houston: juan monaco will defend title; monfils and querrey join field

u.s. men's claycourt championships - logo

HOUSTON – Argentina’s Juan Monaco will defend his US Men’s Clay Court Championship title when the tournament returns to River Oaks Country Club April 8-14, and he will be accompanied in the field by American Sam Querrey and Frenchman Gael Monfils.

These three players join the previously announced commitments from top-ranked American John Isner and Spaniards Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdasco in the singles field and American twins Bob and Mike Bryan in the doubles field.

These singles entries put five players from the Top 25 of the current ATP World Tour rankings into the field for the tournament at River Oaks. As of Monday, Almagro was No. 11, Monaco No. 15, Isner No. 16, Querry No. 20 and Verdasco No. 24.

“We always take pride in exposing our fans to new players, so it is with great pleasure we can have guys like Monfils, Almagro and Verdasco making their River Oaks debut this year,” said Tournament Director Van Barry. “We are also happy to welcome back familiar faces. Juan Monaco was a popular champion last year, and the group of Americans we have returning have long been fan favorites here in Houston.”

Monaco will try to be the first repeat champion of the event since the recently retired Andy Roddick won back-to-back titles in 2001-02. The win at River Oaks last year was one of his career-high four titles in 2012. He has reached at least one clay court final in seven of the past eight seasons, and six of Monaco’s seven career titles have come on clay.

Querrey teamed with James Blake to win the 2012 doubles title at River Oaks. He’s also enjoyed singles success, reaching the final in 2010. He has won seven titles while appearing in 12 finals in his career, and earlier this month helped the US reach the Davis Cup quarterfinal with a pair of singles wins against Brazil.

Monfils has finished in the Top 20 in the World in four of the past five seasons. He has reached 17 career ATP finals, winning four titles. He was a finalist twice early in 2012 before a knee injury forced him to miss nearly four months. He already has reached one semifinal and another quarterfinal early in 2013.

In last year’s final, Monaco defeated Isner, who in 2012 reached the Top 10 for the first time. Almagro has led the ATP in clay court match wins three times in the past five seasons and is one of only four players with over 200 career clay court wins. Verdasco has reached 10 career clay court finals and finished in the Top 25 in five straight seasons.

The Bryan Brothers are the World No. 1 doubles team and four-time champions at the US Men’s Clay Court Championship. They own the record for Grand Slam titles with 13 together as well as total career titles together with 84.

Individual session tickets and the very popular “Champ Pass” are on sale on now. The Champ Pass for the 2013 US Men’s Clay Court Championship includes a ticket to the Friday, Saturday and Sunday sessions. “The Champ Pass” usually sells out before the tournament begins. A limited number of season ticket packages are still remaining. Information on tickets can be found at www.mensclaycourt.com or by calling 713-874-6294.

fashion focus: australian open highlight(er)s

The fashions on the courts of Australian Open are a little more subtle this year, but a few things have stood out, most notably the presence of bright yellows and greens — the highlighter shades — for match play.

Alexandr Dolgopolov - Gael Monfils - Andy Murray - 2013 Australian Open

Gael Monfils (center), now a member of the Asics stable (he was previously with K-Swiss), played in a sleeveless crew — the Frenchman’s trademark — as he upset 18th seed Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-7(7), 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-3 in the first round. Andy Murray, on the right, is wearing this season’s Barricade crew, with the same shoulder detail that carried through from the end of last season.

Maria Sharapova - Nike - 2013 Australian Open

Grey was also the accent color of choice, with the straps on Maria Sharapova‘s Premier Tennis Dress from Nike in that shade (but we’re in love with the futuristic lines at the check and in the racerback), as well as the trims on the men’s adidas adiZero (on Dolgo) and Barricade (Murray) lines for the Australian summer.

More: Lisicki, Caro, Tomic, and the boys of Lotto all wear the brights — see ‘em  after the cut…

trophy watch: sometimes, we like what we see

Pieces, people. Working. Sometimes the right trophies land in the right arms with the rights outfits covering the right bodies. That was the case last weekend, as the WTA wrapped up its regular-season play and the ATP moved toward its World Tour Finals in London set for the middle of November. Above, Gael Monfils complemented his globe-and-box trophy with a well-chiseled bicep and a head of looks-just-right locks. He downed Jarko Nieminen in Stockholm 7-5, 3-6, 6-2.

