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Discussion Starter #1
Blake first to commit to men’s Pen
Jim Fuller , Register Staff

As James Blake boarded a flight for Paris on Saturday, the tennis player, once ranked among the top 25, finally had a chance to ponder his future.
Only a couple of hours earlier, Blake stood on the court at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, N.Y., after overpowering Dusan Vemic 6-3, 6-4 to win the United States Tennis Association Challenger. At that point, he was noncommittal about his intention to play at the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament in New Haven in late August.

But somewhere between sips of soda on his way from continent to continent, he gave the matter plenty of thought. By the time he set foot on French soil, Blake had decided that he could fit the New Haven-based Pilot Pen into his busy summer schedule.

On Monday, Blake, 25, a former Fairfield resident, made it official as he became the first men’s player to commit to the tournament, which will be held from Aug. 21-28 at the Connecticut Tennis Center.

"You really don’t get too many opportunities to play in your home state," said Blake, who is making a comeback after missing much of 2004 and the early part of this season with a fractured vertebrae and then the Zoster virus, which caused temporary paralysis on one side of his face.

"As soon as the news hit (that the Pilot Pen was granted the contract of the former TD Waterhouse Cup in Commack. N.Y.), my friends at home called me right away to see if I was going to play. It is exciting to know that I will have a lot of fans and support in New Haven and Yale. It wasn’t that tough of a decision.

"I was pretty busy playing the tennis tournaments, so it wasn’t a time when I was talking to my agent or figuring out my schedule. Once I finished in Forest Hills and realized that there was a chance to play in New Haven, it was kind of a no-brainer."

Blake, whose ranking plummeted from a career high of 22 all the way into the high 100s during his absence from the ATP Tour, won back-to-back Challengers in Tunica, Miss., and Forest Hills the last two weeks. Blake enters the qualifying tournament for the French Open ranked No. 69.

Blake was at his best on tour between 2002-03. His only ATP singles title came at Washington, D.C., in August, 2002, when he upset Andre Agassi in straight sets in the semifinals and then defeated Paradorn Srichapan in a three-set final. Blake also reached the finals in Memphis, Tenn., and Newport, R.I., only to lose in three sets to Andy Roddick and Taylor Dent, respectively.

But the optimism Blake felt heading into the 2004 season was short-lived. In a practice session after being eliminated from the Italian Open, Blake went racing toward the net for a drop shot off the racket of his coach Brian Barker. Blake crashed into the ring post and suffered a serious neck injury. In the course of the next year, his father Thomas passed away and he contracted the Zoster virus.

"It is hard sitting on the sidelines watching people play who you think you can compete with," Blake said. "It is going to make me stronger because I have a new perspective on the court. I had time to work on things I wouldn’t have been able to if I was playing so many tournaments.

"I am going to try to look it as a positive. I think it is going to make me a better player, but it will be a while for my ranking to show that. It is all a part of the new perspective and patience I have learned through having a tough year."

There have been signs that Blake is ready to become a major player on the pro circuit once again.

He owns a pair of wins over top 20 player Kenneth Carlsen in 2005, took Carlos Moya to three sets in the second round of the Nasdaq-100 in Miami in March, and defeated Nikolay Davydenko, then ranked eighth, in the second round at Indian Wells, Calif.

Blake’s play has been a bit inconsistent in his recent ATP appearances, but he saw encouraging signs at the two clay court challengers he played the last two weeks.

"It is like starting over," Blake said. "You want to get through these events as quickly as possible. You don’t want to stall. It took me a long time my first time through, but these are some of my fondest memories. I came through (the USTA Challenge Circuit) with Robby Ginepri, Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick, and now they are still some of my best friends on tour.

"I was attacking pretty well. I was moving my feet really well, which really was important. I really only had one letdown (in Friday’s semifinals) for a set and a half. I wasn’t moving my feet very well. The only thing that wasn’t at my best was my serve, but I had three or four matches earlier this week where it felt great, so I am not worried about that."

Blake now has to win three qualifying matches to earn a spot in the main draw of the French Open. He is seeded 17th and draws fellow American Cecil Mamiit in the first round. Blake is hoping to receive a wild card into the main draw of Wimbledon.

