Wednesday, December 17, 2008

As if on cue ...

So, last week, Lindsay Davenport was gearing up for the Aussie Open, and some of her fans (Vicki, Van and myself) were wondering what the eff she was thinking.
Today, nature intervened, and Davenport announced she was pulling out of the major with the ol' nine-month virus.
Whew! Talk about dodging a bullet. Look, the Australian Open wasn't going to turn out well for Davenport anyway, but 'lil Ringo will, in all likelihood, be just fine. Although he probably won't be lucky enough to get that name.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What, does she get senior parking rates?

I'm at odds with myself over whether Lindsay Davenport's decision to enter the Aussie Open is good news. Here's the good, the great part: Davenport is still looking to pursue a professional and competitive tennis career at the ripe old age of 32 -- and as the mother of a toddler. Her intentions are inspiring, and if you've ever thought to yourself that it's too late -- for anything -- it certainly shouldn't have anything to do with your age. (As though 32 is old. But I'm sure it feels old for Davenport when she walks onto the court to play some 14-year-old hotshot.)
How-EVAH. Let's just be unflinchingly honest here. Lindsay Davenport would need to have gotten a speed transplant in the offseason to have a sniff at the Aussie Open third round. Or those Maria Sharapova-type draws. You can't play competitive tennis these days by hoping you hit enough winners that you don't have to rally. Even in the wading pool of women's tennis these days, Davenport hasn't made any major waves. Losing to Marion "Candy" Bartoli at the U.S. Open? Yikes.
Which begs the question: Is it enough (especially for a great champ like Lindsay) to just go out and give it the old university try? If you can't win, is it worth hitting the gym? It's one thing when you're coming up and getting better. When you're obviously on the downslope of your career, and you can't even stay in tournaments long enough to face the big players, it's another thing.
Seriously, I'm conflicted. Lindsay Davenport's return: Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sneak peak

Roger Federer's 2009 schedule (which starts about six weeks after his 2008 season wrapped) includes two fewer clay court tournaments.
I know, I know ... what does it all mean? His agent says Fed's trying to cut down on all tournaments and peak for the important ones -- the majors. It stands to reason, too, that because he can't seal the deal at the French, he should be playing more clay matches. However, Fed's been to three straight French Open finals. He's lost to the same dominant clay-courter every time. (Although the 2008 whomping had to be demoralizing.)
The other way to look at this: Maybe he's put too much pressure on himself to win at Roland Garros. He is still playing the Masters clay tournaments, so he will get quality opponents -- just not as many matches.
So, does Federer need more clay court play to win the French? And another twist: If he loses it again this year, will he stop trying? I open the floor.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Davis Cup musings, or "Ohhhh-ohhhh-ohhhh"

For the most part, I am a purist, but today, the zoo in Argentina gave me a major revelation about tennis.
First off, wow! Great doubles between Argentina's Agustin Calleri and David Nalbandian and Spain's Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco! It's not often that you can squander a 5-1 lead in any set. Nope, that only happens when it counts, and you really want to win.
But this is where my revelation comes in, the second off. In the third set, when the Argentinians came back to force the tiebreaker, and were leading 5-1, something happened that seemed to change the course of the set. Someone in the crowd shouted out just as Nalbandian was serving -- and he double-faulted. After that, the Spaniards ran away with it, and set point was played with the crowd going berserk, banging drums, playing trombones, hitting whatever was around.
In theory, Davis Cup is a chance for teams to play for their country. I believe they even invite tennis fans to attend. And they do. With band accessories. Anyway, that's what makes Davis Cup great. (What makes Davis Cup suck is the way it's organized. But I digress. For today. With great hesitance.) Yet, the umpires are shushing the fans like they're in fifth grade again. Sorry, but isn't that what tennis is missing -- excitement? So my question is, "Why is tennis the last sport that needs to be played in utter silence?"
Answer: It doesn't. For the four thousandth time, tennis is 99.921842% mental. That means that if some drunk fans want to scream bloody murder during your service motion, that shouldn't mean you drop your serve. For those of us who don't play in clubs every week, how many times has a car alarm begun blaring during your tennis game? Or a kid started crying? Or a cell phone began ringing? Or a flock of seagulls took flight overhead? And how many times has your foursome just stopped playing until there was complete silence? (If you guys did, I am wagging a severely punishing finger at you right now. Shame.)
The point is, it's time to stop insisting on silence in order to play tennis. It's the last sport to hold on to such an archaic standard. Can you imagine a football game being played as long as the fans keep their pieholes full of beer and hot dogs? In fact, attempts at breaking concentration in football is a common strategy among coaches. How about trying to "ice" a kicker just before he kicks a key field goal? It's sport, people. Not tea and crumpets.
The great thing about not playing the silence game during tennis is that it becomes more of a crowd event, which is one thing tennis needs to gain traction. Note: tennis does not need to change the way it plays tiebreaks or the doubles game in order to gain traction. It needs the little things -- letting Andy Roddick throw his racket if he's a little irritated about that missed volley. We know that for Andy, there will be many.
Point is, this is a small factor that could change the culture of tennis -- for good. Watch the Davis Cup matches this weekend. There is excitement that you don't see in Grand Slams. That should be encouraged. And as for players, it's time they learned to play through fan noise, as Lopez and Verdasco did.
So, what do you think? What could possibly be the downfalls of letting fans be more of an active part of tennis?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The week (or so) that was

Just noticing that a Mariah Carey lyrics blog has been updated before mine. Wow.
Anyway:
1. A belated congratulations to Venus Williams for winning the women's year-end event. There were a lot of good things going on for ol' girl this tournament. She dominated matches that could have been tight. Venus actually changed the pace on a few balls, too. (I really thought the first two were mishits.) She also didn't wilt in the third set, which she's done all season. Her forehand was on point, but her serve was not. I really don't understand how you have a first serve that'll break someone's wrist, and a second serve that strongly resembles Elena Dementieva's first serve. Especially after all these years, you'd think Venus would have developed a stronger weapon with it. However, we know that forehand of hers wasn't built in a day.
Plus, it was nice to see Serena Williams stick around to watch her sister, if that's what she wants to call it. Seems she didn't stop texting rap lyrics to Common until the end of the tournament.
2. Also nice to see Tracy Austin still with a job. Did she really say that the women's field had just seven players -- singling out Vera Zvonareva, who made the final? I'm not sure if that's worse than her saying Kim Clijsters had nothing to hurt Jennifer Capriati with just before the French Open final in 2001, which ended with a 12-10 tiebreaker.
I'm just going to make a quick suggestion for Tracy. If you've never heard of someone (and I don't know how you could not know who Zvonareva is after all these years -- and after her really solid season), refrain from speaking. Just ride the camels in Doha and shriek until I have to turn the television off and count to 60.
3. And on to the men. First, has anyone seen the promo shots for the Shanghai tournament compared to the Doha event? Not only do the men look totally hot, but the ATP appears to have planned the shoot in advance. Notice the similar clothing and controlled environment. It looks like it was organized.
The women? Seriously. What the hell is that? It's just a microcosm of what is wrong with women's tennis.
4. Anyway, put on your blindfolds and stick your hand into the hat. Pick the two men's finalists. That's how random it seems to have Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko as the last men standing. I thought it was kind of lame for Davydenko to admit he'd rather play Andy Murray than Roger Federer because he had a better record against Murray. (Sure, they all think that way, but actually says it?) I'm like, "Yeah, like you'd beat either of them." But Davydenko looked good this week, dumping water on red-hot Jo-Jo Tsonga and Juan Del Potro. Of course, the only person he didn't beat in his group was Djokovic. Their first match was tight, so we'll see.
Of course, all eyes were on Roger Federer, who went 1-2 in this event, losing to Andy Murray and Gilles Simon. Poor guy. You win one Slam and finish the year at No. 2 in the world, and everyone thinks you're washed up. See, this is why you don't establish a record of excellence. You miss a step, and you're a failure. Now, if you wade in mediocrity, and win a major every now and again (ahemMaratSafinahem), everyone thinks you're doing well ... for you. You decide which is better.
5. A lot of great doubles on this week in Shanghai. Three doubles matches only in Doha. Wow. Now that's suspense.
Oh, I feel a rant coming.
Yup. That's definitely a rant.
Look, WTA, tennis fans love doubles. Four teams in Doha? Are you people out of your tree? It's bad enough that we have "deciding points" and ridiculous "champions tiebreakers" instead of a third set. The powers that be at the WTA must think their singles lineup is waay too stellar to have doubles get in the way. That would be wrong. Doubles would have helped. How disrespectful to the players who concentrate on doubles to delegate them to "whenever we have time." Hopefully, they watched the men's tournament to see what they could have had.
6. Sigh. Let's try again about the men's doubles. It's great stuff! Despite the deciding points crap and everything designed to take the suspense out of doubles. I am suppressing the rant. How about the teams of Luis Hornas and Pablo Cuevas and Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski (hell, yes, I cut and pasted those names. Are you kidding me?) making a deep run against the more established teams out there? When you think about it, it makes sense. Looks like some of those other teams didn't know what to do against new-ish teams that don't really play the run-o'-the-mill doubles. The final match is down to the Bryan brothers and Danny Nestor (so does not look like a Danny) and Nenad Zimonjic. Should be a good one.
One more thing on doubles: There's positive reinforcement between partners, and then there's "OH MY GOD, WOULD YOU GET PLEASE YOUR HAND OFF OF ME?" What is the deal with all the hand slapping after every single point? Regardless, by the way, of who won the point! What do these pros know that rec players don't? I don't even talk to my husband after every point, let alone some random person. What cracks me up the most is that even teams not used to playing together fall right into this. Is the confidence really that thin? Yikes.
Well, at least we know we won't be seeing that kind of behavior from the Bryan brothers.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Doha -- Day Two

Due to Election Day obligations and work deadlines, I found myself unable to watch the matches today. But Jankovic over Ivanovic, 6-3, 6-4? That was my match of the day!? So with that as prologue, a look at tomorrow's matches:
Ana Ivanovic v. Vera Zvonareva: Yikes. I'm actually going to go with Zvonareva here. If I'm wrong, a match might ensue.
Elena Dementieva v. Venus Williams: Despite the serve, Dementieva is always a threat. And rightfully so. Everyone has a weakness in their game, and hers is considerable. Although it's interesting that she can hit her serve all right until a match gets tight. Then it's back to that weak slice serve heading to the forehand. Anyway, Venus has been the opposite lately: Her serve is working, even when nothing else is. So this should be interesting.
Dinara Safina v. Serena Williams: Serena. Sorry. Obama just became president of the United States. Gotta fly!

