Sunday, February 26, 2006

This week's results

In Rotterdam this week, Radek Stepanek, ranked 23 in the world, beat No. 52 Christophe Rochus 6-0, 6-3 to win the ABN/AMRO World Tournament. It's Stepanek's first career title in ten years as a pro.

Right now, Tommy Haas is up a set on Robin Sodering, ranked 87, in the finals of the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis. Haas is enjoying a nice comback from injuries (ranked 30 right now) over the past couple of years. On the women's side, No. 47 Sofia Arvidsson, defeated No. 51 Marta Domachowska, taking her first career title.

In Bogota, Lourdes Domingues Lino beat Flavia Pennetta to win the Copa Colsanitas Seguros Bolivar.

Olympic gold medalist Nicolas Massu won the Brazil Open, beating Alberto Martin, 6-3, 6-4. Also of note was the return of Slam winner Gustavo Keurten, who lost in the first round to countryman Andre Ghem 6-3, 3-6, 4-6. The popular Brazilian has served notice that he will retire this year if he doesn't perform to his standards.

Justine Henin-Hardenne beat Maria Sharapova in the finals of the Dubai Open 7-5, 6-2. Sharapova hasn't had a sniff at Henin-Hardenne since she beat her the first time they played. Since, JHH has won four straight matches.
Martina Hingis fell to Maria Sharapova in the quarters of this tournament. After her return in Australia this year, Hingis finds herself ranked No. 50.

The Davis Cup tie between the U.S. and Brazil will happen in Rancho Mirage, California. Home sweet home (court).

Next week:
The Doha Qatar Total Open. We'll see Amelie Mauresmo, Hingis and Sania Mirza in action at the $600,000 tournament.
The men will shift over to Dubai, with defending champion Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Agassi Agassi competing. In addition to Agassi, Marat Safin will be making a long-awaited return to the tour.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Andy, Andy, Andy ...

Johnny Mac is back! He and Jonas Bjorkman, doing research for the seniors' tour, beat Paul Goldstein and Jim Thomas to win the SAP Open 7-6(2), 4-6, 10-7. Some of us (me) wasn't around to see him the first time around, and it should be a treat ... as long as he doesn't try singles. And he claims he won't, thank goodness. And just as many cry out for more personalities in tennis, McEnroe answers by flipping out on an umpire.
Speaking of flipping out, it's great to see Andy Roddick's coaching change is working out for him. He lost to a fine player in Andy Murray in the San Jose semis, but insulting the umpire is clearly McEnroe territory. The difference between a Mac rant and a Roddick rant is that Mac plays his behind off once he releases all that aggression. Roddick yells, stomps and marinates in it. He hits a bad forehand thirty minutes after his fit and stares down the umpire like he's voodooing him. Clearly, Roddick's problem lies not entirely in the coaching, but in his head. The question is: Will Andy's new coach have to guts to tell his little brother that he's not McEnroe?
Speaking of Andy, how about that Murray kid? This is a huge victory for him on a couple of levels. He won his first big-time title over two top-five players. He grinded out a victory in the final over Lleyton Hewitt, who looks like he's in for another spectacular also-ran season. Murray also seems to have shaken all that pressure he was feeling from the Brits. That's pretty remarkable. It took Amelie Mauresmo about six years to get that off her back. But Murray better win Wimbledon this year, or Pat Cash will come out of the woodwork to say his game's really not that great.
Speaking of woodwork, Rafael Nadal made his comeback from a foot injury in Marseilles, ultimately losing in the quarters to Arnaud Clement, who went on to beat Mario Ancic in the final. The world number two isn't complaining of pain, and hopefully will be ready for France. As much as a healthy Nadal is a shoe-in for Roland Garros, it sure would be nice to see him win a Slam on a hard court. Anyway, with Roddick and Hewitt sliding, Nadal's return will be a shot in the arm for the tour.
Speaking of the arm, why do the Williams sisters have a personal trainer? Isn't Kerrie Brooks supposed to teach them how to train? Where is she when Venus is swinging an errant forehand, and tearing ligaments in her right arm? Where is she when Serena's about to down a burger and fries? Strangely, no one seemed convinced they were really injured until they pulled out of Dubai. You'd really have to be hurt to turn down all that cash, huh?
Speaking of being "hurt", Justine Henin-Hardenne will "return" to action this week in Dubai. Here's a hint to anyone going to her matches: Pay after she plays.


