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BLACK TENNIS PRO'S EXCLUSIVE! - SHELIA TO SHELIA: An In-Depth Conversation With Shelia Townsend, Mother Of World No. 1 Junior Taylor Townsend

Friday, September 14, 2012

Nobody, I don't care if it's tennis, if you are a business owner, if you are running a corporation or if you're in school... nobody is going to attain the level of No. 1 being lazy, being undisciplined, uncommitted and without sacrifice.

~~ Shelia Townsend

On Friday, September 7, the Wall Street Journal reported a story with this headline Why the USTA Benched America's Best Junior - Taylor Townsend May Be the World's No. 1 Junior Girl, but Her Coaches Say She Needs to Get in Better Shape. Subsequently, additional reports from bloggers to ABC News interviewing both Taylor and her mother, Shelia Townsend, have filled the conversation and drawn the ire of many of those who have either read or heard of the situation... including myself.

After viewing the ABC Good Morning America segment on the situation, I became even more livid at the report that Patrick McEnroe, General Manager of USTA Player Development told ABC that "the Open was never off limits to Taylor, that they simply suggested she take a pass after she struggled with her game earlier this summer" and that they "apologize for the miscommunication." Also during the segment I purposely observed Taylor and her Mother to ascertain their general coherency in light of just hearing that the viewing audience is supposed to believe that they BOTH misunderstood the same thing. They both appeared and sounded reasonable and well spoken to me... you know, can hear, understand, respond and talk and speak in English as well. The basic components necessary for making sound decisions based upon information given.

Subsequently, I did a bit of research and read a number of articles posted on the subject on various Internet sites. Yet, I continued to be mystified as to what was the actual root of the issue... something was missing. The 2+2 equation was never equaling 4 i.e., Why pull her now, at the US Open? Why wasn't she previously approached with these concerns? Why can't this be resolved after the Open? Why is Taylor currently being allowed to play if her fitness is truly an issue? If there was a "miscommunication" as the situation has been deemed by Patrick McEnroe, why wasn't the issue quickly clearly communicated to the Townsends?

With all of the frustration quickly building, opinions being voiced and articles being written, I didn't feel sufficiently confident on the facts of the matter to share my view with those who follow me here on Black Tennis Pro's. At that point, and prior to committing to a position on the matter, I needed firsthand information from the only reliable source I deemed worthy - the mother of this highly touted teen, Shelia Townsend.

I quickly located Ms. Townsend on Facebook, sent her a message and awaited a response. On Wednesday, September 12, she gave me a call and I had the pleasure of having a conversation with her on the matter.

After speaking with Ms. Townsend a lot of my anger subsided, not because I was now satisfied that they had been treated fairly, or that the situation had been resolved appropriately. I was now enlightened on the home foundation that loves and supports Taylor in all things. I was made confident that Taylor's mother and father firmly guide all that is required in rearing their children, and that no decision made outside of the Townsend household will ever prevent Taylor or any other member of their family from achieving their dreams.

Here is our conversation, I'm sure you'll find it as edifying as I did.

Hello Ms. Townsend, thank you so much for responding to my message, I really wanted to speak with you about what's going on, so I truly appreciate it.

Oh sure, no problem.

I was so glad to see how calm you remained during the interview that you and Taylor did with ABC, because my composure was not likewise just watching. What I'm most interested in up front is how this entire situation evolved. What was it specifically that led the USTA to approach Taylor with this matter?

Ahhhh... we don't know.

When we were inquiring about why they made the decision that they made, all we were told was that it was because of her fitness. And so I asked, exactly what did you use to determine her fitness level? Are you using previous documentation that you have in assessing her current fitness level? Was there a variance in the results? What is it?

I would like to see the evaluation report that you are using to make this decision, because if there is something that will facilitate my helping Taylor to understand, then you need to share that with me. You're just saying something without providing data, being very subjective. If you have something that is concrete, for instance - last week you did five of something, and this week you did one - who can argue with the numbers... you can't. But this was something where we weren't being given any information, they were just saying "her fitness."  So I asked them, "what is your definition of fitness? Does she need to run this many miles in this many minutes, does she need to do this many sit-ups in this amount of time, this many forehands - what is it? What are you using to define fitness?' And that's what we could never get an answer on.

And then I thought 'well surely its not because she hasn't done everything that she (her coach) has asked her to do. And in addition to whatever she asked her to do, Taylor is doing extra things on her own. We just didn't know. So Taylor was trying to do whatever she thought would help, and I helped facilitate whatever we thought they were looking for. But without any information, it was like grabbing at air. We didn't know if they wanted her to weigh a certain amount, or have a certain body mass index - what is it?

When and how were you all approached? Was she approached alone, or did they come to you?

Well, when it first started, she was approached alone, then I addressed the issue, but I still couldn't get any definitive answers from them.

Was it her coach, Patrick McEnroe or someone else that approached you all?

No, it wasn't Patrick McEnroe, we never had any direct contact with him at all. All of my correspondence was directed to, well it wasn't really even directed at her coach. My correspondence was primarily with the Director of Women's Tennis at that time.

Okay, now all of this, of course, happened prior to the US Open ever starting. What specifically was going on with Taylor at that time and how did she bring you into these new circumstances?

Well, she was at a tournament in Vancouver and I wasn't there with her. She called me and she told me that they had told her that they wanted her to withdraw out of the US hard courts and the US Open. They said that the reason that they wanted her to do that was that they wanted to take that block of time to really work on her fitness and conditioning.

She called me on a Tuesday, and I told her 'don't withdraw out of the tournament,' because if I could get everything together, that I would take her to San Diego so that she could play that event because it is the equivalent to Kalamazoo for the girls, where she possibly could have earned a wild card into the main draw for singles and doubles at the US Open.

(That automatic wild card went to USTA Girls' 18s National Champion Victoria Duval.)

I was trying to get things together but it was all happening so fast. Like I said, she found this out on a Tuesday, and was due to report to San Diego on Sunday, but was in Vancouver. I wasn't able to get everything together where I could take her to the event myself. But had I been able to get the resources together, I would have taken her. So I told her to just continue as she was, but absolutely do not withdraw out of the US Open because we had already been planning for that. It's not like it was something that suddenly dropped into our laps.

Now, when you decided that Taylor was going to play, had the USTA informed you that they wouldn't pay, or was there any further conversation?

Well, there decision was what they had already told her, that they wanted her to sit out the tournament. I told them that I heard what their decision was, but my decision was that Taylor would be participating in the event.

At that time, you went ahead and took care of the financing?


My next question to Ms. Townsend began, "Tell me what your perspective is, how are you feeling about he situation, because any and all of the people that I speak with are just up in arms - my ability to speak English is being affected! (It was the first time that I heard Ms. Townsend laugh.) I then shared with her that I told those who I was speaking with, "before we storm the castle, let me try and contact Taylor's mother so that we have the truth of the matter." 

Well, I... it's so many different layers of things as it relates to how I'm feeling.  My whole thing was, I wanted my daughter to play - I wanted her to play, because she wanted to play. My feelings were, when it was really in the heart of it, 'how can you say this girl isn't fit, with all that she's been able to accomplish?  She would not have been able to accomplish the things that she had up to that point, if she was not fit.

Nobody, I don't care if it's tennis, if you are a business owner, if you are running a corporation or if you're in school, nobody is going to attain the level of No. 1 being lazy, being undisciplined, uncommitted and without sacrifice. So, nobody is about to deny her that opportunity. They have their opinion and I have mine. She has earned it, she has proven that she is more than capable, so she will be there.

