Sunday, December 30, 2007

Free Naffi!

So, I'm going through the topics on the forums at Tennis Warehouse, and I see one about Monica Seles. The question: "Is she gay?" Nice. And completely relevant. I'm about to respond that she looked to be in good shape for a possible comeback, and log in. This is what I saw:

You have been banned for the following reason:
advertising. 2 week ban. further violation will result in permanent ban

Date the ban will be lifted: 01-11-2008, 10:00 AM


What? I mean, WHAT?! Specifically, WHAT THE *&^$^@&^#)!(&$&@^$!!!!
Advertising? Don't you have to selling something to be advertising? Did someone sneak a freakin' ad on my blog without me knowing about it? I make no money with Tennis With Attitude. I started it because I actually enjoy this. No money involved. I do it anyway.
I suppose signing all 200 of my posts with the name of my blog is advertising. Is it?
There's a forum thread at Talk Tennis called "Post your blog here!" Hmmm. What about that thread with two people with their link to their YouTube video about tennis? Double Hmmm.
So, yeah, I'm a little pissed. I actually enjoy mixing it up with other tennis addicts, and I won't lie: It's nice to get my blog out there. The forums have given me great ideas for my blog and some readership from all over, too. This ban raises some more questions for me, since the fine moderators at Talk Tennis won't answer me at all.

First question:
What is advertising?
Second question:
What if I link a picture of my favorite player, or a column from my favorite writer? Advertising?
Third question:
What if I posted comments with the name "www.tenniswithattitude.blogspot.com"?
Fourth question:
What if my blog name is in my profile and someone clicks on it? (which it is)

You know what, Talk Tennis? There aren't a lot of tennis fans out there. We should be sticking together. Let's not fight. Just admit that I'm right, lift the effin' ban, and we'll forget all about this. Why? Because I'm not on steroids or cocaine. Because I'm not a gambler. Because I don't cheat on line calls. Look, guys, we can make a deal. I can give you a piece of my non-action, if you want.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Newest TWA feature: What Would Roger Do?

Players have to do something with the 15 minutes that they like to call the off-season. I am honored to report that Roger Federer wants to spend his with the great fan of TWA. He's agreed to pen an advice column for tennis players and fans who have questions. Kind of like a Dear Abby, except without the "go to counseling" canned answer.

First question:

"Hi, Roger. I'm a big fan. I'm pretty much the best woman player where I live. But I struggle with many injuries. I have to pull out of hella tournaments, which sucks, because I'd win all of them if it weren't for this knee/butt/arm/toenail/eyeball injury bug. But my main concern is my reputation. I don't understand why people hate on me. Is it because I'm great?
S. Williams, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

WWRD:
Possibly. I understand league tennis can be very competitive, particularly among women. The important thing is to always be polite, even when players try to give you bad line calls, or when people don't acknowledge how good you are after a match. It's tough sometimes, but jealousy is something you have to deal with when you're talented. The best you can do is that even when others don't do it, you should always give your opponent credit when they hit good shots. Being a courteous player is very important.

From Amelie:
"Roger, I am very mentally weak, I think. I have trouble with self-confidence, although technically, I'm a very good player. Maybe I'm not very good. I have won some tournaments away from home, but I was very fortunate, I think. When I play in my home court, though, I play very bad. Do you have any advice for me? You don't have to answer if you don't want to. I don't want you to waste your time on me. I know you're busy."

WWRD: Amelie, right now, you're a wreck. You have to learn to deal with pressure. I'll tell you my secret for coping with a tough match situation. Just imagine your opponent in their underwear. If they're out of shape, imagine them naked. You can fake yourself into thinking that they can't be very comfortable playing that way. And then, you can play your best. Good luck to you.

From a M. Bryan:
"Roger, I've been playing with my doubles partner for a few years. Early on, we started this running chest-bump thing. It was cool -- back then. Now, I'd like to stop doing it, but I think he really likes it. I don't know how to tell him how I feel. Any ideas?"

WWRD: You need a partner who's always on the same wavelength as you, someone who's as close to you as, say, a twin. When you have disagreements, you must deal with them right away. Plus, for all you know, your partner doesn't want to do the chest bump anymore either. Just talk to him. If it's more comfortable for you, you can use hand signals. And not those hand signals, either. Be nice.

"My coach and I just had a nasty break-up. I'm planning to travel to a tournament soon and as a young talent, I'm up to my ears in resumes. What should I look for in a coach?"
Andy M., dentist's office, London

WWRD:
Coaches are overrated. Having a coach is fine -- when you have only eight majors. The answers are within yourself, Andy. You're like a Rubik's Cube, and only you can solve you. But if your parents really want to throw away some of their money, I would suggest a coach who employs a hands-off approach. I think you really want a coach who lives in another country, or even another continent. Remember, the last thing you want is a coach who tells you what to do. Good luck, man. I hope you're not getting braces.

Forging ahead ...
"I have a friend who's losing his hair. What do you think about combovers?
Niko D., nearby OTB location

WWRD:
I'm a realist, Niko. If you are trying to redistribute hair on your head, tell your "friend" that he is BALD. I'm sorry for your loss, but you have to deal with it head-on, as it were. As I see it, you have two options. You can get a wig, and if you wear a headband, you can hold it in place while you play. I'd support another approach, though. Just shave your head, man. It's better than a combover, which is a look that says, "You may think I'm going bald, but look! Strands of hair!" Bald says, "You know it, and I know it. I'm bald, and I save thousands by not having to buy shampoo."

From a B. Bryan:
"Roger, I have a really great doubles partner, and we started celebrating wins with chest bumps. Lately, though, I've noticed that he doesn't seem jacked about doing them anymore. I really like the chest bump and I think it sets us apart. What do you think I should do?"
WWRD:Get a new partner.

Last one:
"Dearest Roger: I have this boyfriend who I've been with for seven years. He's an amazing athlete, and he's charming, and he's got great hair. I'll call him "Dodger." I gave up my wildly unsuccessful tennis career to mold his. He actually reminds me a lot of you. The problem is that he's hasn't gone to Jared yet. That's right, no ring! I wonder if he's capable of commitment. The last time I asked him about marriage, he said he had to win the French Open first, whatever that means. So what should I do? Should I wait for him? Maybe I should propose. I don't know. I'm waiting for your question ... er, answer.
Signed, um, Kirka

WWRD:
I'm going to need more time for this one. Give me until the end of June.

Roger's taking questions at TWA until the middle of January. Send him any thoughts and comments and he'll try to get back to you.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Winter roundup, Vol. I

Since it's too damn cold to go out and shop, like I should be doing ...

Congratulations to Venus Williams, who earned her associates degree after 8 long years. It's a good thing, too. Someone like her, who already has an interior decorating company, a discount clothing line, and also happens to be Venus Williams, definitely needs a degree. I can just see her applying for a job at Vogue before now: Anna Wintour looking at her resume under her nose, "Ms. Williams, dahling, I don't know. No degree, no job." Yeah.

The drama continues with Anna-Lena Groenefeld and her ex-coach, whom she alleges has given her opponents advice on how to beat her. Groenefeld used to be number 14 in the world until she dumped Mr. (and I use the term loosely) Rafael Font de Mora. The ensuing chaos, including a lawsuit, caused her to gain some unwanted poundage, which helped settle her to number 204 in the world, where she now sits. Anyway, de Mora offers up a priceless gem regarding Groenefeld's accusation: "If people come to me, I’ll tell them how to play her. But I’m not going after players to tell them how to play her. Besides, she’s so fat it’s not difficult to beat her. With all those kilos, she cannot play." Very nice. I thought there was some kind of rule requiring people in litigation to keep their mouths shut. He's like the coach version of "Fatal Attraction." Well, Meghann Shaughnessy, I'd hide my bunnies if I were you, just in case.

"Andy and I have been married fifteen years, and I said to him just the other day that I feel closer to him now than ever. I mean, it's different. It's not the goose bumps-passion-fireworks kind of thing. It's more like knowing he's a keeper. And I just know that I'm going to grow old with him." That's Chris Evert on her now ex-husband, Andy Mill. You know, it's easy to say you're going to grow old with someone, but what do you do when hair starts growing out of his ears? Anyway, Evert's now preparing to grow old(er?) with Greg Norman. Mill, though, is probably a bit miffed by this announcement, since he says he once considered Norman his best friend. Well, Andy, best friends are supposed to share everything.

Apparently, there's still tennis going on. David Nalbandian, who ended the regular season on a tear, won the Copa Argentina. Big news for him, no doubt. The bigger item: Who would have thought that Buenos Aires had a Lawn Tennis Club?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The 2007 wrap

So, what have we learned in 2007?
We learned that Pete Sampras can beat Roger Federer -- if Federer lets him. We learned that the Williams sisters can still win a major -- if they don't have to deal with Justine Henin. We learned why Martina Hingis was always smiling -- and perhaps why she always got such good doubles partners. Nikolay Davydenko taught us why that guy might have lost to that guy. We've also learned that there's a place for mothers on tour, and it's not always on the sidelines. (Let's hope Kim realizes that, too.)
Here we go: A look at the season that was:

Best of
Hmm. The best player of the year. No one's coming to me. Although there is this guy named Roger Federer. He apparently isn't bad. Federer won the Aussie Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He's really good, but he didn't win the French. And he lost to Fernando Gonzalez and David Nalbandian (x2) at the end of the year. So clearly, he's not as good as any of us thought he was.
Seriously, what is up with the worry over Federer when he loses a match? He's the best player of our generation, hands down. He might become the best ever, if Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf don't have a mutant tennis baby. Federer's still head and shoulders above the rest of the class, and by reputation alone, he certainly wins himself at leat one set per match.
However, there's still something to be seen, I think, in the losses to Gonzalez, Nalbandian and, oh yeah, Novak Djokovic. The competition is getting better, and it's about time. Most of his losses came at the end of a long year for Fed, yes, but I think the shock of his talent is finally starting to wear off. It's hard to see Gonzalez being consistently good enough to beat him regularly, but Nalbandian's done it before. Djokovic is still getting better, too. The road's going to be tougher for Federer, but it's hard not to see him still standing at the end.