"He's a former top 10 player, and this week he showed it," said Mario Ancic after losing to Arnaud Clement. That either didn't come out the way he wanted it to, or it came out exactly how he intended it to.
"He returned well. I hit a bomb at my spot and he'd block it back and I'd be back to neutral again." From the mouth of Andy Roddick. Revelation? Or just the game of tennis? Andy, you're supposed to be ready to return.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

What a workout! (?)

So I heard Linda Cohn say on ESPN that NASCAR had the shortest offseason of all sports.
A. Do your homework. A month is pretty short for an offseason. Ask the professional tennis players.
B. Why on earth would you need an offseason to drive a car around the track? Vertigo?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

What we learned Down Under

Random Australian Open ramblings:
1. Will Serena's descent toward the rankings basement serve as motivation for Venus, or a cushion? If Venus doesn't right her ship and turn in a decent performance at Wimbledon, they're going to be the Rochus brothers of the women's tour, except taller, and women. I've always rooted for the Williams sisters. It's always amazing to see someone who looks like you (young, black, skinny, hair full of beads) dominate a game. But when other players took time off for injuries and ended up with rankings in the 100s, there was always a sense that they'd be back, even with Martina Hingis. Got a hard time seeing the motivation in Serena Williams, especially, to dig herself out of that 40th-ranked hole by the French Open.
Girls, it may be time to make some choices. Richard Williams was right about preparing you for life after tennis. But there's no way you can enjoying playing mediocre tennis, and the pressures of school and running a business. Do us a favor. Pick something.
Incidentally, this is why I find it better to do nothing, as opposed to having too many options.
2. Sharapova and Roddick? I guess they're kind of cute, in a Shrek-Fiona (before she became an ogre) kind of way. Also, if they get hitched, both of them will actually see another Grand Slam trophy, which probably won't happen any other way.
3. Yes, I said it. Roddick is a One-Slam Wonder, and Sharapova might be, too. It was huge for her to win Wimbledon over Serena, but I couldn't help but get that feeling I got when I saw Anastasia Myskina and Gaston Gaudio win the French (why does the French seem to produce the most one-slam wonders?!). 'You'll never see them again.' She's got an incredibly strong game and fine form, but no real plan, it appears. When was the last time you saw Maria Sharapova serve and volley? Does she even know what a drop-shot is? Mix it up, Maria. Everyone's winning majors right now. Hell, some people think majors are so easy to win that they tank out of final matches because of a stomachache. The women's game is up for grabs. In America, we call it striking while the iron is hot.
Also, I thought it was really selfless of Maria to volunteer herself as a model for Nike's maternity tennis dress line. Bet it motivated expectant mothers everywhere to pick up a racquet.
4. I didn't forget about young Andy. He also appears to have problems mixing up his game. His serve is not a shock anymore. That's why he's losing in the first week of majors. Once you block the serve back and stay away from that forehand, the game against him opens up. Know what else doesn't help Roddick's cause? He's being coddled by the American commentators. They can't say enough lovely things about him, his game, his clothes, his girlfriends, his one major, his determination, his love for the Cornhuskers, whatever. I'd love to see what would happen, for example, if Patrick McEnroe stopped picking him automatically for Davis Cup. Right now, Robby Ginepri and James Blake are improving by leaps and bounds, and they could take Roddick right now.
Could it also be that coaching is at issue here? Brad Gilbert sure does talk a lot, and he's got those Bill Clinton hand gestures going, but he appears to know a little bit about tennis. (ahemahemtakehimbackandyahemahem)
5. Still no takers on pushing back the Australian Open, huh? This reminds me of when I was a kid, and the church bus would arrive for Sunday school at 8:00. No one in my house was awake, let alone dressed and ready. This happens every year for this major. Everyone shows up, sleepy-eyed, half a step slow, and wearing maternity clothing.
6. Overall, big upsets for Aussie Open winners. I didn't see Federer winning it all, that's for sure. I was half-expecting that Bagdatis guy to quit after the third set, citing a lack of en-ER-gy. Speaking of upset, I wonder how that stadium of people felt about shelling out $300 to watch the women's final. Hey, Justine, read that Pepto-Bismol label again. I know there's something in it for getting your ass kicked.