Monday, November 03, 2008

No pressure, ladies, but ...

Tomorrow begins the end for the women's season, and let's be honest: It should have happened right after the U.S. Open. The fact that five women have held the No. 1 slot this season might suggest a high level of competition to some.
Well, only two guys held No. 1 on the ATP tour. So I'm gonna nix that theory.
The women's tour has lacked any real rivalries, few really good matches, and about as much depth as my bathroom sink. If this season's to be saved, this year-end event in Doha is going to have to be a classic.
It's almost like the organizers knew it, too. The Serbians are together in one group. The Williams girls are in the other. A look at the first day in the desert:
Svetlana Kuznetsova v. Vera Zvonareva: This is going to sound terrible, but has anyone else wondered if Zvonareva's wearing that much eye makeup as a preventive measure against crying? Anyway, there's a big-time head case in this match-up, and it's not Zvonareva. Kuznetsova's had a good year, but has come up short in the big matches. Although Kuznetsova owns Zvonareva big-time in career meetings, that goes out of the window until Kuzzy proves she can close.
Jelena Jankovic v. Ana Ivanovic: Ooh. My interest is piqued. Right after I questioned whether Ivanovic is a one-Slam wonder, she stepped up, playing Venus Williams tough in Zurich and then won in Austria. (I'm gonna go ahead and take credit for that.) So Ivanovic is warming up just as her countrywoman's getting ready to shut it down for the season, after this, her 73rd tournament of the year. I don't think Jankovic's got enough left in the tank to get out of the round-robin, um, round.
Has anyone seen those "Looking for a Hero" commercials with Jankovic, by the way? While she's becoming a "superhero" by going through those revolving doors, I can't help but think that in real life, she would have definitely injured herself doing that stunt.
Dinara Safina v. Venus Williams: A match-up between the Jan Bradys of their families. I think that next year, this match will be more competitive, but Venus will probably steamroll Safina until she believes she belongs in the upper echelon. It's all in Safina's head right now.
Quick note about Shanghai: Rafa Nadal is OUT! We can blame the schedule or Nadal's wildly successful year, but the year-end championships should have THE best, so this is bad news! So this means Gilles Simon is in. I'm already way more excited about Shanghai without Nadal than a "full" field in Doha. Sad.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Freaky Friday (or Jo-Jo Tsonga, Your Life is Calling)

Now you know things in Paris are officially on the flip side when Andy Roddick is blocking serves back.
Sorry, but that's more shocking (but barely) than Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal begging out of their quarterfinals. Federer never got on court because of a bad back. ("Who cares anymore?" he's thinking. "I'm only number two.") Meaning, of course, that James Blake advances to the semis, because he would have beaten Fed anyway. (...)
Then Nadal lost his first set against Nikolay Davydenko and pulled out after complaining of pain in his right knee. With the kind of year Nadal has had, going deep in every tournament, this late-season injury is no surprise. But how about this exchange in the locker room between Fed and Nadal:
Nadal said: "I saw him in the locker room five minutes before my match and he told me he had a pain in the back.
I said, maybe we are both going to be going home tonight."

Hopefully, their injuries are nothing a little time off can't heal, because if Fed and Nadal aren't in Shanghai, it's got to be cancelled. It just wouldn't be right not to have two of main characters of the drama that's been men's tennis there. When they're out of a tournament early these days, the vacuum they leave behind is definitely felt.
But that's not to say the remaining cast of characters in Paris aren't interesting.
For example, registering high on the weird-o-meter was David Nalbandian beating Andy Murray in straight sets. Murray's been hot stuff this season, no doubt. But can anyone derail Nalbandian's annual end-of-season run? What is up with that? That man owns the month of October. How about getting warm a wee bit earlier, David? Like, when Grand Slams are being contested?
Then there was Roddick and Jo-Jo Tsonga, the other two players to actually get on court and complete their matches. And it was very Halloween-ny. I wouldn't have believed it unless I had seen it myself, but Roddick finished several points at the net. And it wasn't because he lost his string dampener. He was actually trying to volley. Emphasis on trying.
Then there was the bizarre half-hour conference over whether Roddick had any challenges left. The scoreboard said there were none. The ref said there was one. Chaos ensued. Seriously, if there's no disagreement between the players, why the delay in game? And I thought I was mathematically challenged.
Eventually, Tsonga came out on top in a third-set tiebreak. Looks like Tsonga's looking to salvage the rest of his season, and he's been impressive here. He wasn't at his best against Roddick, but he kept his head just a bit longer. As for Roddick, I'm just starting to feel sorry for him. What does this guy have to do to catch a break?
Hopefully, the answer isn't getting on a plane.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Black Monday (or Thanks so much, Juan Monaco)

Screw the stock market.
This is serious.
Marat Safin, after getting waxed by Juan Monaco, 6-0, 7-6, today in Paris, said the dreaded "R" word. No, not recession. Safin's talking retirement!
"I’ve been struggling throughout my career with injuries left and right. It’s a little bit uncomfortable to find yourself in the top 10 for many years and to find yourself ranked 70 and 30 and 50 ... It’s not really a comfortable position," he said.
He's going to take some time off, try to figure out how a two-time Grand Slam winner (should've been three, Thomas Johansson) finds himself with a record of only 24-24 this season. Or how someone with so much natural ability can lose to the likes of Philipp Petzschner (yes, THE Philipp Petzschner) or Andrey Golubev, a household name.
In Kazakstan.
This is a huge decision for Safin, with far-reaching implications. In his deliberations, he has to consider what could happen to him if he should hang up his racquet:
1. Safin could take the Andre Agassi route: He makes one last push, wins a few more Slams, shave his head and open a school for groupies in St. Petersburg.
2. Or, he could quit right now and film a reality show, a la Mark Philippoussis, called The Color of Love. Safin is presented with two groups of women -- the Blondes and the Brunettes -- and must decide which group is his true love(s).
3. Then there's the Roscoe Tanner road. Safin's mug shows up on The Smoking Gun's Web site after he's busting passing bad checks for million-dollar cars. Prison is no place for such a cute face, Marat.
Hopefully, though, Safin is inspired by the success of his sister, Dinara -- who, by the way, is nowhere near as naturally gifted and has done more with less -- and comes back with a fire under his cute tush.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The week in review

A brief recap of the week in tennis:

1. Venus Williams did something she hasn't done since Wimbledon -- close out a match. She won her second (yes, that's it) tournament of the year at the Zurich Open, beating her nemesis Flavia Pennetta in the final. In the semis, she played Ana Ivanovic. Judging from previous performances from both of them recently, it could have been an ugly match, but both played well. Ivanovic showed this week she's still got game, but it remains to be seen whether she can get -- and keep -- her mind right.
I have to admit to agreeing with Corina Morariu on the Tennis Channel, which is rare only because I can't stand her voice. I can't explain why. Anyway, as Morariu says, Venus insists on standing inside the baseline to receive serve, no matter how hard it is. Because nothing is as intimidating as standing just inches behind the service line and screwing up every single return. Imagine what would happen, Venus, if you *gasp* stepped back a foot or three? You might have room to, oh, I don't know, SWING!
2. Speaking of intelligence, I gotta give it up to Gilles Simon. He fought off something like twenty-eight match points during the week and played a great match against Rafael Nadal in the semis. And here I thought he was just a pusher. That's some pusher, changing spin, direction and speed whenever he wants. He finally encountered a match point he couldn't shake, though. And how about that Andy Murray? (I gotta ask: What is that gigantic blotch on the back of Murray's leg?) Looks like his U.S. Open run was no flash in the pan. Just when you thought things were heating up at the top of the men's game, you've got to make room for more. A Scot, no less. I'm going to guess that one day, Murray will do a little better than Tim Henman at Wimbledon. And the Open. All of them.
3. Roger Federer is relegated to world No. 2 for the rest of the year. Can we agree that he might be the second-best world No. 2 EV-ER?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Tired yet?

I don't often suggest this to players (especially not women players, given the lack of depth), but really, Jelena Jankovic, take a week off. Or three.
Jankovic's run this fall has been impressive. She's been great all year, actually. But, who wants to bet that by the year-end championship, she'll have nothing left?
A better question: Who wants to guess how many tournaments Jankovic has played this year? And compare it, to say, Serena Williams?
Here's someone who does what no one else does -- play a full schedule -- and yet comes up empty at every Slam. It's almost not fair, but part of being a consistent pro has to do with taking care of yourself, pacing yourself. If Jankovic has a deep run this week in Zurich, that'll give her about two weeks to recover from playing nonstop for a month.
The word is not "cast". It's "balance". We've seen the opposite happen (ahemVenusWilliamsahem) where certain players take weeks off at a time, then falter in early rounds. Even Williams, though, manages a Grand Slam with her scheduling. It's next to impossible for Jankovic to play every tournament, and still be tough enough to win a major. Kudos to her coaches and mom for making her the world's best. Now they just have to make sure she can stay that way for a long time.
No takers on how many tournaments she and Williams have played this year? No cheating. I already did that.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

One-hit wonder?

I remember watching Anastasia Myskina win the French Open in 2004, and thinking right away, "Now here's someone who'll never win a Grand Slam again." And where's Myskina now? Burping her 5-month-old.
It took a little longer, but I'm starting to have that one-hit wonder feeling about Ana Ivanovic. She lost today in the second round in Moscow -- against a talent, Dominika Cibulkova, but for those counting, she has played eleven matches since she won the French Open. She has lost six of them. To lesser players -- at bigger events. Let's not forget Julie Coin, who took her out at the U.S. Open. Or Nathalie Dechy at Wimbledon, which Ivanovic won, after about a year and a half.
I know, I know, she's just a kid. And, yes, she's been dealing with injury. Now that she's better, what's the problem? Tennis is 99.234% mental. Clearly, this is Ivanovic's hang-up right now. But why? Is it a lack of confidence? (After winning a Grand Slam? She must be hanging out with Amelie Mauresmo, also a loser today in Moscow ...) And if so, how do you get that back without winning matches? How do you win matches if you aren't mentally tough?
Ivanovic's got the game, there's no question. Lord knows she's no pusher like Myskina was. But where's her head at?
Anyone else wondering if Ivanovic's a one-Slam wonder? Or is she having a tough time handling the pressure?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Is this fair?