"My ranking isn’t good enough to get me in right now," Blake said. "I am hoping to get a wild card, being half English (Blake’s mother Betty is English) may help me. I have had some exciting matches there, so maybe they will look at that and give me the opportunity to play in the main draw. If not, I will have to go back to qualifying."

There will be no such concern when it comes to the Pilot Pen.

Pilot Pen Tournament Director Anne Worcester told Blake during a conference call Monday that "it is so appropriate that you’re the first men’s player to enter."

Blake expects to be just one of the big hitters who will come to New Haven and play in the first men’s professional tennis tournament in Connecticut since the 1998 Pilot Pen.

"I kind of hope there is plenty more," Blake said. "Growing up watching the tournament, there was always a great field. The only year I got to play in it (1998), I was in the qualifying. In the main draw, there were players like (Pete) Sampras, (Patrick) Rafter and (Goran) Ivansevic, so I know they have to ability to draw big players, and I hope they draw many more. I hope some day I will be considered in the realm of a player that can bring in a whole lot of fans."


The WTA Tour calendar still lists the Tier V event, which will run the same week as the Pilot Pen, as "to be determined." That could soon be changing.

Last year, the event was held in Forest Hills and Dina Ingersole, the tournament director of the event as well as the Challenger Series event won by Blake last week, said the site should be determined soon.

"I think we have a significantly better than even chance of getting it, but the ‘I’s aren’t dotted and the ‘T’s aren’t crossed," Ingersole said. "(The 2004 event) went well. You get to see a very high caliber of players. I think the women really enjoyed being here. It was a different type of an event than we have run here before."

Jim Fuller can be reached at [email protected].

©New Haven Register 2005

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10,353 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
Gonzalez, Massu commit to Pilot Pen
Jim Fuller, Register Staff

Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament Director Anne Worcester received a Chile reception during her recent recruiting trip to Wimbledon.
When Worcester returned to New Haven after eight days in England, she did not come home empty-handed.

On Tuesday, Worcester proved her trip involved a bit more than nibbling on strawberries and cream when she announced the commitment of Chile men’s standouts Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu to the 2005 Pilot Pen.

Gonzalez, who plays top-seeded Roger Federer in the Wimbledon singles quarterfinals today, is currently ranked 24th. However his strong run at Wimbledon, which allowed him to become the first men’s player from Chile to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals since 1985, has him on a cusp of breaking into the top 20.

Massu, ranked 29th, made international headlines when he won both the singles and doubles titles at the 2004 Olympics. He defeated American Mardy Fish in the singles final. Massu teamed with Gonzalez, who earned a bronze medal in singles, to beat the German team of Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuttler in the doubles final to become the first man to sweep the Olympic singles and doubles in 80 years.

Gonzalez and Massu join Americans James Blake and Taylor Dent as men’s players who have committed to the Pilot Pen, which will be held from Aug. 19-28 at the Connecticut Tennis Center in New Haven. Wimbledon semifinalist Amelie Mauresmo joins former Pilot Pen champions Jennifer Capriati and Elena Bovina and current top 10 players Elena Dementieva and Nadia Petrova as women’s players who have committed to the Pilot Pen.

Gonzalez and Massu also figure to be two of the South American contingent who will head to New Haven later this summer. With 11 of the current top 30 players on the ATP tour from South America, Worcester would love nothing more than to have a player’s field dominated by South Americans.

"I think we will get a lot of clay-court specialists," Worcester said. "They don’t have residences in the United States, so where would they go after they play in D.C., Los Angeles and Canada? When I was there (at Wimbledon), I spent much of my time speaking Spanish. I spoke to their (Gonzalez’s and Massu’s) agent. I told them of the large Latino community (in the Greater New Haven area). I received one (commitment) on Friday and another (Monday). Since they are connected, especially after the Olympics, I figured we should announce their (commitments) together."

While Gonzalez and Massu grew up playing on clay, they have enjoyed success on harder surfaces. Gonzalez’s only tournament title in 2005 came on the hard courts at Auckland, New Zealand, in January.

