Monday, June 30, 2008

Would you like some whine with those strawberries and cream?

Apparently, Venus and Serena Williams took some exception to being relegated to Court 2 for their fourth-round matches. Their mom theorized that officials "wanted to put them on the jinx court so they could lose." First of all, I don't like to call anyone crazy, but Oracene, you done lost yo' Krusty-the-Clown-hair mind. Second of all, has anyone noted that Jelena Jankovic, ranked number 2 in the world, played on Court 18, otherwise known as the ghetto of Wimbledon?
Although, she might as well have played on the graveyard court. Once again, Jankovic was undone by ... drumroll ... an injury. Seriously, what is her deal? Mark my words: Jankovic will be the first player to see if someone can play tennis in a full-body cast.
In other matches, how about Richard Gasquet v. Andy Murray? Wow. I know Murray gets hell for being arrogant, but he sure had a reason today to flex those pale muscles. (Dude, don't they have tanning salons in Scotland? Yeah, they do. It's right next to the dentist's office.) That was some comeback, being down two sets and a break to win. As for Gasquet, it looks like he's getting his groove back. To his credit, he played well to the end. Murray just took that match. Unfortunately, any progress Gasquet might have made mentally will probably be completely erased, and he'll spend the weeks before the U.S. Open cowering in a fetal position under his bed.
Back to the Williams sisters: I really can't believe they're still hanging around. Looks like Wimbledon's taking place in some sort of alternate universe, where Venus and Serena look overwhelmingly like the favorites and the Sharapovas, Ivanovics and Jankovics of the world are early losers. Even Rod Serling right now is looking down and wishing he'd thought of this one for the Twilight Zone.
Tomorrow begins the quarterfinals, and first up is a rare match-up: Russian v. Russian. But we're kickin' it old school with Elena Dementieva against Nadia Petrova. Petrova had a good Wimbledon warmup this season, and it's nice to see her having some good results. And Dementieva's got a strong ground game. Her serve's starting to come around, too. Tough one to call, but I'm going to give Dementieva the edge based on more Grand Slam experience.
Next! Aggie Radwanska against Serena Williams. Serena's capable of mopping the court with Radwanska, but it really depends on how cleanly she wants to play. Radwanska's a strong player and if Serena's off, Radwanska could take advantage. However, having to play right after a huge upset of Svetlana Kuznetsova could be a lot of ask for someone so young. But I'm sticking with my upset pick, and Radwanska outlasts Serena.
Then there's Venus against Tamarine Tanasugarn. I could sit here and try to analyze this setup, try to act as though Tanasugarn would have beaten Jankovic if she weren't hobbled. But I want to go to bed. Venus wins.
Then we have "Mini" Jie Zheng against Nicole Vaidisova, who got past Anna Chakvetadze in a tough match. Hmm. You know, given Vaidisova's recent struggles, I would have been surprised to see her get this far, so I could see her easily melting down against Zheng.
Now, if Vaidisova really wants to shake Zheng, she could have her piece of man-meat, Radek Stepanek, sit as close to Zheng's changeover chair as possible and attempt the stare-down. I don't know about you, but that'd scare the hell out of me.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