Unfortunately, it's also clear who the best female player has been this season. Even I have to admit that Justine Henin has done pretty well, considering the rest of the field had a head start. Henin didn't play the Australian Open because she was having man problems. After washing that man right out of her hair, she got to business. She won the French Open (again) and the U.S. Open (again). The only blip in her season was losing to Marion Bartoli (?) in the Wimbledon semis. Looking forward to Venus in the final? No idea. But she did lay the 6-0, 6-0 beatdown on her at the year-end championships.
As far as her competition, though, there aren't too many who can present a long-standing challenge to Henin. The natural thought this year was that Serena Williams, who did win the Australian Open, would resume her rivalry with Henin and make things interesting. And it was interesting -- interesting just how far Serena is from Henin right now. It's not just the fitness. Henin's got a job. She is a professional tennis player. She, in all likelihood, practices every day, exercises every day, thinks about tennis every stinkin' day. Serena is Serena. That's who she is. She does everything. I'm going with a liberal estimate -- I'll bet Serena practices about three times a week. It's her prerogative, but I won't be expecting anything new in their rivalry next year. I think Venus Williams, though, is a bit more serious about her game. Laugh if you will, but when a female athlete dates a male athlete, have you noticed what it does to her game? I really think Venus seems a bit more focused with her new golfer man Hank Kuehne. She also played Henin pretty close at the Open. But these dizzy spells of hers can't be good. If she's healthy next year (not a given with the Williamses) she could do some damage.
As for my offseason, I'm going to try to appreciate Henin for her pocket-rocket game and I'm going to try to believe her new press about her being a kinder, happier ass-kicker. I might say something nice about her next year.


Another plus for tennis this year has been The Tennis Channel. It's nice to see tennis tournaments you normally wouldn't catch on ESPN. It's also nice to see some doubles (but more on that later). Not to say the The Tennis Channel couldn't use some ... polishing. For example, the player compilation commercials should feature players who are still active, not Anastasia Myskina. Multiple shots of her in one commercial? Kidding?
For another thing, perhaps the channel could invest in commentator school for its beginners. It's amazing how many players I enjoyed watching who I also cannot listen to ever again: Chanda Rubin, Rennae Stubbs, Corina Morariu. Just get Justin Gimelstob to do every event until you guys are big enough to land John McEnroe. Please.
For yet another thing, is it possible to edit matches that are repeated? I think it is, actually. Editing can come in handy, especially when you have an injury timeout in a match that's 8 months old. Did you know, Tennis Channel, that you can cut that out of later airings? I'll do it for you.
I really do like The Tennis Channel. I do. It's got good things, like that Roger Federer special. In fact, I'm going to watch it again tonight, for the hundredth time. Ooh, and squash. Man, I love squash.



Worst of
The ITF, ATP, WTA, the USTA -- all the tennis acronyms responsible for the following:
I'm so glad the U.S. brought home the Davis Cup again. Really. But the format for Davis Cup is ridiculous. I'm trying to think of something equivalent to its stupidity in sports -- and I can't. There is no other sport that would take an international event and play it in pieces whenever they can fit it into the schedule. Why? Because no one could be so stupid to organize an event so half-assed. Except, that is, the acronyms. Ever hear fans getting all geeked up for Davis Cup? No. Do you know why, conversely, football fans get geeked up for Monday night? Because if it's football season, there's a damn game on Monday night. It's something fans can look forward to. Pop quiz: When does Davis Cup start next year? Who the hell knows? Are you getting it yet, ITF? I can't talk about this any more. I'm getting a freakin' ulcer. You'll just have to read my previous posts (yes, plural) on this subject.

Phew. Now, onto something else that's really pissing me off. Why are powers-that-be shortening tennis? At the year-end championships, the doubles players are playing something called a stupid-tiebreak. Oh, check that. That's a super-tiebreak. In case you don't know, when teams split sets, you're really supposed to play a final set. But in a stroke of supergenius, now they play to best of ten, and that determines who wins. I'm sorry. Is tennis now considered boring? Are professionals not trained to play entire matches? Is that big-ass tennis stadium booked out at 8 p.m. for a polka dance? Listen, ITF, ATP and WTA: you will not attract anyone to tennis by altering the game. If that worked, you could just play baseball on a tennis court, and then you'd have more tennis fans, right? If you'd like to increase the popularity of tennis, then market Maria Sharapova as a tennis player, just like Canon markets her as a photographer with a pooch. Don't get me wrong. Sometimes a sport needs a change. I think player challenges is a great example. (If there's anything good to come from Davis Cup, it's that unlimited challenges actually work. It doesn't drag the match along, and players don't abuse it.) Playing super-tiebreaks is like saying, "All righty. This has gone on long enough. Hey, it's been fun, but would you kids wrap it up? Five more minutes in the pool ...)
I can't do anything about Davis Cup, but be on the lookout from me regarding these travesties. It's time for tennis hacks to unite.



A bit disappointing ...
Rafael Nadal. I've been on the edge of my seat now for two years, waiting for more. Not that winning the French isn't a huge undertaking and that taking Federer to the edge of defeat at Wimbledon isn't a big deal. But why does Nadal always peter out by the end of the season? It's strange, because he has been able to have success on other surfaces than clay, but hard courts seem to be insurmountable to him. Then there are the constant injuries. For all his talent, the fact remains that endurance also counts as a player. If his body can't take the beating, you have to really question his status as the true No. 2 player in the world. Although right below him at No. 3 is Novak Djokovic, who himself could take up two seasons of "House."


While I'm bashing Serbians, how about Jelena Jankovic? She's evidence that there's another sort of weakness that can handcuff success in tennis. I swear, a leaf blows on the court and she's lost all concentration. A bad call, and she's ready to pack it in. (Here's a question: Why do players insist on arguing with a ref over a call for any longer than a minute? I have never seen one of these five-minute whine-fests produce anything but the umpire calmly repeating the score into the mike.) Jankovic has a very solid all-court game, but a weak serve. Even if she continues to improve technically, she will have to do something about that mental game.



Surprises
I've gotta put Hingis testing positive for cocaine above Davydenko (but I'm getting to him). Hingis was the dominant player of the 1990s, and will go down as one of the best strategists on the court. Now, if that's me, and I take a blood test that comes up positive for an illegal substance, and I face the humiliation of being known as a drug user, I'd try to protect my career and my reputation. Why would you prefer to retire, and besmirch your name instead of fighting this charge? There's one reason I can think of (sniff, sniff).
Even so, Hingis gave her comeback the old university try, and she acquitted herself pretty well. There's not a lot she could have done about the fact that the game got stronger and faster while she was gone. She did the best she could with what she had, and it took her far. There are people -- never mind tennis players -- who can't say that about themselves. Fare thee well, Chuckie.


It was probably a bit naive to think there's no dark underbelly to tennis, that everyone who plays is on the up-and-up and does it for love of the game. So thanks, Nikolay Davydenko, for killing that illusion. It's been a tough year for Davydenko, and the buzz never really died down, because of a couple of really dumb officials. One, Cedric Mourier, should have given himself a coaching violation for trying to tell Davydenko how to serve. "Just get it in," he says. That would be why he's a ref and not someone's coach. The other, Jean-Philippe Dercq, was probably a little trigger-happy in warning Davydenko for not trying hard enough. Come on. How many times have you watched a match, and wondered why a player stopped going for a ball that appeared in his reach?
The verdict's still out on Davydenko. I also find it hard to believe that a guy who plays almost every week on tour would resort to gambling. That said, what is taking officials so long to get to the bottom of this? If there's a indication that a player's dirty, they need to solve the problem, not leave the elephant in the room. In the absence of these resolutions, you have officials trying to hand down some for of vigilante justice from the chair. Really, do they think he'd throw a match now, that all eyes are on him? And do they think that if they encourage him to get his serves in, he might say, "Ref, you're right. Screw that million bucks I was going to get for throwing this match. I'm going to win!"
Unfortunately, with all the investigation into this case, it doesn't seem likely that there'll be a resolution one way or another. No Matlock moments, when a witness or a piece of evidence clinches it one way or another at the end. That's too bad, especially if it turns out Davydenko's clean, because it'll dog him for the rest of his career.


That was a downer. So, how about that Lindsay Davenport? I've said it before: Women's tennis needs some depth, and even with a newborn hanging off her hip, Davenport's helping to deliver. It'd be really nice to see a dark horse come into the Australian Open and knock out some pretenders and even some contenders. She looked all right in her tournaments back, managing a win against Jankovic. I just wonder how long she'll really hang around. She certainly didn't seem too excited about the tour when she took her maternity leave. It's nice to see her back, but I can just see her not staying for long.



Packing it in
Tim Henman: Finally. Nothing against Their Tim, but watching him for the last couple of years was like watching Rocky II through infinity. Sometimes, it's just time to stop. Henman's a fine example of being graceful in defeat. Unlike his "countryman" Greg Rude-eski, Henman let his racquet do the talking. Although he never conquered All-England, he managed to pull his Davis Cup team into the World Group on the same court. Nice way to go out.


Kim Clijsters, on the other hand, didn't go out very nicely. Her career gave in to a long line of injuries so that even her retirement tour was derailed. Given that she's now married with a child on the way, I don't imagine she's missing tennis much. Hopefully, she's find a way back, like Davenport, and fill out that Grand Slam collection. She was way too good for just one major win.


Pete Sampras: Yes, he retired some time ago. And, yes, beating Federer in a meaningless exhibition is somewhat respectable. But Pete's found his place in tennis. It's on the Old Man's Outback Tour, hamming it up with the Jim Couriers, John McEnroes and the Todd Martins of the world. There's definitely no shame in that, and if there was ever a format for someone in need of a personality transplant, it'd be the Outback Tour. They joke around with each other and do interviews between sets, for crikey's sake. I think I saw Sampras smile in one of his matches. Nah. It was probably a grimace.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Martina Hingis: Retiring cokehead?

OK. This is freakin' weird.
Martina Hingis announced her retirement from tennis today. Disappointing, sure, but not totally unexpected. The injury bug has come back again and again for her, and it's been a successful, if painful, second wind for Hingis.
Here's where it gets, well, freakin' weird. Hingis says she tested positive for cocaine at Wimbledon AND retires. See, this makes me think that Chucky's a cokehead. Please, Martina, let it no be true. Although this would explain the constant smiling.
Discuss.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

You can do better than that, Nikolay!