Initially, I was really upset about the whole thing, I mean, 'how dare you.'  My issue was this, 'there is a way to do any and everything. You do things decently and in order.' I told them, 'at this particular juncture of  the evolution of this sport, any top ten player, whether football player, basketball player, you can go down the line, even in golf, what top athlete is not always working on their fitness, because they understand the evolution of their sport and the relevance and importance of having your body in the best condition that it can possibly be in.

Taylor is 16, we're talking about people who are adults. However, Taylor does understand that in order for her to get to the next level, that she has to focus in on her fitness and conditioning - they all do, so what's the big deal? From that aspect, I told them, had you done things differently, it probably never would have even come to this.Why all of a sudden now, at this particular time, is it such an issue?

That is exactly what I'm not understanding.

You can do all these things that you're talking about that you want to do, all of those things can start after the Open.  They could dedicate six to eight weeks, or whatever and when the end of the year events come, then her fitness level would be better than it is now.  Why all of a sudden with her in the middle of a season, she's come off of a win... Taylor won the Australian Open, she came home, I was still living in Atlanta, I did bring her home for a couple of weeks because of some personal issues with our family that she needed to be there for. Did I remove her from the program? No I didn't. I brought her home so that I could take care of personal family matters, then she went back to the program. When Taylor returned back to the program, no I had not been able to duplicate what is done in the program, but I did my best to mirror it while she was at home. Once she was back into the program full time, Taylor was not doing anything less than the quarterfinals and the rounds of 16. Her record speaks for itself.  How many people can say, or match her record, that in a year's time, out of the four grand slams she's gotten championships whether singles or doubles out of three of them.

Tell me this, after you temporarily brought Taylor home, did you get the impression that the leave caused an issue?

Not initially, no. Because I  told them that it had nothing to do with her tennis, that it was a personal family matter. I didn't want them under the impression that after she won the Australian Open that I was pulling her out to take her to other places, the leave had nothing to do with that. The issues that needed taking care of, just happened to be at that time, and that was the time that I took.

Later on I do think that it was some of the issue, because always in my discussions with them, they would always reference back to that and I wondered, 'why, since she's been back with them since March, it's nearly the end of the year and they are still talking about something that happened at the beginning of the year.'

Taylor, last year, played five events at the US Open - three on the professional side and two on the junior side.  She didn't even have the same accomplishments at that time. So why is it now, when her accomplishments are so much better, now her fitness is deemed to be less... it makes no sense.

It's mind boggling to me, and I believe that it's what is on the minds of so many others observing the situation. 

Right. I don't understand, how are you going to have a girl that's in your program, who's No. 1, she's been to every grand slam around the globe, and you mean to tell me that something is right here in our back yard and you're saying you don't want her to participate?


I think that Taylor had enough variables going for her that there is an interest in her. Because if she was ranked, say the number 500 Junior, do you think this would have gotten this much attention? The answer is no. But because she's been able to accomplish these things, it brings a different kind of light. And the sad part about it is, she's not the only one that this is happening to. She's not the only one with whom these types of conversations are being discussed, and not just girls.

Again, there's a way to do any and everything if you do it decently, if you do it in order. On the most simple basic level, its the words that you say and if they are matching up with your actions, then everybody is going to have a buy in. But if you're saying one thing, and doing something else, especially with kids, then it's going to be so confusing when they are already going through enough as a teenager anyway.

Exactly. This has been a large part of the public discourse. You have a 16-year-old girl here whose self image, worth and confidence could easily be affected.

I just thank God that I was able to be here. Because there's no way... if you think that this is mind boggling for you, imagine what it must be like for her at 16. There would have been no way that she would have ever been able to exactly verbalize and communicate effectively to me what was going on, all of the nuances of what was happening, if I was still not here.

How is Taylor feeling about all of this right now?

Taylor... I have just been so proud of her. I think that she has handled herself with such dignity and grace through this whole thing. You know why? Because we never did anything maliciously. Taylor just wanted to play, the girl just wanted to play. The fact that she has all of these things going on, its been like, "Oh, okay." But as far as her self esteem - well,  I knew that we were going through all of it and everything was unraveling, but I knew that three things had to be paramount for her to at least be in a state of mind where she could go out and give herself the best shot. I knew that we had to stay prayerful, I knew that she had to know that she had support, that people were supporting her and affirming her and continuing to build her up, and that she just felt loved. That she was in an environment where she just felt good in that environment. So I knew that if I could, despite everything that was going on, and all of the obstacles that she had to overcome, if those three things could be present because of what was going on, that 'it's not just your mom telling you you're the best, or your sister or your dad telling you that you're great, but that you have other people that are saying this too.' 

Just the fact that she was there, and have people come out. We had friends to come up, we had family to come up and watch her at various times. And just her knowing that these people were in the audience watching her, it gave her such a supportive feeling and foundation that, "Yeah, there's some people here that have my back."

It is so good to hear that Taylor has this kind of support, because without question, family comes first, and you sound like that's what you're all about.

Oh yeah.

And it's like I said, there are other kids that this is happening to, but there voices are not being heard.  You know, hopefully, if Taylor has to be the vessel/vehicle... we are a religious family, and we have a belief - I don't believe that things happen for no reason. We may not understand the reason, we may not like what's going on, and it might hurt really bad, but I believe in God, and he takes you through something to get you to something. And Taylor may just be in the right place for this to happen.

I have such a different perspective having her being away, and now being here and it is invaluable that the family stay close to their kids whether it's tennis, whether it's another sport or something else where the kids are really excelling, the parents have to stay close to their kids. And with this being a predominantly white elitist sport, it's even more imperative, that not just black kids, but any of the minority kids have somebody close to them, because their are issues and situations that come up and if there's not someone experienced around, how are they going to understand it and deal with it. They won't be able to simply because they haven't had that experience before.

How has your experience been with the USTA overall?

I think that there's a time and a season for everything. When we made the decision to allow Taylor to come to the USTA, she had only been trained by Mr. Young.     

And you're speaking of Donald Young, Sr., father of another World No. 1 Junior.

Yeah, he's been around me and my family since he and I were teenagers. Other than me playing with her, he was her only coach.  So it was a huge decision  for us to let her go. We were having some changes in our family dynamics and I couldn't afford it because at that time, our oldest daughter Symone was also playing competitively as well.  So I had two, and with the dynamics changing in our family I just couldn't afford it like I had before. So, when the opportunity came, Donald talked to us about her participating in the program and he encouraged us to do it. At that time he was telling me that she needed to live down there, and I wasn't prepared to just move down there when she might not even like it, and I would have relocated for nothing. So I wanted to wait and see what was going to happen before I made the decision to relocate.

Once I saw some things happening, I knew that I needed to be there. So on blind faith, I just came on down. I didn't have a job, I got my apartment pretty much doing everything online, it was just on blind faith.  I knew that she had to have somebody here with her, because at the end of the day, despite Taylor's tennis ability she was just 15, she's still a kid. Their responsibility is not to raise my daughter, that's my responsibility and her father's responsibility. They don't have the same principles, moral ethics... they're not trying to instill the things that I want, that's my responsibility. They are responsible for ten percent, and I'm responsible for the rest of the ninety.  That's why I felt like I had to get down there.

They have afforded her a lot of opportunities that I wouldn't have been able to afford her. So, has it been all bad? No. Could there be some improvements? Absolutely. But what organization can't stand some improvement.

Of course, nothings perfect.