LEAGUE WATCH: Special deluxe edition

True confessions time: I have no idea what happened at Wimbledon on Saturday. There are other tournaments going on, you know.
That would be the Bob O'Connor Summer Tennis Classic, held in Pittsburgh every summer. All the area's really good players (and hacks like me) sign up, hoping to take home some hardware. So this week has been really hectic for me, but no day was more hectic than Saturday, where my tournament matches and league obligations collided. This meant that at 8:30 on Saturday morning, I had to head out to West Virginia to play with my team. Although we were in first place in our division, we were down a player, which put us at an immediate disadvantage. At stake was an undefeated streak and a trip to regionals in Princeton.
On account of my youth, I am the designated singles player. I'd been winning all season, but I knew that my lack of practice would eventually catch up with me. Guess I was right. My first set against an opponent who poked at every ball did not go well. I couldn't keep a rally going, or move very well on the Har-Tru surface. I lost the first set, but I still wasn't too worried. I told myself I was having a slow start, and I just needed to move my feet and watch the ball better. By the time I was done with that little mental pep rally, I was down 1-4 in the second set. Every time I told myself to take my time and wait for a good chance to go for my shots, I'd dump a serve return into the net. I managed a small comeback, but my opponent served for the match at 5-3. Before long, she got to her first match point, and I did something I've ever done before. I saved a match point! It's funny, because I was already giving myself the "You can't win every match and this is a lesson for you" speech, and was swinging pretty easily by the end. But, as was the pattern in the match, I made an unforced error and faced another match point. And I saved another. This went on for about five more match points, and each time, I was more relaxed, because I figured that as badly as I was playing, it was only a matter of time before she put an end to it.
It wouldn't be any time soon, though. I managed to win that game, and the next two, until I had to serve for the set. And boy, did I botch that game, along the tiebreak. I was a bit ticked over my first loss of the season, but to be graphically honest, I felt like a tennis whore. I completely abandoned my game, and sold out by playing patty-cake with this woman. I didn't go for my shots, and I have never been more convinced that I deserved to lose a match. Unfortunately, because I didn't pull out a win, my team also suffered its first loss of the season. As a team, we're still in decent shape, since everyone in our division has lost already. All we have to do is tighten up for our last three matches.
As for me, I had a one-hour drive to stew about what I did wrong. I knew this wouldn't bode well for my singles final the next day, or in fact, for any of the (at least) two matches I had to play when I returned to town.
At the O'Connor tournament, I had a mixed-doubles match with my husband. He had his hands full in his men's doubles match, which did not go well for him. So we both had a tough start to the day, and before our match I told him, "Maybe we can team up and get a win." At first, we pretty much took out our aggression on our opponents and won the first set easily. Then they began to warm up, and in our overconfidence, my husband allowed me to serve to start the set. I promptly dropped my serve like a hot racquet. The second set got very complicated for us. We got down 2-4 and couldn't believe it. Then my man took over the match by putting away his volleys and overheads with his trademark "Aggghh!" We got back to 4-4, and after I dropped serve again, we finished the set off, and booked ourselves a spot in the final.
But there was no rest for the Naf. Next up: a women's doubles semifinal against a D-3 college player and a weaker, but capable, partner. My partner, who's pretty used to playing big matches, was steady, as usual, and did a good job of sticking to our plan: Hit to the one who didn't play in college, OK? I, on the other hand, came out the gates playing the worst set I'd played since ... since, well, that morning. And again, after that, the belief that we wouldn't win made me play much better, but this time, I began to swing out, and before we knew it, we were up 4-0 in the second set. I supplied the power from the baseline, and my partner placed her volleys perfectly, and the next thing we knew, we were in a third set. I could not believe how calm I was, and I didn't become tense even as we opened up a 5-2 lead in the third set. I served for the match, and still, no nerves. But on the other side of the net, they picked up their game. A couple of nice volleys and a great return later, it was 5-3. Then 5-4. 5-5. Gulp. Seriously, still no nerves, although now, I was thinking that losing this match at this point would really suck. We broke to go up 6-5, and again, I found myself serving for the set. I took a deep breath, stepped to the baseline, and ... lost my serve again!! Third-set tiebreak. At this point, there were no more matches, and the handful of spectators had fallen dead silent. It was an awesome atmosphere, and while it can be nerve-wracking to have all eyes on you, I found that the silence calmed me. Our teams were neck-and-neck early in the tiebreak, until my partner put away a great volley to get the edge. She served for the match point, and when I saw a floaty-looking return, I pounced on it. But the ball hit the edge of my racquet, and set up an impossible (and accidental) angle for the winner. Ugly? Yes, but it was over, and my partner and I were in the finals of the women's doubles open. That was the good news.
The bad news was that the final was next. As in, right after our third-set tiebreak win. The next team included a D-1 college player and her very solid partner. At the beginning of the day, I had told myself that one singles match and three doubles in one day wasn't that much tennis. But seven sets had taken a toll on my toes, of all things. Honestly, though, I still wasn't tired. Not physically, anyway. Although my partner and I pinpointed one player's backhand as a weakness, we still couldn't target it with any consistency. Mentally, we were fried. We lost badly, but we were still happy with our semifinal win. I don't think either of us had given ourselves the chance to win, so it was a sweet surprise. I thought I'd played much better in my doubles matches, which I would have never expected in a million years, considering my longtime preference for singles.
Anyway, the day was over, and overall, I went 2-2. Not bad. And while Sunday was the day of rest for the weaklings at Wimbledon, it was finals day for me. How'd it go? You'll have to wait until I can feel my toes again for the results.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Free to a good home, Part II: Women's Wimbledon title