There might have been a time in his career when Nikolay Davydenko wished that he were as well known as his contemporaries. If he did, the Russian likely had never heard that American saying about being careful what you ask for.
Davydenko's been very popular lately, but clearly not for the best reasons. There's the suspicious betting patterns reported on a match he played in Poland this year. He's still under the magnifying glass for that one, and so far, has not discussed the incident with the game's top officials. Last week, during a loss in St. Petersburg against Marin Cilic, he was warned by the umpire for not trying hard enough. The next day, he was fined $2,000.
Let's stop right there. Of course, the natural inclination is to watch Davydenko very closely now. It's going to be hard for him to explain the whole Poland thing (...whenever the tennis honchos make room in their schedule for him. Honestly, what's taking them so long? Is this not an important issue that should be squared away?) but is he really dumb enough to throw another match right now? Probably not.
So why would an umpire think Davydenko isn't trying hard? Hmm. Could he be, by any chance, tired?
Guess how many tournaments he's played this year.
Nope.
Twenty-six. That's 79 matches since January.
Let's check in on a few other schedules. Rafael Nadal: 18 tournaments, 76 matches. Roger Federer: 15 tournaments, 70 matches. Justine Henin: 13 tournaments, 62 matches. Last, and definitely "least": Serena Williams, weighing in with 11 tournaments and 44 matches. No, that number wouldn't be much higher even if she were healthy all year.
So, by far, Davydenko plays far more tournaments, but edges Federer and Nadal in matches played. That would be because those two win most everything they play. Davydenko doesn't.
Anyway, Davydenko basically plays every other week. When he's not playing, he's traveling. When he's not traveling, he's probably practicing. Essentially, he's no slouch. So, the question is: Is he physically capable of playing at his best throughout almost 30 tournaments a year? Even if Davydenko thinks he can, he can't. If he's guilty of anything, it's not using discretion when planning his schedule. Look at Federer's schedule again. He does this crazy thing sometimes between tournaments. It's called "not playing in a tournament just because they're having one and will pay you an obscene amount of money to come." It's crazy, sure, but he's number one in the world. Maybe there's something to it.
In a way, maybe money will talk in this case. The $2,000 fine might finally convince Davydenko to tone down that schedule. I wouldn't bet on it, though. (Sorry. I couldn't resist.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The right way to celebrate

OK. Fine. You’re happy.
Roger Federer should be, darn it. Last month, he won his twelfth Grand Slam at the U.S. Open. Winning a Grand Slam is probably quite mind-consuming. The fact that it’s over with is a relief for anyone playing under that kind of pressure.
It’s got to stop, though. The dropping-to-your-knees celebration. The crying game. Come on, you’re Roger Federer, for crikey’s sake. If you want to dramatically kiss the grass after your first Wimbledon, that’s understandable. But winning is sort of a fact of life for guys like you. When you reach double-digit major titles, it’s time to suck it up.
Unfortunately, since Fed’s the No. 1 player in the world, the other guys in the locker room insist on copying him.
Like Andy Roddick. He can’t beat Federer on the court, so he’ll join him in the lame post-match celebration antics. After locking up the Davis Cup final against Sweden a couple weeks ago, he collapsed on his side to the ground, like a ballerina. I’m shaking my head in disapproval right now.
This is an issue that needs to be addressed. It’s right up there with fixed tennis matches and doping. Some very stringent, very definite big-match celebration models are needed, and everyone (Roger Federer) — everyone (… Roger …) — will need to follow them.
For example:
The skyward fist: Simple, strong, confident. It says, “I won. Duh. What’d you expect?”
The four-cornered wave and kiss: Andre Agassi popularized this form of celebration in his later years on tour. It’s very good for someone who knew the sands were running through the hourglass on his career. This celebration, though, is approaching overuse by such players as Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, who are just a touch younger, and who do it after every single match.
Applauding the crowd: “Hey, spectators, thanks for not a whole lot. I did the running, the hitting, the acing. But at least someone was here to watch me lay down the butt-whupping.”
Tossing the racquet: It’s a celebration that reflects a moment of unbridled emotion, so it’s acceptable and fun. A note of caution: Those without a racquet deal might want to restrain themselves.
Jumping the net to shake opponent’s hand: Besides the obvious risk you could end up looking like Jonny Fairplay after a reverse horsey-back ride from Danny Bonaduce, it might look like you just can’t wait to rub the opponent’s face in it. And that’s a long way to walk for a cold-fish handshake.
Showing off other talents: Gustavo Kuerten endeared thousands of fans by drawing a huge heart in the clay at Roland Garros and collapsing in its center. Novak Djokovic did dead-on imitations of other tennis players, including Sharapova and Rafael Nadal. (If you’re near a computer and need a laugh, check out Djokovic singing “I Will Survive” on YouTube.) Nothing says “show-off” like a jack-of-all-trades, though. And the victor should try not to imitate the player they’ve just beaten.

All about Serena: Just the way she'd want it

If being number one were all about heart and relentless determination to win, there'd be no contest.
If it were about being the most imposing-looking person on the court, it'd be hands-down.
If it came down to being the queen of not the backhand, but of back-handed compliments, the top women's tennis player, for all time, would be Serena
Williams.
Williams has all of the above, but, alas, is missing one small thing right now: The ability to beat all comers.
At the start of the Moscow tournament, Williams put the tennis world on notice that she was ready to be number one again.
"I definitely think I'm ready for it," she said. "I'm ready to dedicate myself. I'm excited by the fact that I have so much motivation."
There's that heart and determination, but something was missing during the final of the Kremlin Cup against Elena Dementieva. Williams sprayed her shots everywhere through the match, losing 7-5, 1-6, 1-6.
"She played really unbelievable. She should try to play like that more often," Serena said after her beatdown. See what I mean about back-handed compliments? Of course, one of her best potshots would be when she was whipped by Justine Henin at the U.S. Open. "She hit some lucky shots." That after a 7-6, 6-1 drubbing. Those, Serena, are a lot of lucky shots.
The knock on Williams, beside her knack for knowing exactly the right thing to say after she loses, is that she's too much of a part-time player to be number one again. One day, she's an actress, and on another, she's a model. The next day, she's a fashion designer.
Some people hate that Serena isn't chained to tennis, but she can wake up and decide that today, she'll be a tennis champion. And then, she goes ahead and wins the Australian Open. But then, she'll lose the Moscow tournament, getting her doors blown off by someone who's never managed a set off of her before.
So Williams can't expect to be consistent playing whenever she feels like it. Why is that a problem for her critics? Does anyone fault Lindsay Davenport for deciding to start a family while pursuing a pro tennis career? Is motherhood a nobler cause than making sure you have no regrets in life?
There are worse things than being a Jane of all trades. Like, such as, being so dumb that you have probably no idea where your country is on a map, let alone the Iraq and you personally believe that you'll have to rely on your looks for the rest of your life because there are, like, no books in your house.
(Maps, dictionaries and mirrors are all sold at the dollar store.) There's the possibility of growing up under a microscope and under pressure as a tennis
prodigy, and ending up in a Florida jail cell like a teenaged Jennifer Capriati did.
If it's important for Serena Williams to be a well-rounded human being with limitless options for her life, then she's well on her way. If it's equally
important for her to be the best tennis player she can be, well, she's not on her way. She'll have to show the commitment of the Justine Henins, Dementievas and
Jelena Jankovics to beat them, and all the other comers. Williams can talk the talk, easily. Those words are empty if she can't win, or stay fit, consistently.
The ball, as they say, is in her court.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Wanna bet?

Apparently, tennis has increased in popularity in certain circles.
Two Belgian players have come out of the woodwork to admit that they had been offered money to affect the outcome of their matches, and other services. Well, not out of the woodwork. There's a big investigation going on after some betting irregularities were discovered in a Nikolay Davydenko match this summer. Davydenko, so far, has not yet had to sit down and explain to officials how betting against him spiked after he won the opening set. He ultimately retired from the match with an injury.
Gilles Elseneer (claim to fame: world ranking of 99 in July 2004, and working his way back now at 798 in the world) said that he was offered $114,000 to let his first-round opponent roll over him at Wimbledon in 2005.
"They said I should take my time and give them my reply the next day, but I only needed a couple of minutes to realize it was impossible for me to contemplate," Elseneer said. Good for him, because he made only about $30,000 by winning the match. Considering that this is a guy who's made only $473,978 in his ten years on tour, Elseneer ought to be commended. As a point of reference, Roger Federer has made about $36 million in nine years.
Dick Norman says he was offered about $15,000 to offer inside information on player injuries, and he turned it down. Now that's got to make a guy feel good about himself. These guys had decided Norman wasn't even good enough to bet on, but good enough to be a spy. And for only $15,000? You know you have to bring a lot of cash to people who get paid to play a game for a living, and usually pretty handsomely.
Of course, they brought the hard, cold cash for world No. 3 Novak Djokovic, back when he was just Novak Djokovic. "They" offered $255,000 to lose at a small tournament in Russia.
How long will it take to discover who "they" are, by the way? Didn't anyone get a description, or a business card? Oh, right, probably not a lot of business cards. And once "they" get tracked down, what then? "Most Wanted Gamblers" posters in locker rooms? (Now, offering money to turn these guys in, there's an idea.) The fact is that there is a darker side to tennis, and players, especially the journeymen who are barely making enough to get by, will be exposed to it. The question is, how do you make it worth their while to say no? ATP chairman and president Etienne de Villiers thinks a $100,000 fine with the possibility of a lifetime ban is enough. Not. "They" obviously have enough money to cover inconveniences like getting caught. One more zero on that penalty, Mr. de Villiers, and we might be talking. Money talks. Both ways. Give a tennis player a choice between playing it straight, and working as a Wal-Mart greeter for the rest of his life, and that might clean things up a bit.
This all goes to show that when it comes to sniffing out opportunity, tennis seems to be the answer for a lot of people. And it's not just for those from third-world nations hoping the sport will offer them opportunities beyond their wildest dreams. The folks languishing outside your friendly OTB joint had it figured out a while ago. Why bet on baseball, or football, or any team sport, when you can increase your odds by betting on an individual sport?
(If you're low enough to bet on doubles, heaven help you. You have what we like to call a gambling problem.)

Davis Cup: Part duh!

Mark those calendars: Nov. 30-Dec.2.
The American and Russian teams played their way into
the Davis Cup final to set up an appealing match-up
that likely will include three of the top 10 players
in the world. So don't forget. Nov. 30.
And how could you forget? It's only two months away.
How's that for a momentum killer?
Seriously, this Davis Cup format is ridiculous. It's
like being at the Summer Olympics and completing the
qualifying round for hurdles, and finishing it off in
September. The tennis powers-that-be will probably
take their sweet time in even considering a different
format for the Cup.
It's unfortunate, too, because there are a lot of
interesting story lines in play for this final.
Russia, which just snagged the Fed Cup last weekend,
has a legitimate shot at bringing home the men's
equivalent. Both teams have the same captain, Shamil
Tarpishchev. Both of his teams will have to win on
American soil to take home the Cup. (His Fed Cup trip
to Vermont was a bit bumpy, since he had a little
trouble getting a visa for reasons that remain
unknown.) He's won either competition for the last
five years, but never both in the same year. Another
interesting development will involve Marat Safin,
Russia's former number one. Now, he's ranked 27 in the
world, and guess where he was last weekend during the
Germany match? That's right, contemplating the
sixth-highest mountain in the world instead of an
on-court opponent.
Really. Mountain climbing.
Safin is nursing a wrist injury, though, and even
though he's nowhere near the top of his game these
days, he is key to the Davis Cup team. He's 9-2 in the
world competition, which could come in handy against
the Americans because his teammate Nikolay Davydenko
is 0-10 against James Blake and Andy Roddick.
The American team will almost definitely include
Roddick and Blake at singles and the top-ranked Bryan
brothers in doubles. They also will have the
home-court advantage, which plays a major role. The
last couple times the Americans met defeat in Davis
Cup, it was on clay. Let's just say that this time, it
won't be. For players like Roddick, with his monster
serve, the faster the surface, the better.
The U.S. team will also be bidding for its own spot in
history. Although America has won the Davis Cup more
than any other country, it hasn't brought home the cup
since 1995, when it defeated Russia. Captain Patrick
McEnroe has never won the title, and neither has any
member of his team. Together, they all have been in
the shadows of American Davis Cup heroes, like
McEnroe's brother, John, Andre Agassi and Pete
Sampras. They'll be in a good position to join the
list.
Whenever they get around to playing. Honestly, what's
next? Starting the World Series in October and
finishing during All-Star weekend in April?