So, the ITF has penalized Croatia for having hard courts that were too fast during their Davis Cup tie against Brazil.
First, yeah. It was obviously the court that allowed the Croats to win, 4-1. As I recall, Gustavo Kuerten is no longer playing tennis. So, is there any surface Brazil could beat the Croatians upon? Ice? No, it's freakin' hot in Brazil.
Second, here's what really bugs me about this punishment. I'm just going to "borrow" this from the story:

Marina Mihelic, the head of Croatian Tennis Federation, said the ITF checked the court three days before the matches started on Sept. 19 and concluded that the speed of surface was indeed above the maximum, but only minimally. Mihelic said she consulted ITF again and it suggested that the court surface didn’t need another layer because it would postpone the matches.

Riight. So, the ITF knew the courts were too fast, and says, "Hey, don't worry about it. Not enough time to worry about it now." At the end of the tie, they take 2,000 points away from them -- after they told them not to fix the "problem?"
I'm not a huge Davis Cup fan, so I'm already slightly biased, I guess. But does anyone else think this punishment is a little wrong? Or a lot wrong?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Seen on my Yahoo page this morning ...

Jankovic, Sela to meet in Beijing finals

Hm. Is that Jelena Jankovic and Dudi Sela? What's going on in that tournament?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The TWA Bestseller List

Twenty-six-year-old Serena Williams is working on her autobiography, which will focus on her inspirational rise, fall and re-rise (don't use that word at home) in the rankings.
Not that Serena's story isn't interesting. It almost seems like she got back to No. 1 just to tack an ending onto that story, though, doesn't it? And really, isn't she kind of young for a book? I know James Blake has a book out already, but Blake also had a life- and career-threatening injury. It's hard for me to think Serena's going to have an uneventful rest of her life.
Regardless, her announcement came with the usual copycat flurry of book deals. A few to put on that library list:

1. My Meteoric Rise to No. 1 ... from No. 2 by Roger Federer
2. The Three Faces of Nole by Novak Djokovic
3. Serena, Serena, Serena! by Venus Williams
4. .... And All I Got Is This Lousy T-Shirt by Andy Roddick
5. Calm Under Pressure by Marat Safin
6. Yes, There's a Cast for That by Jelena Jankovic
7. Make Mine a Double ... Fault by Elena Dementieva
8. "No?" Means "Yes." by Rafael Nadal

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

TournamentWatch: End of an era

The last tournament of my summer was the Highland Park Wrap-Up.
OK, so here’s the deal with Highland Park, because it’s probably the one thing I’ve never written at length about. I can’t believe I managed to gloss over Highland Park. Especially because HP players bring the ‘A’ to TWA -- big time.
My husband and I began to come to Highland Park a few years back, and our first event was the “Celebrity Mixed Doubles tournament, always held on Labor Day. The first team we went up against was Dwayne and Joy Woodruff. If you’re a man and a sports fan, yes, that Dwayne Woodruff. If you’re a woman, I’ll tell you who Dwayne Woodruff is as though I knew when I first met him. He used to be a cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1980s (DUH!), and anyone who used to be a Pittsburgh Steeler is royalty in Pittsburgh, even backup quarterbacks and even if they’re now working at the Taco Bell. Except Kordell Stewart. But I digress.
We warmed up with the Woodruffs, and Joy made an offhand comment about how young we both looked, to which her husband replied, “She is, but he ain’t.” Being that my husband’s just a tad older than I am, he took offense and the pissing contest begun. So here’s how our match went. Let’s say Dwayne serves. I return to Joy. Joy hits to Jerry. Jerry tries to blast a hole through Dwayne’s midsection. The whole match was Jerry and Dwayne trying to blast each other into next week. Joy and I just gave each other that “boys will be boys” smile, and we were probably both praying they didn’t actually connect on any of these shots.
Fortunately, Dwayne Woodruff is better at football than tennis, and we won that match. Apparently, guys do that kind of thing for giggles, and Dwayne and Jerry shook amiably at the end.
We found that Highland Park was the only place in the ‘Burgh where you could pick up tennis matches. You’ve still got one foot in your car, and someone on the court’s asking you to be their fourth. This is city tennis at its best. There is: trash-talking, blatant attempts to hit net players with overheads, steady conversations between players and those sitting on the bench during play, and various other goings-on that would get you drop-kicked out of Wimbledon. So naturally, we love it.
But it has its blemishes, namely two courts with cracks big enough to lose a can of balls. That’s why, as I tap, construction crews are removing the fences and resurfacing all nine courts. Which is great, but it’s like replacing your old couch. Yes, the springs are popping up out of the upholstery, but it’s your old couch.
This year’s wrap-up, then, would be the last time to note with annoyance the teeny bump along the baseline of the slow court nearest the street. Personally, I wanted to do well there to mark a high note to a nice season. When I saw the draw, I could see I got some help in that mission. I was seeded first in singles. Then I looked at the bottom half of the draw to find my nemesis, the girl who’s beaten me the last three times I’ve played her. AND she was unseeded. I had to laugh. Apparently, the organizers didn’t know who she was, or she would have been seeded first. Sigh. At least I’d make the final there. My partner and I were seeded second in the women’s doubles and half of the top team was my other nemesis. I have a lot of nemesi – meaning the people who beat me. Anyway, I cruised through the singles draw, and ran smack dab into Nemisis No. 1 in the final.
You know what’s frustrating? To know why you lose to someone and to still find yourself incapable of doing anything about it. I have had a different strategy for each time I’ve played this chick, and this time was no different. I thought deep topspin would make it more difficult to hit her push-y groundstrokes. We would see.
The first game of the match was on her serve and it lasted about ten minutes. When I won it, I thought to myself, “Woo! First strike!” Then I dropped my serve in about three seconds. Yeah. That kind of day. I won a lot of my matches just by running everything down and making my opponent hit one more shot. It was not cool to have it happen to me. Not cool. I played well and valiantly, and even held a 4-2 lead in the second set, but it wasn’t to be. I lost, 6-3, 6-4, but I left with some hope. I thought it was our most competitive match yet.
In the women’s doubles, my partner and I also cruised, but we had one of those “Court of Appeals” (you know, the advice column in Tennis magazine)- moments. So, we’re in a rally in the semis and my partner charges in and hits a volley behind the net person for a winner. We’re like “Awesome!” Then our opponent clears her throat and says politely, “Excuse me (yes, she said ‘Excuse me’) but I’d like to call a let. There’s a ball behind you.” We turn, and sure enough, there is a ball a touch behind the baseline. The four of us, on the other hand, are at the net. Also, the ball, I would imagine, didn’t just drop down from Mars. It had probably been there for a minute or so, and was of no consequence – until that volley skimmed her backside. We argued, not assertively, that you can’t call a let after a point is over – specifically, after you’ve already lost the point. But we were in control, and let it slide. A few games later, we had a date with Nemesis No. 2.
Nemesis No. 2 is basically the queen of Highland Park. She wins just about every tournament she’s in, and although I hadn’t played against her in more than a year, she’s beaten me twice. Naturally, all of us women (heck, even the men – she beats them, too) want to beat her. My partner and I felt this was a match we could win, but we didn’t sweat it too much, either. I’ve been playing with Mavis all summer, and win or lose, we’ve basically laughed our way through every match. We have so much fun, and even when we lost the first set 6-2, we were in good spirits. The spirits were better when we opened up a 3-0 lead in the second set. That set turned out to be quite a tussle. I was serving at 4-3, thinking that if I lost this game, we’d be tied, and then, we’d be just as good as dead. Despite my positive mindset, I pulled that game out, and we won the second set, 7-5.
Have you ever felt a sense of foreshadowing during a match? Even though the score is tied? Well, I had that feeling, and it was after we won a very nervous first game of the second set. I felt like we were barely hanging on, which I guess is what separates the champions from the second-place finishers. We lost the third set, 6-2, but I learned a lesson, I think. First, Nemesis No. 2 didn’t miss a single shot in the third set. She got focused and didn’t let up. Her mind’s like a steel trap, and I want to be like that when I grow up.
So, the last tournament on our old courts was not a complete wash. Got two (runner-up) trophies out of it. But that’s not it for me, although I’ve been ready to shut it down for some time. Winter mixed league is coming up. Can the Hubster and I make it to sectionals? Will we join one league or two? And who will we play for? Tune in next time … (cue Batman music) …

Friday, September 19, 2008

Decisions, decisions, decisions ...

Here's how Rafa Nadal's summer went: He went to Wimbledon (won it), went to Canada (won it), went to Cincinnati (semis), went to Beijing for the Olympics (won it), went to the U.S. Open (semis), then went to Spain for the Davis Cup (barring a complete collapse, will win that).
Here's how Andy Roddick's summer went: He went to Wimbledon (lost early), went to Canada (lost in the quarters), went to L.A. (lost in the final), went to D.C. (lost in the quarters), went to the U.S. Open (lost in the quarters), went to Spain for the Davis Cup (not looking so good).
Never mind that Roddick's scheduling looks to have been a lost gamble. He's got the rest of his life to think about that one. Give him credit for setting priorities and sticking to it, though. It's just that nothing else really went to plan.
For example, it was Sam Querrey, not James Blake, who went up against Nadal in Davis Cup play on Friday. Now Querrey played Nadal close -- he lost in four sets -- but what would Blake have done? Yes, it's clay, but Blake does has a career edge over Nadal.
Then, Roddick played his ass off, only to come up short in the fifth set against David Ferrer. And as crazy as I thought Roddick was for putting all his eggs in one basket, it's pretty sad about seeing someone come up empty-handed.
Now, tomorrow, it's up the doubles match to give the U.S. a half of a half of a chance to come back. And, like everything else, it's not the team anyone planned. It's up to Bob Bryan and Mardy Fish, who have never played together, to keep this tie alive.
No pressure, guys.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Oh, this is special.

The U.S. Davis Cup is dropping as though their next tie was on red clay or something.
Bob Bryan's bad shoulder mean's he'll be tapping out for the match against Spain this weekend. In his stead is Mardy Fish. Now, Fish has got the hops to do the flying chest bump with Mike. But Fish's record on clay this year? He lost to Andy Roddick in Rome. Yeah. So.
What say Cap't Mac? “We are the underdog but we are not here strictly for our health. We are here because we think we can win. No way do we look at this as a setback.”
Heh heh. I sure hope he doesn't OD on that Kool-Aid.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

It's about time ...

The ATP has finally made a decision about the gambling investigation surrounding Nikolay Davydenko -- although after a year, we could guess that there wasn't much evidence damning the guy.
Unfortunately for Davydenko, a good deal of the damage done can't be undone. That's because of the irresponsible and slow manner of this gambling probe. In that year, he's been warned (by 2 umpires) for not trying hard enough and has had to answer, oh, about twelve gambling questions per press conference everywhere he plays. In that time, he's not flipped out once. Which is pretty good, because he got screwed. The irregular gambling pattern was there, and should have been investigated. It shouldn't have taken a year. The fact it took so long means that the accusation stays with Davydenko for the rest of his career. If he becomes No. 1 in the world (If, I said. I'm not crazy), his Wikipedia page will still have the gambling investigation in the first paragraph of his bio.
What say you? Did this investigation take too long? Does the ATP owe Davydenko an apology? Discuss.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

OOH!! He got served!