Massu hasn’t enjoyed the hard-court and grass success of his countryman in 2005, but he did open some eyes with his straight-set win over then top-ranked Andy Roddick at the hard-court tournament in Madrid in October 2003.

The entry deadline for the Pilot Pen is July 11. The playing fields are expected to be announced on July 13.

Tournament officials will have four wild-card entries on the men’s side and three for the women’s main draw.

Worcester said she doesn’t expect any commitments from top 10 players on either side until requests for wild cards begin coming in during early or mid-August.

Jim Fuller can be reached at [email protected].

Premium Member
10,353 Posts
Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)
Article Last Updated: 7/08/2005 04:23 AM
Hantuchova, Haas commit to Pilot Pen
CHRIS CASAVANT [email protected]
Connecticut Post

A day after officially losing Jennifer Capriati, the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament made a pair of significant additions to its player fields.
Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova, a New Haven regular in recent years, has committed to play in the women's event, and German Tommy Haas entered the men's tournament.

Haas is the most accomplished player to join the men's field for the return of the ATP to New Haven.

"He's a big, marquee name," tournament director Anne Worcester said. "I think he, especially for a European, is still one of the biggest names in men's tennis."

The Pilot Pen will take place Aug. 19-28 at the Connecticut Tennis Center on the Yale campus. Joining Haas in the men's draw will be Fairfield's James Blake, Taylor Dent, and Chileans Fernando Gonzalez and Nicholas Massu.

Haas, ranked 23rd in the world, has endured injury troubles since he reached No. 2 in 2002. He missed all of 2003 after rotator cuff surgery, returning to be named ATP comeback player of the year in 2004 as he brought his ranking all the way back into the top 20.

"It's an amazing comeback story," Worcester said.

In 2002, his parents were injured in a motorcycle accident in Florida, causing him to miss some time on Tour.

"I didn't know Tommy Haas from a hole in the wall, but I remember writing him a letter at the time, just a condolence letter," Worcester said. "It really hit the tennis world."

Hantuchova was a top-10 player and rising star three years ago when she played Venus Williams in a semifinal, finishing 2002 ranked No. 8. She has since leveled off — ranked 26th — but she remains a popular player.

"She's really become sort of a fan favorite here, and she's done really well here," Worcester said. "It's sort of the classic story of it being easier to get to the top than to stay on top. I think she's struggled with getting back into the top 10, but she's had some very good, solid results, and she has a marquee name."

Amelie Mauresmo, Elena Dementieva, Nadia Petrova and Elena Bovina are also scheduled to be in the women's draw. Capriati, the 2003 champ, withdrew Wednesday because she is still recovering from a shoulder injury.

"I was disappointed, but not surprised," Worcester said of Capriati's announcement. "I just didn't know how long she would wait until she made her decision. When we got the withdrawal, we were disappointed, but not surprised. I understand the rehab is going well, but it's taking longer than anticipated. She's still been in touch with us with phone calls and e-mails."

Worcester said life at the Pilot Pen office is very hectic these days. The tournament staff grew by one person when it assumed the Market New Haven campaign, but no additions have been made since the acquisition of the men's tournament.

"It's more hectic than running the worldwide WTA Tour with 60 tournaments and 30 countries 11 months out of the year," said Worcester, a former WTA CEO. "But that's also because we took on Market New Haven. We had a huge turnover on our staff last fall, so other than me, everyone is new to their positions and/or the tournament. We have really nice people working here, but there's a lot of newness. It's a lot at once."

Worcester said one player on the men's side she's courting is former French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil. Kuerten was once among the biggest stars in tennis until serious hip injuries have slowed his career.

Pilot Pen commitments

No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo, France
No. 5 Elena Dementieva, Russia
No. 9 Nadia Petrova, Russia
No. 17 Elena Bovina, Russia
No. 26 Daniela Hantuchova, Slovakia

No. 18 Fernando Gonzalez, Chile
No. 23 Tommy Haas, Germany
No. 29 Taylor Dent, USA
No. 30 Nicholas Massu, Chile
No. 106 James Blake, USA (Fairfield, Conn.)

