Monthly Archives: January 2010

The Chinese become a global force to be reckoned with…

With the world’s largest population of 1.3 billion, China’s pedigree and potential as a tennis nation should have matched its economic prowess in the last decade. However, the Communist’s regime’s strict control over the way players previously managed their careers, with the state run federation denying any international competition and recently taking an awesome 60% of their earnings which was reinvested to fund and manage their coaching, medical treatment and even tournament schedules, has severely restricted their success on a global scale.

The diminutive dynamos Jheng Zie and Li Na’s astronomic ascent onto the tennis world stage during the Australian Open, with both women reaching the semi finals on either half of the draw, has catapulted the country into the limelight, with the possibility of an all Chinese final and has left many wondering what exactly has changed and many nations no doubt secretly pondering, what could we have done better?

Chinese tennis has hugely benefitted from substantial backing from the Beijing government and independent business ventures during the five-year stay of the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai and the run up to the Olympic Games in 2008, with tennis academies sprouting across the country and parents encouraging their children at a much earlier age into the sport, instead of hugely popular table tennis or badminton. Indeed, the passion for tennis has spread like swine flu through the nation and out into the global stratosphere. Sport’s labels across the globe have rushed to cash in on China’s new obsession with the game, with even the All England Club introducing stores across the country. Nevertheless, this massive growth had yet to properly transpire onto the world stage due to the Chinese communist regime’s strict hold they had over tennis player’s careers.

In a recent interview, one of China’s ‘Golden Flowers’, Jheng Jhi, who first raised a few eyebrows with her surprise jaunt to the semi finals at Wimbledon in 2008 and recently signed a lucrative deal with Mercedes Benz and ANTA (a Chinese sportswear label) said ‘there is a big change in tennis in our country…we can now play and prepare like the others. It makes a big difference.’ Indeed, since the Beijing Olympics along with Li Na, Jie only has to reimburse 12% of her earnings in return for absolute independence in the way her career is run, a rarity amongst Chinese athletes and the results have been dramatic ever since, especially in the women’s game, most clearly illustrated by the huge influx of Chinese paparazzi in Melbourne.

The next top 22 players are strictly supervised by 17 coaches, eight doctors and copious sports scientists, nutritionists, psychologists and trainers in a new national program. Semi finalist, Li Na looked to the future in a recent interview saying ‘I still believe more and more Chinese players will come through. There are many juniors playing here and others in the qualifying competition. Right now it’s step by step’ and also commented on her individual ambitions after beating Grand Slam champion, Venus Williams 2-6, 7-6, 7-5 in the quarter final, revealing ‘getting into the top ten was the goal my coach set me for the whole year. Now I have already done it in January. Now I will dream about the top five, why not?’

While the Chinese population have gone wild watching the live matches of their blossoming protégés, the women’s success in Melbourne has not come as a surprise to Gao Shenyang, a director at China’s sports commission, who told Chinese media: ‘Given the competitive form of Zheng Jie and Li Na, what they have achieved in Melbourne is not surprising to us. Their success shows that Chinese tennis players can find their rightful place in the tennis world.’

After beating a flurry of lower ranked seeds such as Maria Kirilenko, Marion Bartoli, Alona Bondarenko and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez in her run to the semi final, Jheng Jie now faces the steep task of halting Justine Henin’s formidable comeback, while Li Na has to overcome yet another Williams’ sister to reach the final. I’m not a much of a gambler, but I think I might put a sneaky bet on one of the pocket dynamos to cause an outrageous upset. Watch this space!    

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach from London. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.  


Photo shoot with professional photographer, Simon Harvey :)

Hey guys, can’t wait for my photo shoot with professional photographer Simon Harvey this Wednesday. I’m going for some funky fashion tennis shots and images. Hopefully he’ll make me look fab for my promo shots. Really looking forward to it – there’s gonna be lots of tennis balls flying about! Fingers crossed the weather holds out so I can use the courts at Hazelwood tennis club (where Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothovong used to train and I actually won the Ladies singles championship two years in a row aged 14 and 15 I think – although those two didn’t enter, I still had to beat some stiff competition). I also played with Anne in the Premier division of the Middlesex League for Hazelwood, but unfortunately they wouldn’t actually let us be partners and split us up with more ‘experienced’ ladies 😦

Anyway, am feeling a little cheesed off with the weather right now, which seems to conspire against my every attempt to actually play tennis rather than just sit indoors writing about it! Tennis really does help relieve stress so I can’t wait to get to the International Symposium in sunny South Carolina in a couple of weeks to hit with some of the juniors at the Van Der Meer Tennis Academy and the PTR coaches from around the world. Got to get started on my new business cards and leaflets to promote my freelance writing skills. Watch this space…. happy hitting people (let’s pray the sun gets his hat on soon eh).

