Commentary

Ivanovic, Scott to face challenges

Originally Published: March 11, 2009
By Bonnie D. Ford | ESPN.com

Larry ScottClive Brunskill/Getty ImagesSuffice it to say, Larry Scott has been overwhelmed with various WTA controversies.

Ana Ivanovic is generally ebullient and outgoing in public, but she and her camp tend to be guarded about certain things, such as who gets to speak for them. Her new interim arrangement with coach Craig Kardon is no exception. After finishing a hitting session with the Serbian star before last week's Billie Jean King Cup exhibition at Madison Square Garden, which pitted Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic against the Williams sisters, Kardon politely declined interview requests and said he had been asked not to comment until and unless he is formally hired.

Ivanovic has had a strong long-term working relationship with physical trainer Scott Byrnes but has long resisted the idea of taking on a full-time traveling coach, preferring to work part time with the savvy, genial Sven Groeneveld, whose services are available to all athletes under contract with Adidas -- except when they face another player in the Adidas stable. (Ivanovic will not work with Groeneveld while Kardon coaches her.) To her credit, Ivanovic realizes it's time to make a change. She has won only one tournament (Linz, Austria) since her breakthrough Grand Slam title at last year's French Open and admitted her confidence suffered during an injury-marred second half of 2008.

Kardon's lengthy trial period began in mid-February and will last through two of the year's most important hard-court tournaments -- Indian Wells, where Ivanovic is the defending champion, and Miami. The 47-year-old former pro made his name as a very young coach starting in the late '80s, served as a development coach for the U.S. Tennis Association and has helped guide some stellar talent, including Martina Navratilova, Lindsay Davenport, Mary Pierce and Jennifer Capriati.

Another former charge, doubles specialist Lisa Raymond, still plays for Kardon every July on World TeamTennis' Philadelphia Freedom and considers him a friend. "Experience is one of the main things he brings to the table, having worked with so many top players in the past,'' Raymond said in an e-mail. "He is a hard worker, a good player and pushes you. I hope for him it works out.''

More news and notes:

Endless simmer: Anyone who loves tennis and wants to see its players unfettered by politics also would like to see the Dubai controversy resolved, but it hasn't quite been put to bed yet.

WTA chairman and CEO Larry Scott announced a number of sanctions against the organizers of the women's tournament in the United Arab Emirates after Israel's Shahar Peer was denied a visa to enter the country, and those organizers have decided to appeal their $300,000 fine.

Scott, who looked noticeably tired in his public appearances when the Dubai situation was at full boil, said he isn't losing any sleep over this maneuver. "I don't know what kind of pressure they're under to appeal, but they're entitled,'' he said before the Madison Square Garden event. "If a member wants to appeal my decision, they can appeal to our board [of directors]. I imagine they'll comply with the final decision. Our board is due to meet in May. They [the tournament] have to post a letter of credit and accept the conditions by the beginning of July, so it's not going to last a long time.''

Another diplomatic front: For the eighth straight year, Venus and Serena Williams will not play at the newly renamed BNP Paribas Open, casually known by its host town's name of Indian Wells. Their continuing boycott, spurred by their reaction to what they termed a racist incident in 2001, is no surprise, but there is a different twist this year thanks to the WTA's new rules concerning absence from a mandatory tournament.

To avoid a suspension, the sisters are obligated to make a promotional appearance in the Southern California market sometime this season. (The official rule says the event must be within 125 miles of the missed tournament but does not have to be in support of that tournament.) The WTA has furnished three possible dates, one this spring and two later this year, that would be linked to the year-end championships in Doha, Qatar. Scott said last week that after extensive negotiations with the Williams sisters and their representatives, he has been assured that "they have no intention of being suspended.'' According to the rule, the date is supposed to be locked in by the start of the Indian Wells tournament, but as of Monday afternoon, WTA spokesman Andrew Walker said the tour is still awaiting a response.

"Obviously, it's a very delicate issue,'' Scott said. "I'm trying to move the sport forward and get a system that applies to everyone. By the same token, this is a pre-existing condition that we have to work around sensitively.''

Dudi Sela
Drago Prvulovic/AFP/Getty ImagesDespite protests taking center stage, Dudi Sela and Israel defeated Sweden in the most exciting Davis Cup tie this past weekend.

Davis Cup postmortem, or a few things we're still pondering: Andy Roddick deserves every bit of credit for extending his streak in Davis Cup matches that clinch the next round to 11-0 against Switzerland, and for passing Andre Agassi to move into second place on the all-time U.S. career win list. You have to play the guys who show up, but it would have been fascinating to see what Roddick's Davis Cup aura might have done for him against nemesis Roger Federer. Speaking of Federer -- not sure how guilty he feels about this, but it's pretty clear his presence might have made a huge difference. He's 24-3 against Roddick and the U.S. No. 2, James Blake, and Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka won the Olympic doubles gold medal. According to European news sources, Federer spent last week training in Dubai with potential coaching candidate Darren Cahill.

Note to those in the host city of Malmo, Sweden, who were so bent on making a political point by closing the Israel-Sweden Davis Cup matches to spectators under the guise of security issues: You hurt your own team more than the visitors. Robbing the Swedes of home-court advantage may have been a big factor in their hard-fought 3-2 defeat, which included four five-set singles matches.

Novak Djokovic didn't win a set in his two matches against David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal. He's 14-6 this season going into Indian Wells, where he won last year, and logged his best performance at the star-depleted Dubai tournament.

Understudies: Before the leading ladies took the stage at the Garden, a pair of potential starlets played an abbreviated four-game match to show the entering crowd what the future might look like. Gail Brodsky, 17, and Sloane Stephens, 15, said they enjoyed rubbing shoulders with the older players and had a giggle when they got to clean up and change in the New York Knicks' locker room.

But these teenagers are serious about honing their games. Brodsky, the Ukrainian-born, Brooklyn-raised daughter of immigrants who arrived in this country with $100 to their names, was the U.S. girls' 18s champion last year. Currently ranked No. 395, she's gunning to crack the top 200 before June, when she'll turn 18 and be free of any age restrictions in the number of WTA-level tournaments she plays. Stephens, a spritelike African-American from Fresno, Calif., has posted some impressive results in lower-tier USTA Pro Circuit events, was a doubles finalist at the 2008 junior U.S. Open and will soon head to Europe for some clay-court work with USTA coaching guru Jose Higueras.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.

Bonnie D. Ford covers Olympic sports for ESPN.com.