Federer's Racket, WTA and Uncle Toni Nadal Top This Week's Winners and Losers

Jeremy Eckstein@https://twitter.com/#!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistJuly 22, 2013

Federer's Racket, WTA and Uncle Toni Nadal Top This Week's Winners and Losers

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    It's now been two weeks since Andy Murray captured Wimbledon. Typically, late July is a time to rest and reset. While ATP stars Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Murray train and relax before the North American hard court tour, Roger Federer has decided to put in extra work at clay court venues Hamburg and Gstaad. His racket has done most of the talking, though not in his usual way.

    Meanwhile the WTA has had its share of publicity and headlines, topped by Maria Sharapova, Martina Hingis and Agnieszka Radwanska.

    The excitement in tennis brings new weekly stories. Tune in right here for your guide to the unusual, the mundane and the triumphant happenings in professional tennis. These are your winners and losers.

Winner: Hamburg's German Tennis Championships

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    Anytime you can add Roger Federer to your draw, you are a winner. Sure it was nice to feature homegrown hero Tommy Haas and young Polish star Jerzy Janowicz, but Federer's late wild card entry is like Michael Jordan offering to show up and help out at your youth basketball camp.

    Suddenly, the eyes of the tennis world were on Hamburg, towed along by Federer's experiment to break in a larger racket. ESPN3 chimed in to show matches the final four days. The coffers were singing in Hamburg.

    It's a piece of vindication for Hamburg, which lost its Masters 1000 status in 2009. Formerly, it was an important hors d'oeuvre that lead into the French Open, but has more recently served as refrigerated leftovers following Wimbledon. Being downgraded to a 500 tournament stings, but this week was a win.

Loser: Uncle Toni Nadal's Unshocking Confession

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    Is anyone shocked that Rafael Nadal's coach, Uncle Toni, finally admitted that he sometimes talks to his nephew during matches? What next, Lance Armstrong admitting to steroids? Uh, never mind.

    Even if tennis fans think that professional tennis should allow on-court coaching, the fact remains that Uncle Toni just hurled a spitball at the ATP. Consider his ludicrous rationale, via Matt Cronin for Tennis.com: "I talk to Rafa during matches. I know that it’s not allowed but I think that at my age I have nothing to hide."

    So, given that Toni Nadal is 52 years old, is this the precise age when we can expect to be exonerated from hiding our past faults, like unpaid library fines or driving without a seat belt? I look forward to the years when I can throw caution at the wind and tell everyone I don't put quarters in the parking meter.

    Next year, Uncle Toni's advancing age might inspire him to come down from the stands and diagram some strategy for Rafa. Unless, of course, the ATP decides punitive action should be taken. You never know.

Winner: Sharapova and Connors Form a Dream Team

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    It's a bold, winner-take-all move for Maria Sharapova to join forces with new head coach and tennis legend Jimmy Connors. She wants someone in her corner who despises second place and has a track record of fighting past other talented champions.

    With high rewards, there is always risk. She wants the No. 1 ranking of the WTA and must start beating rival Serena Williams, but will she and Connors clash with their superstar mindsets?

    It will be a fascinating journey for tennis fans, but above all Sharapova has rung the bell for the next round. She is looking for a knockout.

Loser: No Masters 1000 Tournament on Grass

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    Everyone likes grass. We all cut lawns and sit in idyllic comfort, feeling a time-honored connection with nature. We don't sit around in summer chairs staring at concrete slabs.

    The years of tennis tradition are dwindling into extinction. It's late July and ATP tennis players are seeking points on clay and hard courts. There are four little grass court tournaments that precede Wimbledon, doling out 250 measly points apiece to the winner.

    Only Wimbledon matters. A week later, the final grass tournament is quietly staged in Newport, Rhode Island. Not even the sound of taps commemorates its death.

    Tennis fans really shouldn't ignore this issue. If we have to bring it up a thousand times, in the hopes that it will one day not fall upon deaf ears, then so be it: Reinvigorate tennis with one Masters 1000 grass tournament. It will bring in top draws, more tennis variety, tradition and wonderfully rich revenues. Repeat those last three words and get it done.

Winner: WTA Publicity

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    The WTA has received a big spike in its publicity in the weeks following Wimbledon.

    Maria Sharapova is teaming up with Coach Jimmy Connors.

    Martina Hingis, newly enshrined in the International Tennis Hall of Fame, will be coming out of retirement to play doubles. Welcome back, Hingis. Life begins again at age 32.

    And World No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska found a new way to expose herself to non-tennis fans. The Polish star can be seen in ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue tossing more than 100 tennis balls into a pool. Is this some kind of new training exercise?

Loser: Claro Open, Colombia

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    In case you missed it, the Claro Open was staged in Colombia. The field of 32 featured its three top seeds with Janko Tipsarevic, Kevin Anderson and Igor Sijsling—who was bounced out in his first match.

    So if you are a top ten tennis star and you must decide between traveling all the way to South America for a 250 hard court tournament or resting up for the big tournaments in the northern hemisphere...

    Your 2013 Claro Open winner: Ivo Karlovic

    Let's just move on.

Winner: Sam Groth's Cartoon Forehand Around the Net

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    Will you ever see a shot quite like this again? Plenty of players have hit around the posts, but Sam Groth's degree of difficulty set up one of the most entertaining shots of the year.