Right. So, I don't say everything was bad, everything happens for a reason, everything has a season. Who knows where life is going to take us from this point.  At the end of the day, I want my daughter to be in an environment where she is surrounded by people who care about her, whose words and actions match up, and she's happy, she's having fun, she's enjoying herself, and she's putting in the work to be able to obtain the goals for the things that she want to do.  That's all that I want, and I don't think that's too much to ask.

Not at all. To your credit, she seems to be such a poised young lady in addition to her talent. She has some "home training" as my mother would say. And I think that's part of the concern for her in this situation. She has presented herself as nothing other than a bright talented teen, and those of us parents watching want to make sure she stays that way.

As a parent, that kind of compliment far outweighs any trophy, when somebody else says that your child is a mannerable person, and is presenting the values you instill in her, that's the reward.

I know exactly what you mean, my daughter is 24 years old and her behavior and welfare are no less important to me now than when she was Taylor's age. 

Yes, we have to protect our children because they can't protect themselves, and I don't want her to be living in fear. Because even as an adult, this was a bit of a scary move for me too, coming into so many unknown variables, having no job, and the list goes on and on.

What's the plan, is it to continue her training as is with the USTA?

I don't know at this time. As I said, Taylor has opened the door for a lot of opportunities for herself. We just need to do what's in the best interest of Taylor. That is what's first, and paramount. I am her advocate, her dad is her advocate and we just want her in the best environment to grow and develop. If that's with the USTA, that's fine - if it's not there, that's fine too.

At the end of our conversation I said "I thank you so very much for sharing your time and story with me Shelia. The first thing I noticed when I went to your Facebook page looking for some way to contact you, was how you spelled your name - I knew right then that you were right on time, because you spell Shelia the "right" way." We both had a good laugh at that. I let her know how important it was for me to hear the story directly from her and not take the multiple stories out there as brass fact.

Is there anything else that you would like to share about Taylor, yourself, what you all are up to, any moves that you all are making?

No, I just hope that this facilitates a positive dialogue for the USTA, not just regarding myself and Taylor, but for others who find themselves in similar situations. She is not the first, and I don't think that she'll be the last. Hopefully she will, but if the organization doesn't improve, or have the ability to make changes, if they don't really take a look at some of the things that they are doing, then it's just going to continue to perpetuate. This will just be another story, and in time it will go away, people will forget and the same thing will happen again.

Also, hopefully they will be a bit more conscientious about some of the things that they are doing.  One of the things when I was sitting down talking to them, I said, 'you are a different type of school, you need to look at the coaches as teachers and the tennis courts as another type of classroom. And how would you feel if your child came home from school and said their teacher did blah, blah, blah, how would that make you feel? Don't get it misconstrued that just because you are a tennis coach and are on a tennis court. First you are a teacher - you are a teacher - and you have a greater responsibility just like the teachers in your child's school of bricks, mortar and steel, and they have a huge impact on that child's development, whether it's positive or negative.  Those people have a huge, huge impact, because they spend more time during the day than you spend with your kids. And they have a greater responsibility, as a teacher, they are held to a higher standard. I don't know that they really look at themselves in that particular way.  But a good and great teacher will produce a great student and that student will go on to do great things. Personally, I think they need to reevaluate how they do things and how they look at some of the roles. Hopefully this will generate some kind of positive change.

As we again began to conclude our conversation, I thanked Shelia again and told her that I think people will look at the situation a bit differently after reading this, because I now felt differently about it. She then turned the interview tables and asked "Well how do you feel?" This is what I shared with her.

"The first thing I feel better about is you, as her mother. A strong person providing the family life that Taylor needs, and that NOTHING will be done at the USTA or anyplace else unless her parents approve of it because she's your daughter first and last.

The most important thing for me is that I no longer feel as if Taylor is being "beat up," if you will, by this big organization and that whatever goes on at the USTA with regards to Taylor has to come through you and her father. That you all are her mainstay. That releases that parental need of mine to protect this child. Now I know that she has that protection in her own parents."

Yeah, they can make it hard sometimes, but they only make me better and keep it moving.

This interview is the sole property of  Black Tennis Pro's. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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HOT NEWS: No 2010 Davis Cup Play For Blake Or Roddick

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Over at Tennis.com Peter Bodo reports in an 'Exclusive' that both Americans James Blake and Andy Roddick will be no shows for 2010 Davis Cup play.

For the first time in nearly a decade, the U.S. Davis Cup team will be without stalwarts Andy Roddick and James Blake when it travels to face powerful Serbia in a first-round tie in Belgrade in March. “It certainly appears to be the end of era,” U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe told TENNIS Thursday. “But the door will always remain open to both of those guys in the event they decide they want to play again.”

Roddick and Blake have both decided to leave Davis Cup off their 2010 schedules. McEnroe has yet to name the squad he plans to take to Serbia for the tie against a powerful Serbian team led by world No. 3. The U.S. singles players most likely to be selected are Sam Querrey and John Isner, although that could change in the next few weeks, depending on the performance of the U.S. players in Australia. Mardy Fish is also high on McEnroe's list of Davis Cup candidates. Serbia will be heavily favored given that it will be contested on slow red clay.

Read full article here...

Good thing for Blake? Hmmmmmm.......

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U.S. Davis Cup: Fish Replaces Injured Roddick, Blake Ready To Rebound After 1st Round Wimbledon Loss

Thursday, July 9, 2009

James Blake, USA Davis Cup Press Conference
(Photos by Getty Images)

POREC, Croatia – Now that the sting of losing Davis Cup stalwart Andy Roddick is out of the way, the United States has re-grouped, come together as a team and begun its preparations to play in the 2009 Davis Cup Quarterfinals against Croatia.

The match-up took a dramatic turn on Monday when Roddick was replaced by Mardy Fish in the U.S. lineup. Roddick suffered an injured right hip flexor during his five-set loss to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon men’s singles final.

Fish, who had just returned home from England to Tampa, Fla., following the Wimbledon doubles semifinals with partner James Blake, received the news late on Sunday from U.S. Captain Patrick McEnroe that he was needed to play against Croatia.

“We are certainly disappointed that Roddick could not come to play,” said McEnroe at the team press conference on Tuesday. “He’s been a Davis Cup stalwart for many, many years, so we’ll miss him. We are certainly very happy and confident with the team that we have that we have a good chance to get a win this week.”

Last year, playing in his first Davis Cup match since the 2004 final, Fish filled in for an injured Bob Bryan and partnered with Mike Bryan to win the doubles, keeping the U.S. alive against Spain in the 2008 semifinals.

“Part of Davis Cup is being able to have other players step in,” said McEnroe. “That is what Croatia is doing in some way, and we’re doing the same. We have guys that have a lot of experience and have played a lot of big matches for us in Davis Cup.

“It is a great opportunity for these guys to do it without Andy. It’s a big challenge for us, but we’re excited about the challenge. We’re all a team. Everyone is going to pull their weight. They’re going to have to pull a little more weight this time.”

The 2009 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas quarterfinal tie between the United States and Croatia will take place from Friday, July 10, to Sunday, July 12, in Porec, Croatia, at the Zatika Sports Hall on a temporary indoor clay court.

Croatia is 2-0 against the United States in Davis Cup, making it the only country that the United States has not beaten and also the only country to have a winning record against the U.S. Davis Cup team.

Roddick had played in 18 consecutive Davis Cup matches, tied for the second longest streak in U.S. Davis Cup history with current teammate Mike Bryan.

“Andy has had a very tough recovery from Wimbledon,” said McEnroe. “He injured his right hip flexor a little bit during the match. He is pretty spent physically and emotionally.”