Funny, I was just telling my poolboy yesterday that it was so odd that it hadn't rained so far at Wimbledon. I can think of one certain world No. 1 female player who wishes it had rained a bit longer today.
So, Ana Ivanovic lost in round three to a card-carrying member of the Lollipop Guild. The people at home call her Jie Zheng, and seriously, I was impressed. I'm just going to say what everyone's thinking: It's easier to play on grass when you're that much closer to the ground. OK, no more short jokes. Zheng didn't blink at all while Ivanovic was shanking balls everywhere. She played a solid match, and this should be a nice pick-me-up for someone who had a long injury layoff last year.
Like most of the female favorites for the title, Ivanovic played no warmup on grass. She clearly needed it. If it weren't for the tight nets at Wimbledon, she'd have lost in the second round to Nathalie Dechy. But I'm not too worried about Ivanovic. She's still a kid, and she'll learn two things from this: (1) PLAY A WARMUP IF YOU'RE NOT COMFORTABLE ON A SURFACE! and (2) 'Taint easy being at the top. New pressure, higher expectations -- everyone's aiming at you. Ivanovic alluded to this in her press conference after the match. It takes that veteran mental toughness -- the Fed/Nadal kind -- to adjust so quickly between the French and Wimbledon. If she's the real deal, she'll catch on.
Another notable result: Bethanie Mattek took out Marion Bartoli in straight sets. Could it be that along with an, um, interesting, fashion sense, Mattek could have some game? Yes, she could, but Bartoli's not that great a test. Now, if she can beat Serena Williams in the next round ...
Marat Safin didn't flake out for the third straight match. Bona fide miracle.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I guess there's a reason some people are under the radar ...

Being a seeded player at Wimbledon this year is not really working out for some people.
Oh, where do we start? OK, I'll start with my half-hearted pick for the women's title, Maria Sharapova. I normally don't get into players' attire, but you know what, Maria? Different is not always better. You know what men do with tuxedos? They shove them to the back of the closet when the wedding's over. I'd suggest the same for her Wimbledon getup. Back to business. Sharapova lost in the second round to Alla Kudryavtseva, who's barely on the tennis map. How much off the map? I have no idea if that last name is spelled correctly. If she wins another round, I guess I'll try to pronounce it, but just looking at her name now makes my tongue tired. Anyway, Kudryavtseva didn't have to do anything special to win. Sharapova came up with 22 unforced errors and 8 double faults. It's a surprising result for Sharapova, but I still feel her lack of variety, of a Plan B, is going to hurt her in the long run. When she's on, she can outhit just about anyone and that's that. When she can't, well, that's that, too.
And then there's Andy Roddick, who said at the beginning of the tournament that he didn't mind being under the radar. I'm sure he doesn't. And losing to Janko Tipsarevic (who I gained a lot of respect for during his Aussie loss to the Fed this year) will help him stay under the radar. Seriously, Andy? 0-8 on break points? I just don't know what to say about Roddick at this point. Yes, I do. Whenever I watch Novak Djokovic play, I feel he's improving. Roddick's backhand still looks so unnatural, and his volleying ... can someone say "butcher"? Dude needs a coach.
Who's next, folks? Who's the next upset victim? My cash money's on Venus Williams, who seems to be bent on giving the term "winning ugly" new meaning.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Who's vulnerable now?