    During a mixed doubles match with partner Liezel Huber and opponents James Blake/Keveta Peschke, Groth raced along the net like Wile E. Coyote to pass a shot between the post and the ball boy's head. There was less than two feet of space to make the shot and it landed in the singles court.

    With tricks like that, Groth one-upped the famous coyote, showing that he may be the better choice to catch the elusive American southwest roadrunner.

Loser: Fernando Verdasco's Fist vs. a Locker

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    Fernando Verdasco can be a real fighter with a big forehand that has pushed stars Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray in classic Grand Slam matches. Now he has decided to battle inanimate objects at Hamburg's German Tennis Championships. Memo to all ATP locker rooms: beware of Verdasco's fist.

    Verdasco had dropped a second set tiebreaker, 10-8, and was so incensed that he slammed his racket and yelled at his box, according to SI.com.  He then took a bathroom break and at some point found the time to relieve his frustrations by punching a locker.

    The third set brought his antics out to the court as he slammed a tennis ball into the crowd and was later penalized for ball abuse. He dropped the third set to No. 114 ranked Federico Delbonis and lost the opportunity to take on Roger Federer in the semifinals.

    No further updates on the locker's condition, but Verdasco's injury has already caused him to pull out of next week's Croatia Open, according to his Twitter update.

Winner: Roger Federer's Sweater Vest

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    Roger Federer has never been unafraid to try out some outlandish fashion. Who can forget his 2006 Wimbledon attire: a regal white suit jacket that looked to be some kind of tribute to 19th century club croquet.

    Now the fashion maestro is back. In the second set of his quarterfinal win over Florian Mayer, Federer came out with a dark blue sweater vest. It was a kind of look that seemed more appropriate for golfing, 1970s fashion in the UK and Boris Becker vs. Stefan Edberg in the 1989 Wimbledon final.

    ESPN's broadcast team lamely theorized that it might be to help warm his injury-plagued back.

    Federer went on to lose the set and the sweater.

    Here's hoping for more chilly tennis weather at Gstaad as the players warm up to Weezer's "undone."

Loser: Tommy Haas's Disappointing Exit

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    He was sitting at his changeover seat, muttering in German and gesturing negatively about his poor performance. A broken racket sat near his feet, a casualty of his mounting frustrations. He was already down a set and a break heading to the fourth game and the pressure of playing well for his hometown fans was clearly a disappointment.

    Tommy Haas has been a wonderful story the past year, showing beautiful tennis and admirable composure. He truly has seemed to enjoy his swan song in tennis.

    He put up some resistance against clay-court specialist Fabio Fognini, but his 6-2, 6-4 defeat in Hamburg's quarterfinals robbed the tournament of its local hero.

Winner: Serena Sweeps Away the Swedish Open

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    Serena Williams continues to pile up gaudy career achievements, this time notching her 53rd career title at the Swedish Open. She is now tied for ninth with Monica Seles on the list of career WTA titles.

    It's a low profile comeback for Williams after her Wimbledon defeat and a good tune-up for the North American hard court tour, coming soon at Toronto.

    Williams continues to decorate her legacy as the best WTA player of the 21st century, and it's not even close.

Loser: Premature Hype over Roger Federer's Racket

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    Give Roger Federer more than one match or two.

    The buzz over Federer's decision to try a larger racket had many tennis writers and fans excited about a possible leap in his game. When he won his first few matches at Hamburg, excited fans shared their hopes on blogs and Twitter, trying to add their expert outlooks on the new racket.

    When Federer lost his semifinal match to Federico Delbonis, there were people who jumped off the bandwagon as if its tires had exploded.

    Give Federer at least a few more weeks before declaring the racket's effect.

Winner: Fabio Fognini's Hot Streak on Clay Continues with Hamburg Title

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    Fabio Fognini made some noise on clay in big tournaments heading to the French Open. He has not missed a beat in late July, recording his second consecutive title in a week, first Stuttgart and now Hamburg.

    Additionally, Fognini has won 10 straight matches and now has 25 match wins on clay in 2013, second only to Rafael Nadal's 38.

    The Italian also showed some fire. He was unafraid to pump his fist and shout during his quarterfinal upset over hometown hero Tommy Haas.

    The championship saw him stave off three match points and survive an argument with the chair umpire about his extended time in changing rackets because of a broken string. It seemed to fuel his fiery concentration and he closed out Federico Delbonis by taking 12 of the final 16 games.

    Fognini will also celebrate a likely climb into the top 20. At 26 years, could he be poised to become another David Ferrer?

Loser: Tennis Fans Still Waiting for Nadal, Djokovic, Murray

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    Rafael Nadal is reportedly sharpening up his disc jockey skills with MTV's Laura Whitmore.

    Andy Murray is vacationing with Kim Sears in the Bahamas.

    Novak Djokovic is resting with friends in Croatia.

    So what? There is plenty of tennis in the upcoming weeks to enjoy. Roger Federer will be playing at Gstaad, Switzerland in another tune-up for the North American hard court tour.

    Watch Fabio Fognini's attempt to capture a third straight clay court title at the Croatia Open. He is the hottest under-the-radar player in tennis right now. Richard Gasquet, Tommy Robredo and the electrifying Alexandr Dolgopolov will be in the draw.

    Agnieszka Radwanska and Samantha Stosur will be at Stanford University, California. There could be a few more photos for Radwanska to sign between matches, and many new fans would love to catch her poolside.

    Summer is a great time for tennis and soon enough the US Open will arrive. Soak it in.


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