Don’t harp on Vika. Seriously. We kind of love this one, too. The half tennis racket slash harp look works well with the stone texture. And, luckily Victoria Azarenka is wearing a well-matching dark tone. It was a bright week for the world no. 3 in Luxembourg, where she took care of Monica Niculescu in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2. Vika opens her Istanbul campaign tomorrow against Sam Stosur.

Double the fun. Since the US Open, Janko Tipsarevic has nabbed two ATP titles. Before it zero? Ever. Tipsy beat Viktor Troicki in the first-ever all-Serb final in Moscow, 6-2 6-4. Must be his new bod, right?

Saving the first for last. Last but not least: Dominika Cibulkova got her first trophy smooch of her career in Moscow. The pesky Slovakian downed Lucie Safarova, 3-6 7-6 (1) 7-5. | TSF Vault: More trophies to watch

(images by Getty; Azarenka photo by Fern Konnen via the WTA)

trophy watch: winners, coast-to-coast

How are these for awkward? If last week was the week of the amazingly awkward trophies, this week it’s the humans who take their turn at awkwardness. We love the trio above, as finalist Gael Monfils and winner Radek Stepanek pose with a parks official after their Legg Mason Classic title match. Stepanek upset Monfils, the top seed, 6-4 6-4. Meanwhile, below, Agnieszka Radwanska and Vera Zvonareva look o-v-e-r it in San Diego following Radwanska’s 6-3 6-4 win over Vera at the Mercury Insurance Open. Are these two friends? We can’t tell. But oy! Isn’t Aggie’s bandage an ugly sight?

Oops! He did it again. Stepanek celebrates another US Open Series title with “The Worm”

(Images via Getty)

monfils wears k-swiss fading stripe in purple

Purple, please: Roland Garros 14th seed Gael Monfils booked a spot in the fourth round by taking out Belgian Steve Darcis in straight sets. He’ll go up against David Ferrer — the Spaniard we predict will go all the way to the semis. Yep, that means a potential win over Roger Federer. (Draw: RG Men’s Singles)

With the Nike men toning down their attire, Gael and K-Swiss have stepped up by using purple and showing off the Frenchman’s guns this spring. The color always reminds us of Serena‘s clay dress from 2007. More info: K-Swiss Fading Stripe Series.

More: A few more on-court pics of Gael going up against Bjorn Phau and Steve Darcis after the cut…

k-swiss on monfils: sleeveless and in reverse

Gael Monfils became the latest addition to the roster of ATPers collaterally damaged by Rafa‘s domination on clay. The break-dancing Frenchman lost his quarterfinal match at the Barcelona Open to the World No. 1 — falling 6-2, 6-2 in 75 minutes. We’re assuming that Nadal’ll have no problem beating Ivan Dodig in the semis, but keep in mind that the Croat did upset seeds Soderling and Raonic before taking out Feli Lopez 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 in the quarters. The other semi will feature Ferrer vs. Almagro.

Leave it to the pros: Gael’s the only one in the K-Swiss camp wearing the sleeveless version (and in reversed colorways) of the spring ’11 Fading Stripe series, which feature a print of morphing dots across the chest of tees and polos. We’ve seen Sam Querrey wear the black/white version and the blue and purple (our fave) on Mardy Fish. Buy: K-Swiss at Tennis Express.

(image via Getty Images)

stay, don’t go

By Jonathan Scott

Another brand of March Madness is upon us: With the unisex goodness that is the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells tournament, the 2011 pro tennis campaign kick-starts into high gear. This 1-2 punch of Cali and Miami makes for a full month of top-notch tennis. Indeed, spring’s done sprung.

Now a curious trend seeped into tennis again in 2010: jumpy observers of the sport seeking to retire players -– good, even great stars who reaped some solid results -– before they themselves are ready to hang up their racquets. The guilty parties: too many tennis writers and other observers and “personalities” involved to various degrees. Their victims? Among them, Andy Roddick, Venus Williams, and even Roger Federer, proving that not a single star is exempt from these hasty calls to exit.

But Roddick won Memphis last month, dousing the ballyhooed, raging fire that is young Milos Raonic and coming up with possibly the best championship-point winner ever. He also ignited his fellow Americans’ effort on the Chilean clay in Davis Cup, punctuating his clinching win with a scissor kick (Video: here) that would make Sally O’Malley salivate. Too many quickly forgot that Venus seized some early 2010 titles and vaulted to no. 2 in the world before injuries in part derailed both her autumnal and 2011 Aussie exploits. (Oddly, she’s now singing 311 karaoke on a MIA-to-Turks cruiseship and showing off some fly dance moves for someone with chronic knee issues.). Fed himself ran the table at the London year-end championships in December, outdoing even Rafael Nadal in the final, and snagged an early 2011 title before a taking-all-comers Novak Djokovic rolled over him in Melbourne.