Another fine example of how easy it is to talk the talk, but not so much for walking the walk ...
Novak Djokovic just double-faulted on match point against Marat Safin in the second round of Wimbledon. To refresh our memories, here's what Djokovic had to say last week about his BFF, Roger Federer:
"Some things are changing. I think he's a little bit shaken with that loss and mentally he has been struggling in the last couple of months. It's normal to have ups and downs after four years of absolute dominance on the men's tour. New names are coming, fresh talented players who believe more they can win against him and I am one of them. Suddenly he is worried a little bit.''
Ouchie. So what happened to Novak? Well, he was outclassed by Safin, who looked completely at ease out there. The other thing might have had a touch of the Icarus complex, especially when you factor in the above comments. I suspect he did no scouting on Safin, gave very little thought to the matchup. Everyone put him in the final, and he thought he'd cruise there easily. Yes, Djokovic is a bit cocky, but this loss, I think, can be chalked up to growing pains. He'll learn from this, and I expect he'll have a heckuva summer in reply.
Anyway, Ana Ivanovic just won, 10-8 in the third against Nathalie Dechy. I know, I totally saw that coming, too. How about that match point against Ivanovic that trickled over the net.
OK, kids, Wimbledon is officially on!
P.S.: Yes, yogahz, the candles are lit. The Shrine will be online soon. Keep your eyes open. Fellas, you might have to avert your eyes ...

The return of Safin ...

Is anyone else seeing this? Marat Safin just took not one, but two sets off Novak Djokovic. Isn't this the same Safin who once said "Grass is for cows?" Stay tuned. If Safin wins this, I might have to unveil my Safin shrine ...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

OK, girls. Slowly put the candy bar down

The heroics of the Williams sisters first-round opponents -- Kaia Kanepi and Naomi Cavaday -- were commendable. They showed flashes of great ability during their matches. How about that Cavaday, though? She was able to hang with Venus for a set before it became clear that there was, um, something holding her back. Like about twenty pounds.
Here's what I don't get: How can you know that you're talented enough to hit with the best players in the world, and still not be motivated enough to hit the gym? Look at Marion Bartoli, who has been approaching the top of the mountain. Still way too chunky to be a consistent competitor, and obviously not all that concerned about it.
Incidentally, how many chunky guys do you see on tour? But you look at some of the women players, and you're sure they've a McDonald's in that locker room somewhere. It's only a matter of time before one of these chicks come out to a match snacking on some French fries.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

TWA goes green -- for Wimbledon preview

Having a great time watching the Wimbledon classics on the Tennis Channel -- in their entirety. That includes, of course, the news updates which originally aired in 1978, along with pleasant features about creepy-old-man-looking fashion designers. Again, have you considered, Tennis Channel, the possibility of editing these matches?
Anyway, here we go.


1. Roger Federer: All right, I admit it. It's not just a slump. When Fed started the year slowly, including a semifinal loss to Novak Djokovic, you think "The man can't win everything, right?" But when you lose a match, 6-0 in the third set of a Grand Slam final, something is officially up. Yes, Nadal is a beast on clay. But although the surface changes, the game doesn't. The French Open fiasco should be of great concern to Fed, simply because he can't beat Nadal or Djokovic that badly on grass, or any surface. So, is Fed going to win Wimbledon? Well, let's seek the opinion of two of his closest competitors:
2. Rafael Nadal: "Well, I feel my chances of winning Wimbledon are very good, no? I have very tough second round against Ernests Gulbis, but if I can get through it, I think I can handle Radek "Stud Muffin" Stepanek and Andy Murray to get to semifinal. Might play Andy Roddick, and I beat him already this grass season, so I think I can make final again, no?"
3. Novak Djokovic: "I think it's obvious that Roger's days as number one are ending. There are a lot of strong contenders out there, like Gael Monfils, Lleyton Hewitt and David Ferrer. And of course, me. I beat Roger already this year in Australia, and I've been close with Nadal all year. I will probably win Wimbledon, and at Centre Court, I plan to unveil my new imitation of a modest tennis champion."
4. Nikolay Davydenko: How did Nikolay Davydenko prepare for Wimbledon? By winning a tournament on clay. So, Davydenko's not a grass guy. The other thing working against him is Ivan Ljubicic, who beat him at the French Open, looming in the third round.
5. David Ferrer: Ferrer won a grass tuneup in the Netherlands last week. That'll help him when he's got to face Fernando Verdasco in the fourth round. Not so much when he's playing Fed in the quarters.
6. Andy Roddick: Roddick's third round match could be against one Dmitry Tursunov. How convenient. On one side, we've got Roddick, who was spotted this weekend on a practice court screaming about how much he can't stand himself. (That's true, by the way.) On the other is Tursunov, just kicked out of a Wimbledon warmup after he stormed off the court in a snit after a line-call dispute. I would suggest keeping the mikes down during that match.
7. David Nalbandian: Nalbandian has never matched his first performance at Wimbledon, when he made the final in 2002. His season has also been spotty of late, but he's still a threat. But so is Ivo Karlovic, who'd face Nalbandian in the fourth round. And it's not fair, but apparently being able to serve your way through a match and doing little else can win you some matches. Karlovic is seeded 18th here. Sigh.
8. Richard Gasquet: Right now, Gasquet is staring up at his ceiling, clenching his bedsheet under his chin and thinking, "Why do I get Mardy Fish in the first round? It's not fair." By the way, you could replace Fish's name with anyone else's right now, and he'd still be terrified. He's in a very fragile place right now, and a Grand Slam is not quite the place for him yet. Perhaps an office of a sports psychologist?
9. James Blake: My sneaking suspicion about Blake is that he reads his own press. He knows he's favored to advance to the fourth round and play Roddick. It seems, though, that he tends to flake out when he's expected to win. How many times have we seen Blake lose to a lesser player in final matches? I'd be surprised if Blake doesn't find some way to lose early. For him, it's a question of whether is mind is willing, because his game, especially on grass, is definitely able.
10. Marcos Baghdatis: Even if he didn't have to face Karlovic on grass in the third round, he'd probably still have a shaky tournament. Man's having a tough season.