Coincidentally, the only other tie Roddick has missed since joining the U.S. Davis Cup team was the 2003 first round at Croatia after suffering a wrist injury during his epic five-set win over Younes El Aynaoui en route to the Australian Open semifinals.

Without Roddick, the U.S. will look to Blake to fill in as its No. 1 singles player. In a recent playing slump, including a first-round loss at Wimbledon, Blake is looking to rebound against the Croatians and carry that momentum into the Olympus US Open Series and US Open.

“I feel good about it now,” said the 17th-ranked Blake. “I put that first-round loss way behind me. Luckily I have had a couple of weeks to distance myself from that. Hopefully here will get me going on the right track going into the summer.”

Also missing one of their key players, former top 10-ranked player Mario Ancic, the Croatians will be led by Marin Cilic and Ivo Karlovic, both coming off excellent performances at Wimbledon.

“Mario Ancic is not here, and he is very important for us as a team leader,” said Croatian Captain Goran Prpic. “We will try as much as possible to take advantage of Roddick not being here, but I don't agree that we are favorites right now. It seems that many people now think we only have to walk on the court, and that's it. It is an open tie. We have quality, there's no doubt about it, but so does the U.S. team. We can win all four singles matches, and we can lose all four."

“Croatia has a great team,” said McEnroe. “(Marin) Cilic and (Ivo) Karlovic are very, very good players. Obviously, them playing at home, the home team always has a slight advantage. But we have a lot of experience playing Davis Cup and playing against their players. I think it is a pretty even match.”

Blake is a career 2-3 against Karlovic and 2-0 against Cilic. Fish lost to Cilic in the 2008 Pilot Pen Tennis final, their only meeting, and is a career 1-4 against Karlovic.

The order of play will be determined on Thursday at the draw ceremony, scheduled to be held at 1 p.m. local time at the Istrian Council House in Porec.

The weekend schedule consists of two singles matches on Friday (10 a.m. ET), the doubles match on Saturday (9:30 a.m. ET), and two reverse singles matches on Sunday (10 a.m. ET).

Tennis Channel will air live daily coverage of Friday’s and Sunday’s singles matches at 10 a.m. ET. Saturday’s doubles match will air live at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Tennis Channel will continue its Davis Cup primetime tradition and rebroadcast matches nightly at 8 p.m. ET.

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Roddick, Blake And Bryans Comprise U.S. Davis Cup Team

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Black Tennis Pro's 2009 U.S. Davis Cup Team(l-r) Andy Roddick, James Blake, Bob and Mike Bryan, Captain Patrick McEnroe

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — James Blake is joining Andy Roddick and the Bryan brothers on the U.S. Davis Cup team that will play Croatia in next month's quarterfinals.

U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe has picked Blake over Sam Querrey and Mardy Fish.

Blake lost in the first round at Wimbledon last week. Fish reached the third round, Querrey the second.

This is the 12th time in the last 13 Davis Cup contests that McEnroe is using the same quartet of players.

The best-of-five quarterfinal will be July 10-12 on an indoor clay court in Porec, Croatia.

Croatia has beaten the U.S. both times the countries have played in Davis Cup — the only country that has a winning record against the Americans.

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The NY Times: U.S. Tennis Losing Ground In Developing Players

Saturday, April 4, 2009

At a time when recreational tennis is on the rise in the United States an emphasis is being placed on recruiting youngsters, Americans are conspicuous by their absence in the late-round singles draws at most professional tournaments.

Officials of the United States Tennis Association say junior development has never been more organized, with national and regional training centers, dozens of former pros as salaried coaches (with Patrick McEnroe as the general manager of elite player development) and a serious commitment to finding future champions.

“There’s no secret formula, and that’s our strength,” says Martin Blackman, a former touring pro, college coach and now the senior director for talent identification and development with the U.S.T.A. He acknowledges a “paradigm shift in the late ’80s” that opened opportunities for players in Eastern Europe and in Latin America.

“What we’re doing at the national level now is complementary and inclusive,” Blackman said.

But critics like Robert Lansdorp, the California stroke guru, and Pete Fischer, who developed Pete Sampras’s serve and his tactical all-court game, say the focus is misguided.

“Everything is fragmented,” Fischer said during a recent telephone interview from California, citing conflicting coaching techniques and different competitive priorities as inhibitors to producing champions. “I don’t see one vision. The U.S.T.A. is graded on how their players do in I.T.F. events. Who cares about that? Short-term goals get in the way of long-term goals.”

Lansdorp, who prefers one-on-one coaching to academy and training centers, said he talked to McEnroe recently.

“He has the right ideas,” Lansdorp said, “but you don’t get a champion out of a group. You have to find talent. And then you have to develop that talent.”

In a phone interview, McEnroe acknowledged the appointment of José Higueras as a national director of coaching.

“The No. 1 important thing is to get a coaching philosophy in place for our program,” McEnroe said.

Of the top 100 ranked players on the WTA Tour as of March 23, only four were American, and two were in the top 10, the Williams sisters, Serena (No. 1) and Venus (No. 6). (The other two were No. 37 Bethanie Mattek-Sands and No. 85 Jill Craybas.) By contrast, 14 Russian women were ranked among the top 100, including 10 in the top 50 and five among the top 10.

The situation is little better on the ATP men’s tour. Spain has 14 players among the first 100, including at No. 1. France has 13. Of the seven Americans in the top 100, only one, Andy Roddick (No. 6), is in the top 10.

Ten years ago, four American women were in the top 10, and 15 among the top 100. Three men from the United States were in the top 10, and 12 in the top 100.

Historically, American tennis champions have developed through a combination of player skill and drive, parental pride and persistence, and the technically sound acumen of a dedicated coach.

For all of his eccentric off-court pronouncements, Richard Williams recognized his daughters’ natural gifts and work ethic, and extracted mechanical refinements and support from a number of quality coaches (Rick Macci and Nick Bollettieri, to name a few). The result: the Williams sisters have combined for 17 Grand Slam singles titles in the last 10 years.

Bollettieri, whose tennis academy in Florida produced Andre Agassi and Jim Courier among others, said players had to be ready to work 365 days a year.

“This is what it takes to be successful in tennis in America,” he said.

The latest examples of works in progress reflect the scope of the search.

Victoria Duval, 13, whose family is from Haiti, won the U.S.T.A. National 14s last year. She lives with her mother and grandmother in Bradenton, Fla., near Bollettieri’s academy, now owned by IMG Academies. Madison Keys, 14, was a finalist in the Orange Bowl 16s, and is scheduled to make her pro debut Monday at a WTA event in Ponte Vedra, Fla.

The Williams sisters played a limited age-group schedule until the age of 14 and tailored their tournament commitments. That may explain why they still have a competitive zest while other No. 1 pros like Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters and Martina Hingis left the game before turning 25. Clijsters is planning a comeback.

The notion that young Americans won’t pay the same price for success as Russians, Serbs or other Europeans — long hours on the court, weeks away from home, fighting through competitive qualifiers or satellite events in less-attractive places — is as much a topic for debate as whether United States tennis is losing the biggest and best athletes to college scholarships in basketball, soccer and even lacrosse.

“Kids should learn to play tennis exactly the way they learn to play basketball,” said Ray Benton, a lawyer based in Washington who has been involved in the sport for decades as a player, promoter and entrepreneur. He is now the chief executive of a regional training center in College Park, Md.

Recreational recruitment is growing. QuickStart Tennis, a format for three age levels announced last year, is in 1,200 facilities, according to the U.S.T.A. The youngest, 5 to 8, play on a 36-foot court with a foam tennis ball. For preteens, the court is expanded to 60 feet with low-compression balls. The third level plays on the standard court.