Brrr ....

Maria Sharapova went to Russia to angle for
a chance to play in the Olympics. What she got was a
different understanding of the term "cold war."
The world's fourth best player tagged along for her
team's Fed Cup victory over Italy. Citing a shoulder
injury, she dressed for the team as a "practice
partner." Let's just say she generated a bit more
attention than your average hitting partner.
"To be honest, I don't know why she came. What's the
point of coming here all the way from America if you
can't play? She said she wanted to help our
preparation and be our practice partner but, to me, if
you can't play how then can you practice? It just
doesn't make sense." That was Svetlana Kuznetsova,
talking to the Russian media, and looking at the glass
half-empty. Had she even asked herself, "Hey, who's
going to pick up all these balls?"
Anna Chakvetadze was also not a huge fan of
Sharapova's last-minute trip. "If you haven't played
Fed Cup all year, it wouldn't be fair just to show up
for the final," she said in a press conference. "It's
not fair to all the other girls who committed
themselves to the team's cause."
Meow. I guess no one took Sharapova up on that
standing offer to practice.
A lot of the Russian girls bristle when the name of
their countrywoman comes up, especially around Fed Cup
time. Fellow Russian, and former hot-stuff Grand Slam
winner Anastasia Myskina vowed not to play on the same
team with Sharapova in 2004 because of the conduct of
her father. You know, the guy who practically fell out
of the stands at the 2006 U.S. Open trying to signal
to Sharapova to eat a banana. Yeah, he's a little
boisterous.
Maybe there's a bit of envy over Sharapova's universal
popularity. There's also the idea of Sharapova making
off with one of the country's Olympic slots, having
never played for Russia.
Sharapova's status as a member of the team is a bit
suspicious, and tenuous. In order to get a spot with
her country's Olympic team, she must participate in
Fed Cup. Each time a tie has been played, Sharapova
has claimed various injuries. This is the only time
she's actually made the trip with the team, obviously
hoping to gain favor with the International Tennis
Federation's powers-that-be. It'll probably work, but
it really shouldn't. Sharapova has never before been
motivated to play for her country in Fed Cup, and
she's been a top-level player since she won Wimbledon
in 2004.
The fact she's been skittish on playing Fed Cup, for
her country, and excited about playing the Olympics,
for her country, seems to say one thing. It's not love
of country that's motivating Sharapova. It's the idea
of getting a gold medal, and what that gold medal is
really worth -- about a thousand times worth its
weight in endorsement money.
Think about it. You'll never see the Russian Fed Cup
team on any Wheaties boxes.

Friday, September 14, 2007

You go, Lindsay!

In Bali, new mom Lindsay Davenport took down world No. 3, Jelena Jankovic. What is this, Lindsay's third wind in her career already?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

OK. The Henin ban is off ... for now

Women’s tennis is in disarray. Look at the U.S. Open for a perfect example. The second seed, Maria Sharapova, loses in the third round to a girl, Agnieszka RadwaƄska, who has more consonants in her name than she has teeth. Tatiana Golovin, of France, and ranked 17th, is defeated in the first round by Ahsha Rolle, an American who’s easily carrying an extra 15 pounds. By the conclusion of the Open, there was a lot of shuffling in the rankings, affecting all but one player.
Justine Henin’s name might not stay the same, (she was recently divorced) but she’s been at the top for a year. She quietly dominates almost every tournament she enters. She managed to enter Flushing Meadows as the top seed, but not favored to win. Yet, she easily dismantled two of the favorites, the Williams sisters, and still had enough in the engine to smoke Svetlana Kuznetsova in the final. She didn’t drop a set to anyone in the last two weeks.
As dominant as she is, Henin’s aloof behavior has probably cost her fans and endorsement money. In particular, it’s the final of the 2006 Australian Open that leaves a bad taste in many mouths. Amelie Mauresmo, seeking her first Grand Slam title, was pitted against Henin. Down a set and a break, Henin simply stopped. That’s right. She retired, claiming an upset stomach. (And whose wouldn’t be, after being whipped in the first set 6-1?) Not only did she look perfectly fine, but in the press conference afterwards, she offered little explanation in the way of her “injury.” “I had no energy,” she told reporters.
Then there was the 2003 French Open semifinal against Serena Williams. Williams was serving, and Henin raised a hand, a signal that she wasn’t yet ready. However, Williams was already in her motion, and hit the serve, knowing she’d get another first serve. Not. The umpire didn’t see the hand, and Henin refused to acknowledge that she had done it, so Williams had to hit a second serve. Henin won that one, and Williams accused her of lying in her post-match conference.
Incidents like this prevent her from being an overwhelming fan favorite, no matter how good she gets. If she goes on a Roger Federer tear, there’ll always be Paris for fans, or Australia. Like it or not, though, she’s the best female tennis player right now, and she seems ready to be around for a long time.
Look at it this way: Henin hasn’t pulled out of any finals lately. Well, she hasn’t exactly been in any danger of losing, either.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Why night tennis is awesome, Part II, and some men's previews

It’s almost two o’clock in the morning, and as usual, I’m not asleep. I’m also not watching Smallville DVDs, which, sadly, is normally what I’m doing at this time in the morning. I’m watching Rafael Nadal battle it out with David Ferrer on one of the biggest stages in sports. And it’s live! C’mon, people, who’s with me? The U.S. Open rocks! OK, I’m done. The men’s quarterfinals:

Roger Federer v. Andy Roddick: The numbers don’t look good for Andy Roddick here. He has beaten Federer exactly once, four years ago. He’s lost to him 13 times. The term “uphill battle” seems an understatement here. If Roddick has one thing going for him, it’s the fact that he’s won two matches at Flushing Meadows this year by walkover, with two opponents quitting. The American can try to raise his level against the best player in the world, or he can hope for another “walkover.” Sorry, Andy. I think Tonya Harding’s got a Celebrity Death Match set up for tonight.
Nikolay Davydenko v. Tommy Haas: Haas is enjoying a bit of a career resurgence after being derailed by injury. After edging James Blake a couple days ago, he should be brimming with confidence, even if he is taking on the fourth seed. Davydenko has looked solid himself so far, despite the gambling investigation that centers on him. Haas and Davydenko have had some battles at Grand Slams. Last year at the Open, Davydenko beat him, but this year in Australia , it was Haas who won, 7-5 in the fifth set. The edge here goes barely to Haas, only because Davydenko has played a lot this summer, and his gas tank has got to be approaching empty by now.
Carlos Moya v. Novak Djokovic: Stat of the day: Carlos Moya won the French Open … in 1998. That’s a long time ago, and he’s still ticking at 31. His opponent is 11 years younger, and has a win over both Federer and Rafael Nadal this summer. One guy Djokovic doesn’t have a win against this summer is Moya. Moya’s won both of their matches this year, including in Cincinnati a few weeks back. Can the old man continue his dominance over the young upstart? I don’t think so. It may take four sets, but Djokovic should be able to figure Moya out, especially with a Grand Slam semifinal on the line.
Juan Ignacio Chela v. David Ferrer: Physically, Chela would get an edge, since the Ferrer/ Rafael Nadal match practically ended 15 minutes ago. Seriously, this is huge for both men. Whoever wins gets to their first Grand Slam semifinal. In cases like this, an intangible like this could mean more than who has the best forehand. Ferrer could be still riding the high from beating the world No. 2, but it was a three and a half hour match. Chela also had to go the distance in his fourth-round win. Bottom line: Who would have expected either of these guys to get this far? And who could guess who’d win between the two?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Thinnin' out the herd: Womens quarterfinal preview

Everything appears to be holding to form in the women's draw of the U.S. Open, which means anything goes. Maria Sharapova, for example, now has more time to test out that PowerShot camera. Also, I wonder if she can wear that night dress of hers out clubbing.
Sharapova isn't the only high seed missing from the quarterfinals. Ana Ivanovic and Nadia Petrova also bowed out early. But what we have left is lots of potential: Another Serena/Henin quarterfinal clash, Venus/Jankovic, and a possible all-Williams semifinal. (The fans of pretty tennis must cringe at this.)
A closer look at the womens quarterfinals:

Justine Henin v. Serena Williams: This is the third straight Grand Slam quarterfinal meeting between these two, and the numbers don't look good for Serena. Henin dominated in Paris and eked out a win at Wimbledon. Justine has been steamrolling through the draw, and Serena has looked a bit streaky. Can she raise her game for the big match? By now, we should know the answer is "Heck yes!" Serena in three.
Jelena Jankovic v. Venus Williams: You know, this is one messed-up draw. But I guess that's what happens when you give Sharapova her own half. Anyway, Jankovic has edged Venus the last three times they've played, including Wimbledon last year. But Venus is looking good so far at the Open. She raised her level against Ivanovic, and I think she can do the same against Jankovic, whose weak serve is starting to catch up with her. Venus in straights.
Agnes Szavay v. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Who didn't see Szavay in the quarterfinals? The 18-year-old is having one heck of a Slam. Maybe she'll swing by the food bar and grab a burger. Seriously, the Hungarian seems to be putting her game together this summer, winning her first title and making the New Haven final. I'd give Szavay a fair shot against Kuznetsova, even though she lost to the Russian in that New Haven final. However, Kuznetsova's been here before and her experience should get her through. Kuznetsova in two tight sets.
Anna Chakvetadze v. Shahar Peer: This might be the hardest one to call, just because one of these 20-year-olds will get a shot at a Grand Slam semifinal, which would be a first for both. Both have solid ground games, but Peer seems to be a slightly steadier player, while Chakvetadze can spray a few untimely unforced errors. This is going three, and it'll be entertaining. Edge to Chakvetadze, who's been on a roll this summer.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