Oh, the possibilities:
Mardy Fish: Very nice and rare opening for Fish, methinks. Gasquet's vulnerable right now, and I think Fish will win that match. If he does, he has a fairly clear path to the fourth round, although Kevin Anderson, another serving giant, could offer some resistance.
Ernests Gulbis: I thought he'd have a good Wimbledon when he was playing the French. If that's going to be true, he'd have to take on John Isner in the first round and Rafael Nadal in the second. Well, he can consider this a learning experience -- or a chance to make a name for himself.

First round matches to watch:
Gulbis v. Isner
Fish v. Gasquet
Murray v. Fabrice Santoro

The way it'll go down:
Quarterfinals: Federer v. Ferrer, Djokovic v. Nalbandian, Roddick v. Davydenko, Murray v. Nadal
Semifinals: Federer v. Djokovic, Roddick v. Nadal
Final: Djokovic v. Nadal
Winner: Nadal (barely)

1. Ana Ivanovic: Hail to the new queen of the hill. Now, how long will it last? Her game translates well to grass and her draw's pretty cupcake, too. She could have a tussle with Serena Williams in the semis, but I'd favor Ivanovic -- if Serena gets that far.
2. Jelena Jankovic: Do you know where Jelena Jankovic has been for the last couple of weeks? Oddly enough, she hasn't been at a tournament. Jankovic, like all the top contenders for this tournament, have opted out of the warmup tournament routine. When we last saw her, she was struggling with an injury (an utter shock, I know) at the French Open against Ivanovic. The question about Jankovic is still whether she can keep it together for an entire Grand Slam.
3. Maria Sharapova: One thing that makes her a favorite in every tournament is her mental toughness. How many times has Sharapova been down 0-40 in a game, just to come back and win it? Her never-say-die 'tude, however, is going to have to neutralize her very iffy serve. If she can cut down the double faults, she's got a fine chance to make the final, although it won't be an easy road. Possible opponents include Victoria Azarenka, Lindsay Davenport and Jankovic.
4. Svetlana Kuznetsova: So, what happened to Kuznetsova at Roland Garros? There she is, in the semifinals against Dinara Safina, and heavily favored to win. Five games was all she managed. Now, the scene changes to Kuznetsova's least-favorite surface. I could see Aggie Radwanska taking advantage of any flaky behaviour.
5. Elena Dementieva: Yay, Dementieva must have thought, I'm fifth seed! Her reward for such a nice seed? Oh, just Lindsay Davenport in the third round.
6. Serena Williams: See No. 7.
7. Venus Williams: I am sorry, but it's time to establish a new rule here at TWA. There will be no more picking the Williams sisters to win tournaments unless they show us the goods. I don't care if you are the defending champion, Venus, or if you have 8 Grand Slams, Serena. And no one cares if you are on opposite sides of the draw. I think we all know how unlikely it is that you two will meet in the final. Although they are practically giving you a ticket to the semis, Venus, with that draw. Oop, but there's Flavia Pennetta in your half.
8. Anna Chakvetadze: It's been a tough year for Chakvetadze, especially off-court, with the home invasion situation. Don't expect much from her, because she hasn't done much. Samantha Stosur definitely has a shot against her in round four.
9. Dinara Safina: Now that all eyes are on her, how will Safina react to her success? Since the French, she won a warmup tournament, which is a start. How will she deal with a potentially tricky draw which includes early matches against Lucie Safarova and Davenport?
10. Daniela Hantuchova: Bet she's had a little trouble forgetting the fact that she had a front-row seat to the Serena Williams cramping melodrama last year at Wimbledon. This year, she's the one dealing with injury coming into the tournament, and yet another potential encounter with a Williams sister.