Bye for now

Melina  xoxo   (sorry it’s a habit from being a Gossip Girl addict who always signs off, you know you love me, xoxo hahaha)


Murray not the only one flying the flag for Brits down under!

Andy Murray is not the only one flying the flag for Brits down under after his comprehensive dismantling of Gicquel yesterday in difficult weather conditions: the first round victories of Brits Elena Baltacha and Katie O’Brien in the women’s singles meant that for the first time since 1992, Britain had two women into the second round of a Grand Slam tournament outside of Wimbledon.

Unfortunately, while O’Brien looked out of her depth as she lost to former world number 1 Jelena Jankovic in straight sets yesterday admitting, ‘I was trying to go for a little bit too much, I think I expected her to put me under more pressure, and to be honest, she didn’t. She just played solid but she didn’t do anything outstanding.’, Elena Baltacha’s impressive and gutsy win against Kateryna Bonderenko, an opponent ranked 51 places higher on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, has set up a fantastic duel against World Number 2, the warrior, Dinara Safina in the third round.  

This will be a great challenge for Britain’s number one, whose career has taken more knocks than Mohammed Ali, suffering from tonsillitis, glandular fever and liver problems to name just a few. However, she is now certain to establish a new career highest ranking once the event is over. The world number 83 said ‘I feel good. No, I feel fantastic’ after her victory revealing ‘the thing that has changed with me is confidence…if you really believe you can deliver, whether it’s in a very tight situation or not, then you can get there. I know there’s a lot more to improve on my tennis but mentally I think I’m getting there now.’

She went on to say ‘now I have got nothing to lose against Safina. I know she is a good player, but she has had her blips recently. I have a day off to recharge and then I’m going to go for it again.’ Safina is in desperate need of a Grand Slam victory to silence her critics and justify her elevated world ranking but this pressure could actually go in Baltacha’s favour if she can capitalise early in the match.

Next up for Murray

Next up for Murray is Florent Serra, who struggled through 5 sets and saved two match points in his match against the Finn, Jarkko Nieminen, so hopes are high in Britain that a relatively rested Murray can dispatch of him with ease.  In his post match interview Murray noted ‘he’s been around the 50 mark for quite a long time. He’s a solid player. He’s had two very long matches so far. Saved a couple of match points today. So, you know, he’s gonna go for it. Have to make sure I’m on my game.’

A sweet 16th  for Laura Robson

Let’s not forget Laura Robson, who was granted a sweet 16th birthday present with an impressive win against the experienced American pair, Jill Craybas and Abigail Spears, 6-3, 7-5 with the shrewd choice of Aussie, Sally Peers as her partner. Robson has been adopted by the Aussie crowd, with one cheeky spectator even giving her a certificate to change her residency to Australia; sorry mate, she’s ours!


A scintillating win for Henin!

The Rod Laver arena witnessed a scintillating 7-5, 7-6(8-6) win for comeback queen, Justine Henin over World number 5, Elena Dementieva earlier today, which could signify the dawn of a new age for women’s tennis and possibly a coronary for Dementieva’s mother and coach, the omnipresent Vera who was uncomfortable to watch as she appeared to play every single shot for her gutsy daughter.

With US open champion Kim Clijsters and the uber talented former World number one Henin back with a vengeance, the women’s tour has never held so much promise and wide spread appeal. This year’s Australian Open is panning out to be a classic for the WTA, undoubtedly helped by unseeded wild card Henin’s random placement in amongst the top seeds in the mouth watering bottom half of the draw, which provided a second round battle worthy of a final.

In my preview, I debated Dementieva’s mental fortitude which was sorely tested by Henin throughout. However, I do not believe Henin’s victory was down to a lack of fight from the Russian, who displayed admirable gut and determination to push Henin to the brink and back time and time again in this hotly contested second round match, rather it was Henin’s relentless resolution to come forward when playing the big points which caused the upset, marking her out as a true champion.

In her first tournament back in Brisbane, Henin fell at the last hurdle failing to close out the match against fellow Belgian compatriot and current US open champion Kim Clijsters by pressing too hard for victory, displaying a possible chink in her come back preparation.

However, today’s performance quashed any remaining doubt that Henin is ready to compete at the same level at which she left the game 20 months ago. Henin’s coach and mentor Carlos Rodriguez interestingly underestimated his diminutive pupil’s prospects in a recent interview with The Sunday Times prior to the Open, stating cautiously ‘I am not expecting her to be back at her best at the Australian Open or maybe a few months after that’ and expressed his surprise at her reaching the final in Brisbane because ‘she’s not certain about her game yet. Sometimes she’s too defensive, other times she goes on the attack when it is not wise. But those things come with time and matches. So far she has only played five.’