“You’re going to see a dramatic improvement in our junior players between 13 and 18 in three years,” Blackman said.

Pancho Segura, who is considered a tactical Yoda in the sport, seems more skeptical. Too many young Americans, Segura said, are using extreme Western-style grips, which yield tantalizing topspin but inhibit an ability to slice, volley and adequately cover low balls.

More important, he added, “They don’t know how to win tennis matches.”

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Meritorious Or Not, Garrison's Lawsuit Contains Hurtful Words

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Black Tennis Pro's Zina Garrison Sues USTAAs a player, Zina Garrison was known for her speed. She was pigeon-toed, not at all imposing. But when she was on the other side of the net, there seemed to be four Zinas, one for every corner of the court.

In her own way, she was a pioneer among African-American female tennis players, sandwiched between Althea Gibson, whom she befriended in the last years of the legend's life, and the Williams sisters. In fact, she was a bit of a prequel to Venus and Serena Williams, emerging from Houston's inner-city public courts to become a junior national champion who rose to as high as No. 4 in the world.

Unlike the Williamses, Garrison never won a Grand Slam singles title. Yet she won 14 singles and 20 doubles titles, finishing with a solid 587-270 singles record. Her personal highlight reel features a 1989 triumph over Chris Evert in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open, a win that sent Evert into retirement. Then there was Garrison's run through Wimbledon the following year. She eliminated French Open champion Monica Seles in the quarters and the world No. 1 Steffi Graf in the semis before losing to friend and mentor Martina Navratilova in the final.

Now comes the flipside – an ugly lawsuit against the USTA alleging racial discrimination in the organization's treatment of Garrison in her five-year tenure as Fed Cup caption.

Captain Garrison was 5-5 in Fed Cup matches and never reached a final. But there were highlights there, too. Just maybe not enough for the USTA, which chose not to bring her back at the end of 2007. They let her coach one more year, giving her a No. 2 "coach," Mary Joe Fernandez, who was also publicly announced as her successor. Last year, in essence, Garrison wasn't even a lame duck. She had no legs.

Race suits are never pretty, even when they are clear, easy and incontrovertible – which this one isn't. Most often they disintegrate into he said/she said affairs, where both sides are ultimately bruised. Or they're settled and only the lawyers win.

This isn't the USTA's only brush with alleged racial discrimination. It is also being sued by former administrator Marvin Dent in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Dent, who is black, alleges he was bypassed for the position of director of tennis at the National Tennis Center in favor of Whitney Kraft, who is white. Dent also alleges a pattern of discrimination at the USTA, which it has denied.

Three years ago, the USTA entered into a consent decree with New York's attorney general that forced it to create an open process for hiring chair umpires. That followed a suit by two black umpires, alleging the USTA allowed racist comments directed toward African-American umpires. The decree lasted two years.

Garrison alleges unequal treatment relative to her counterpart, U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe – specifically unequal pay and unequal resources. She also argues that while she was never given more than one-year deals, Fernandez, with as much coaching experience as me, was signed for three years out of the box – and at a salary higher than Garrison's, the lawsuit alleges.

Garrison claims that the USTA may seek to justify Fernadez's deal by saying she is required to take on additional public duties.

But perhaps more disturbing are the alleged comments attributed to Sara Fornaciari, the Fed Cup chair. If true, they embody the underlying thread of racism that still must be eliminated.

Garrison alleges in the suit that Fornaciari "routinely referred to Garrison as the 'Black Ghost,' to impugn Garrison's reliability."

At a Fed Cup semifinal in Stowe, Vt., in July 2007, Fornaciari allegedly told Garrison after a media interview: "That was the most intelligent media comment I have ever heard you give."

Garrison took it to imply that she was "generally inarticulate and stupid," according to the suit.

In August that same year, Garrison alleges that Fornaciari told her to go to a tent at a USTA sectional event because she might "get a lot of minority business." Garrison says in the suit she was "troubled by the implication that she could network only with other minorities."

Some of the allegations may seem benign, but they tugged at Garrison, who writes that she later called Fornaciari to say she was unhappy with the tone of her comments.

"In response," says the suit, "Fornaciari launched into a vitriolic attack against Garrison and other African-Americans, including the Williams sisters. She told Garrison she was trying to 'help' her, stating, 'Let's face it. You can't talk. Nobody ever knows what you are saying.' "

Garrison challenged the tone of Fornaciari's remarks, but Fornaciari, according to the suit, "became irate and announced in a loud and angry tone, 'I will never speak to another black person again.' "

The USTA would not make Fornaciari available but had a statement:

"The USTA takes all allegations of discrimination seriously and takes pride in its numerous diversity initiatives and achievements," USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier said.

"The USTA elected not to renew Ms. Garrison's Fed Cup captaincy based on her performance, and strongly denies any allegation of discrimination asserted by Ms. Garrison.

"During Ms. Garrison's five-year tenure as captain, the United States Fed Cup team did not advance to the Fed Cup final, its longest drought in the competition's 45-year history."

The suit also alleges that Garrison was also blamed for not being able to regularly recruit the Williams sisters, the two top American players, to play the Fed Cup (more than once, one or both of them would commit to playing, only to be sidelined by injury, which the suit alleges the USTA viewed with suspicion); and that in replacing Garrison the USTA wanted a "public face" and concluded she did not have "the look" it wanted for the team.

Like some other sports, and numerous corporations, the USTA likes to tout its "diversity initiatives," whatever they may be. That's all well and good, but when the words from the men and women charged with leading these initiatives and their enterprises represent the antithesis of what those initiatives aim to achieve, it tells me we still have a very long way to go.

And some places are not getting there fast enough.

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Davis Cup: Switzerland Out Of The Way, USA Looks Toward Croatia

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In the quarterfinal round the USA will have the opportunity to avenge the significant loss they suffered to the 2005 Davis Cup champions, Croatia. When the USA and Croatia last met in Carson, California, the USA was eliminated in the first round.

On Sunday in reverse rubbers with the USA standing at 2-1, Andy Roddick defeated Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, handing the Americans the win and a slot into the quarterfinals.

In the fifth and final match, which was a dead rubber, James Blake defeated Marco Chiudinelli 6-4, 7-6(6), sending the USA up 4-1 for the first round.

Photo by AP/Getty Images

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Davis Cup: USA Gains The Edge Against Switzerland

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Black Tennis Pro's Bob and Mike Bryan 2009 Davis Cup
American super twins Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan got the job done in Birmingham, Alabama today by chalking up a 6-3 6-4 3-6 7-6(2) win over the Swiss doubles team of Yves Allegro and Stanislas Wawrinka. The USA takes a 2-1 lead over Switzerland.

This win gives the Bryans their 15th out of 17 Davis Cup match wins. They now become the most winning doubles team in US Davis Cup history.

Mike Bryan said, “obviously it feels very good to be considered one of the best US doubles teams. We have a lot of respect for teams like McEnroe-Fleming and Flach-Seguso, guys like that, but we just do what we do and treat every match like a grand slam final and put everything into it and here we are six years later, we have 15 wins and being considered one of the best teams.”

Black Tennis Pro's Bob and Mike Bryan 2009 Davis Cup Black Tennis Pro's Bob and Mike Bryan 2009 Davis CupBlack Tennis Pro's Bob and Mike Bryan 2009 Davis Cup

Photos AP/Getty Images

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2009 USA Davis Cup Roster Remains The Same

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe is sticking with familiar faces in sending out Andy Roddick, James Blake and the doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan against Switzerland in the Birmingham, Alabama first-round match which has been hit by the withdrawal of Federer due to a back injury.