As the stomach turns

When I was a kid, I couldn't even get out of going to church by claiming a stomachache.
It's good enough for Justine Henin-Hardenne, though. She begged out of the Australian Open final on Saturday, handing the title over to Amelie Mauresmo. Mauresmo ended up pretty lucky in this tournament. Her third-round opponent had heat stroke and couldn't play, and Kim Clijsters got a tape job on her twisted ankle, hit one more ball, and decided to call it a major. So the big question about Mauresmo -- Has she gotten over her mental weakness? -- still really remains unanswered. But if she was still wrestling with doubt, having a big title under her belt should be a real boost.
Back to Henin-Hardenne. For someone who has dealt with several real injuries in her career, this is a surprise. Perhaps her stomach really was hurting. If it was, it might have had something to do with being pulled around the court and being unable to do much with the high balls coming to her one-handed backhand. I don't know how the exchange with the trainer went, but it should have gone like this:
JHH: I'm not feeling good.
T: What is it?
JHH: I've got a stomachache. (gives trainer a sidelong glance while holding her head down)
T: A stomachache, huh?
JHH: Uhh, yeah.
T: Well, I've got something for you. (Reaching into his medical bag and emerging with two hunks of what appears to be coal) These are lumps. You should take them, and get on with it.
Even Henin-Hardenne admitted in her presser that she knew she'd be over her 'infirmity' in a couple of days. Yet she expressed concern about causing another injury. Which serves as another lesson for amateur tennis players: You've got to stay on top of a stomachache, because you never know when it'll burn a hole through your kidney.
What Henin-Hardenne said, in essence, was 'If I'm losing, why should I keep playing?' Good question, especially for Andy Roddick, and Lleyton Hewitt, neither of whom can catch a break against Roger Federer? They can't go out there with any realistic chance of beating him, can they?
Yes. As Herm Edwards so eloquently put it, "You play to win the game." If the outcome was predetermined, no one would care. If everyone quit because they didn't think they had a shot, four guys wouldn't have been able to prove that Federer was beatable last year. Why even bother? Athletes have to answer that question every day. They have to balance the risks and rewards, the injuries and the accolades. The stomachache, and the opponent who's ripping you a new one.

The (ahem) offseason

Here we go again: The beginning of the 2006 tennis season, just fifteen minutes after the end of the last one. That's great and terrible for fans. It's great because they can see professionals compete virtually all year round. It's terrible because at least half the time, you'll be watching the likes of Jelena Dokic and Mark Philippousis attempting to recapture their glory days. The pros you'd like to see will be at home, nursing injuries they got trying to keep up with a schedule full of tournaments clustered together that flaunt money too good to pass on.
Look at the year-end tournaments. The women's tournament featured one of four grand slam champs of 2005. Kim Clijsters limped in to Los Angeles after winning the U.S. Open, but went out with a whimper. Amelie Mauresmo won it after a battle with Mary Pierce, who's a tough customer and a wily veteran, sure, but let's be honest. Mauresmo would have crumbled mentally if any of the top players were across from her.
The men's Shanghai tournament also suffered from injury problems. Andre Agassi (hip), Rafael Nadal (foot), Marat Safin (knee), and Andy Roddick (back, fractured mojo) all had to beg out either before or during the event. Roger Federer barely made it himself, and offered up some inconsistent, but courageous tennis, even down to the final, where he went down to his old nemesis David Nalbandian. The depth of the men's tour helped that tournament.
There has been talk of moving the Australian Open to March, in order to give players more time to recover. What's the delay? With a couple weeks to the big event, men's defending champ Safin is out, and so is world number 2 Rafael Nadal. Clijsters is already doubtful. The Williams sisters are still getting over their injuries. The length of the season is ruining the game. This isn't golf, where you can be a chain smoker and fifty pounds overweight and still make a living. Tennis can be a grind, especially if you're playing three or more competitive best-of-five matches in a week about two times a month. Shorten the season, for crying out loud.
The ATP and WTP keep talking about doing more to gain fans in the U.S. Well, trust me, nothing's going to attract fans to the game like offering up an all-star lineup: Maria Sharapova! Andre Agassi! Serena Williams! Andy Roddick! only to deliver: Patty Schnyder. Dominik Hrbaty. Jill Craybas. Paul Goldstein.
That'll keep 'em glued.