Monday, June 05, 2006

The dust-up, or Week One at Roland Garros

I would just like to start by thanking my useless piece of crap computer for shutting down just as I was finishing the post you're about to read, the one that I had to rewrite at 2:30 in the morning. My sledgehammer awaits, you bastard.

OK. I can do this.

There were few surprises early on in the French Open. Andy Roddick lost early, and none of the favorites did, with the notable exception of Nadia Petrova. She seemed to have picked up an injury while playing nonstop before the French. Way to blow your high seed at a major.
Things picked up quite a bit on Sunday, though. James Blake went down to French teen Gael Monfils in five really tight sets. Unfortunately for Blake, it all seemed to turn for him on what looked like an easy volley that he managed to drop on his shoelaces. At the end of the match, and before he went to drown his sorrows in some stinky chateau, he whined to the chair umpire about crowd noise. It's understandable to be a bit pissed at yourself for blowing it, but to expect a chair umpire to turn into a detention teacher is a bit nuts, especially for the normally classy Jimmy. Speaking of nuts, Blake, at 26, is 0-8 in five set matches. His 19-year-old firecracker of an opponent is 3-1. All three: At the French.
On the women's side, Amelie Mauresmo squeaked out a first set win over Czech Nicole Vaidisova, then remembered she was (1) at a major and (2) it was the French Open. She bailed, 6-1, 6-2 after that. Dare I say czechmate?
The bigger surprise was Maria Sharapova dropping a 5-1 lead in the third set to Dinara Safina. No one was picking Sharapova to win this, bad ankle and all, but her strength has always been that killer instinct. It's actually harder to not win a game between 5-1 and 5-4 than to win four points. It may be somewhat early to sound the alarmist button, but here's an interesting factoid: Miss Power Shot hasn't been to a major final in nearly two years. Yes. she can pound the ball, but so can everyone else now, and some of them actually do other things, like change the pace and (gasp!) volley. And when she looks around her in the locker room, she'll see girls her size and age, but with nearly 20 more pounds of muscle. I would say she needs to bulk up, but that would ruin the whole modeling thing on the side. Sharapova seems to make a point of saying she's a tennis player first. Let's see if she's willing to put her body where the gym is. (p.s. -- what is up with that commercial with the balls exploding everywhere? Subliminal is supposed to mean not obvious, right?)

Anyway, let's whip out this crystal ball again already:
The women's quarterfinals:
Vaidisova v. Venus Williams: Venus is the same as she ever was -- you never know what to expect. Streaky doesn't even begin to describe how someone get make about 30 unforced errors a set and still beats some good players. I picked Vaidisova for the semis, and I'm sticking with it. She's full of confidence right now, while Venus is still in the early stages of a comeback. It should be three tight sets.
Safina v. Kuznetsova: Good thing Safina has today off. She'll need the time to refuel after that tough match ... D'oh! She's got a doubles match, y'say? What's that I smell? A late withdrawal? Leaving her partner in the lurch, a la Steffi Graf to John McEnroe? Anyway, Kuznetsova in three because she's got Grand Slam experience, and she's fitter, which she'll need because Safina will be ripping every ball.
Justine Henin-Hardenne v. Anna-Lena Groenefeld: Hate to pick everyone's favorite bellyacher, but she's playing great right now. This will be Groenefeld's first real test, and it's a doozy. She'll score a D, but there's room for improvement.
Shahar Peer or Hingis (tied at a set all) v. Kim Clijsters: Peer has been making some serious clay waves lately, so she's not a pushover, but it's hard to think that giving Hingis a night to think about this match won't work out to her advantage. So Hingis v. Clijsters. Clijsters is playing really well right now, and the great thing about her game is that she has the ability to hit huge shots and that she knows when to go for them, and when to keep a point going. Clijsters in three, methinks.

And the men (still mired in the fourth round):
Alberto Martin v. Julien Benneteau: Yes, it's the French Open, but you should almost always pick against the French. Especially when he's playing a Spaniard. Martin wins.
Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo v. Ivan Ljubicic: Yes, it's the French Open, the time of year when Spaniards (Ramirez Hidalgo) you never heard of go deep in a major, and sometimes win the damned thing, only to retreat into obscurity for the rest of their career. Ah, the French. Sorry, Ivan.
Gael Monfils v. Novak Djokovic: How's this for a stat: Djokovic was below .500 for his career before Roland Garros? That's sweet, but the run will end here. Monfils is French, but he's fired up after beating a top 10 player in Blake on a big stage in his home country. He may be physically tired, but he won't collapse yet. That's in the next round.
Lleyton Hewitt v. Rafael Nadal: The brat is back! Good to see Lleyton back in the thick of things. He also holds a 3-0 record against Nadal, but never on clay. It's also been a year since they played during which time Nadal has taken to regularly kicking Federer's butt on hard and soft courts. If Nadal can keep his food down, he's going to take his first step toward turning that record around. Straight sets for Nadal.
Tomorrow: A look at the men's quarters, and what happened when Martina met Martina.
3:30 a.m. Sigh. If a tree falls in the woods ...

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