The Davis Cup rosters for the U.S. at Spain semifinal are out today. Ho-hu-WHA?
Here's the U.S. team:
Andrew Roddick
The Bryan Bros.

(wait for it ...)

Sam Querrey

Yeah, James Blake was kicked to the curb. He told Coach Pat McEnroe he was exhausted. Makes sense. Losing in the third round at the U.S. Open must have been grueling. Seriously, Beijing to N.Y. to Spain is a little nutty. But why Sam Querrey and not Mardy Fish, who had the best run at the Open?
Oh. Because they're playing on clay, and Americans are allergic.
And, oh. Because Rafa Nadal's playing for Spain with about 20 minutes of sleep.
This should be interesting.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

U.S. OPEN: Knocking on the door, huh?

All right, all right! Andy Murray is ready for prime time, okay? When it looked like he would fold against Rafa Nadal (broken at love after a 15-minute game in which he had myriad chances to break Nadal), he stepped up and finished off the world number one. (Quick word on Nadal: That was some drop shot on match point, there, Rafa. I'd give you more of the business about that, but you've had a successful, but long, season. I can't think of anyone who deserves more of a break than you do, kid. See you in Shanghai.)
But, hey, Murray, huh? Now, can he beat Roger Federer in a major final? Yes. If you can beat the dominant player of the year in a major semifinal, you can take the next step. Oh, and Murray is 2-1 lifetime over Fed.
Now, will he beat Federer in a major final? No. Right now, I'd bet Federer is laughing in delirium over not having to play Nadal. He will be loose, confident and a lot fresher than his opponent. Fed wants that major win. For him, one is pretty wack, but it's better than coming in second ... again.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

U.S. OPEN: A very male-heavy "pre"view

If it doesn't get rained out, the men's semifinals could be a set of classics. First up is Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, warming up as I tap. (OK, first, what was the deal with Djokovic after that Roddick match? Dude, you're a tennis player. When did you ever need crowd support to get by?) Anyway, this is the real popcorn match of the day, provided it doesn't get rained out. Fed's been struggling, but he also has been up against some folks who played well against him. However, I think everyone's noticing the shakiness of his forehand these days. Djokovic, on the other hand, is looking very solid, and where no one could even sniff Roddick's serve, he broke him often through the match. I can also see it's really windy out there, but I don't anticipate anyone yelling "I hate the wind!" (ahemDinaraSafinaahem). These guys are experienced. They'll figure it out. I'm going with Djokovic in five.
Then there's Rafa Nadal v. Andy Murray. During this tournament, Murray's shown the ability to check out a bit in matches, only to return just in time to win. Which is great -- if you're playing Jurgen Melzer or Juan Del Potro. To be fair, Nadal started slow against Mardy Fish the other day as well. I give Nadal the overwhelming edge in this match. He's growing in confidence and is just a mental steel trap. I think Murray's knocking on the door, so I'll give him a set.
As for the women's final, boy, I'd like to think Williams v. Jankovic at night will be good, but let's be realistic. We've got yet another women's final that might clock in at under 56 minutes. I really, really want Jankovic to play well, and to make it interesting, but Serena is looking really good. That's great for her. Sucks for us.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Really, Venus? Really?

They say one out of 10 ain't bad.
And it ain't. For some tennis players (ahemVenusWilliamsahem), that would have been plenty.
That's right. Venus had 10 set points in her quarterfinal against her sister. If she'd converted one, I'd be watching the third set of their match right now. Big sis has got some hard questions to ask herself. Like, "Why did Serena need just one match point to win the match?" or "Why am I going for lines when my opponent's not even in the screen?" How about "Am I playing the ball or the situation?"
Anyway, it looks like Williams v. Williams is just what women's tennis needs right now. Strangely, no coaches on court throughout the match ...
Sooo, Mardy Fish is starting strong against Rafael Nadal. I can just see I won't be going to bed anytime soon.

Noooooo!!!!!!!

From the news wires:
NEW YORK —The coaches of women’s tennis players will be able to visit them on the court during matches starting next year on the WTA Tour.
The Tour’s board approved the long-discussed change last week, and the decision was announced Wednesday during the U.S. Open. Tour CEO Larry Scott says the main motivation was for television, because fans enjoy gaining insight into the sport. Coaches must agree to wear microphones to have on-court access to players.
Coaches will be allowed one visit per set. They also will be able to come on court when an opponent is taking a medical break.


All this tennis tweaking is out of control.
If it's not a stupid-tiebreak, or club tennis, it's on-court coaching -- ruining one thing that sets tennis apart from other sports.
Plus, they're not even doing it right. I still don't understand how viewers can hear this coaching and opponents won't. You know, in football games, a team doesn't get to know what the other is doing.
I love how the WTA in particular tries to fix tennis when the game is just fine, thank ye. What's wrong with the WTA is that they have two history-breaking sisters, a fine player who just had a kid, two top-three players from a war-torn country, and, oh yeah, Maria Sharapova, and they still can't market the sport properly.
Yeah, let's fix tennis. Or let's fire Larry Scott and hire someone with a brain. Who's with me?

U.S. OPEN: A quarter for my thoughts? Sure ...

OK, I'm just going to admit it. I hate watching Andy Roddick play. When he's on.
It's the most boring tennis you'll ever see, next to Ivo Karlovic. Ace, walk. Ace, walk. Second serve ace, game. No rallies to speak of, and not a whole lot an opponent can do.
It might not be fun to watch, but even I have to admit that Roddick is on. He took (and will continue to take at TWA) a lot of flack for missing the Olympics. But whatever Patrick McEnroe's saying to him is clicking. His serve hasn't been this dominant in some time. He's even swinging out on his backhand! The question is whether he'll continue this dominance when the draw gets tricky. Next stop for Roddick: Novak Djokovic. We shall see.
A peek at the rest of the quarters:

Flavia Pennetta v. Dinara Safina: Safina. She'd better win. Sheesh!
Juan Martin del Potro v. Andy Murray: OK, del Potro has shown me the error of my ways. He is not just a flash in the summer pan. But can he win the U.S. Open? Can Andy Murray? Will these two get into a brawl? Seriously, I choose Murray, because he's shown mental maturity in this tournament -- and he loves his mama.
Rafa Nadal v. Mardy Fish: I don't know how to say this tactfully, so I'll just say it: Fish is not playing Fed tonight -- someone who might have slightly shaky confidence. He's playing Rafael Nadal. And these guys should play before the ladies, because I don't see it lasting all that long.
Venus v. Serena: Don't complain, ladies. Get your rankings up and you can meet in any final you like. For now, only one of them can advance to the semis. Both are looking like buzzsaws out there, and here's hoping they really whup up on each other. I'm going to stick with my pre-tournament pick of Venus. If she serves well, I could see that being the determining factor.

Friday, August 29, 2008

U.S. OPEN: Bless those underdogs

I don't think anyone who really follows tennis was surprised to see Ana Ivanovic tap out early at the Open. She's had little practice, is recovering from a thumb injury and doesn't appear ready to deal with the pressure of being world No. 1. Nothing against Julie Coin, but she's not someone with unbelievable talent. Considering that Ivanovic is no longer dealing with said injury, she should have been mentally strong enough to pull that match out. Considering the lack of depth in women's tennis, here's hoping she gets her head right and doesn't pull a Mauresmo for the rest of her career.
Anyway, Andy Roddick had no trouble whatsoever against Fabrice Santoro. (I think Roddick made Santoro cry. Or at least made him think Roddick's headhunting him -- with a serve. Whatever.) But tonight, Roddick takes on Ernests Gulbis, straight outta that tennis hotbed of Latvia. Gulbis is no Santoro. The only way that kid goes down 2,2 and 2 is if he comes out with a stomach-bubbling case of the nerves.
Before that, Lindsay Davenport takes on Marion Bartoli. Man, has Davenport been lucky. So far, she's drawn only the least fit players on tour. All these out-of-shape specimens remind me of this one American female, who once struggled with her fitness, only to whip herself into shape and Grand Slam contention. Then she took some time off and had a baby and now is beating kids practically half her age. The Kleybanovas, Kanepis and Bartolis of the world sure could take a lesson from Lindsay Davenport. Or they can just keep eyeballing that cookie jar.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