Perhaps this was a psychological tactic to relieve the pressure from Henin’s petite shoulders or a genuine miscalculation by the contemplative coach? Whatever the case may be, Rodriguez must be delighted with her swift progress which has shot her into contention at the Australian Open like a lightning bolt over the Rod Laver arena, illuminating the women’s game with her unique style in comparison to the one dimensional baseliners who have dominated thus far.

Concerns about Henin’s serve, which Rodriguez cleverly modeled on the biomechanics of the Minnesota Viking’s quarterback, American Football star, Brett Favre were magnified in the first set, when Henin threw in 6 double faults. She often had to catch her first throw up which frequently veered disturbingly to the right, suggesting a possible lack of confidence in her new technique. However, by the second set as she got into her stride, those double faults reduced down to just two in a long and hotly contested set, with her first serve percentage at 48% in contrast to Dementieva’s at 65% across the total 2 hours and 50 minutes.

From the offset, the momentum of the match swung from side to side like a ship caught in a storm. In the first set, Dementieva’s depth and relentless pace of shot raged against Henin’s touch and variety resulting in copious break points for the Russian. At 5-4 with two set points for Dementieva, Henin produced a great drop volley to save the first and then constructed a brilliant point, resulting in a forehand approach and backhand volley winner to bring the game back to deuce to save the second. Henin broke back with an audacious drop volley leveling the set at 5 all.

In the following game, Henin matched Dementieva shot for shot by producing deeper and more penetrating ground strokes.  A gutsy movement forward with a convincing volley at the net, secured a 6-5 lead. Indeed, it was her intuitive awareness of when to move forward to finish the point which pegged her back level at 30 all in the next game, which she then went on to win with an impressive forehand, hit on the rise, following a powerful first serve at deuce.

Dementieva opened the second set with another difficult hold of serve and followed with what appeared to be the beginnings of an impressive fight back, breaking Henin in the second game. However, with the grace of a ballet dancer Henin passed Dementieva at the net in the next point and went on to force a double fault from the uncharacteristically stoic Russian on break point.

Henin produced a magnificent game, maneuvering the Russian with deft precision around the court at 2-1 down to level the set at 2 all. Dementieva won two games in a row and appeared to have the upper hand as she went 4-2 up in the second. However, the tides turned once again as Henin went for the jugular and won the next three games to go 5-4 up, but lost her first match point in the next service game with a tight forehand into the net. Sensing Henin’s nerves, Dementieva took advantage and secured the break with a punishing backhand down the line.

At 5 all, Henin broke the Russian’s serve once again to set up yet another opportunity to serve out the match. While the crowd’s cheers reached a deafening crescendo, Rodriguez motioned animatedly to Henin radiating positivity and determination, while in contrast Dementieva’s mother and coach looked unnervingly at her daughter and then as if she were praying to the Gods for help.

Rodriguez must have been concerned (even if his face was a picture of confidence) as Henin once again failed to close out the match seemingly straining a quad muscle while serving. An impressive fight back from Dementieva secured the break to take the second set to a mouth watering tie break.

Despite racing to a 3-1 lead, Dementieva succumbed to Henin’s variety of shot and willingness to risk all on the important points (possibly in fear of a punishing third set) and like a true champion won the match on a serve volley; glaringly symbolic of what women’s tennis has been missing since her retirement from the game.

Henin is destined to meet Clijsters in the quarter finals (if they both proceed as predicted) in a repeat of the recent Brisbane final. What another great advert this would be for the women’s game and also as evidence for their inclusion in the proposed Tennis World Cup if the stars contrive to place these brilliant Belgian rivals together once again. Watch this space…


Second round match between comeback queen Henin and world number 5 Dementieva whets the appetite for tennis fans worldwide

WTA players and tennis fans alike were waiting with baited breath to see where seven-time Grand Slam Champion, the diminutive Belgian Justine Henin was going to be placed in the Australian Open draw last week. Unfortunately for the players, but fortunate for fans, the draw created a hugely competitive mouth watering half of the draw featuring Justine Henin, Elena Dementieva, Jelena Dokic, Flavia Pennetta, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Henin’s Belgian rival Kim Clijsters.

Indeed, after impressive first round performances, Henin and Dementieva have set up what promises to be the most eagerly anticipated second round match in Australian Open history.  Henin eased her way comfortably back into Grand Slam action with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Belgian compatriot, Kirsten Flipkens, breaking early in both sets, while Dementieva demolished Russian compatriot Vera Dushevina 6-2, 6-1 firing an audacious 23 winners during her smooth victory in the Hisense Arena.

