Monday, June 19, 2006

Get out the lawn mower: It's grass season!

Many of the pros started the grass season in earnest this week, including French Open champ Rafael Nadal and French Open not-champ Roger Federer. Let's start with Nadal, who scored a few impressive wins against Mardy Fish and Fernando Verdasco, before splitting sets with Lleyton "The Difference, Mate" Hewitt, who eventually beat James Blake in the final. Then he retired from the match with a sore shoulder. His first attempt at the Stella Artois tournament wasn't so bad. Beating a big server like Fish on grass and challenging Hewitt is definitely good for the Spaniard. He's just too good a player to limit himself to one surface.
Like a certain world No. 1. Federer had yet another streak to defend at the Gerry Weber Open, and he did it as far away from Nadal as he could get. He was shooting for 41 straight grass-court wins, and he pulled it out somehow, defeating the talented Tomas Berdych, who beat Federer at the Olympics. Federer found himself stretched to the limit in almost all his matches. He beat Richard Gasquet in three sets in his second-round match. Believe it or not, he was down four match points to Olivier Rochus. Then he squeezed past Tommy Haas. Is this what Rog gets for making it to the French Open finals -- a challenging draw in a grass-court warmup? Perhaps, Roger, a week off is in order.
Another grass lover, Andy Roddick, had high hopes to defend his Artois title, but was just left bellowing "Stella!" James Blake, who is without question the best male American player right now, beat Roddick in the semis in straight sets. He may still be knocking off some rust, but if Andy ain't got grass, he ain't got much.
On the topic of declining Americans, Andre Agassi lost his first match back, to Tim Henman, who may know something about playing on grass. Or as they say it in England, Grass. Anyway, I'm starting to wish Agassi would take his fans out of our misery. He's a legend, but he hasn't got a chance to win a major again. Watching Agassi struggle with pain, and against opponents he used to own is like watching Evander Holyfield get back in a boxing ring. Except Andre's only got two kids to feed.
The women also took to the grass this week, and Maria Sharapova allegedly has the best grass-court record in tennis history. From a wire story: "She has won 34 of 37 matches and owns a winning percentage of 91.9 percent, just ahead of the previous record of 91.5 percent held by the German Steffi Graf." Wow. A whole 37 matches. I wonder how many grass-court matches Steffi Graf played. I'm guessing more than 37. We get it already. Maria's the 'it' girl of tennis. Fine. Great. Don't give her ridiculous records, too. She's no Steffi Graf on grass. Steffi Graf would probably beat her right now, on grass or any other surface. Back to the lecture at hand. Sharapova's "record" took a huge hit this week when she lost in the semifinals to little-known American Jamea Jackson, 6-4, 6-4, in the DFS Classic. Another Russian, Vera Zvonareva, took the title, beating Jackson in two tiebreakers on Sunday. It's good to see Zvonareva back to her winning ways. Women's tennis needs the depth, and maybe Jackson will have something to offer in that department as well. She's had some nice wins this year, and she just happens to be the only young female American having success these days.
For some reason, Wimbledon is giving Mark Philippoussis a wild card. This is either a huge waste or this is going to turn out like Goran Ivanesevic's wild card adventure did.

Greg Rusedski has a bone to pick with Stella Artois organizers. From the wire: "British number one Greg Rusedski accused organizers of the Stella Artois Championships of not looking after the interests local players after he was forced to retire from his first round match on Monday.
'Last week I was playing... and just did the splits and hurt my hip. So coming into the event, I asked for a Tuesday start,' Rusedski fumed after he withdrew while trailing Frenchman Antony Dupuis 5-7 6-3 3-2. 'We warned the tournament director that if they put me on Monday, there was a chance I might not be fully fit to go the whole distance. But he obviously ignored that ... You'd think they'd want to help their British players do well here instead of hinder them.'
Did I miss something? Aren't you Canadian, dude? They root for you after Henman, and Andy Murray, and Paul Bettany, from the Wimbledon movie, have tanked out. Yep, it's your world, Greg.

Also, Venus has committed to playing the Hopman Cup with Taylor Dent in late December. December. Let's be serious. Who among those organizers would bet their house that she shows up?

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