LEAGUE WATCH: On why I'm retiring my Wonder Woman t-shirt

I remember when I first started playing league tennis. My sister-in-law played on a team that's something of a powerhouse in our region, and she returned from her first trip to Princeton with stories of drinking heavily and playing with hangovers.
Having said that, it's going to sound really odd that her tales made me want to go to USTA regionals. I'm not a lush, I swear. Really, it was the camaraderie that made me want to go, but it was always one of those things I never thought I'd actually get to do. I never thought I'd be good enough, and therefore thought no team that was good enough would pick me up.
This season, everything managed to click for me. I found a team full of ladies who had the combination I've always looked for: they had a great time on court and they wanted to win. Look, the bottom line is this: If you find a team that grills hot dogs after every match, um, you've found your team. Hello!
Anyway, it was great to achieve the "impossible" with the best team ever. (Hot dogs! Hello!) Before we left town, we got a message from our captain featuring the weather forecast and an organized list of who was bringing what. Yes, the weather forecast.
Now what was missing from that weather forecast was that although it's only 85 degrees, the sun apparently is two hundred times hotter. Within an hour, I had darkened by two shades -- and that was before I started playing.
And here's something else I didn't envision. See, I figured that any facility hosting the USTA regionals would be near-perfect. So I didn't expect to warm up(Intermission! Oh, my gosh. Does anyone else gag when they see Andy Roddick volley? No pro has ever made me feel so good about any part of my game.) on a court with no net, and pastures growing through the cracks. But I did, for 20 minutes. That just didn't scream Princeton to me. But enough of the snobbery.
I felt pretty calm when we were called to the tournament desk to start our first round-robin match. Pretty calm when her team cheered wildly for her when her name was called. Pretty calm ignoring her while listening to the soundtrack to "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" on my mp3. (Don't hate.) When I grabbed my racquet and walked to the backcourt to warm up, my heart skipped a beat. And then another one. My hand? Shaking. My legs? Stuck.
I started the match already trying to talk myself down -- and unable to serve. Or hit groundstrokes. Or concentrate. Fortunately for me, my opponent was having the same problem. Neither of us could establish a hold on the first set. Oh, yeah, until I served for the first set at 5-4. And at 6-5. That didn't go very well. So, my first set at Princeton went to a tiebreaker. Right away, I found myself down 5-3, and staged a mini-comeback. We traded set points until my opponent made her move, and won the set.
The bad news was I lost the set. The good news is that my nerves were gone. Or so I thought. Hindsight being 20/20 and all, I realize that my inability to stay focused was a sign of nervousness. I felt I would play better in the second set, and the exact opposite happened. I lost the second set, 6-3.
Obviously, I wasn't happy. One of my concerns this season, despite my success, was that I couldn't win matches against people who were at my level. Not above, mind you, but someone who I was on par with. This opponent definitely fit that description. She wasn't better than me, and I felt I should have won, or at least played better. Worse, I didn't know why I lost. And even worse than that, I had allowed my husband to convince me to wear my Wonder Woman shirt to my first match. Not a bad fashion statement, but it doesn't really work when you lose.
Anyway, we were on a two-match-a-day schedule, and I had to shake it off to prepare for my next match. And for an idea of my mental state, I warmed up for five minutes with my next opponent and played a game with her before I realized she was the pusher.
The dreaded pusher. I believe I've documented my problems with pushers at TWA in the past. I'm going to take it a little further. No offense to pushers (whenever someone starts with "no offense" ... get ready to be offended, right?), but pushers shouldn't play tennis. Because that's not tennis. It's tapping the ball, hoping not to eff things up enough to lose. Not tennis at all. And I'm not buying the idea that it takes a certain amount of savvy to play that style. If you can hold a racquet, you can be a pusher. No skill required. Being a pusher should be an instant default in a match.
Anyway, back to the Princeton pusher. Once I picked up on her pushiness, I decided to be aggressive. I charged the net whenever I got the chance, and, especially in the first set, had plenty of opportunity to put away winners at the net. I missed just about every one of them. Overheads, volleys, short putaways. I missed them all, and had no idea I could miss so much. Unbelievable. To help in matters, this woman's husband is right behind us, and cheering every shot I botched. Thanks, jackass. (Boy, the crap you notice when you're losing a match.)
I lost the first set, 6-1, but again, I felt good. I thought I was doing the right thing by staying with the idea of net charging. I had opportunities, and thought it impossible that I'd continue to miss my shots. Ha ha. Oh, possible. Very possible.
Second verse -- same as first. I was so angry at myself for losing to another pusher that I didn't even wait for her after the match. (You and your opponent must report the score together and sign off on the score. Oh, and by the way, if you need to do something humiliating, you should do this after you've gotten your ass kicked, 6-1, 6-1 to a pusher.)
I tossed and turned a lot overnight. I was thinking about how horrible I was, and also worried about being late for the morning match. For some stupid reason, they schedule matches for 8:30 a.m. (you have to report a half-hour before match time, on top of that), and I was paranoid my alarm clock wouldn't go off. Because I didn't sleep much, that wasn't a problem. I was up way before the alarm. We left the hotel with not too much time to spare, which turned out to be another problem.
We missed our exit to the courts, and soon found ourselves driving up to a toll in Trenton. For the uninitiated, that's the wrong damn way. I finally had to call my team and tell them I had no idea where I was going, and I wasn't sure if I could make it, which was a low point. I could hear their disappointment, but they told me to hurry up, because they were holding the court. The organizer decided she wouldn't default anyone. Instead, when I finally did show up at around 9:15, my lateness had cost me the loss of toss and three games. In case you thought I was mentally tough enough to overcome my morning tour of the Princeton ghetto, and a 3-0 deficit, you were wrong. I lost 6-2, 6-3, and again, completely unable to hold a thought in my head.
After the match, I pretty much tried to skulk away from my teammates, but they wouldn't let me, although when they went to lunch, I felt too guilty to join them. I figured I'd be pulled from the lineup in favor of someone who could show up to their matches on time, but I wasn't. A couple hours later, it was time for the next match, and although my team was down 0-3 so far, we kept our heads up. OK, they kept their heads up. Never mind getting lost, I couldn't believe I was playing so poorly. By the time match 4 began, I had no confidence. So, I decided to swing out and go for broke.
Until my match started, that is. My opponent was hitting just as hard as I was, on both sides, and before I knew it, I was down 0-2. And then, I had my first coherent thought all weekend:
"Wow, she plays like me. Hits hard. Oh, wait. If she's like me, she makes a lot of mistakes."
I am not exaggerating. That was my revelation. Instead of slugging with her, I decided to get the ball back, deep, and just like that, we were tied at 2. Also, as the first set progressed, I noted she was looking winded.
I got the service yips at 4-5 and lost the first set, but again, I felt good. First off, she looked like she was about to cramp up or pass out. And I knew that the longer the match went on, the better things were for me. Even the long rallies I eventually lost gave me confidence -- more than I've had in some time. For a change, I was right, and I won the second set, 6-1. At this tournament, a 10-point stupid tiebreaker decides the match. I jumped out to a 7-3 lead, and had some more serve yips. Before I knew it, it was 7-6. And I wasn't about to lose again, not in a match where I was so close. And I didn't. I stepped up and put away the short balls, and buried the urge to double-fault. And a couple minutes later, I had won. Finally.
So reporting match scores and signing your name to it when you've won is actually a better feeling. Looking over the scorecard, I noticed my team had lost two of the best-of-five matches, and I had delivered the first win. I ran over just in time to watch our #1 doubles team go to a tiebreaker. Then, while we sought out the #3 doubles match, we found our teammates bounding toward us. Win number 2. We were at 2-all, with our hopes of leaving with a face-saving win on a 10-point breaker. It was pretty nip-tuck, until my teammates watched the last shot sail out. We won!!
The next day, we had one last match, and my captain gave me the day off, which meant I was able to leave Princeton with a victory. Before I left the facility for the last time, I ran into one of my friends on the 4.0 men's team. He asked me how I did, and I told him I'd won, but that I wished I'd played better. He told me that he had come to Princeton for the first time last year, and played nervously, and said that this year, he was much calmer. "It's a learning experience, the first time," he said, and that's what I got to leave Princeton with.
I've heard a lot of people go negative about USTA league tennis. "Too time-consuming..." "Too catty ..." "Blah blah blah ..."
No offense, but none of those people have ever been to their regionals. Because the feeling of taking on the best of the best is the best. Win or lose, you walk in -- and out -- knowing that not everyone gets to compete here. You work for it, and damn it, you work some more to go back. Next year, utter world domination!
And, I don't know ... maybe next time, a Supergirl shirt?

U.S. OPEN: The (spoon) curl exercise

What the hell is Alisa Kleybanova's training regimen? Is she on that Double Stuffed Oreo diet? How can someone be top 40 carrying about 20 extra pounds? Are there any men that out of shape?
These questions and more to be answered ... the day they let me into a press conference.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

U.S. Open Night One

I can see I'm not going to get much sleep during this tournament.
James Blake just edged Donald Young in the first round, 6-4 in the fifth. It was only 12:30 when it was over. Some props to Young, who's had trouble living up to the hype. The only real difference between these two (especially in the fifth set) was mental, and next time, Young'll be ready for the nerves.
Well, at least Venus Williams and Roger Federer are up for tomorrow night. Just so I can go to work in the morning, here's hoping it's not another midnight thriller. Oh, whatever. Work schmork. Play on, kids!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

U.S. Open preview: Let the night tennis begin!

Men:

1. Rafael Nadal: Remember when everyone was calculating how long it'd take for Novak Djokovic to overtake Nadal at No. 2 in the world? Now, it's "How long can he be number one?" And "Can he win the ultimate hard-court tournament? I think yes. It will be interesting, though, to see if he can continue his recent run of success against James Blake if they both make the semifinals. Also looming in his quarter of the draw is Ivo Karlovic, a real nightmare on fast courts. But, he can take heart. If he were the two seed, he'd have Ernests Gulbis/Andy Roddick, Novak Djokovic, and Richard Gasquet to deal with. Who is that two seed again?
2. Roger Federer: Will the slip to No. 2 light a fire under his behind? More importantly, will his doubles gold medal make him come into the net? OK, let's be serious. Fed's still on the brink of history. He's also still near the end of 2008 without a major to his name. Despite the slump, these factors still make him very dangerous. No one wants to play him. Except maybe ...
3. Novak Djokovic: It's all gravy for Djokovic. He's managed to stay in the mix while Federer and Nadal cement a legendary rivalry. But Djokovic is young. He's confident, and he even borders on cocky. He flamed out at Wimbledon, and despite a tricky draw (Robby Ginepri, Jo-Jo Tsonga, Roddick/Gulbis), he'll rise to the occasion. For him, that'll mean trying to show Federer who's really number two.
4. David Ferrer: He could practically sleepwalk through to the quarters, although Gilles Simon could give him fits in the fourth round. Anyway, the ride ends with Andy Murray.
5. Nikolay Davydenko: Um, pass.
6. Andy Murray: Murray had a real nice start to the summer, but lost in the first round in Beijing. Sign of things to come? Not necessarily. He did get to go to the U.S. earlier to train. He's about ready to make some real noise at a Grand Slam. And if there's one thing New Yorkers love, it's upstarts who play to the crowd and are in need of a set of braces.
7. David Nalbandian: I would like to point out that he lost to Frank Dancevic in the first round at Wimbledon this year. Frank Dancevic. (You know, Dancevic was bestowed the honor of playing for Canada at the Olympics. Know why? Because there aren't any other male Canadian tennis players.) Know who beat Dancevic in round two at Wimbledon? Bobby Reynolds. Yes, this is what it's come to for David Nalbandian. I have never heard of the person he's playing in the first round, but I think he's got a decent shot.
8. Andy Roddick: So let's get this straight. Roddick dodges the Olympics to play in two stateside warmup tournaments to get ready for the Open, and then wins neither of them? Oh-KAY! See, what'll stink for Roddick when he loses early is that he won't be able to use the ol' jet lag excuse.
9. James Blake: Hopefully, Blake will have taken two lessons from the Olympics: (1) Never turn your back on Fernando Gonzalez. (2) Blake can play with the big boys. If he doesn't come to the Open brimming with confidence over that Federer win, then he's just slow. Having said that, he's totally going to lose to Nadal in the semis.
10. Stanislas Wawrinka: The other Swiss Miss ... ter. Nothing flashy about this one, though. He's worked himself into the top 10, but where's the weapon? The lack of one will cost him against Andy Murray in the fourth round.