Oh, the possibilities:
Amelie Mauresmo (29): Big threat on grass, assuming she's not melting down on court. Could play Serena tough in round three.
Lindsay Davenport: Yes, it's cool that she is back after having a baby. And, yes, Jagger is a very cute baby. And, yes, she is a role model for us all. But, no, she is not going to be at Wimbledon for long, so let's get the warmfuzzies out of our system, um-kay?
Aggie Radwanska (14): Radwanska needs a couple of things, stat. One is a shorter first name, although you have to admit that Agnieszka just rolls off the tongue. The other thing is a second serve. That said, she has an excellent shot in Serena's section of the draw. She's beaten Kuznetsova before at a major and she isn't the kind of player Serena wants to see on an off day.

First-round matches to watch:
Patty Schnyder v. Casey Dellacqua

The way it'll go down:
Quarterfinals: Ivanovic v. Stosur, Radwanska v. Serena, Safina v. Sharapova, Venus v. Jankovic
Semifinals: Ivanovic v. Radwanska, Sharapova v. Jankovic
Final: Ivanovic v. Sharapova
Winner: Sharapova. But can we please have an interesting final match for a change?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I said ... IT'S OUT!!!


From the wires:
Russian sixth seed Dmitry Tursunov was thrown out of the Slazenger Open in Nottingham after storming off court during a doubles match.
The 25-year-old, who was partnering Chris Haggard, walked off with the pair trailing Simone Bolelli and Andreas Seppi 6-4 3-1 after disagreeing with a line call.
An ATP statement said: "After reviewing the situation, the ATP Supervisor has withdrawn Dmitry Tursunov from the singles tournament at the Slazenger Open."
The Italian pair were awarded victory and it was expected Tursunov, who was due to face Swede Thomas Johansson in the second round on Wednesday, would be fined for his actions.
However, the rulebook of the Association of Tennis Professionals states that "at the discretion of the Supervisor, one or both of the players may be withdrawn from all other events, if any, in that tournament".
The ATP statement continued: "Thomas Johansson will now advance directly to the quarter-finals."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

LEAGUE WATCH: Tennis multiple personality disorder (TMPD)