"With Roger pulling out, that changes the dynamic," McEnroe said in a conference call.

"If Roger had been playing it would have been pretty even. Roger being out makes us a pretty solid favorite, but we're not overlooking the team the Swiss are bringing."

World number two Federer, runner-up at the Australian Open in January, announced his withdrawal last week.

"To be honest, I was a little disappointed."

"We were all looking forward to the challenge of playing Roger and the buzz he would help bring to the match."

The United States won the Cup two years ago and last year reached the semifinals before losing to Spain, the eventual champions.

"For us the goal is to try to get back into the later rounds and try to win the cup again," the U.S. captain said.

"We certainly have the capability of doing that and that's the bigger term goal, so we certainly like the fact that we have a better chance to advance.

"I'll probably sleep a little bit better next week as we prepare for the match and not have to prepare for Roger."

Photo by Getty Images


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Tennis Ace Zina Garrison: Fed Cup Bouncing By USTA Was Racial

Monday, February 23, 2009

Black Tennis Pro's Zina Garrison Sues USTAThe New York Daily News is reporting that former tennis star Zina Garrison says she was dumped as captain of the Fed Cup team after objecting to racist comments about Venus and Serena Williams made by a top U.S. Tennis official.

Garrison made the claim in a race discrimination lawsuit filed Friday against the United States Tennis Association in Manhattan Federal Court. She also said she was paid less than her white counterpart, Patrick McEnroe, who led the men's team.

Garrison, who in 1990 became the first African-American woman to make the Wimbledon finals, was captain of the U.S. Fed Cup team, which competes against other nations' best players, for five years. In Garrison's tenure, the U.S. never made the Fed Cup final - the longest drought in the 45-year history of the competition.

"The USTA elected not to renew Garrison's Fed Cup captaincy based on her performance, and strongly denies any allegations of discrimination asserted by Ms. Garrison," said USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier.

Garrison says Fed Cup Chairwoman Sara Fornaciari once complained to her that Venus Williams hadn't called her back about playing in a tournament, saying: "Venus was like you and just like Serena; none of you people call back."


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Highlights Of USA Today Article, "USTA Takes Ambitious Steps To Find, Cultivate Tennis Talent"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Earlier today one of my regular readers, Hasheem, brought it to my attention that Rodney Harmon, former Men's High Performance Director at the USTA, had been let go. Of course my curiosity was peaked, as Rodney Harmon just recently served as the USA Olympic Men's Team Head Coach.

My research turned up this USA Today article that is very involved, and among a lot of other things, reports the following:

"The USTA has been in supplemental-type coaching, but now we are putting ourselves on the line for players who want to be part of the program," says Patrick McEnroe, who was hired in April to oversee the elite development program along with his duties as U.S. Davis Cup captain. "We want to have more people out there working together on a common cause to find talent that will be playing at the U.S. Open one day."

McEnroe, an easy-going consensus builder but hard-nosed decision maker, has not wasted time in shaking up the staff and hiring new blood.

Last month he removed men's high performance director Rodney Harmon and women's director Jean Nachand; they will be replaced by Jay Berger and Ola Malmqvist, who were both promoted from within the USTA coaching ranks. McEnroe has let go of several other coaches, mostly at the USTA's West Coast training site in Carson, Calif. In September he brought in former top-10 player Jose Higueras as director of coaching for the program.

USTA chief executive of professional tennis Arlen Kantarian, who hired McEnroe and oversaw development, is leaving, too.

Once content to let private academies such as Bollettieri/IMG churn out another Andre Agassi or hope superstars like the Williams sisters would emerge from the inner city or suburbs, the USTA now runs a full-time boarding program in Boca Raton, Fla., in conjunction with the Evert Tennis Academy, where the country's best juniors can live, train and go to school — all for free.

Another part of the article states:

For the first time since 2002, both Venus and Serena Williams are competing this week in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Championships as two of the eight qualifiers in the season finale. Next week Andy Roddick will tee up American hopes in Shanghai, having reached the season-ending Masters Cup for a sixth consecutive year.

Those strengths of U.S. tennis, however, can't hide the glaring weakness in the next generation.

"I don't think we're on the right track," eighth-ranked Venus Williams said Monday of the flagging U.S. fortunes. "I'm not sure what track we should be on, but it does seem like we should be able to produce some players, especially with our history throughout the game. … So hopefully we can figure it out soon, because we can also see the sport waning some in the U.S., which wouldn't be good."

Beyond Venus, 28, and Serena, 27, the drop-off for U.S. women is precipitous. No other Americans are in the top 35, and just five occupy slots in the top 100. None is younger than 23. That's a far cry from the 1980s, when U.S. women represented half or more of the year-end top 10 seven times between 1980-88.

Sixth-ranked Roddick, 26, remains an elite mainstay along with late bloomer James Blake, who is ranked No. 10 and turns 29 next month. Of the remaining seven men in the top 100, only 21-year-olds Sam Querrey (No. 40) and Jesse Levine (No. 94) are under the age of 26.

This is an extensive article and offers a lot more, to read it in its entirety click here.

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Talk About Being Taken To The Woodshed! USA Takes A 1-4 Beat Down From Spain At Davis Cup

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Black Tennis Pro's Davis Cup SemifinalWorld No. 1 Rafael Nadal turned in a virtuoso performance to defeat American Andy Roddick 6-4, 6-0, 6-4, to secure Spain’s place in the 2008 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final.

It wasn’t that Roddick, ranked No. 8 in the world, played badly; it was just that, on this occasion, he was outclassed by Nadal, who played almost faultless tennis, hitting 60 winners to Roddick’s 39 and committing ten fewer unforced errors in the 2 hour, 12 minute encounter.

“Today I play an almost perfect match and it is very, very exciting,” said Nadal after the win. “Today I played very well. I shocked myself with some of the winners I played, was near perfect tennis.”

Nadal Dominates From Start

The 21,000 strong crowd at the Plaza de Toros Las Ventas in Madrid waited out a 1 hour, 40 minute rain delay before Nadal and Roddick took the court. From almost the first point of the match, the world No. 1 dominated the American, who failed to convert any of the seven break point opportunities he had in the match.

Roddick seemed almost philosophical in defeat, laughing ruefully on the bench at the changeovers with USA Captain Patrick McEnroe:

“He’s possibly the best clay-courter ever so it’s tough, especially when he hits like he did today. He was going for his shots and not leaving much short.”

Roddick Gets The Fans On His Side

Having struggled with the mostly Spanish fans on Friday, Roddick got them on side when he raised his hands as if to ask them to cheer for a missed first serve during the third set. The fans responded by good-naturedly chanting “Roddick, Roddick” and the American player smiled up at the stands.

“Yeah, they’re only going to do that if your getting your butt kicked,” said a good-natured Roddick afterwards.

Nadal showed real emotion in victory but showed his respect for his opponents and his inate good manners by going first to the American bench, shaking every hand before he ran to his own team to celebrate. Carried on the shoulders of Feliciano Lopez, he was saluted by teammates and fans alike in this, his first event in Spain as the new world No. 1. No matador at the Las Ventas, the most important bullring in all of Spain, could have been greeted with more passion or affection than Nadal on this day.

Nadal had a 3-2 advantage in the career head-to-head with the American No. 1 but they had only met once before on clay in the 2004 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final won by the Spaniard in four sets. The pair played twice before in 2008, with a win for Roddick in Dubai and another for Nadal at Queen’s.