Dark horses:

Gael Monfils (32): Can he beat David Nalbandian and James Blake just to get to a quarterfinal with Rafa Nadal?
Jo-Jo Tsonga (19): It might be lofty to pick him for the round of 16 in his first tournament back from injury, but who's going to beat him? Carlos Moya? Marat Safin?
Ernests Gulbis: Considering he's unseeded, he really lucked out with getting Andy Roddick in round two, instead of, say, Rafael Nadal. Expect Gulbis to send Roddick to early training for the 2012 Olympics.

Players NOT to watch:

Juan Martin Del Potro: Not that he isn't immensely talented, but getting too excited about his summer so far is a bit premature. If he beats the dormant Guillermo Canas, I'd be kind of surprised.

Scintillating first-round matches:

Roddick v. Santoro: You know, I truly feel that every year, the draw organizers get together and say to themselves: "Hey, wouldn't it be fun to see Fabrice Santoro play (insert anyone he can't beat) in the first round of the U.S. Open at 9 p.m.?" Ha-ha-hell!, Santoro's saying somewhere. It is mean to pick on the old man, but at least these guys know good entertainment when they see it. Plus, with Roddick's confidence in the trunk, who knows?
Safin v. Spadea: Purely for comic relief. Quick riddle: What do you get when you cross two head cases? Answer: Duh! Safin v. Spadea!

The way it'll go down:
Quarterfinals: Rafa v. Blake, Ferrer v. Murray, Gulbis (uh-huh) v. Djokovic, Gasquet v. Federer
Semifinals: Rafa v. Murray, Djokovic v. Federer
Final: Nadal v. Djokovic
Winner: Nadal

Women:
First, a quick word: Women's tennis is boring! I actually had fun filling out the men's draw. I nearly fell asleep three times for the women. Yes, there are lots of up-and-comers out there, but is there one matchup that gets you excited? Yes, you! Is there one that even approaches Fed-Nadal? OK, even Fed-Blake? Wawrinka-Youzhny? All right, Venus and Serena intrigues me slightly. Who's got a reason to love women's tennis these days? Right now, I'm at a mild liking.
Women's tennis needs to DO SOMETHING? Let's move on.

1. Ana Ivanovic: You know, when it comes to women's tennis, I'm starting to think that 1 is just a number. And I don't think she's ready for prime time, between her shaky performances of late and an injury tap-out in Beijing. Her first round is tough, against upstart Casey Dellacqua. What is that I smell? An upset?
2. Jelena Jankovic: If they ever do an update of the board game "Operation", they have got to use Jelena Jankovic as the model. It's like a game, trying to figure out which injury she'll have next. Anyway, if she can avoid injuring her earlobe, she's got a sweetheart of a draw, with no really tough matches until Vera Zvonareva in the quarters, then possibly Elena Dementieva in the semis. This could be Jankovic's half to dominate.
3. Svetlana Kuznetsova: The problem is that men's tennis has spoiled me. I want Rafa-Roger-Novak. I get Ana-Jelena-Sveta? Not too fired up about these ladies yet. Especially not this lady. She's got game, but considering her experience -- and her Slam win -- is mentally shaky. If she plays Dementieva in the quarters, I pick Kuznetsova to crack first.
4. Serena Williams: It's been a hit-or-miss sort of season for Serena. Here's her chance to wind up the season on a good note. She's got a Bondarenko sister in the first round (Venus gets the other one in the third, if seeds hold) and not much resistance along the way. Oh, hold on. My phone's ringing. It's the French Open, reminding me that Serena lost in the third round this year to KATARINA SREBOTNIK! Ai Sugiyama, get ready for your close-up!
5. Elena Dementieva: Winning in Beijing will certainly boost her confidence, but will it translate to the biggest prize in tennis -- a major? She's got a tough draw -- tougher than the Olympics, with Kuznetsova and Jankovic standing in the way of the final.
6. Dinara Safina: It's been a breakthrough year for Safin's sis. (Maybe now, her brother will have one, too.) She's crumbled at the last hurdle of her big opportunities so far -- the French and Olympics. The top half of the draw is all hers, but what will she do if she's under the lights of Flushing Meadow against a Williams sister?
7. Venus Williams: She won Wimbledon. (Flavia Pennetta) And Olympic doubles gold with her sister, despite the fact that there's no rhyme or reason to their doubles game. (Petra Kvitova) There's one thing that's not the name of Venus' game, and that's consistency. (Those are some of the "big names" she's lost to this season.) Also, (Aggie Radwanska is in her half of the draw and might be really, really dangerous). And (so is Serena Williams).
8. Vera Zvonareva: She sure has come a long way from crying during changeovers. Anyway, she's certainly worthy of the top ten, but I think her run at the Open will end with Jelena Jankovic.
9. Agnieszka Radwanska: Not this year. But soon, she'll win her first major.
10. Anna Chakvetadze: Not a really good year for Chakvetadze. She had a good warmup in New Haven, but she seems to lack the confidence to take down even names like Li Na and Dementieva, let alone Kuznetsova.

Dark horses: Ooh, horses! Where?

Players NOT to watch: Where do we start? Top of the draw? 'kay:
Amelie Mauresmo, who might be the only player whose confidence has plummeted after winning two majors
Nicole Vaidisova. Both her boyfriend, garden gnome Radek Stepanek, and her injuries have managed to corrode her game.
Lucie Safarova, despite her warmup tournament win in Forest Hills. Not even the Pilot Pen. Beat the big girls, Lucie!
Lindsay Davenport. I feel bad putting her on this list, but let's be realistic. 'Taint easy being a part-time tennis player, even when you're as fit as a Williams sister. It's even harder when you're a new mother playing girls almost twice as fast as you, although she can still outhit most people. Davenport really needs to ask herself what she's gaining out of this comeback, besides representing the U.S. at the Olympics. I'm guessing the answer to that question will be made public after her U.S. Open.

Scintillating first-round matches: Ha ha. Nothin' cooking here, except maybe Venus v. Stosur.

The way it'll go down:
Quarterfinals: Petrova v. Safina, Serena v. Venus, Dementieva v. Kuznetsova, Zvonareva v. Jankovic
Semifinals: Safina v. Venus, Dementieva v. Jankovic
Final: Venus v. Jankovic
Winner: Either Venus or Jankovic.
... What?

Shut up. The Olympics are over already?

No, unfortunately, they aren't completely over. I say "unfortunately" because of what I saw on late-night Olympic coverage a couple of nights ago.
Trampolining.
I'm serious.
I thought sychronized swimming and diving were lame, but who decided that jumping on a trampoline was an Olympic event? If I won a gold medal in trampolining, I'd use it as a paperweight. Sheesh. In twenty years, when our lucky trampoline champion has birthed the next RPS (Rock-Paper-Scissors) gold medalist at the Summer Games in Rhode Island, you'll know that it's in the blood. What "it" is will still be up for debate.
Trampolining.
Anyway, speaking of gold medals, how about some that mean something? Like the one Rafael Nadal won over (ahemcheaterahem) Fernando Gonzalez. What a year it's been for Nadal. After running into the buzz-saw that was Jo-Jo Tsonga (is he going to be a Jeopardy answer one day or will he actually stay healthy?), Nadal has been practically unbeatable. Just when you ask yourself how long someone can stay motivated by being the second-best player for more than two years, Nadal showed he's been hard at work, and it's nice to see his efforts rewarded. Not only did he reassert his dominance at the French Open with a thorough butt-whupping of Roger Federer, but he also came out on top at the match of the century at Wimbledon. His Olympic gold was no cakewalk either, having to beat Novak Djokovic in the process. He really deserves No. 1, and here's hoping his stay at the top is at least half as long as his stay at No. 2.
Apparently, Elena Dementieva won the gold medal in women's singles. You know, this result makes me worried about the U.S. Open. If Dementieva can win a gold medal, then anything is truly possible at Flushing Meadow. Hear that, Lindsay Davenport?

LEAGUE WATCH: Tournament watch

I have a theory about my successful tennis season. I got a job I actually like in February, and that very same weekend, my husband and I won our first tournament together. It's been all good from there.
My husband and I split up (on the tennis court, OK?) briefly, and thought we'd have a real chance to win an open tournament if we "partnered up" -- playing with someone better than us.
He lost in the first round.
I lost in the final. Oh, yes, it was another third-set tiebreaker.
Anyway, we decided to join forces again at the site of our first victory -- Akron, OH, the Rubber Capital of the World. (I wonder if there's a Glue Capital of the World. If there is, they should play a softball tournament.) First, we scored a bye, which was nice, except that left us at only two matches to play. We actually knew our first-round opponents from our last visit to the area. The guy was apparently a Division I hockey player, and if you can imagine a guy waiting for a serve like a goalie protecting his turf, there you have him. His wife seemed nervous, as she did before, and you got the vibe that she'd be a problem if she'd just relax. Our last match against them was memorable. I was slightly hopeful when we showed up to find that the guy was playing a singles match. Not so hopeful when he crushed the guy he was playing, 6-0 in the second set.
We exchanged niceties and got going. The strategy was simple: Hit to the girl. Sounds easy, right? Well, I played some very dumb tennis to start with. I couldn't return the guy's serve, and when I was, I hit it right back at him! My husband observed this for about three games, then laid into me. Something about "Are you crazy?" which seems to be his common refrain when he addresses me. I wonder why. Anyway, as the set, then the match, began to get away from our opponents, the husband began to poach. How early? Bounce-before-serve early. Anyway, we took turns going down the line for a game, and it was enought to get him a bit panicked. It wasn't always pretty, but we eked past them in two sets, and prepared for the next bout.
In the final, we took on another married couple, and a different sort of situation: The woman was rated a 4.0 and her husband was a 3.0. They were both solid enough, and because we had watched them play their semifinal, we thought we'd be able to attack the woman's serve. But no. No cream puff here. Her serve was solid, and it surprised us at first. But we dealt with that. Althought the first set was 6-2, we had a bunch of tough games, and it was the beginning of the second set when my husband suggested that I serve to her forehand. Most players are taught to serve to the backhand, because it's usually the weaker wing. But I didn't even realize this lady's backhand was very good. Don't you just love it when you have revelations about your opponent halfway through a match? After that adjustment, and some unbelievable net play from my man, we wrapped up the match a lot easier than we started it.
So, we're shaking hands at the net, and the woman asks us what our USTA ratings are, and we tell them we're 3.5s. She rolls her eyes, and basically tells us we didn't belong in the draw (because we were too good). This vexed me greatly. I've improved a lot in the last year, but I don't think I'm dominating in my league. Just the thought that someone thought we were sandbagging sort of killed the immediate buzz of victory. Then I thought to myself: "We do belong in the draw. Maybe they didn't." You know what I mean. So there.
Another thing that temporarily killed the buzz was our lack of a shiny, happy trophy. The organizers told us the mixed doubles trophies hadn't yet been delivered. (OK, I'm a girl, and I like shiny bling. Is there anything wrong with that?)
Our trophy? In the mail. Must be Pony Express, because we don't have it yet.
On a real League Watch note, I'm off to Princeton, N.J. for regionals tomorrow. Matches begin on Friday. I will be updating, so keep an eye out!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