 The two contenders

 In previewing this match, I felt it necessary to take a moment to ponder what must have gone through Henin’s deeply contemplative mind as she faced the prospect of Dementieva in the second, Dokic in the third and a rematch of the recent Brisbane International Final with Clijsters in the quarters?  Something along the lines of unwavering relish I would think as she admitted in a recent uncharacteristically open interview with the Sunday Times newspaper in the UK, ‘I’m afraid I am not an observer in life. I am somebody that has to go out there and do things. I need challenges all the time, I need to set myself a goal and achieve.’ She also admitted after an 18 month ‘retirement’ from the game, ‘I need tennis; it’s something I have found out about myself. I wasn’t sure whether I truly needed it before or whether it was something I’ve just always done but after nearly two years of seeing things through different eyes, I know it’s something I must have in my life.’

With this new found thirst for the game, I doubt the mentally fragile but freshly confident world number 5 Dementieva is relishing her second round match up with the notoriously cool Belgian. Despite winning convincingly against the battling Williams sisters in Doha and the Sydney International Tournament, impressing critics with her stoic displays, it is evident she has some niggling insecurities to triumph over in order to win her first Grand Slam here in Australia. The fact that she openly admitted having to remind herself ‘she’s just like you, you know, she can be nervous’ regarding her opponent Venus Williams, reveals how she clearly suffers at the hands of a rather damaging inferiority complex against Grand Slam champions, which could play a significant role in the way this second round match will play out.

Who will be victorious?

It remains to be seen whether Wednesday January 22nd at 19:00 local time will signify a turning point in women’s tennis and the most exciting match of the year so far. Millions of tennis fans will tune in to see whether Henin will manage to defuse Demenieva’s meticulously honed confidence with her steel, style and psychological strength.  It will be fascinating to watch how the possible psychological advantage Henin may have over Dementieva will play out on Wednesday. This match could symbolize the beginning of an illustrious Grand Slam career for Dementieva or launch the return of the elusive Henin to the top of rankings once again. It’s certainly an intriguing encounter which should not be missed – set those alarms people, we’re in for a treat!


My blog post makes the main home page of http://www.tennisopolis.com which is a social networking site for tennis peeps with 23000 members!


Murray’s bright new kit matches the vibrancy of his offensive game in the first round of the Australian open and the smiling continues!

Murray has made his name, often consistently camped three feet behind the baseline, counter punching his opponents with his wicked consistency and variety of shot over the past few years, helping him to rise to the giddy heights of number 3 in the world, yet the Grand Slams have remained stubbornly elusive. Since the beginning of 2010, it’s not just his image that’s had a radical revolution (he recently signed a lucrative deal with Adidas replacing his often mismatched Fred Perry wear), his approach has changed too. 

Far too often Murray has played the waiting game, drawing his opponents into long grueling rallies and reacting to shots with his exquisite intuition to sucker punch his way to victory. But, as Pat Cash rightly noted of Murray in his article for the Sunday Times dated January 17th, ‘he is a potential Grand Slam champion but too often he has fallen short because he preferred to be reactive rather than proactive.’ However, like me, Cash has noticed a distinct change of direction in Murray’s game, noting his movement forward onto the baseline and sometimes even stepping aggressively inside the baseline during his devastating demolition of Andreev in the Hopman Cup competition. Cash congratulated Murray after the game, saying ‘Good on you, mate. You have finally played the way I want to see you playing and if you keep going that way, I am sure you will be a Grand Slam Champion’.

Murray opened his account at the Australian Open last night with an emphatic victory over the 6’8” South African qualifier, Kevin Anderson, 6-1, 6-1,6-2 in a swift hour and 37 minutes. Although the first week of a grand slam is all about playing within yourself and conserving energy, while the storm raged impressively on the outside courts, I was pleased to see Murray continuing his ‘cat and mouse’ approach, with Murray as the cat, toying with his lanky and often awkward opponent with ease – his vibrant blue and yellow Adidas shirt hardly displaying a hint of sweat throughout the three sets. Interestingly, Murray had been criticized for his decision to play the Hopman Cup as his preparation for the Open, but shrewd as ever, ironically the indoor conditions in his first round match at the Open were almost identical to those at the Hopman Cup, not even allowing his opponent the weather on his side.

His opponent hadn’t dropped a service game in the three qualifying matches he had won en route to his match up with Murray, nevertheless after a convincing game to love in the opening service game, Murray ruthlessly ruined Anderson’s unbeaten record, breaking him in the second game with his instinctive returning and aggressive play. There were very few of the long rallies for the Australian crowd to get their teeth into, which we have long learnt to associate with Murray, but they must have been impressed with the way he controlled the pace of the match with skill like a puppeteer, he had us all on a string.

The only low point being his first serve percentage, which disappointingly stood around the mid thirties and the lack of velocity and bite on his second serve averaging around 80-85mph which could cause him problems against a more challenging opponent. However, on the plus side, it was fantastic to see his more relaxed and jovial manner from the Hopman Cup continue in his post match interview, with the crowd reacting accordingly.

In the second round, he will meet either Marc Gicquel of France or Simone Bolelli of Italy and it remains to be seen whether Murray will be brave enough to continue his offensive play further into the tournament.