This has got to be a strategy



Beth Mattek is a freakin' genius. Dressing "up" for these matches is clearly a twofold strategy:
1. Who wants to lose to someone wrapped in aluminum foil? This mindset obviously tightens up her opponents.
2. The aluminum foil blinds her opponents, and the crowd for that matter. So no one will see it, even when her boobs fall out of her top.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The night life

The Australian Open has its stuffed koala bears. Roland Garros has its red socks. Wimbledon has its strawberries and cream.
The U.S. Open has night tennis.
It had Andre Agassi winning his last match ever against a player he shouldn’t have beaten. It had each Williams sister winning a Grand Slam on a Saturday night in their Sunday best. It has Justin Gimelstob.
Who? Justin Gimelstob, a 30-year-old American journeyman who has never seen the second week of a major. He’s known more for his penchant for the dramatic than for any aspect of his game. His signature shot, which is diving for a ball – as opposed to running for it, might have been the catalyst for his bad back, but he’d hardly regret it. Gimelstob may have been a bit mentally flaky, but he is a character. Which makes him a perfect candidate for a retirement sendoff at Arthur Ashe stadium, New-York style.
Tuesday night’s match at the zoo featured Gimelstob playing against his friend, and fifth seed Andy Roddick. Roddick, whose coach is former U.S. Open fan favorite Jimmy Connors, also knows a little something about being a character. So, what do you get when you cross two characters, a stage and an audience with perhaps a little Captain in them? You get a performance.
Second set. A group of military men in nosebleed seats decides to leave, and the audience, feeling patriotic, applauds them for nearly a minute. (So Janet Jackson gets better seats than guys who fight wars? Where’s the risk in hooking them up with decent seats? You know there won’t be a wardrobe malfunction.) Once the hubbub dies down, the referee informs Gimelstob that he must take a second serve because he’d been penalized for a delay of game. Gimelstob tosses up his arms, walks to the referee and argues he should have a first serve, but is rejected. Enter Roddick, who also approaches. He overrides the ruling and gives his buddy a first serve. Gimelstob proceeds to double-fault, to which Roddick yells, “You go on for an hour, and then you do that?” The crowd laughs, and Gimelstob answers, “Trust me, I’m more disappointed than you are right now.”
And scene. There’s more later, after Roddick wins, and Gimelstob, who’ll now concentrate on a career as a commentator, interviews Roddick. “What did you think were the keys to the match?” Gimelstob gamely asks, and in moments, Roddick’s turned the tables on him, and is the one holding the microphone.
This doesn’t happen at Wimbledon, because there aren’t any lights, and too many manners, at the All England Club. But sometimes, when you expose a sport like tennis to
the dark side, it’s a good thing. Tennis is an Andy Roddick, a six-pack and a heat wave from breaking out of its box.
That could happen any time under the lights at Flushing Meadow.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The 100th episode of TWA: The one where Naf correctly predicts the winner of the U.S. Open

Damn, TWA is getting old. 100 posts. Whew. I’m getting emotional here. I’d just like to thank the little people who made this possible, especially Blogger, before its update. Back when I’d be working on one of these gigantic previews and would lose all my work. Those nights were fun, and I will never forget them. Thank you!
All right, let’s get back to why we’re here. U.S. Open, baby. I can’t think of a better topic for the century post. Let’s rock.


Men:

1. Roger Federer: Who’s gonna stop the F-train at Grand Slams? Surprisingly, there are a few suspects. Federer hasn’t looked great this summer, but his version of lackluster also includes a title and a finals showing. Still, a potential fourth round against Richard Gasquet, a quarterfinal against Andy Roddick/Paul-Henri Mathieu and James Blake in the semis? Tall order. Or as Federer would say, “Yawn.”
2. Rafael Nadal: The U.S. Open has not been kind to young Rafa. If it’s not Blake, it’s guys like Mikhail Youzhny ruining his U.S. Open. Nadal, though, looks like he’s improving quickly, especially this season. He’s obviously comfortable with changing his game to get better. So it’s hard not to see another Fed/Rafa final in a Grand Slam. Right, Novak?
3. Novak Djokovic: Believe it or not, he doesn’t agree. Djokovic has made a believer out of a lot of people, and his game’s maturing, too. He’s probably the first guy to beat Federer and Nadal in a tournament. So repeating that feat to win his first major won’t faze him. The question is: Is he ready? Ready for Mario Ancic in round one and the heartbroken Radek Stepanek in round two?
4. Nikolay Davydenko: How far can he go? Only his bookie can know for sure.
5. Andy Roddick: David Ferrer. Frank Dancevic. Novak Djokovic. Well, Djokovic isn't a terrible loss, but Roddick's spent most of his summer losing to people he shouldn't have. After the Ferrer loss, Roddick tried really hard to sound nonchalant by saying he knows what's wrong. Uh-huh. Well, the first thing that's wrong is that he might drown in the depth of men's tennis. The second thing is Roger Federer in the QUARTERS! Really, though, if he can fend off Mathieu in round four, that’d be a feat in itself.
6. James Blake: It looks like Blake's rounding into form just in time for the Open. He's bludgeoning the ball right now, and although he's shown some lapses during matches in New Haven, he's recovering from them, which Blake hasn't always been able to do. His quarter o’ the draw includes the likes of Sam Querrey, (who’s beaten him this summer) Tommy Haas, Marcos Baghdatis, Guillermo Canas.
7. Fernando Gonzalez: He might get Marat Safin in round three, which these days is: 1. an easy win and 2. a chance to be hit with a racquet. Other than that, his results have tailed since Australia, and so even getting to Nadal in the quarters isn’t certain.
8. Tommy Robredo: Does he still play tennis? Oh. I thought I saw him as the centerfold for Playgirl magazine. (The articles are spectacular.) Anyway, I see him squeezing in a fourth round loss to Youzhny before a photo shoot over at TWA Quarterly. (Seriously, Tommy. Answer my calls. My photographer’s waiting.)
9. Tomas Berdych: I think his third round against Mathieu is going to be great theater. Whoever wins gets a crack at Roddick.
10. Tommy Haas: Props to Haas for fighting his way back to the top of men’s tennis. He’s not made any waves at a major, though. I think he can beat Baghdatis in a tough third round matchup. If he does, he’s got a strong shot against Blake.

Stragglers:
Mikhail Youzhny (11): Nadal’s nightmare from last year has a good shot at the quarterfinals, and I think he could give Djokovic some trouble.
Ivan Ljubicic (12): Who? Really, what happened to this guy? One second, he’s threatening Nadal at the French a couple years back, the next, he’s folding in early rounds of majors. It’s like he’s Safin without hair.
Richard Gasquet (13): The feisty Frenchy probably wishes he were in Roddick’s quarter of the draw instead of Federer’s. Now do you see the benefit of slipping the draw committee a $20 around this time of year?
Guillermo Canas (14): His results have really taken a dive since whipping Federer twice since his return. He’s in a really vulnerable part of the draw, with Andy Murray questionable after his injury and Davydenko possibly dealing with fatigue after a few tough weeks, on the court and off.
David Ferrer (15): Always good for a few upsets. Another good potential round-three matchup: Ferrer v. Nalbandian.
Lleyton Hewitt (16): Little Lleyton’s all grown up. No more getting bageled from Federer. Seriously, he picked a good time to start looking good. I’d say he’s got a clear look to a fourth round against Djokovic. After that? How about the Baby Gap in Times Square? (I’m looking at Hewitt’s picture on the ATP Web site, and that’s the most rehearsed smile I’ve ever seen, Lleyton. It smacks of staring in the mirror for hours, asking yourself, “How about this expression?”)
Carlos Moya (17): Old Man Moya’s on the second wind of his career, but he won’t get very far here, thanks to either Youzhny or Hewitt.
Marcos Baghdatis (18): Poor guy. Think he still has nightmares about last year’s U.S. Open match against Andre Agassi? This year, it might be James Blake disturbing his sleep patterns.
Andy Murray (19): Is he or isn’t he ready? He’s taken some beatings this summer upon his return from a wrist injury. Of course, it’s better to test that wrist in Cincinnati than the ’Apple. His second round’s against Jonas Bjorkman, who may be 82, but he’s no slouch.
All right, I'm going to stop here. Men's tennis is freakin' deep.

The way it'll go down:
Quarterfinals: Federer v. Mathieu, Haas v. Blake, Youzhny v. Djokovic, Gonzalez v. Nadal
Semifinals: Federer v. Blake, Djokovic v. Nadal
Final: Federer v. Nadal
Winner: Nadal, by a wedgie.


Women:

1. Justine Henin: Please, someone, beat her. Because you know you’re gonna hear about that sore shoulder in the final once Sharapova starts beating her.
2. Maria Sharapova: Not to say the defending champ’s got a ticket into the finals. Although it’s looking good. I don’t know how she keeps ending up with all these cream puff draws, but it does her no good. If the only real threats in your half are an upcoming Russian (Anna Chakvetadze), one who’s rediscovering her game (Nadia Petrova) and one who can’t win titles (Svetlana Kuznetsova), what’s your tough prep for the final?
3. Jelena Jankovic: Watching Tatiana Golovin rip up Jankovic’s Ms. Softee serve a couple weeks ago makes it clear that she’s got a real liability. That’s why I don’t think she’s a lock for the quarters for this tournament. She could run into a real problem in Elena Dementieva.
4. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Always the bridesmaid. She did win the Pilot Pen this week, sort of, in a walkover or three. (Three walkovers in one tournament. What, is she taking tips from Amelie Mauresmo?) One problem for Kuznetsova: There’s no on-court coaching in Slams. What’re you gonna do now? Figure it out yourself? (gasp!)
5. Ana Ivanovic: Can she beat Venus at the U.S. Open, even though she got creamed at Wimbledon by same?
6. Anna Chakvetadze: Could be the only player to keep Sharapova out of the final. For the sake of our eardrums, let’s hope so.
7. Nadia Petrova: Still looking for confidence. Not gonna find it against Daniela Hantuchova.
8. Serena Williams: Who knows. Really. She could flame out against Lucie Safarova or Justine Henin, or she could win it all. I have to admit curiosity about the shape she’s in right now after an injury layoff, even though I know the answer is that it doesn’t matter.
9. Daniela Hantuchova: It seems she lacks belief at the big events. Witness the meltdown against Serena at Wimbledon. She blinked, plain and simple. Her section of the draw could give her a shot at the quarters against Kuznetsova.
10. Marion Bartoli: Unbelievable. She's in the top 10? Extra 17 pounds and all? C'mon, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport and Monica Seles. I don't care if you can barely walk. This is your time.

