By Toni Headley
Toni Headley is a tennis expert who worked at ESPN for 10 years and has been a freelance writer there for the past 2 years. She also previously worked at CBS Sports and has covered every major tennis tournament in the world multiple times.
As a precursor to the start of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament from Indian Wells California, tennis fans will be treated to some exhibition tennis from the world’s most famous arena Madison Square Garden or “The Garden,” as it is sometimes called. Billed as “Tennis Night in America,” fans will get to see the likes of four former number one players, Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki, Roger Federer, and Andy Roddick.
Both matches will feature a best of three format. First up will be Maria Sharapova vs. Caroline Wozniacki, which begins at 7pm on ESPN3.com. This will be followed by Roger Federer vs. Andy Roddick at 11:30pm on ESPN.
After an eight year hiatus, tennis returned to Madison Square Garden in 2008 when the aforementioned Roger Federer played his idol Pete Sampras, in front of a sold out crowd in an exhibition match billed as the “Net Jets Showdown.” Then in 2009 and 2010 we had the “Billie Jean Cup,” which featured some of the brightest stars from the WTA. These stars included Venus and Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, Kim Clijsters, and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Last year we were honored to witness the return of two tennis legends when Ivan Lendl played his long time rival and friend John McEnroe.
Madison Square Garden has played host to some of the greatest sporting events in the world for over 80 years and the tradition continues tonight when arguably one of the greatest tennis players in the history of the sport Roger Federer (currently ranked 3rd), will once again put on a show for all to see when he plays Andy Roddick (currently ranked 31st). Roger is currently riding a ten match winning streak after winning back to back titles in Rotterdam and Dubai. Andy has been slowed somewhat by injuries to start the year.
Roger leads the head-to-head series against Andy 21-2. It has not been much of a rivalry, but they have played some incredible tennis against each other the past ten years. Most notably, the 2009 Wimbledon finals which Roger won in an epic encounter 16-14 in the 5th set. This was Roger’s 15th Grand slam title. A match that most experts including myself thought Andy should have won.
Three-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova (currently ranked #2) is one of the most recognizable tennis stars and comes to Madison Square Garden for the first time as does the ever smiling and former number one Caroline Wozniacki (currently ranked #4).
Maria leads their head-to-head series 3-2. Both women had a rocky start to the year. Maria pulled out of the Brisbane tournament with an ankle injury. Then she was completely dominated in the Australian Open finals at the hands of the current number one player in the world Victoria Azarenka, to the tune of 6-3, 6-0. She followed that by losing to little known German Angelique Kerber, at the Paris indoor tournament in the quarterfinals.
Caroline has not made it past the semi-finals of any tournament she has played so far this year. She lost in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and subsequently lost her number one ranking. Now Woz sits at #3, which is her lowest rank in four years. Maybe some fun at the “Garden” is just what the doctor ordered for these two exceptional tennis players to take their minds off the slow start to the year before they head to Indian Wells for some real competition.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.