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Discussion Starter #7
To appear at Pilot Pen is of your own free will
Dave Solomon, Register staff

NEW HAVEN — The conversations are brief and pointed, like darts at the throat of the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament.

How much are you willing to pay so-and-so to play in your tournament?

Could you please make an offer for so-and-so’s participation in your tournament?

The answer to these questions are "zero" and "no."

What do you mean? Everybody pays appearance fees.

Not the Pilot Pen.

Appearance fees are accepted practice on the ATP Tour, but Pilot Pen officials made a decision, based on economic survival — and probably some philosophical indignation — to not give appearance fees to men’s players, now or in the future.

"They (player-agents) call them ‘contracts,’ " Pilot Pen Tournament Director Anne Worcester said, emphasizing the euphemism for graft.

The hardline stance of Pilot Pen means that today, when the men’s field is announced (minus the wild cards), there will likely be no more than one Top Ten commitment. One report claimed that Argentine Guillermo Canas, the No. 8 player in the world, has tentatively committed to the Pilot Pen, but he is embroiled in doping allegations and is likely to withdraw from any and all commitments until his drug matters are settled.

The WTA does not permit appearance fees, per se, but consider that Venus Williams is playing in a Tier IV tournament in Sweden the week of Aug. 8, instead of playing the U.S. Open Series event in Los Angeles. If you think she is there because of her love of meatballs, then you have ground chuck for gray matter.

"We just can’t do (appearance fees)," Pilot Pen CEO Mike Davies said during festivities at the Street Clinic with James Blake Tuesday. "It’s going to cost us close to a million dollars extra this year, and it’s going to take years of good financial management just to make it work."

It’s a righteous stand, a policy long since adopted by Butch Buchholz — the Pilot Pen Tennis chairman — at his prestigious NASDAQ-100 event in Key Biscayne, Fla.

But NASDAQ, the former Lipton, never had trouble generating Grand Slam-type fields. The Pilot Pen, which falls the week before the U.S. Open, will have a bear of a time attracting the Federers and Roddicks and Nadals. Women’s players seem far more amenable to playing the week before a Grand Slam, judging by the consistent quality fields the Pilot Pen women’s event has drawn the past six years.

But there’s always the risk that if Pilot Pen starts giving out appearance money to the men — which can run as deep as the top 20 or 30 players — then the marquee names on the women’s side will ask for their own monetary perks. Though it’s illegal by WTA law, what’s to stop a Venus Williams or Maria Sharapova from asking for $50 grand ... under the net, of course?

Blake, a Harvard thinker, said it’s a matter of supply and demand, so players who move tickets have every right to request appearance fees.

But as that’s not an option at Pilot Pen, Davies said he hopes the players come to respect Pilot Pen’s decision.

Yeah, right.

"Well, I hope they come to understand it," Davies corrected himself.

Pilot Pen’s best attraction for players of Roddick’s ilk, is the U.S. Open Series bonus money, which can double a top player’s prize money at the Open, proper. Despite the enormous sums of money some of these players make, they’re driven to make more.

The agent for Rafael Nadal is said to have asked the Pilot Pen to reserve a wild card, which basically sounds like he will determine whether to play in the Pilot Pen based on where he stands in the Open Series.

Obviously, the proximity to New York and exactness of the court surface at the Connecticut Tennis Center to the Open are parts of the sell. But other than Open Series bonus money, the top players will come to New Haven only if they need to get in competitive matches due to factors such as injury.

It’s true more on the men’s side, but Davies points out that for a player like Serena Williams, "it was absolutely apparent at Wimbledon that Serena needs to play. You can’t be part time in this sport if you want to be at the top. But we can have as much philosophy as we want and talk to agents all we want. But everyone has his or her own reason for playing."

If the reason is money — up front money — there’s not much Pilot Pen can do ... or should do.

"It’s going to be a real challenge," Davies said. "Not that I’m asking for any more challenges at my age (69)."

Dave Solomon, the Register sports columnist, can be reached at [email protected]

©New Haven Register 2005
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