No way. The Olympics started already? part three

I'm just sitting here watching Roger Federer serve for the gold medal ... in doubles. Guiding us TV spectators on our Olympic journey is Barry Mackay, master of stating the obvious.
"Ohh, it's wide."
"Let cord."
"Second serve."
Anyway, this is pretty nice. Federer and Stanislaus Wawrinka just won the gold. OK, that was the oddest celebration I've ever seen -- Wawrinka lying on the ground and Fed doing some sort of voodoo on him. Maybe that's how they were able to take down the Bryan brothers in the semis.
'Kay. The Williams sister also rebounded from the singles and continued their doubles run, beating the sisters Bondarenko, and will play Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual.
But the big story so far has been the Blake v. Gonzalez fiasco. I still haven't seen the point in question (anyone know of a video?), but I do know this. I've never not been sure when a ball has grazed my racquet. So, Fernando, the whole "If I’m 100 percent sure about it, I mean, I will give it. But I’m not sure, you know" thing doesn't fly. But congratulations, I guess.
Back in the States, Andy Roddick is holding it down on the U.S. Open preparation tip. Oh. No, he's not. He lost in the quarterfinals in D.C. to Viktor Troicki. OK, so he doesn't go to Olympics to play the best in the world, which I think can be argued would be the best preparation for a Grand Slam. Instead, he stays in the U.S. with the second stringers -- and can't beat them! Man, if that doesn't boost the old confidence, I don't know what will. (Oh, maybe playing for a bronze medal at the Olympics?)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

No way. The Olympics started already? (SPOILERS!!!)

Just kidding, James Blake.
After all, what idiot would say Blake didn't have much of a chance against Roger Federer?
Who?
Oh.
Anyway, Federer looked terrible today in his loss. You know, it's one thing to say that the talk about your eventual demise is greatly exaggerated. It's another to play like you might believe it. He just looked like he was trying way too hard, where before, he always looked so effortless. And while it was a great win for Blake, he did nothing too spectacular. He really didn't have to.
At least Fed will be able to focus on doubles (insert awkward silence here) -- like Venus and Serena Williams. Serena lost to Elena Dementieva and Venus lost to Li Na. So, a lot of upsets so far today.
But a gold in doubles is just as good as gold in singles, right?
Right, sighs the sisters Williams, seeded first in the draw.
Right, sighs Fed, thinking about the Mahesh Bhupathi, Leander Paes and the Bryan brothers.

No way. The Olympics started already? part one

Somehow, it just doesn't seem like the Olympics without curling.
That doesn't mean there aren't many mockable sports people are willing to go to Beijing to play, though.
Like beach volleyball. Does anyone else find it odd that you can get a gold medal for an event that was likely started during someone's family reunion? The only difference now is that beach volleyballers manage to wear less clothes every Olympics. Less, even, than swimmers. Next year, Misty May's going to be sporting pasties, which will go really nicely with that stripper name.
Gymnastics is legit, though. Still disturbing. Maybe China is using underaged girls. What about the U.S. team? I get sad every time I look at them, because most of 'em seem as though they were binded at birth to prevent proper growth. Plus, whenever they speak, I can't hear them, but my dog goes insane. Somewhere in Des Moines, Iowa, is a gymnast sweatshop.
The only sport worthy of the Olympics is tennis. That's true, although I'm slightly biased. I haven't had a chance to write about it (still recovering from an adventuresome weekend at my brother's wedding) but late's better than never. Although late never got anyone a gold medal.
First, how about notable absentees from the Games? Mainly Andy Roddick. I get it. He wants a shot at the U.S. Open. Well, memo to Roddick: They play the U.S. Open every year. Your next chance at the Olympics will be 2012. You'll be 30. Possibly still looking for a coach, probably still seeking Slam No. 2. Was this a solid decision? I think the summer will show it wasn't. He might be the only real contender without jet lag, but I think the top 3 guys in the game right now will eventually be able to shake that off. And he still won't have a gold medal -- or the chance to ask Michael Phelps what it is exactly -- off the record, of course -- that he is on.
Anyway, back to the golden draw. Shockingly, Nicolas Massu won't be defending his gold medal. I know. Crazy. But the names in the final eight aren't too surprising. And the matchups -- although it's no Legg Mason draw -- are tantalizing:
Roger Federer v. James Blake: How easy would it be to go with Blake right now, considering Federer's slump of late? Well, I'm not going that route. First of all, Blake doesn't believe in himself enough to beat Fed. Secondly, he lacks the discipline to give Federer too much of what he doesn't like. You know, high backhands. It's not like Fed's going to give Blake a lot of looks at juicy forehands, either. Blake might get a set on blasting winners, but he can't do that for three sets.
Paul-Henri Mathieu v. Fernando Gonzalez: Gonzo does have a gold medal from last time around, so he might be all right dealing with the weight of his country on his shoulders. Mathieu did take down Nicolay Davydenko and Nicolas Kiefer in the last two rounds, though. However, there is no "Nic" in "Fernando" or "Gonzalez". I think Gonzalez will run away with this. What happens to him after that -- well, we'll see.
Gael Monfils v. Novak Djokovic: These two had quite a blooming rivalry a couple of years ago, but Djokovic has since pulled away. Don't expect anything to change here. Djokovic did lose to Andy Murray in Cincy, but Monfils isn't on that level yet, although his athletic ability will probably make this match entertaining.
Jurgen Melzer v. Rafael Nadal: Is your name Roger or Novak? Then step off. Nadal in 37 minutes.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Just like tennis ... except not

From the news wires:
LOS ANGELES -- Alex Bogomolov beat Phillip King by a point Sunday to win the Shotgun 21 World Tennis Championships, a tournament believed to be the first involving ranked men and women going head to head.
Jill Craybas was the only woman to defeat a man in the tournament, beating retired pro Alexander Reichel 21-16.
Bogomolov, recently ranked 198th in the world, won $10,000 at the event organized by tennis promoter Steve Bellamy.
The one-day competition in suburban Pacific Palisades came with several big rules changes: no overhand serve, second serves or lets. All serving was drop-hit and struck from below the waist. The format was similar to table tennis, with the winner being the first to reach 21 points and each player serving five points before service alternates.


Got it, Steve Bellamy. So for men and women to play each other in tennis competitively, you have to change the rules? Here's his answer: “Women traditionally keep the ball in play longer and are very solid off the ground. “So you take the serve out of the equation, and you really have a leveling of the playing field."
Apparently, an entirely different game from tennis must be played to make sure a woman can compete. Also, monkeys.
According to the Shotgun 21 Web site, here are the rules o' "the game":

Shotgun 21 is a game played on a traditional tennis court, but scored and orchestrated more like ping pong than tennis.
Each player takes turn drop hitting 5 serves in a row to the deuce court and then each player takes turns drop hitting 5 serves to the ad court. This rotation continues until one player reach 21. At 20 all, the player up in rotation feeds the last point.
A feed is considered “in” if it goes anywhere on side of the court that the feeder is serving in singles and anywhere on the side of the court the feeder is serving to plus the alley in doubles. On a traditionally painted tennis court on the back part of the court where the hash mark and the center service have a space (center of the backcourt,) players must decide whether it was on appropriate side by estimating where the line would be carried through from the center hash mark to the center service box line.
Servers must strike the ball with their racket hand above the point of contact.
Rallies – approximately 40% of the points in traditional tennis are lost on the serve or the return. So basically half the points in tennis are over before they start. For the remaining 60% of the points, the server often starts out at an advantage. In the Shotgun 21 format, an overwhelming large amount of points allow both players to push themselves and each other to get great rallies.


Wow. The tension during these "matches" must have been unbearable. Ooh, Tommy Haas. That drop serve was suh-WEET!
Seriously, were none of the women involved in this thing insulted in the least? Didn't Craybas, Alexandra Stevenson or Ashley Harkleroad ask themselves "What would BJK (Billie Jean King) do?" Or were they fine with the idea that you have to play kiddie ball to play with the boys in order to have a chance? The worst part is, of course, that a man still won the thing.
Although Craybas should be glad she was able to outbounce a former pro male player. Kudos!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

No pressure, Rafa ...

... but all you have to do to be Numero Uno, in addition to being the best player so far this year, is win this tournament.
That's right. Roger Federer lost early again, this time to Ivo Karlovic. Fed saved two match points, but came up a bit short.
Considering Nadal's form (most recently, a 6-0, 6-1 beat down of Florent Serra) it's not a bad bet he'll take the top spot this week. Except ... he's pretty much been playing nonstop since Wimbledon. But if you fly through matches the way he does, who needs a break?
If he gets it, Nadal deserves it. It says a lot about a guy who's able to hold on to the number two spot for so long, especially when everything under him rotates like supermarket produce -- and the top guy has been immovable.
Back to Fed, if Nadal topples him, the end of this year will be unbearable for him. Already, the stupid questions are starting, such as the gem after his loss last week: "To some extent, do you agree with Justine Henin's decision to retire at the peak of her career?" (Sadly, this reporter probably came up with this question and thought it was genius. "No one will ask this one!" they probably snickered. Well, bully for you, supergenius.) Unfortunately, for all of us real tennis fans, this is only the beginning. By the end of the Open (unless he wins the thing), folks will be asking him why he's still playing tennis.
Having said all that, Roger's clearly not in the driver's seat as he once was. Is it because of coaching? (Noticed Jose Higueras back with the camp last week. What's that all about?) Or is the field catching up? Or, could it be, as a friend of mine suggests, that Fed's lost the fire to be number one week in and week out? I open the floor.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

LEAGUE WATCH: ROAD TRIP!

