Monday, May 29, 2006

Day 1 at RG: The Crying Game

Well, tennis fans may be glad to see Slams start a day early, but some people -- not so much.
There was Maria Sharapova, still recovering from an ankle injury. She needed three sets to beat American Mashona Washington, 6-2, 5-7, 7-5.
"I asked if I could play later. The answer was, 'You're playing Sunday, fourth match, ' " she told reporters after her match. Who would say no to the tennis teen queen? Read on.
Roger Federer was down 3-1 in the first set of his first round match before rallying to beat some guy named Diego Hartfield 7-5, 7-6 (2), 6-2.
"I didn't want to be the guy who starts the tournament," he said. "You play Sunday, first up, you feel like the tournament hasn't even started yet, and right away you're challenged. It's not easy."
Wow, the French federation -- tennis in general -- more concerned about making money than the health of the players? That's an unbelievable concept. Almost as unbelievable as the fact that the tennis season is 11 months long.
The players have a point here. Ultimately, if you force Sharapova to play, and if she either hurts herself or pulls out before her match, that hurts far more than giving her a day to rest. Although as demanding as this surface is, it's hard to think that only one day would make a difference with an injury you've been dealing with for nearly two months.
As for Federer, boo-hoo. Geez, it really sucks to be you.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Rankings be damned! (How do you say that in French?)

The French Open begins a day early and a bunch of players short. Lindsay Davenport, Andre Agassi, Gustavo Kuerten, spoiler Mary Pierce, and Serena Williams are among the withdrawals, with Andy Roddick nursing an injury. The French is also the one Slam where you can chuck the rankings out the window. The clay can eliminate the powerful, but impatient player, so especially for the women, it seems like it's really the last man standing.
A look at the seeds:

1. Roger Federer -- The French Open finalist. Maybe one step farther. This year, Nadal has gotten the best of him, but Federer's getting close. The final will be an epic. Federer and Nadal is in stone.
2. Rafael Nadal -- The defending French Open champ seems to have a tougher draw, with James Blake, Tommy Haas Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin floating around in his quarter. If he can escape that minefield, the sailing gets a bit smoother for Captain Rafa, with clay featherweights like Andy Roddick.
3. David Nalbandian -- He could face a tough test in the second round against the promising Richard Gasquet, and Spaniards Carlos Moya and Juan Carlos Ferrero loom. Of course, he's in Federer's half, and when those two get together, you never know.
4. Ivan Ljubicic -- An nice draw for a player who seems to get better every year. Roddick's in his quarter, but like everyone else, the big serve will be somewhat negated by the surface.
5. Andy Roddick -- Go to Wimbledon.
Go directly to Wimbledon.
Do not pass Roland Garros.
Do not collect $200.
6. Nikolay Davydenko -- He, not Safin, is the best male Russian player out there. He's coming off a tournament win, which means he's prepared. Could meet Carlos Moya in the third round.
7. Tommy Robredo -- Every now and again, he can claim a scalp, but his career best at a Slam is the fourth round. Incidentally, his fourth round opponent could be American Robby Ginepri or Mario Ancic.
8. James Blake -- He's an American, which means clay is like Kryptonite to him. Add that to his tough draw. He plays Paradorn Srichapan in the first round and ... well, if he makes it to Nadal, it probably won't turn out the way it did at the U.S. Open last year.
9. Fernando Gonzalez -- Gets Marat Safin in the first round. Toss a coin.
10. Gaston Gaudio -- Wait, that name's familiar. Former French Open champ? No, I think that's the guy who got double-bageled by Roger Federer.

Lleyton Hewitt (14) -- Boy, can he fight. And he'll need all the inspiration he gets from 'Rocky' to even dent Nadal in round four.
Marcos Baghdatis (19) -- Must admit curiosity to see how his game fares on clay. His first round is Albert Portas, who seems to have a reputation for using the drop shot. Even on his serve.
Richard Gasquet -- Talented enough to surprise Nalbandian in the second round.

First round matches that could be interesting:
Blake v. Srichaphan
Andy Murray v. Gael Monfils
Tommy Haas v. Rainer Schuettler

Upset special:
Is that Srichaphan dish spicy? I think yes.

