Ashley Cooper’s role defended


Melbourne : Australian Open boss Craig Tiley has defended former Wimbledon champion Ashley Cooper’s role on the committee that awarded the multimillion-dollar contract for Plexicushion courts at Melbourne Park to a company affiliated with a business Cooper held shares in for 24 years.

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Cooper, a founding director of the company Australian Plexipave, was on an eight-person committee established by Tennis Australia to decide whether its 20-year association with Rebound Ace should continue. The contract was worth millions because part of Tiley’s master plan for Australian tennis is to have the same surface laid in as many tennis centres as possible, complete with a $16,000 grant per court for the installations.

Tennis Australia awarded the contract to W.M. Loud, the agent for Australian Plexipave. Cooper was a director of Australian Plexipave from its creation in 1977 to 2001. His brothers were also founding directors and their company, Coops Pvt. Ltd, was a shareholder.

Cooper appears in advertising material for Plexicushion, the surface supplied by WM Loud and Australian Plexipave to the venue for next month’s Australian Open, but Tiley Saturday told The Sunday Age from South Africa that he believed it was appropriate to have Cooper involved in the decision-making. Former partners of Cooper’s at Australian Plexipave remain as directors and shareholders of both that company and WM Loud.

Tiley said: “In terms of any conflict of interest, in Tennis Australia’s opinion and my own opinion, there was no better person than Ashley Cooper to provide expertise and opinion on court surfaces. If I had to do it again tomorrow, I would include the same people.”

The committee recommended Plexicushion to the Tennis Australia board, on which Cooper also sits.


Melbourne Ana’s favourite city

Adopted “Melburnian” and tennis glamour girl Ana Ivanovic loves the city so much that she has expressed a desire to settle one day there.

The soaring Serb, 20, who regularly visits close relatives in Melbourne, is preparing for her fourth Australian Open. “I love Melbourne, it’s my favourite city,” Ivanovic said.

“If Australia wasn’t so far from all the tournaments, I would definitely consider living here. After I retire I could move here.”

Ivanovic is related to Melbourne’s Barosevic family — Branislav and Snezana and their children Marko and Drazen. She has spent Christmas with her Melbourne family five times. “I enjoy regular things like shopping on Chapel St or having dinner there and walking along Southbank in the evening,” Ivanovic said.


Wilander and Hewitt in copyright row

The clothing range Australian Number One Lleyton Hewitt has launched may lead to a confrontation between him and former world No 1 Mats Wilander and that could happen in Adelaide.

The Australian has trademarked the hand signal introduced to world sport by Wilander and fellow Swede Niclas Kroon in the late 1980s.

Kroon said he and Wilander were “gutted” when learning Hewitt had seized control of the signal they had invented and marketed – and even defended against another copycat, successfully, in Sweden in the 1990s.

Kroon said he would ask Wilander to take up the matter with Hewitt next week at the Adelaide International, where Wilander will coach No. 2 seed Paul-Henri Mathieu of France.

“We just want to talk to him directly, not the people around him, and see if something can be sorted out,” Kroon said.


‘It’s time Hewitt won the Australian Open’

Roger Rasheed, who quit as Lleyton Hewitt’s coach a few months ago, says the Australian No. 1 should focus more on winning his home Grand Slam title he desperately wants to.

Hewitt is only the seventh favourite with the leading Australian bookies for next month’s Australian Open.

“We had a fantastic run in 2005 and really a breakthrough at the Australian Open and he almost got through and won that. There was a lot of preparation for that and I’m looking forward to seeing him play. If he can get himself involved in the tournament early in the first week and can stay around he can win it potentially.”

Rasheed split from Hewitt at the start of this year leading into the Australian Open. The pair had worked together for almost four years, but have not spoken for months.Hewitt is now being coached by Tony Roche.


Sharapova skips Aussie circuit

Maria Sharapova has ignored the rankings pressure stemming from the need for another successful Australian Open campaign by basing her Melbourne Park preparation in Asia.

The Russian world No. 5 will play a series of exhibition matches in Singapore and Hong Kong. The workout begins against fellow Russian and world No. 6 Anna Chakvetadze in Singapore before she heads to Hong Kong next week.

They will be the 2006 US Open and 2004 Wimbledon winner’s only matches before the January 14-27 Open where she must reach the final to avoid a rankings tumble.

Sharapova has opted not to contest the Australian Women’s Hardcourt titles at Royal Pines on the Gold Coast this week or next week’s Sydney International.Sharapova was ranked No. 2 in the world when she went into last season’s Open final but emerged physically and mentally scarred after a 6-1, 6-2, hammering from American Serena Williams.

Sharapova will test her form more seriously in Hong Kong next week, where her opponents include Serbian world No. 4 Ana Ivanovic and American world No. 8 Venus Williams.