Here in the Allegheny Mountain district, when the word "Princeton" is uttered at the beginning of a USTA season, we know what it means. For the uninitiated, it means you want to book a spot in the regional championships in August. If you want to do that, you have to turn in a solid season. Then you have to beat the best in your division in the playoffs.
Because there are 21 teams in the 3.5 division in our district, we are divided into two groups. One group plays during the week, and ours plays on weekends. The top two teams from each group advance to the playoffs. I don't really want to brag, but my team finished first in our group. That's bragging, I guess, but it doesn't mean much at the end of the season. The last team standing at the end of playoffs – not the top seeds – would represent our district at regionals.
Anyway, I was really jacked. Until I found out when our playoffs were.
OK, this is a recreational league, right? Why, then, would anyone want to play at 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday? I grinned, (sort of) though, and bore it (kind of). I've never won anything in my entire life. Except tickets to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. So, I was definitely looking for something more.
On Saturday, I was awake at 6:10 a.m., calculating how much more sleep I could get without being late. About ten minutes later, my personal MVP, my husband, was awake, too. I told him he didn't have to come (even though I really, really wanted him to), but he groggily insisted. (I'm not sure he even remembers waking up and coming to see my match.)
God bless my teammates. Really. But I couldn't understand why no one else looked as tired as I felt. Everyone was up and at 'em, and urging me onto the court to warm up. You should have seen them, all alert and everything. (Incidentally, I recognized for the first time that they were all wearing red and white, which must have been our team colors all season. Hunh.)
Our semifinal match pitted us against the second-best team in the day flight. The worst thing about this matchup is that I didn't know what to expect. I knew my likely opponent was good, having dropped just two matches out of 10 or 11 all season. As we warmed up, I noted that she sliced down on every ball she hit, and I thought if I kept the ball deep, it’d give her less time to go through her motion. And, that, friends, was the last coherent thought I had all that morning.
We started out evenly, but when we had to get a USTA official to help us with the score (even though I say it before every point), I knew I was officially in a fog. My next service game was literally over before I knew it. I couldn’t keep a thought in my head, couldn’t come up with a consistent plan to keep my shots from landing a foot long or wide. Especially in the first set, I’d set things up to get into the net, only to make huge volley errors. Even though I started out with a 2-0 lead in the second set, it was a struggle to stay focused. Sometime in the second set, I looked up and down at the other matches. To my left, my teammate had dropped the first set of her match, while my team had already won one of three doubles matches. I couldn’t be sure, but it looked like we were losing the other two as well.
I tried to let this motivate me to dig in, but I couldn’t stop making mistakes. I’d have two or three solid points, then nothing for two games. Soon, I was shaking hands as the loser, and hoping my eyes were deceiving me on the other courts.
And they were. The other singles match had swung dramatically, and now my teammate was up 5-1 in a third-set tiebreaker. A couple minutes after that, she’d wrapped up a win, and we were up, two matches to one.
We headed up to the upper level to watch the other matches. The opposing team took the second court of doubles, which meant that whoever won the third doubles match would advance to the final match. Our team was up in the match, 6-4, 5-4, and 40-0 on the opponent’s serve, but perhaps sensing the importance of the match, all four players got extremely tight. How tight? OK, server serves. Net people back up to the baseline, and all four players are poking the ball back and forth to each other. I am not kidding – those rallies were going on for about thirty or forty strokes! All of us spectators stood up there, begging our teammates to hit a ball! Please, put away a sitter! SOMEONE!!
Well, about fifteen minutes (and only five points) later, my teammates watched the last ball float wide, and we were in the final! Wooooo! We went to lunch to celebrate while the other semifinal opponents took the court. By the time we returned, we knew who we were facing, and it was a surprise: the top team in the day division -- and in the opinion of most-- the toughest team of the four, had lost. This was good news, because we knew our opponents. We had already beaten them this season. Unfortunately, it had been a close one. We didn’t know what they’d do with their lineup, but we decided over lunch to play them straight up -- no stacking -- and we were confident we’d do well.
I was also determined to do better than I had that morning, regardless of who I played. Just before our match, I realized the girl I’d played the first time around would be my opponent again. I was confident, but I started off the match the way I ended the last one – chok’ full o’ mistakes. Fortunately, my opponent was also good for about three errors a game. I shored up my game long enough to grab the first set, and started the second pretty well. I’d decided to swing out, especially on my backhand, the side I’ve been sort of worried about lately. The strategy worked well, and after the first game, my opponent began to spray ball everywhere. About fifteen minutes later, it was over, and walking off the court, I shook my index finger at a cheering teammate. One win down. Minutes later, our first court doubles team wrapped up our second win. One more, and we were going to Princeton!
We wouldn’t have to wait for long. My other teammate on the singles court (who claims to hate singles) scored our third win, and we went a little nutso. Our “message” got out to our teammates still on court, and they were beaming as they finished up their matches. We didn’t lose one match in the final, and only lost one set! We were going to Princeton!
I didn’t grow up playing a lot of sports, and so I suppose I’d been a bit detached from the meaning of the word “team”. I’ve watched NBA, NFL and even team tennis teams celebrate, and it always looks nice. But I really understood the meaning of the word this weekend. Whether you lose or win individually, it’s an unbelievable feeling to have supportive teams ready to celebrate with you, no matter what. I’m not just saying this because WE’RE GOING TO PRINCETON!!!, but having a fun group of people to compete with really makes the team experience what it is. At the end of that long day, I wasn’t (too) upset about losing a match that day. I was happy that WE came out on top.
Plus, I’ve finally won something I don’t have to be embarrassed about. No offense, Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

A grudge match ... for the young and old?

Quoth the Associated Press:
MACAU — Roger Federer and Bjorn Borg will team up for a special doubles event in November, possibly against the men who ended their famous Wimbledon streaks.
Federer and Borg will face John McEnroe and either Rafael Nadal or James Blake at The Venetian Macau Tennis Showdown on Nov. 20 in a Tour of Champions event.
Federer and Borg each won five consecutive Wimbledon singles titles. Nadal ended Federer’s run in an epic five-set match this month and McEnroe snapped Borg’s streak in 1981.
McEnroe’s partner will come from the country that loses the Davis Cup semifinal between the U.S. and Spain in September.
The showdown will start with a one-set match between Borg and McEnroe, followed by a best-of-three sets between Federer and Nadal or Blake.
The two-set doubles match will be decided by a 10-point tiebreaker, if necessary.


Boy, I'd bet the conversation on the Fed/Borg sideline will be interesting, if brief:
Borg: Hey, Rog, I hope you don't take it personally that I picked Rafa to beat you at Wimbledon.
Fed: Whatever, old man. You want the backhand side?

And you'd expect Nadal and McEnroe to get along famously, right?
Nadal: I'm just going to say this, John. You have to have a butt and defined legs in order to wear the pirate pants, no?
McEnroe: YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!

Friday, July 25, 2008

O Christmas tree!



Some interesting attire from Djokovic. Doesn't this gear violate some sort of "No greens and reds before Thanksgiving" rule?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

So....

Is Simon that good, or is Fed slippin'? Discuss, folks. Discuss.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Place your bets! Or don't.

Looks like the ATP's been busy with their all-encompassing gambling probe. This week, two doubles players, Frantisek Cermak and Michal Mertinak, (Oh, no! Not those two!!) were busted for betting on matches. It wasn't on their own matches though, which could have actually worked out for them, if they had bet on themselves. Both men just won in separate doubles tournaments. Cermak, especially, will have to hold on to the memory of that win for, oh, about 10 weeks (the length of his suspension) and will have to pay out $15,000 in penalty. Mertinak's on punishment for 2 weeks and is now $3,000 lighter. Good work, ATP!
Which brings me to something that's been in my bonnet for some time. How is that Nikolay Davydenko investigation going? Do tell. Because when the betting irregularities were noticed in the Poland tournament LAST AUGUST, it created a lot of negative publicity for Davydenko. So much so that two umpires chose to cite him for not trying hard enough on separate occasions during matches. And yet, no verdict.
Look, if he's guilty, he's tarnished a great sport and brought a lot of honest, talented athletes under the magnifying glass. If Davydenko's guilty, then he should have the book thrown at him, and he shouldn't even be allowed to take a job as a pro at a Sopot club teaching preschoolers. If he's guilty, the closest he should ever get to another tennis racquet is when he's stocking them at the Walmart.
If.
If he's not, then the ATP needs to get on with it and say so already. How fair is it that this guy has to work under a cloud of suspicion? Obviously, the ATP's hard at work catching other gambling offenders. But nothing major yet on the guy who (allegedly) started it all?
Say you work at a bank. One day, about $5,000 goes missing, and you are under suspicion because it was your shift (or whatever reason). Your boss tells you -- and everyone else -- that you are under suspicion and being investigated. For the next year, you go to work, and your fellow employees are looking sideways at you. You open a cash drawer, and everyone stops to stare. You've not been fired, though, or directly accused. Meanwhile, the bank is addressing all other safety concerns, catching other people in the act, but your case has not been settled. How long would you hang around?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Road trip(pin')!

I've been a little bit behind the pro tennis, but I see the "Greatest Road Trip in Sports", the U.S. Open Series, has begun. I am so excited. Can you feel my excitement. Woo-hoo.
I've registered my complaint about this "road trip" in the past. It's like winning a hot date with Rafa Nadal, and a week before the the date, he cancels. Exhaustion. (Plus, he gives you the "It's not you, it's me speech.) On top of that, you've still made plans, and the main attraction is now Radek Stepanek.
It's hard to blame the players for pulling out of these events, or never entering them. The calendar's too full as it is. And whoever dreamed up this campaign must have known that fans would buy tickets for the Countrywide Classic (so, they can still sponsor a tournament, huh?) because Andy Roddick said he'd be there in May. Well, now's a different story. Always is.
Usually, the top women seeds are scarce during the road trip to end all sporting events, but right now, Serena Williams is set to play in two, including the Bank o' the West this week. And at the East-West Bank Classic (oh-kay ...), she'll join Jelena Jankovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, the other Williams sister, and allegedly LIndsay Davenport.
Maria Sharapova has a stop planned in Montreal for the Rogers Cup, along with Venus, Ana Ivanovic and Kuznetsova. Sounds good to me, but one of these players is bound to lose their luggage en route.
Most curious about how this series will shake out when you throw the Olympics (which start Aug. 8) into the mix. Roddick's already said he's staying home for Beijing. Which made the Legg Mason tournament people very happy, because he and Marat Safin, Olympic castaway (sniff) will be able to make that particular road trip. And the Pilot Pen, held the week before the U.S. Open? Well, let's just say James Blake won't be making his annual stop to New Haven. Neither will anyone else in the top 20.
I love the promotion of tennis, but why not just put Daniela Hantuchova and Mardy Fish in the commercials instead? (Anyone else those two were separated at birth?) That's who's going to be there. (I'm going to pass on Stepanek. Just ate and all.)