Serving Problems In First Set

From start to finish, the atmosphere at Las Ventas was electric and full of anticipation of a Spanish victory. Both players held serve easily to start the match despite a poor first service percentage. In the fifth game of the first set, Roddick’s serving woes continued but he staved off three break points against a determined Nadal but on his next service game, Nadal broke with a forehand passing shot down the line and the Spanish flags started flying. Nadal consolidated his break for 5-3 then, with US captain McEnroe exhorting him from the sidelines, Roddick held serve forcing Nadal, who took a spill running for a drop shot, to serve for the set.

After winning the first point, Nadal made three unforced errors for 15-40 giving the American his first break points of the match. A forehand error from Roddick and two forehand winners gave Nadal a first set point and with an emphatic ace, the Spaniard won the first set 64.

Nadal broke in the opening game of the second set with a forehand down the line winner and, with sublime ease, went on to win the second set 6-0. As in the opening set, the only break points he faced came when he served for the set and, also like the first, he won the set with an ace. This marked the first time that Roddick, who was serving well in the second set, had lost a set to love in Davis Cup and only the fifth time that this had happened in his career.

In the third, Roddick played steadier tennis but Nadal was just too good for him on the day. Although the American saved five match points on his serve for 5-4, the man from Mallorca made no mistake on the first opportunity on his own serve, converting his sixth match point opportunity into a win.

Feliciano Lopez defeated Sam Querrey 7-6, 7-6, in the dead rubber to make the final score 4-1, after which all the Spanish players and captain Emilio Sanchez spoke to the crowd and thanked them for their support.

Spain will travel to Argentina or Russia for November’s final. Argentina led that tie 2-1 overnight.

Photo Paul Zimmer

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Bryan And Fish Stop The USA Bleeding At Davis Cup

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Black Tennis Pro's USA Davis Cup Doubles SemifinalAmericans Mike Bryan and Mardy Fish kept the defending champions’ hopes alive, defeating Spain’s Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 6-4, 63 4-6, 6-4, spoiling Lopez’s 27th birthday celebrations and Spain’s dream of a 3-0 sweep in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Semifinals. Bryan, playing Davis Cup doubles without twin brother Bob for the first time, and close friend Fish made a strong pair but their opponents also played a tough match.

“The key to this match was us bonding,” said Fish. “We’ve been great friends for years and you play your best tennis when you are having fun. I admire the way Mardy played today,” added Bryan. “It was tough to read Feliciano’s serve. It was a hard fought battle. We took our chances when we got them but it took a little while to get going.”

“It was very close. The toughest thing was to come back from two sets to one down and a break,” said Lopez. “With a bit more luck we could have won. The crowd helped us a lot in the fourth set.”

Good Start For Spain

Madrid’s Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas was rocking with nearly 21,000 fans, most hoping to see Lopez and Verdasco win the third point for Spain and propel their country into the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final for a sixth time. Lopez was treated to a chorus of “Happy Birthday” by the fans who were clearly in a celebratory mood but a smaller but no less noisy contingent of American fans also had their dreams of an American comeback.

The Spanish were on fire in the first set, serving better than the Americans and making only two unforced errors compared to 10 and converting the first break point opportunity in the seventh game on Bryan’s serve. Lopez served for the set, poaching a volley from Verdasco to seal the opener for Spain.

There were many celebrities on hand at Las Ventas including former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, who earlier in the day received a Davis Cup replica trophy from ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti, to LA Laker Pau Gasol, a friend of Rafa Nadal’s. The iconic bullring was clearly the place to be this weekend and the excitement levels were very high.

Bryan And Fish Find A Way Through

The Americans started more confidently in the second set, making fewer errors and generally looking stronger while the Spanish pair made a few more errors to give the USA an opening and on their first break point of the match, Fish hit a stunning forehand volley to win the second set 64.

In the third set, the Americans really began to gel, playing solid tennis and making the Spanish work for every point. The Spanish were able to save two break points on the Verdasco serve at 4-5 but, on the third, Lopez hit a return just wide but Bryan hit it anyway, a winner down the line to finish the point. Fish held serve to give the Americans a two-sets to one lead.The traditional Bryan bump was adapted to a sort of Mardy/Mike twist bump that made its first outing in this set, never to be seen again.

Grabbing the momentum with both hands, the Americans broke Lopez in the first game to take a 1-0 lead but they were not able to hold on, with the Spanish breaking Mike Bryan in the eighth game to get back on serve. At 4-5, Fish served to stay in the set, saving five break points before the Spanish were able to capitalise and level the match at two-sets all.

Vital Break For USA

Verdasco served first to open the set, saving three break points and squandering two game points before a Lopez winner gave the Spanish a 1-0 lead in the set. The set went with serve until it was Verdasco’s turn again and he was broken to give the Americans the lead. Fish struggled on his serve but held on for 4-2 then Lopez held serve easily for 4-3. Bryan held serve for 5-3 and then Verdasco, who had struggled in his last two service games, needed to hold serve if Spain were to have a chance of victory in today’s doubles. If he was nervous, the Spaniard didn’t show it and forced Fish to serve for the match at 5-4. The American had a comfortable service game, converting the first match point to win the match and keep American hopes alive.

“It means the world to me,” added Fish who played on the losing side in the 2004 Final against Spain in Seville. “Davis Cup is a huge thing. I’ve been waiting four years for this.”

“Nobody can say that our players don’t play their guts out when they are playing for their country,” said US captain Patrick McEnroe. “This is a big shot of adrenalin going into Sunday. We lost two heartbreakers yesterday, won a close one today against a great team. We will take our chances, play aggressively when we can and see what happens.”

Nadal Vs. Roddick Tomorrow

Celebrations on the American bench and the prospect of a Nadal-Roddick opener tomorrow tantalised the crowd at Las Ventas who are excited about another day of live tennis. All three of the matches played so far have registered just over 3 hrs. 15 minutes on the Rolex clocks on court and tomorrow’s could also be a long one with the Madrid altitude helping a big server like Roddick, even against a player with the clay court prowess of Nadal.

Asked if he was worried about the crowd tomorrow, McEnroe said: “Rafael Nadal worries me a lot, more than the crowd. He’s the best clay court player in the world. Andy played a tough match against David Ferrer. He got a bit frustrated, losing his serve at 6-6 in the fifth. He’s a competitor who wants to win. I’m not worried. Andy knows what he has to do. He has been in this position before.”

“The crowd behaved well. We can’t complain. This is normal in Davis Cup,” said Spanish captain Emilio Sanchez. “If I were Andy Roddick, I would be concentrating on facing Nadal. If he is worried about the crowd, he won’t be playing his best tennis.”

Photo Paul Zimmer

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I'm An Optimist, Perhaps Saturday Will Be Better...USA Davis Cup Team Down 0-2

Friday, September 19, 2008

David Ferrer completed the first day’s work for Spain by defeating USA’s Andy Roddick 76(5) 26 16 64 86 in 3 hours, 17 minutes to give Spain a 2-0 lead in the 2008 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Semifinal at the Plaza de Toros Las Ventas in Madrid. Ferrer was supported by an enthusiastic and energetic crowd of mostly Spanish fans who had turned up at noon to watch world No. 1 Rafael Nadal win the first point for Spain.

By any reckoning Andy Roddick is a big occasion man, regularly gracing centre courts of the Grand Slam tournaments, year-end championships and, of course, two Davis Cup Finals. But he committed an uncharacteristic number of unforced errors (54) and was only able to convert six of 13 break point opportunities against the Spaniard. Roddick is definitely the one to beat on the American team and, with a 29-9 Davis Cup record, beating him in this competition is never easy but Ferrer, who was able to convert three of four break point chances, rose to the occasion.