Stragglers:
Patty Schnyder (11): All that playing through the summer, and all she scores is an 11 seed. Well, that worth it, wasn’t it Pat? (Can I call you Pat?) Was it worth it to have to face Chakvetadze in the fourth round?
Venus Williams (12): You know what's really impressive about Venus Williams? Her ability to come from the brink in the early rounds of Wimbledon. You know what else is impressive? Her ability to toss in 79 unforced errors -- in one match. So, really, who knows? What she should consider doing is getting some grass soles for her sneakers. It might help.
Nicole Vaidisova (13): Unstoppable. Those blasted Vaidisova commercials are. So is the problem with her shoulder. She’s been citing it since the Montreal tournament. So Shuai Peng might be the one to clean her clock in round two.
Elena Dementieva (14): OMG. Look who’s been working on her serve. I don’t know what took her so long, but she’s finally trying to turn it into a weapon. In New Haven, she was hitting them at 107 mph. They were in, too! Anyway, this is why I think she can stage the upset against Jankovic. Dementieva can attack a weak serve and has a potent ground game.

The way it’ll go down:
Quarterfinals: Henin v. S. Williams, Dementieva v. V. Williams, Hantuchova v. Kuznetsova, Chakvetadze v. Sharapova
Semifinals: S. Williams v. V. Williams, Kuznetsova v. Chakvetadze
Final: S. Williams v. Chakvetadze
Winner: Serena, for her portrayal of an injured tennis player trying to find her way back to the top.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Worcester: PR disaster

From the wires:
Lindsay Davenport's return to professional tennis was delayed by rain. Her doubles match was bumped to Wednesday.
Davenport gave birth to her first child in June and has not played since last September.
"I had to go Lindsay and the doubles match and say, 'Your match is not essential,"' tournament director Anne Worcester said. "We have to get the first-round matches played."


Actually, Anne, you didn't have to tell anyone their match wasn't important. You could have just said, "Hey Lindsay, the rain's screwing up our schedule here. I'm sorry, but we'll have to move you back to Wednesday." They let you out of the office?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Another disappointing ride on the U.S. Open Series bus

There's a funny commercial airing about the U.S. Open
Series, a group of warmup tournaments that's billed
"the greatest road trip in sports." It ends with an
outtake from Maria Sharapova. She appears to stumble
over a line disclosing the prize money for the summer.
"Thirty million dollars?" she repeats. "That's it? I'm
getting off this bus."
She's joking, but it makes you wonder. Where has
Sharapova been this summer? Well, she hasn't been
spending a lot of time on the road. She played a
tournament and a half this summer, pulling out of the
Los Angeles tournament earlier this month with a shin
injury.
At least Sharapova's made an appearance. Serena
Williams is featured in a commercial on the bus trying
to choose the right earrings. Apparently, that's taken
a little longer than she imagined, what with the bad
thumb and all. She was entered into the Pilot Pen in
New Haven this week, but pulled out at the last
minute. Her status at the U.S. Open, the final stop,
is in question, too.
The women's number one, Justine Henin, has also
appeared in one tournament, winning in Toronto. Her
right shoulder's acting up, though.
It looks like there's a trend here. A lot of tennis'
big names -- especially the women -- are skimping on
this year's road trip. It's not just injury, either.
Henin apparently didn't sustain her injury until she
played last week. Venus Williams made no mention of
injury when she decided to play just one tournament
this summer. And she seemed so enthused about this
road trip in the ads, too. After a surprise
quarterfinal loss in San Diego, I guess she asked to
be dropped off at her house in Florida. So no Venus.
What about the guys? Well they -- Roger Federer,
Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, James Blake -- are
actually showing up at a lot of these tournaments, at
the risk of injury before the last Grand Slam of the
year. Why? Could it be because there's more
advertising dollars available to the women? Maybe the
women players aren't as fit as the men, as John
McEnroe theorized last week.
Whatever the cause, these "Road Trip!" commercials are
a bit misleading. They imply that Sharapova, the
Williamses and Justine Henin are coming to a city near
you. The reality though, is that Patty Schnyder's
played almost every tournament this summer, but she
isn't in any commercials. I guess someone's interested
in that cash. Especially when you consider that
Sharapova probably makes more money rolling over in
her sleep than Schnyder earns in a year of playing.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Doubles Revolution! (really.)

Last week's Masters tournament in Montreal did have
its share of surprises. The biggest was Novak Djokovic
defeating both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to win
the whole thing. Djokovic has shown a lot of
improvement over the last year or so, but winning a
tournament at this level against that kind of
competition showed that he's a threat at the U.S. Open
later this month.
There was another big surprise, though. Did anyone see
the doubles draw for this tournament? Federer and
Djokovic were playing, along with James Blake. (Nadal
was to play with Lleyton Hewitt, but they withdrew
before their first round match.) Federer's first round
was against the top-seeded Bryan brothers, Mike and
Bob. The best player in singles up against some of the
best in doubles? Well, who wouldn't want to see that?
No one, that's who. At least that's what ESPN thinks.
The beefed-up doubles draw barely got any attention in
the television coverage of the tournament, except
brief glimpses of Federer and one of the Bryan
brothers (They're twins. I can't tell them apart)
swinging away. By the way, Federer and his partner,
Yves Allegro, lost.
The irony about TV's cold shoulder to doubles is that
not so long ago, in 2005, the male doubles players
filed a lawsuit against the ATP, the ruling
organization of men's tennis. They were miffed at
proposed changes they thought would minimize the
doubles game, such as shortening sets and reserving
places in the doubles draw for singles players. After
the groundswell, the ATP ditched that idea, and
compromised on the scoring, replacing the standard
third set with a super-tiebreaker (played to 10
points) and also launched a massive campaign to draw
attention to doubles, the Doubles Revolution. The
"revolution" seems to have sparked interest among
singles players, but not among channels broadcasting
tennis.
See, those who make decisions about which matches air
operate under a couple of severe misconceptions. One
is that in America, we want to see only American
players. That's a topic for another column, though.
The other misconception is that although most tennis
viewers play more doubles than singles recreationally,
they have no interest in watching doubles on
television.
No question, there's something about singles that
appeals to the casual viewer. It's like a boxing
match, one-on-one and points are usually more drawn
out. Doubles is a different game. There are more
people on court, fewer places to hit the ball and more
strategy involved. Decisions have to be made quickly,
and mistakes are pounced upon more often than not.
Does that sound intriguing, by chance? Tell ESPN. Or
The Tennis Channel. Or both. I've taken the liberty of
finding their contact information for those of you
tennis warriors who want to see more of the game that
you play. Tell 'em Tennis With Attitude sent you.

ESPN, Inc.
Viewer Response
ESPN Plaza
Bristol, CT 06010
E-mail:
http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/news/story?page=contact/espntv

The Tennis Channel
Corporate Headquarters
2850 Ocean Park Blvd. Suite 150
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Phone: (310) 314-9400
Email: general@thetennischannel.com

Thursday, August 09, 2007

There's no betting in tennis!

Let's say you're a world-class tennis player. One who loves shopping,
or playing poker online.
Well, let's say July was a particularly rough month. Huge Neiman-
Marcus bill. Tough poker night. First round ouster at Wimbledon.
Whatever. Point is, you need money fast. Maybe you owe someone some
money. You could play a tournament, but you've got to wait until it's
over to cash in. What if you could cash in faster? What if you played
one match, and bet the house on the result -- because you could
affect that result?
What if it wasn't the tennis player, but his trainer? His coach? His
racket stringer? How can you really know if said tennis player was
involved in betting at all?
Right now, the Association of Tennis Players has got its hands full
with these questions. They center around Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko.
Davydenko was playing in the second round against Martin Vassallo
Arguello at a tournament in Poland when a British online gambling
company, Betfair, noticed some irregular gambling activity on the
match. Almost $7 million was bet on that match, and most of the bets
were against the Russian -- in favor of a player most folks have
never heard of. Stranger yet, the bets against Davydenko picked up
after he won the first set. Davydenko withdrew in the third set with
a foot injury and, with the smell of a rat in the air, the gambling
company canceled the bets.
Naturally, Davydenko's camp denies any wrongdoing. Also, it’s
entirely possible that word filtered out from the locker room that
the Russian was playing hurt. But what about bets spiking after he
won the first set? Again, that's for the ATP to decide. It's not the
first time they've had to answer these questions. At Wimbledon last
year, Betfair noticed irregular wagers on a first-round match between
Richard Bloomfield, a wild card, and Carlos Berlocq. In 2003, the
bets on a match between Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Fernando Vicente were
suspended when the odds went heavily against the higher ranked
Kafelnikov.
ATP rules say players and their "support personnel" can't bet on any
amateur or professional tennis matches. They also are not allowed to,
"directly or indirectly, solicit, induce, entice, persuade, encourage
or facilitate any other person to wager on the outcome or any other
aspect of any event." Players can be fined $100,000 (a real drag on
the pocket) and be barred from tour events. Were any of the above
players busted, however, despite the evidence of an inside track in
wagers? Nope.
Tackling the issue of gambling in tennis is definitely harder than it sounds. Anyone can place a bet. Hell, Davydenko could ask his mother's third cousin's stepkid to place a bet for him, and it wouldn't touch him. Even with the unusual patterns in the betting on the Davydenko match, the ATP can't clip a player's career because of what it looks like. It seems like the only solution is banning gambling in tennis. That solution doesn't seem so bad. The lottery is one thing. Blowing your social security at the casinos is worse. Betting on tennis? That, folks, is a gambling problem. Cue the 'Afterschool Special' music.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Another Open Letter to Andy Roddick

Andy, Andy, Andy.
I get it. It must be hard, trying to carve out your piece of history playing alongside the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It took you awhile to try to adjust, but finally last year, you hired all-American bad boy Jimmy Connors to help you with your game. It seemed to work – at first. He helped you shore up that weak backhand of yours, and encouraged you to be more aggressive, to come into the net. You made it to the 2006 U.S. Open final, and even though you lost to Federer, you had to be encouraged by your best Grand Slam showing in more than a year.
But the worm has turned this year, hasn’t it, Andy? In Australia, Federer beat you again in the semifinals. The second-set score was 6-0. Ouch. At the French Open, possibly your least-favorite event, you lost in the first round to some guy named Igor Andreev, and headed straight to London to get some practice at Wimbledon. How did that work out? Not great, Andy, not great. You lost in a quarterfinal debacle against Richard Gasquet, in a match in which you had a 2-0 set lead before it all fell apart.
Trying to shake it off, no doubt, you headed to Indianapolis. You looked really good – until the semifinals on Saturday, where you lost to Canadian Frank Dancevic. Did you know, Andy, that Dancevic’s 2007 win-loss record before that tournament was 9-12? After the match, you claimed you had a stomach bug, but on Monday, you admitted that a late-night fast-food meal slowed you down.
Andy, I’m ashamed of you. Are you nuts? A Big-Mac? A Taco Supreme? Can’t you afford real food? You’re a millionaire, for crying out loud!
Almost worse than that, you had the audacity to say that you didn’t put a lot of stock in the Dancevic loss because you weren’t playing at full strength. Is that right? First: Whose fault is that? Did Coach Connors force a Whopper Jr. down your throat? Second: Face it, Andy, the fast food might not have made a difference. You are at a crossroads. (Please don’t enter the Wendy’s.) When you first started on the tour, you dominated a lot of players with your 150-mph serves and big forehand. Now that they’ve adjusted, what are you going to do? When you hired Connors, you wanted to be able to beat Federer. Truth is, if you want to beat Federer, you’ll have to get to more finals. If you want to get to more finals, you have to stop making excuses, and start strengthening your weaknesses. That means learning how to volley. And not that chopping motion you’ve been perfecting, either. Developing more variety on your backhand wouldn’t hurt either, now that you can actually hit one.
So get to work, Andy. Don’t kid yourself by thinking that with your current arsenal that you can go to battle with Federer or Nadal. If you’ve got your hands full with the Dancevics of the world, you’re just not ready.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Bring it, mama!