Semifinalists: Federer, Nalbandian, David Ferrer, Nadal
Finals: Federer, Nadal
Winner: uh, Federer

1. Amelie Mauresmo -- Not yet convinced that she's got a backbone in Slams, especially the one at home. The Australian was practically handed to her, and I'd like to see what happens with a little pressure applied on a surface that requires patience.
2. Kim Clijsters -- Has been shaky since her return from injury. Really, besides the possibility of Hantuchova, faces no real challenge until Martina Hingis in the quarters.
3. Nadia Petrova -- She's won two clay court titles in the last month or so, and has her highest ranking in a Slam. She's even beaten Justin Henin-Hardenne recently, which should make her feel good for their quarterfinal matchup.
4. Maria Sharapova -- Remember what I said about patience? If Alicia Molik is up to it for the third round, she could upset Sharapova, who's pulled out of her last couple of tournaments. Hard for me to see her getting past the quarters.
5. Justine Henin-Hardenne -- While Jill Craybas is getting quite the reputation as a giant killer, she won't deter Henin-Hardenne from a deep run. Hope she's got some Alka-Selzer in her racquet bag this time around, though.
6. Elena Dementieva -- Try this next time you watch her play: See how many household chores you can finish between the time she hits her serve and when it lands in the service box. So far, I've got washing two 60 lbs. dogs, vacuuming the floor and making myself lunch. Anyway, besides Dementieva's ridiculous serve, she could just wake up on the losing side of the bed. But she's got a nice draw, and if she can get to the fourth round, it'd be interesting to watch she and Hingis beat the hell out of each other's serve.
7. Patty Schnyder -- She could possibly take out Venus Williams in the fourth round, but she won't get farther.
8. Svetlana Kuznetsova -- She's gotten over her post-U.S. Open champ slump. Her body can hold up to the challenge, too. She can account for Sharapova, and Mauresmo's also ripe for picking in the semis.
9. Francesca Schiavone -- This is her favorite surface, and this is her highest Slam ranking. But what does that mean? For her, it could mean getting packed away by Kuznetsova in the fourth round.
10. Anatasia Myskina -- Yeah, whatever.

Venus Williams (11) -- If this were Wimbledon, I'd consider sending her straight to the semis. But she's coming back from injury. But she's also gotten a lot of work in during the two tournaments she played. Bottom line: Who knows?
Martina Hingis (12) -- You know, she didn't come back to help Venus braid her hair. She wants the French Open. Clijsters is in serious danger in the quarters against her.
Dinara Safina (14) -- She could get Sharapova in the fourth round. But first, she'll have to get past head case Vera Zvonareva without slipping on her pool of tears.
Nicole Vaidisova (16), Ana Ivanovic (19), and Tatiana Golovin (23) -- This latest crop is good, and any one of them could have a breakout French.

First round matches that could be interesting:
Safina v. Zvonareva: The funny thing is, you know Safina's got that Jekyll/Hyde gene, too.
Ai Sugiyama v. Eleni Daniilidou
Sania Mirza v. Myskina: Mirza's overrated, but she's still got a shot against the >cough< former French Open champion.
Lisa Raymond v. Hingis: A chance to see a serve-and-volleyer on clay, and why it doesn't work.

Upset special:
Um, I'll have the fileted Dementieva in the first round, please.

Vaidisova, Kuznetsova, Petrova, Clijsters
Finals: Clijsters, Kuznetsova
Winner: Clijsters

Thursday, May 25, 2006

League update (or 'Why I'm switching to lacrosse')

Well, South Carolina turned out now to be just a bad week. I've had about four of them now, in a row. The good news is that most of my game has improved since the first week of the league. The bad news is that my serve gets worse and worse. My last match was #1 singles, and I was even hitting decent drop shots. But I held serve only once, and that obviously wasn't enough.
So now, I'm faced with the fact that I need a serve overhaul, and entirely the wrong time -- the middle of a season. But I'm determined to do everything I can to get my rating up to 3.5, and win at least one match this season. There's one in particular that's quite important. Perhaps I'll get into it later.
Off for Memorial Day weekend, but I'll post an update after my next match.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Chucky's back!

She didn't have to face Kim Clijsters or Svetlana Kuznetsova. The toughest opposition she had all week proved to be a resurgent (?) Venus Williams. That's what the commentators will say when the French Open rolls around, and they might minimize the fact that Martina Hingis came away with a Tier I tournament win at Rome early today.
If her story was one for the underdogs before, one of those warm-fuzzies, it's now a tad bit more now. Hingis is back, really back, and she'll be ranked 14th next week. She could find herself with a higher seed for a major, not having to face big guns early. She will also have the advantage of being an excellent clay-courter, and this time around, perhaps a crowd favorite as well.
If Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati and Monica Seles are still serious about tennis, they must be taking an extended double-take at what Hingis has done in five months.
What she hasn't done in the years she was away was grow about a foot and gain muscle and a monster serve. But, clay is the great equalizer. Hingis still has her game, and she knows that even after all that time away, she can still come up with the goods: "They have never seen a drop shot, a slice and all the mixture and variety I have." It was enough to disrupt clay native Dinara Safina today, and it could be enough in a week's time.