So, I came down pretty hard on Fed last week when he went schizo at the French Open. How could someone seem so lost, so uncertain on a court? You can't just freak out on a tennis court. Right?
So there I am, up 5-2 in the first set of a league singles match. Feeling pretty good about myself, too, 'specially since I'd beaten my opponent last season. Maybe feeling too good. I drop my service game. Not a big deal. Four terrible returns later, it's 5-4. I blink, and it's 5-all. FIVE ALL!!!
And there kicks in the self-talk. You know what I mean. "You're still all right. Just watch the ball. Move your feet. That's right. Move your ball." Wait.
5-6. Oh, this is special. Now that things have tightened up, I'm having some decision-making, um, concerns. "Go for your shot. No, throw in a lob. A dropper. Make 'er run." Somehow, I indecision my way into a tiebreak, and start off with a 4-1lead. Order is restored. Oop, 4-2. 4-3. 4-all. I don't remember much after that, until I was skulking back to the bench, thirsty, melting in the heat and down one set.
I thought I'd made some real progress with my head game this season. Well, there I was again, doubting my every shot, questioning whether to play it safe or to go for it. Even though I started the second set with a 2-1 lead, I still couldn't get comfortable again. It was between the second and third sets when I noticed the presence of the third man.
Yeah, baby. The heat. My opponent looked like her gas tank was getting empty. And here I am, like a moron, trying to hit return winners. No, no, no. It suddenly became clear that I wanted to prolong points, not keep 'em short. As if to confirm my suspicions, my opponent began to serve-and-volley like a maniac. I hit some passing shots, and stopped rushing my shots, opting instead for the rallies (which I've never had the nerves for). Two and a half hours later, I'd finally snatched victory out of the jaws of victory. Then I curled up in a fetal position on the bench. Really.
OK, so I made it through that near-disaster. What did I learn? First, I need to hit. I never doubted my shots when I was practicing on a regular basis. Now, I've got to think about whether my backhand is going to go over the net. Clearly, there's plenty more on my mind. Speaking of that, the second thing is not to doubt my shots. Yeah, it's what they like to call a Catch 757.
Third, I learned that I can make a comeback! This is helpful, if you're as flaky as I am on a tennis court. It's nice to know that I can win when I'm not at my best, and behind the 8 ball. This tennis thing -- it just gets crazier and crazier.
One last thing (and taking a serious U-turn from the TWA edge): A very happy shout-out to my Dad, who always believes I'm going to win in everything I do. With a dad like that, I can't lose on Father's Day, right? Have a good one, Dad.

Guess someone's taken his finger out of his butt

So, heckuva start to the grass-court season.
I become a huge of Rafa Nadal around this time of year. Why? Because unlike most clay-court specialists, Nadal doesn't come up with some phantom injury during grass season. He gets his tail out there -- days after winning the French -- and attempts to become a contender for Wimbledon.
So he heads out to London, and the tougher warm-up, the Stella Artois Championships. Honestly, beating Roddick on grass is a big-enough deal. But the performance he and Novak Djokovic put on in the final was just ridiculous! As in really good. As in how about the groundstrokes those two were laying down? Could be a Wimbledon final preview ... 'Til then, it's really good to see Nadal having success on grass. It's great for the game that he's not afraid of the surface, and great for his legacy that he is once again a serious contender for Wimbledon.
As for the king of grass, Roger Federer did okay for himself this week, too. He won the Gerry Weber Open, beating Philipp Kohlschreiber (oh, yes, that is a cut-and-paste kinda name) in straight sets. I like Kohlschreiber's quote after the match:
"I was, maybe, a hair better than Roger at the start. But that’s why he is No. 1. He adjusts to your game and I hardly had chances later."
This cracked me up just because he lost 6-3, 6-4. At what point was he better than Fed? The first game?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sometimes, more is more ... as in more clothes.

In the tradition of male tennis players posing strategically nude, here we have Fernando Verdasco:
Naturally, it's for charity. Since this campaign seems to work well for Cosmo UK, maybe the Salvation Army ought to consider it.
Maybe not.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What I will miss about the French Open

1. French flair: Especially concerning their television coverage. The silhouette-like drawings of the players in the clay are undeniably French (I guess). I'll miss how it always snuck up on me: There I am, watching a nice overhead view of Rafa Nadal serving, and -- AAAGH! -- it's Novak Djokovic's big head looming! Now that's art!
2. Corina Morariu interviewing a stream of losers on the Tennis Channel: Because the first thing someone wants to do after a loss at their first Grand Slam is talk to someone who sounds like they're still in high school. BTW, what is up with Corina Morariu's goth makeup? Has anyone even bothered to tell her she was on television?
3. Watching my bracket disintegrate: Why on earth, after railing about how Americans never win on clay, would I choose Serena Williams to win this tournament? Hey, at least I got Andy Roddick right, right?
4. Not being glued to my television when I wake up: What am I supposed to watch in the morning now? The news? Oh, or better yet, Open Access?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