Aren’t babies cute?
They’re so small, and they make the strangest faces. Watching them try to put their fist in their mouths is just priceless.
Another fun thing about babies is the constant crying, and trying to figure out why.
Just six weeks after having her first child (whose name is Jagger -- why do parents insist on doing that to their children? I speak from pity.), Lindsay Davenport seems to have discovered that chasing down a drop shot might be a welcome respite to changing a droopy diaper. The 31-year-old American announced her return to tennis – in baby steps.
Back in December, when she announced she was pregnant, Davenport told ESPN.com, "I hate the word 'retirement' but this season was such a struggle physically for me and I can't imagine playing again." A little context: Last year, she had experienced two quarterfinal major losses to Justine Henin, and couldn't even play the French Open and Wimbledon becauses of a back injury. This is a player who holds three Grand Slam titles, and has been to the top of the tennis mountain. No doubt, the frustrations of being unable to beat younger, hungrier competitors must have been hard to stomach.
But Davenport had a winning return on Saturday, winning a women's doubles and mixed doubles match in World Team Tennis, an exhibition tour. She'll compete again on the women’s tour will be in August, partnering with Lisa Raymond to play doubles. Long term, Davenport would like to be eligible for the Beijing Olympics.
Davenport's comeback will be an encouragement for mothers everywhere, especially if she finds herself heading to China next summer. Can she still do damage on the tour, especially in singles? She's always had one of the best serves in the game, and still possesses her heavy, penetrating ground strokes. However, her fitness was always the question mark throughout her career, and it will likely dog her comeback effort. Having said that, anything can happen in women's tennis. This is a time where the Williams sisters can roll out of bed and win a major, a time when scale-tipping Marion Bartoli can make the Wimbledon final, a time when half of the women's top 10 can't legally drink alcohol. Maybe this is the time for a kid-toting Davenport.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Well, that didn't take long

Less than 24 hours after Lindsay Davenport mentions she's interested in a return to the women's tour, she has a doubles partner and a comeback date. Davenport and Lisa Raymond will team up at the New Haven tournament, a warmup to the U.S. Open. Hmm. Surely, that's just a coincidence.

When Balls Attack, Vol. 1

From the wires:
Anastasia Rodionova became the second player on the WTA Tour to be disqualified from a match when she smacked a ball Tuesday night toward fans rooting for her opponent at the Cincinnati Women's Open.
Angelique Kerber was handed a 4-6, 6-4, 1-0 victory when Rodionova hit a ball in the direction of three fans at one end of the court in a display of frustration after she lost the first game of the third set. The ball hit halfway up the wall in front of the stands where the fans were sitting and caroomed back onto the court.
Earlier, she had complained about fans applauding for Kerber during points.
While the players were changing sides, the umpire called for tournament referee William Coffey. After a brief discussion, Coffey defaulted Rodionova for "unsportsmanlike conduct," he said.
"I'm shocked," Rodionova said. "I still don't understand why they defaulted me. I'm really upset. I've never seen in my life anyone defaulted in this situation. I had no warning. I didn't hit the ball at anybody. I didn't swear at anybody. I didn't throw my racket."
In the 36-year history of the tour, it is believed that there has been only one other default in the main draw of a tournament, a WTA Tour spokesman said. Irina Spirlea was disqualified in 1996 at Palermo for directing abusive language at an official.


That's some fine company to be historically linked to, Anastasia. Irina "The Bump" Spirlea? Got the feeling tournament directors are going to have to answer some questions here. Such as: Have you ever defaulted someone for tossing their racquet? Or illegal coaching? It's not cool that Rodionova's trying to play "Whack-a-fan," but considering that she didn't hit anyone, and was most likely venting, a disqualification is probably a bit much.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

That's it. I'm going pro

Lindsay Davenport says she's thinking about a comeback, just a month and change after having her first baby. It must have been the hormones when she said last year that it was hard to see her making a comeback.
"So since about two and a half weeks, I've been pretty active, been able to practice now the last week at a very high percentage. Glad there were no complications," she says.
Davenport says she's motivated by the idea of playing in the Olympics again. She's going to test the waters on Saturday by playing some World Team Tennis doubles matches. (Boy, these retired pros love themselves some WTT. One year, and Pete Sampras, Martina Hingis, and now Davenport are talking about comebacks. Look for an announcement from founder Billie Jean King soon.)
The first instinct here might be to raise an eyebrow at Davenport's musings, but with the current state of women's tennis, Davenport could win a major, even if she were pregnant again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

One more guest for Kim's wedding

Word is Kim Clijsters is pregnant, thereby making it necessary to alter the size of that wedding dress for Sunday. Congrats to her, although I really thought there was a chance of her coming back at some point. Still a chance of that, I suppose, after she realizes that chasing a kid with a dirty diaper is a bit tougher that chasing down tennis balls.

Filthy Americans

From the wires:

Russia on Wednesday complained that Russian tennis captain Shamil Tarpishchev had not been able to get a U.S. visa ahead of this weekend's Fed Cup semifinals against United States. Tarpishchev on Tuesday accused the United States of deliberately trying to disrupt the Russians' pre-match training and said the Russian team's coaching "has practically been wrecked."

So that's how the Americans are going to do it. Hell, the Williams sisters have nothin' on Svetlana Kuznetsova and Maria Sharapova. Oh, right, about Sharapova: She's out because of a swollen shoulder. The conspiracy never ends, does it, Shamil?

Someone has worked HARD for the money ...



Winning Wimbledon is obviously an event that still arouses Roger Federer ...

Monday, July 09, 2007

It's a Wimbledon wrap!

I have what I think is a fair question: Why does women's tennis use rankings?
The top seed at Wimbledon, and the highest ranked player in the world, is Justine Henin. She won the French Open, but lost in the semifinals of Wimbledon to someone named Marion Bartoli.
#2: Maria Sharapova -- Out in the fourth round to a certain eventual champion who could barely keep a rally going in her previous round.
#3: Jelena Jankovic -- Fourth round loss to Bartoli. You know, when I first saw Bartoli play and noticed how, um, big-boned she is, it sort of reminds me of golf's John Daly, without the chain-smoking, but with the power and the build that doesn't quite yell "athlete."
#4: Svetlana Kuznetsova -- Williams victim #5. Sad.
Seriously, is women's tennis (gasp!) developing depth? Seems possible. Out goes Clijsters and Davenport, in come Vaidisova, Jankovic and Ivanovic. (Speaking of the -ics, whatever happened to Jelena Dokic?) They're good, young players with definite potential for Grand Slams. Bartoli? Maybe? If she'd cut back on the candy (her words, folks, her words) she might be able to run with the fitter players on tour.
As for the Williams sisters, obviously they've shown this year that they can strike at any time, even when the iron is cold. I still don't believe Venus went from playing so badly in the third round to playing her best match in recent memory against Sharapova the next day. If these two could play injury-free for a while, who knows what could happen. (This said after Venus gets her leg wrapped during her final.)
Unfortunately, the real equalizer on the tour has been the injuries. Sharapova's shoulder, Serena's knee, cramps, thumb, etc, Mauresmo's appendix. That's what the rankings are reflecting right now. It's not a true depiction of the best players, but of the ones left standing.
As for the fellas? Well, who needs the other two thousand players in the world (with the exception of Tommy 'Cheeky' Robredo) when you have Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal? Their Wimbledon final was more than I expected, and made up for the boring women's final. Hats off to Nadal, who managed to look increasingly sharp with every win during the tournament. It's too bad he had to have his knee wrapped while he was in firm grip of the momentum in the fourth set. It's a rarity to see Federer flustered, and it would have been really interesting to find out if he could have snapped out of it. This could shape up to be Nadal's best season yet, especially if he can finally have a breakthrough at the U.S. Open.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Monday, July 02, 2007

Bye bye, Bud ...

From the news wires:
WIMBLEDON, England -- Bud Collins, the 78-year-old icon of American tennis, has been fired by NBC after 35 years of hosting interviews, doing play-by-play and forging a bond with millions of fans.

Collins confirmed his firing Monday at Wimbledon, where he is completing his final assignment for NBC, but declined extensive comment, saying only that "I've had 35 wonderful years and I hope to remain in tennis."

Those close to Collins said he was hurt by his termination.

He received his firing notice June 22 and was told it had nothing to do with his age. "It was just a management decision to save money," according to a Collins friend, who relayed NBC's stated reason for the firing.

Collins will continue to work for The Boston Globe, his employer for 44 years. "I've walked these hallowed grounds for 35 years," he said. "I love Wimbledon. I love tennis."


OK, color me mean, but it might have been time for Bud to get the walking papers. Yes, he's got irrepressible enthusiasm, and a knowledge of tennis that is bottomless, along with his wit. The other thing about that's bottomless is his vocabulary. He can wax poetic for days and days, until you forgot what he was trying to say. I can't say I'll miss his post-Wimbledon interviews with the champs. "Roger, in the third set, a bird flew overhead, tipping his wing ever so slightly down toward the action on Centre Court. What do you think the view of your brilliance was from up there?"

Wimbledon: That's not a cloud, is it?!??

