diamond in her belly button was the most dazzling element of her 6-3 6-2 victory over Uzbek Iroda Tulyaganova.


But after clinching match point the American lived up to her celebrity status and shared her big plans with the Burswood crowd.


After blowing kisses to the packed arena, the grinning 21-year-old told the fans she hoped to go through 2003 undefeated.


Even for a player who dominated last season so emphatically a 100 percent record all year would seem a tall order, but Williams sees it as a valid goal.


"I do (want to be undefeated)," she smiled on courtside immediately after her match, "but it is going to be very hard.


"There are a lot of tough players so I am going to try my best and whatever happens, happens. I just try to set myself goals."


A more immediate goal is the Australian Open (news - web sites) in two weeks. Last year an 11th-hour ankle injury forced her to withdraw from the opening grand slam of the season.


She went on to win the French Open (news - web sites), Wimbledon (news - web sites) and U.S. Open (news - web sites) though, and now has her sights locked on the Melbourne Park silverware to complete what she is already calling a "Serena Slam".


"My main dream now is the Australian Open," she said. "I've never been able to win here but I would like to try. Let's just see what happens."


Certainly the 21-year-old believes she is in great shape to win at Melbourne Park.


"So much mental energy for me goes into the grand slams and so at the end of the year I was so fatigued," she said.


"I was just so tired. But now I am all rejuvenated...I'm all fresh and I've had a long break.


"I'm really excited to be here in Perth because I've never been here and I look forward to having a lot of fun.


"See you, bye-bye," she giggled, before waving to the stands and strolling off court.

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post #14 of 84 (permalink) Old Dec 30th, 2002, 05:29 PM Thread Starter
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