After a week filled with polemics and surprising upsets, Djokovic, Nadal and co are happy to leave Madrid’s blue clay for the red clay of the Foro Italico in Rome.

Check out some pics and video of the draw ceremony which took place at one of Rome’s most popular tourist sites, the Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna). Attending the ceremony: former Italian players Nicola Pietrangeli, Lea Pericoli, but also Francesca Schiavone, Flavia Pennetta, Ana Ivanovic, Andy Murray and Fabio Fognini.

Nicola Pietrangeli:

Rome Masters draw ceremony: Nicola Pietrangeli

Rome Masters draw ceremony: Nicola Pietrangeli

Francesca Schiavone:

Rome Masters draw ceremony: Francesca Schiavone

Rome Masters draw ceremony: Francesca Schiavone

Flavia Pennetta:

Rome Masters draw ceremony: Flavia Pennetta

Thanks a lot to Mauro, webmaster of STE Fans, dedicated to the one and only Stefan Edberg.

Thanks to JC for sharing his pics and anecdotes about his 2009 European tour.

On this self-guided five-city tennis journey, I flew to Spain, France and Great Britain to retrace the footsteps of the tennis legend and my personal hero – Rafael Nadal. Along the way I discover many wonderful cultures and met individuals from all walks of life, all of whom celebrating tennis.

From the Bull-fighting in Madrid, to the Picasso Museum nestled in the Gothic quarters of Barcelona; I wanted to explore Nadal’s homeland of Spain both as a traveler and as a tennis fan.

First leg of the tour: the Madrid Open

Some pics of Palacio Real, Parco del Retiro and Plaza de Toros:

JC at palacio real

Lake 3

Plaza de toros (largest in Spain)

Bullring - wide view

La Caja Magica – the Magic Box – home of the Madrid Open:

Madrid Open Front Gate

Madrid Open Center Court - Caja Magique with retractable roof (3)

JC at Mardid Open

Yellow and Red

Women’s final: Dinara Safina defeats Caroline Wozniacki 6-2 6-4
Women's Final changeover view

Safina and Wozniacki at Women's Final (14)

Safina and Wozniacki at Women's Final (7)

Men’s final: Roger Federer defeats Rafael Nadal 6-4 6-4 (it was the day after the thriller semifinal opposing Nadal and Djokovic)

Roger at Madrid Open

Rafael Nadal entering (4)

Practicing Serves

Read the complete story on tennis-8.com

Best of February 2012:

She is not a one-hit wonder after all: 2011 US Open semifinalist Angelique Kerber beat Lucie Safarova, Monica Niculescu, Maria Sharapova, Yanina Wickmayer and Marion Bartoli en route for her first WTA title.

19 yr old Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino won her maiden WTA title in Bogota, playing in just her third WTA main draw and facing a 5-2 third set deficit in her opening match.

David Ferrer keeps flying under the radar and he keeps winning: after Auckland in January, he captured 2 titles in February: Acapulco and Sao Paulo.

Lleyton Hewitt recorded its 38th Davis Cup singles victory, a remarkable 14 more than by any other Australian player.

I love every time I put the gold jacket on and playing for my country whoever it’s against and my preparation is exactly the same

Manuel Orantes has been elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in the master player category. Orantes won the 1975 US Open by beating Jimmy Connors in the final, and he was the runner-up to Bjorn Borg at the 1974 French Open.

Like father, like daughter: Jessica Korda, daughter of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda, won her first LPGA tournament this month. The place of her triumph: Australia of course.
A nice tribute to her father’s infamous “scissor kick”.

February tournament winners: Angelique Kerber (Paris), Daniela Hantuchova (Pattaya), Victoria Azarenka (Doha), Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino (Bogota), Sofia Arvidsson (Memphis), Agnieszka Radwanska (Doha), Timea Babos (Monterrey), Sara Errani (Acapulco), Su-Wei Hsieh (Kuala Lumpur), Roger Federer (Rotterdam and Dubai), Nicolas Almagro (Sao Paulo), Milos Raonic (San Jose), Juan Martin Del Potro (Open 13 Marseille), Jurgen Melzer (Memphis), David Ferrer (Buenos Aires and Acapulco), Kevin Anderson (Delray Beach)

Worst of February 2012:

The Arantxa Sanchez Saga: the Sanchez clan seemed to be a much more normal family than the Grafs and Seles’ … until Arantxa’s autobiography release.