After the tense and emotional victory by world No. 1 Rafael Nadal over Davis Cup first-timer Sam Querrey, the crowd in the 21,000 seat Plaza de Toros Las Ventas, including Prince Felipe of Spain, might have been forgiven for being a little flat but instead the atmosphere was celebratory and good-natured as Spain’s No. 2 Ferrer whose Davis Cup experience at 4-2 was considerably less than Roddick’s.

Roddick In Great Form

The American was surely buoyed by the fight that Querrey staged against Nadal (whom Roddick will face in Sunday’s reverse singles) but Ferrer, who had defeated his opponent in three of their five previous meetings, looked confident and comfortable in the opening set, forcing a tiebreak where he capitalised on a Roddick forehand error at 6-5 to win the opening set.

In the second set, Roddick hit an outstanding forehand winner crosscourt at 15-40 to break Ferrer for a 3-2 lead and broke again for a 5-2 lead before securing the second set with an ace 6-2.

Roddick rolled over Ferrer in the third 6-1 and it looked like a certain American victory but the Spanish No. 2 had other ideas, getting an early break in the fourth from a series of unforced errors by Roddick. Ferrer held on to the lead, converting his first set point opportunity with a forehand winner to level the match at two sets all.

“At no point did I think all was lost,” said Ferrer. “I always thought I had a chance if I hung in there. He was serving very well in the second and third set and I was missing a lot of opportunities.”

Spanish Fans Get behind Ferrer

With the crowd sensing a whitewash by the Spanish on opening day, there was a mood of real excitement in the stands. Roddick needed every bit of confidence in the fifth set as the fans at Las Ventas sang, chanted and did the wave (twice) to support their man. Ferrer’s body language was very positive and victory seemed pre-ordained when he broke Roddick early in the set. But Roddick refused to give up, breaking back for two-all then holding serve for 3-2. The momentum seemed to be going with USA but Roddick missed opportunities to break Ferrer and take the lead.

At 6-5 in the fifth set, Ferrer served to stay in the match and showed tremendous poise. Now it would be the American who needed to hold serve but a series of seemingly nervous errors on the part of Roddick handed the break to Ferrer who served for the match at 7-6. Ferrer held his nerve with two big aces at key points to win the match and give Spain a 2-0 lead in the tie.

“Andy played his butt off and played great,” said US captain Patrick McEnroe. “We are disappointed to be down 2-0 but we have a lot to be proud of. Obviously we are up against it but we knew that coming here. We are going to try to win the doubles and get that point.”

“I thought I played pretty well today,” said Roddick.“The level from both players was high, especially in the fourth and fifth set. I made a bad beginning to the fourth set and he raised his level.”

"Crowd Was Fair"- Agree Sanchez And McEnroe

Asked after the match about the very vocal local fans, Spanish captain Emilio Sanchez defended them saying, “I think the crowd was fair. There were a few close calls in the last two games which raised the tension a little but they were well behaved.”

“I thought the crowd was fair,” agreed McEnroe. “I explained that to Andy after the match. They were well behaved and were supporting their team.”

In tomorrow’s crucial doubles, it seems likely that US captain Patrick McEnroe will stay with his announced team of Mardy Fish and Mike Bryan but perhaps Spanish captain Emilio Sanchez will consider changing his pairing to include Nadal or Ferrer or both.

The winner of this semifinal will travel to either Argentina or Russia for the 2008 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final.

Photo Paul Zimmer

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An Exhausted James Blake Replaced On Davis Cup Team

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Black Tennis Pro's James Blake Replaced On Davis Cup TeamMADRID, Spain (AP) — James Blake was left off the defending champion U.S. Davis Cup team because of exhaustion and replaced by Sam Querrey on Tuesday.

Querrey was chosen ahead of Blake for the best-of-five series against Spain on outdoor clay Sept. 19-21 in Madrid.

Andy Roddick and doubles specialists Bob and Mike Bryan round out the U.S. team selected by captain Patrick McEnroe.

"James is just exhausted physically and mentally after a grueling summer," McEnroe said. "He said he needed a break and we respect that. This is also a great opportunity for Sam, who has had a solid year, strong results on clay and has been a loyal practice partner for this team."

Last year, Blake teamed with Roddick and the Bryans to lead the Americans their record 32nd Davis Cup title.

Spain captain Emilio Sanchez Vicario selected top-ranked Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez.

Querrey was listed on the official nomination released by the International Tennis Federation, but it noted it was still awaiting confirmation on his eligibility. Querrey, ranked No. 40, has never played in the Davis Cup.

Last week, McEnroe said Blake would be on the team with Roddick and the Bryan brothers for a record 11th straight time.

Nicolas Almagro was listed as a reserve for Spain, while 16th-ranked Tommy Robredo was left off the team.

Nadal, who lost to Andy Murray in the semifinals of the U.S. Open on Sunday, may get a few days rest before joining the team.

"He lost a match, but the tiredness and stress are within the usual limits," Sanchez Vicario said of Nadal, who may not attend practice Saturday. "He is very enthusiastic about this tie."

Argentina will host Russia on outdoor clay in Buenos Aires in the other semifinal series.

Sixth-ranked Nikolay Davydenko of Russia will play alongside Igor Andreev, Dmitry Tursunov and Igor Kunitsyn. Marat Safin was again passed over.

Argentina will counter with David Nalbandian, Juan Martin Del Potro, Agustin Calleri and Guillermo Canas.

In the World Group playoffs, U.S. Open champion Roger Federer will lead Switzerland, and Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic will guide Serbia.

Federer rebounded from losses in the French Open and Wimbledon finals to win his 13th Grand Slam title on Monday at the U.S. Open — one shy of Pete Sampras' all-time record.

Federer will play against visiting Belgium on indoor hardcourts in Lausanne, and Murray will help Britain against Austria on the grass at Wimbledon.

Murray will team with brother Jamie Murray, Alex Bogdanovic and Ross Hutchins against Austria's Jurgen Melzer, Alexander Peya, Martin Fischer and Julian Knowle.

Djokovic, who lost to Federer in the U.S. Open semifinals, will team with Janko Tipsarevic, Viktor Troicki and Nenad Zimonjic on outdoor hardcourts against Slovakia.

The Davis Cup final will be played Nov. 21-23.

Photo Getty Images

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Celebrities Attend U. S. Open Buzz Party

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Black Tennis Pro's U.S. Open Buzz PartyFormer New York City Mayor David Denkins

Black Tennis Pro's U.S. Open Buzz PartyActress Glenn Close

Black Tennis Pro's U.S. Open Buzz PartyMartina Navratilova

Black Tennis Pro's U.S. Open Buzz PartyPatrick McEnroe, General Manager of USTA Elite Player Development and Captain of the U.S. Davis Cup Team

Black Tennis Pro's U.S. Open Buzz PartySports Promoter Don King

Black Tennis Pro's U.S. Open Buzz PartySir Richard Branson

Black Tennis Pro's U.S. Open Buzz PartySinger Rob Thomas and wife Marisol Thomas

Black Tennis Pro's U.S. Open Buzz PartyActor Alec Baldwin

Black Tennis Pro's U.S. Open Buzz PartySinger Alexa Ray Joel, daughter of Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley

Black Tennis Pro's U.S. Open Buzz PartyModel Christie Brinkley

Photos Getty Images

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