Still, retirement happens. It’s inevitable. Justine Henin’s departure has itself turned into a piece of music with multiple movements, the strings swelling and falling at different points. Henin has been like that lover who breaks it off and then loiters for attention: Mercy. And merci.

All of the brouhaha catalyzed a thought: Who or what in the sport truly needs to go?

Without further ado, a few items –- persons, peccadillos, and other pesky minutiae –- that best get gone. Now. Conversely, some other talents and trends are welcome to get comfy. So there it is: Stay, or Go.

GO: Foremost, let’s be done with the freak injuries. Some stars are making the maladies on TV hospital dramas seem realistic: Victoria Azarenka scarily passed out on court after bopping her head during a warm-up run, and then Anna Chakvetadze did her best Vika impression. Meanwhile Andy Murray strained his hand by playing video games excessively (okay, that one proved a fib). It seems a few players just need to be grounded.

Granted, Serena’s recent pulmonary embolism/hematoma scare is more than legit. Anyone who relishes compelling tennis, even if no fan of hers, whether onlooker or media, can only hope she makes it back into the mix again. Tennis needs her fight and her bite. Not every player needs to be Mama Kim Clijsters, portrait of civility.

Speaking of, GO: Can we just be done with all the talk about Clijsters’ motherhood? Cute turned to precious in a hurry there, and not in a good way.

GO: That hand-strain hoax aside, Murray might want to consider tempering his video gaming: Girlfriend Kim Sears reportedly already broke up with him once over the habit. Word to the wise, young gun: the lady has you on watch.

Judy Murray, we heart thee.

GO. STAY. Good dog: Not to pick on the Murray familia too much (see below), but what of these tweets from the family’s resident cur, this Maggie? So let it be written, so let it be done: No more Murray mutt tweets, at least not until Andy bags that virgin Major. It’s no less lame to put your pet on Twitter than it is to fashion a Facebook profile for it.

STAY: Judy Murray, British tennis coach and mom to Andy and Jamie. Yes, she advises her son. She also isn’t afraid to shoot a witty retort at a former player who yaps about her spawn’s chances at winning big with her on board.

GO: Boris Becker. Just let it be, Boorish. You were a fine player, a flame-maned, serve-and-volley stud on grass. Then you knocked Murray and his mum for his underperforming at Slams, chiding him for his closeness to Judy and (good grief!) for standing by his girl at age 23. So a former player cheats on his pregnant wife with a Russian model (in a closet), resulting in a lust child, and then doles out unsolicited relational advice? Laughable. Not content to merely stand by his statements from the fall, BB waxed on again after Murray’s mopey, one-sided loss to Nole in the Aussie final. Sigh. Everyone’s a Carillo. Click to read more, kids. You don’t want to miss these musings.

[Read more...]

trophy watch: beijing goes big, orbs in japan, and a little slice of belgium

Frenchie Adrian Mannarino (Troy!) took out Steve Darcis in straight sets to take this little slice of the Ethias Tennis Trophy in Mons, Belgium.

At the Rakuten Japan Open in Tokyo, Rafael Nadal beat Gael Monfils 6-1, 7-5 to grab his first post-US Open title this year. (He lost to Gigi Lopez in the Bangkok semis last week.)

On the doubles side, Eric Butorac and former Bruin Jean-Julien Rojer won the final match against Fila boys Dmitry Tursunov and Andreas Seppi. Two snaps to Prince and Nike for coordinating the colors on the kits of the winning team.

And in Beijing, rain-delayed finals didn’t produce any upsets, with defending champ Djokovic and Wozniacki fending off Ferrer and Zvonareva. Caro takes her second trophy this week (the first for reaching the world No. 1 ranking by overcoming break advantages from Vera in the first set. (The Russian even won the second set.) Both ladies can take this performance as a confidence boost going into the women’s year-end championships, held in Doha.

(images via Getty Images)

do not pass go, do not collect $200

Gael Monfils upset No. 2 seed Andy Roddick at the Rakuten Japan Open in Tokyo this week. The 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (6) victory puts Monfils’s head-to-head with the top American 5-3.

Gael will face Stepanek in the semis. The top-half match-up is Nadal vs. Trocki. (Draw: Singles)

(Monfils image via Getty Images; Jimbo image src)