Lleyton Hewitt will be sidelined for four months after having surgery on his left foot, but eyes a return in tile for the Olympics. Ranked 170th, the 31 yr old Australian, will have to rely on a wild card from the International Tennis Federation to contest the London Olympics.

Aravane Rezai, for her Fed Cup debacle.

Andy Roddick: beaten by Denis Istomin in San Jose, ousted by Xavier Malisse in Memphis, Roddick has plummeted to his lowest ranking since 2001 (31).

The Swiss Davis Cup team of Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka: 0-5 loss against the US team on clay. Enough said.

Thanks to Rick for sharing his 2011 Indian Wells pics.

Entering the tournament:

Watching Nadal vs Del Potro:

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic practicing side by side:

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When Novak Djokovic cut his ties with adidas in favour of agreeing a 10-year deal with Sergio Tacchini in November 2009, many saw the announcement as being no great loss. Particularly when you consider that a player of similar stature (at the time) Britain’s Andy Murray signed a long-term, multi-million pound deal with adidas shortly after. Since that point however, the man they call ‘Nole’ has been formidable, blitzing all those that come before him, winning Grand Slam titles in the process and building a huge global following. In contrast, Andy Murray has now lost in three Grand Slam finals, and until recently has been struggling for form, casting doubt over his potential to achieve his ultimate ambition of winning a major championships.

For now however, the focus has to be on Djokovic and indeed Sergio Tacchini. The Chinese-owned brand has quite rightly bombarded the homepage of its central website with images of the tennis superstar, highlighting his position as global ambassador, referencing his third Australian Open win and even launching his own clothing line. A recent post I published on the Insight Sport blog touched upon the benefits of sponsors of major sporting events such as the Olympic Games aligning themselves with a portfolio of athletes as opposed to ‘putting all their eggs in one basket’ so to speak and focusing on one specific athlete – for a company the size of Sergio Tacchini it has little choice.

With an annual revenue of less than $50 million, the sportswear brand is reliant on Djokovic continuing his excellent form, whilst it can also fall back on his long term tennis heritage, having sponsored players such as John McEnroe, Pat Cash, Martina Hingis and Goran Ivanisevic in past times. In comparison, the likes of adidas and Nike are in a different league, with both sponsoring a number of high profile tennis stars across the men’s and women’s games. And with Nike recording revenues of $2.55 billion and the adidas $4.7 billion in Q3, 2011. At this point, one can only wonder at the impact Novak Djokovic could have had as an ambassador for adidas should it have retained the World Number one as an ambassador.

However all is not lost…

Adopting a long-term perspective, should Britain’s number one win a Grand Slam – he is showing signs of improvement under new coach Ivan Lendl – the effect could go beyond that of his close friend and nemesis. Given his nationality and the popularity of tennis in the UK, his appeal would reach out not only across his homeland, but also globally, given his delay in achieving what many say is his destiny. Djokovic meanwhile has hit his mesmeric heights now, there is evidence to suggest that Murray is slowly closing the gap, whilst Djokovic’s relatively small home market of Serbia is not one of significant importance to the adidas brand.

For now, one thing is clear, Djokovic is the driving force in men’s tennis, and deserves the accolades he is receiving, and Sergio Tacchini is revelling in his successes. Until Andy Murray wins a Slam, adidas must simply face up to the fact that they missed a trick in releasing Djokovic, although should that day arrive where Murray comes face to face with destiny, expect adidas to turn around and give a big ‘I told you so’ in the direction of those who doubted.

By Andreas Plastiras

Check out Andreas’ blog Snap Shot Sport