The saying goes, "Tune in tomorrow."
If you tried to do that for Wimbledon, there wouldn't be much tennis. What you would see are lot of spectators scattering like rats, dodging raindrops like it's acid. Like they would have never thought there'd be rain, RAIN!, at Wimbledon. Like those umbrellas they're carrying appeared magically in their hands. Like it's not in the forecast for the next four months, solid.
Ah, the forecast. What we didn't see coming at all (sarcastic eye roll):
1. Tim Henman losing in the second round to Feliciano Lopez. OMG! Everyone has the right to chase the dream. And chase. And chase. And then roll (as in, in a wheelchair). But the first thing Henman should do if he insists on chasing the dream is realizing that, dawg, you can't serve-and-volley on every point. The game, and racquet technology, is just going to continue to rip him to pieces, especially since he's not coming in on a big weapon of a serve. The other thing Henman should just deal with is the fact that "Henman Hill" would have been closed for construction if Andy Murray had shown up. Truth hurts.
2. Drama with the Williams sisters: I've seen so much of this cramping soap opera within the space of an hour that I don't even want to go there right now, although it was a nice effort from Serena. Instead, let's discuss the eldest Williams. Venus has played three rounds in this tournament so far. She's needed three sets in two of them. It's not like she's playing Alicia Molik over here. It's nice that's she's been able to come back from that, but Akiko Morigami isn't Maria Sharapova.
3. The Serbs representing: They're rolling deep these days, those Serbs, with Jelena Jankovic, Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic still alive, along with another tagalong. Janko Tipsarevic, 23, has been plugging away on the pro tour since 2002, and slowly improving, until BAM! He beats Fernando Gonzalez in the fourth round of Wimbledon, showing off a big game, multiple tatts and a hell of a personality. When a reporter asked him about the seeming sudden boom in Serbian tennis, he had an explanation: "People keep asking me, `How is this possible?' What is happening in the country? Maybe some radiation from the bombing or stuff."
Quote of the week.
4. Martina Hingis losing early: Laura Granville was plugging away here in Pittsburgh last November, playing in an ITF-level tournament, trying to get her ranking up. It would probably be the dream life to travel the world as a tennis player, but maybe not so much if you actually have to pay for it. It's gotta be all worth it when Granville realizes that she beat Martina Hingis at Wimbledon. Maybe she did get lucky because Hingis isn't 100 percent back from injury, but that British qualifier Naomi Cavaday couldn't finish the job in the first round. Anyway, it's back to the drawing board for Hingis, and the question, raised quietly last year at the U.S. Open, when she caught a beatdown from Virginie Razzano, comes up again: "Can she get back to the top?" What she's done already has been spectacular, competing in her first few majors back, and threatening, sometimes beating top players. But for someone like Hingis, who used to dominate women's tennis, is that enough? To plateau at around tenth in the world, without the firepower to compete for Slams? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tennis players, lock up your bunnies

I've been wondering what happened to Anna-Lena Groenefeld (her ranking went from 14 to bottomless pit in a year) and the answer is stranger than Jelena Dokic's dad. Sorry, but I'm losing a little respect for Meghann Shaughnessssy in this situation. The guy's an effin' scumbag, and she's a kid! Anyway ...

www.tennisreporters.net/blog_wimbledon_062607.html

Monday, June 25, 2007

Wimbledon preview

There are a million questions for which there seems no answer.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Why doesn't Barack Obama ever wear a tie?
Will Rafael Nadal ever win Wimbledon?
More perplexing still: Why hold Wimbledon during the one time of year it seems guaranteed to rain?
As usual, no easy answers, and of course, more questions. Let's check in with the ladies and gentlemen of the All-England Club.

The Gentlemen:
1. Roger Federer: Yikes. His first match against Teimuraz Gabashvili's gonna be a tough one. No doubt the Rog is turning over in his sleep thinking: How can a name with so many vowels sound like it has none? Seriously, it's always hard to root against the Fed, and it's even harder now that he's knocked the dried clay off his shoes. Now, the early round match that could be entertaining is the 3rd round against Marat Safin. "Could be" because Safin's enormously talented. The reality is, though, that Safin's never done too well on grass, and he's flaky as all hell.
2. Rafael Nadal: He proved last year that he could be dangerous on any surface by reaching the final at Wimbledon. I think he could do it again. It's a different surface, but Nadal just kept escalating his game at the French Open. He's so young, and so eager to keep improving. Mardy Fish will be a test for him in the first round, but I think he could pull it out in four. Other names looming in his quarter are Wayne Arthurs, (who says retirement waits for no one?) fellow tennis senior citizen Jonas Bjorkman, and Tomas Berdych. The problem for Nadal is the semis, where Novak Djokovic is most likely his opponent. I like to see people embrace their challenges, so it'd be great to see Nadal back in the final.
3. Andy Roddick: OK, you don't expect much out of Andy on clay, but now, it's go time for the American. He got a boost when he added Jimmy Connors to the coaching team, but consistent success is not quite there yet. OK, it sucks that he's in the same half as Federer, but the good news is that Andy Murray called off sick, so he's a near-lock to clear his quarter.
4: Novak Djokovic: He's shown some real game this year, beating Nadal in Miami this year. But he's not shaken that inconsistency off his game, that ability to just throw out two games in sheer errrors. He hasn't had great grass-court results, but if he can get as far as Nadal, he'll probably be a bit more comfortable than the No. 2 seed.
5. Fernando Gonzalez: Well, the man's got a forehand. At Wimby, it's wham, bam, end o' point. For the same reason he flamed out in the first round of the French, he might do some damage at this tournament.
6. Nicolay Davydenko: He's not too tough on grass. In fact, he's never made it past the second round at Wimbledon. He's my pick for the first seed to fall, and possibly at the hands of Gael Monfils or Thomas Johansson.
7. Tomas Berdych: He comes in with confidence, having won a warmup in Germany. Plus, nice draw. If you're going to be in the same half as a No. 2 seed, he must have prayed, let it be Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon, and don't let them have decided to change to clay.
8. Andy Murray: Wow, Tennis magazine. Way to put a guy on your cover who isn't playing the event. It's not like he just got injured, either. Sheesh. Well, get better soon, Murray.
9. James Blake: It's hard to keep those thoughts at bay about James, the ones that say, "Y'know, maybe he's plateaued again." Without a solid result here, he's going to be a serious candidate for Janet Jackson's school of "What Have You Done For Me Lately 101."
10. Marcos Baghdatis: Fun to watch, mostly because you just don't know what you're gonna get. He's been all over the map this year, but he had a nice Wimbledon last year. Round three against Nalbandian? More fun.

Stragglers:
Marat Safin: God knows.
Tim Henman: Yes, he's still around. Apparently, he and Wayne Arthurs are still drinking that delusional purple Kool-Aid. "I can do it. I can win Wimbledon." It's kind of sad to see someone who really could have been a contender try to hang on, looking for a Goran Ivanesevic miracle. And how bad would it suck to lose to clay-court tough guy Carlos Moya in the first round of Wimbledon?
Max Mirnyl: If I'm not mistaken, Mirnyl is looking suspiciously more like a doubles specialist at every Slam. Big serve, nice groundies, solid net game, and first-week exits. You know, if your 80-year-old doubles partner Bjorkman is advancing in singles draws and you're not, that's got to hurt a little bit.
Ivo Karlovic: Not fair, dude. What would happen if your opponent served the entire match and put you only on returns? Think about it.

First-round matches to watch: (and no, it's no accident that there won't be any for the women)
Nadal v. Fish
Roddick v. Justin Gimelstob: It's fun to watch Gimelstob give it his all when he plays, but he's actually one of the player/commentators on The Tennis Channel that worked out. So, what I'm saying is: Quit your day job.
Moya v. Henman: Oops, found these dentures on the floor. Whose are they?
Wow. That's a good question.

The way it'll go down:
Quarterfinals: Federer v. Blake, Roddick v. Gasquet, Baghdatis v. Djokovic, Berdych v. Nadal
Semifinals: Federer v. Gasquet, Djokovic v. Nadal
Final: Call me crazy: Federer v. Nadal
Winner: Federer, taking full advantage of the home court.


The Ladies
1. Justine Henin: So divorce is working for the forehand, I see. Would someone beat her already?
2. Maria Sharapova: She feels pretty ... pretty pressured. Since she won Wimbledon in '04, it's been a mixed bag for her at All-England. Well, not mixed. The next year, she loses a slugfest to Venus Williams, and then in 2006 to Amelie Mauresmo. Overall, she's got a bad shoulder, and not the most brilliant year on the resume to boot. The French Open semis was a good result for her, but she's been taken to the woodshed by Serena Williams twice this year. But it's the other Williams sister she could meet in the fourth round.
3. Jelena Jankovic: She knocked that defending champion glow off of Venus last year when they played, and she's just been getting better ever since. She seems to be stuck in semifinal mode in big tournaments, and guess who she draws in the semifinals again? At least it's grass.
4. Amelie Mauresmo: Two breakthrough Grand Slams later, still as fragile as a top seed comes. Mauresmo + pressure = meltdown. Just say "Defending champion" to her. Do it.
5. Svetlana Kuznetsova: She has a real shot in her half, whether she ends up playing Venus or Sharapova in the quarters.
6. Ana Ivanovic: Now that she's had some time to clear her head after that French Open final choke job, let's see how she handles the big matches now, such as Mauresmo in the quarterfinals.
7. Serena Williams: All right, everybody. Get your lips off Serena Williams' ass. Yes, she won the Australian Open this year. But let's not forget the piss-poor performance at the French against Henin. And, back on the topic of repeat performances, she could get Justine in the quarters.
8. Anna Chakvetadze: Just took home a warmup tournament trophy, beating none other than Jankovic in the final. Hmm. Let's see what happens when you put that match on Center Court Wimbledon in the quarterfinals. Although, I have to admit I'm favoring another matchup.
9. Martina Hingis: That's right, Chucky's back. I'd love to see what would happen if she plays Jankovic in that quarterfinal instead. Both players are smart, and lack a formidable serve, but of course Jankovic has that power.
10. Daniela Hantuchova: Now that someone finally gave her a burger, Olive Oil's showing that potential that first surfaced a few years back. But it's really hard to see her getting by Serena in the fourth round.

The stragglers:
Nadia Petrova: What happened? Two years ago, you were looking like a threat for permanent top 3. Now? Not a whole lot going on. Game's passing you by, Nadia.
Nicole Vaidisova: Clearly, she forgot to send her bribe in to the seeding office down at Wimbledon. 14th seed?
Bethanie Mattek: Never a threat, but you know that show, "What Not to Wear?" As they say in Hollywood, "Based on a true story."
Tatiana Golovin: Another player with the talent for a breakthrough.
Elena Dementieva: That serve's going to hurt her here, more than just about anywhere.
Venus Williams: Lucky to make the straggler list. You can't expect much out of her at Roland Garros, but this is apparently her surface. If she can't do any damage here, then she can't do it anywhere.

The way it'll go down:
Quarterfinals: Henin v. Serena, Jankovic v. Hingis, Ivanovic v. Vaidisova, Kuznetsova v. Sharapova
Semifinals: Serena v. Jankovic, Ivanovic v. Sharapova
Final: Jankovic v. Sharapova
Winner: Jankovic