6-1, 6-3, 6-0: The scoreline heard 'round the world

I think I can speak for all tennis fans when I say, "What the heck was that?" And I think by now, we all know what "that" is. "That" would be the very public flogging Roger Federer took from one Rafael Nadal in the French Open final. I don't think a world number one and multiple major champion has ever taken a whipping like that in a Grand Slam final. Even for those who noticed Nadal's bare-knuckled efficiency over the last two weeks, his dismissal of Fed was pretty shocking. It's hard to tell whether it was Nadal's level or Federer's level, if you want to call it that. Watching him today was like watching Superman's alter-ego, Bizarro, with a tennis racket. Again, Fed completely abandoned everything that could have worked for him, had he given it time (the serve and volley, the aggressive forehands) and settled for hitting awkward shots from the baseline. Federer's loss is perplexing, but I have a thought. Now, I normally don't go into mind-reading, but here's what I see when Federer shows up to Roland Garros. Here's a guy whose legacy depends on winning the one major that's eluded him. He comes to Paris very business-like, and with a lot of self-imposed pressure. I think he considers the French Open a chore. The other majors -- he knows those, he's won those. Not that he's bad on clay. He's not natural, and he is not confident there. Why is it that on any other surface, Federer knows how to attack the weaknesses of his opponent, but at the French Open, he doesn't seem to be able to pinpoint Nadal's trouble spots? Maybe if he'd start viewing the French like the other majors, not like an impossible dream, he could perform better.
Oh-ho-kay! That's the end of my Dr. Freud imitation. Now on to Nadal. Well, when I made my French Open picks two weeks ago, I thought Nadal would win, but with a caveat -- that it would be the last time. I was thinking of the improvement of Federer and Novak Djokovic on clay. I was also thinking that Nadal never losing at Roland Garros can't last forever and the pressure has to begin to weigh on him. I'm going to go ahead and take that back now. Clearly he's at home on clay, and at his dominant best. This tournament is his for as long as he wants it. He is oblivious to any pressure at the French. Think about this: Nadal has never, in four years, lost a match at Roland Garros. Ever, people. That's 28 matches, and has to be a record. (Anyone who knows of an equal feat, I'd love to hear it.)
This, for me, begs the question: Could Federer dominate Nadal on grass the way Nadal did him today? I think the answer is no, which will make for an interesting Wimbledon tournament. Win or lose, Nadal plays every match -- on every surface -- with intensity and a desire to win. I think he believes in his chances at Wimbledon more than Fed at the French. And if Federer draws Djokovic in the semis at Wimby, Nadal could be in a good position to win Wimbledon. As I said, the U.S. Open is a different story completely. As slow as Nadal started the year, he has shown he's back in gear, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him in a championship match at the All-England Club. He's got a better chance than Federer right now.
So, help me out, people. What is Federer's problem? Yeah, yeah, the mono. You know, I'm not sure I believe Fed ever had mono. This is very "conspiracy theory," but it's just strange that after he starts the year in a funk, there's a disease as a handy excuse. Plus, isn't mono the "kissing disease"? Has he been kissing someone beside Mirka? I guess that's beside the point. He says he's fully recovered from it, but is he? What do you think?

What is this man thinking?

a. Higueras is so fired.
b. Attack -- no, stay back -- no, serve and volley ...
c. Great. Now even my hair's starting to look bad.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

French finale

Congratulations, Ana Ivanovic, for proving that you can't predict women's tennis. (high, whiny imitating tone -- of myself) "I think Serena's going to win." "I think Ivanovic's going to win." "I think Safina's gonna win."
I think my net-dar is down.
Which won't stop me from babbling incessantly about tomorrow's final. This is the mouth-watering match everyone was talking about. I'm sticking with my prediction that Nadal will take home all the marbles. Not only has Federer looked dodgy this tournament, but last year was really his chance. Remember that? He had beaten Nadal in Hamburg, and was talking the clay talk. Then ... nothing.
This year, Nadal looks so dominant, and Fed? Well, Fed's dropping sets to the likes of Fernando Gonzalez and Gael Monfils. Now, I don't think he can be underestimated, mostly because he is the best player in the world. It seems, though, that Federer's success against Nadal on clay has come when he is aggressive, taking his chances by going for winners, and turning away the temptation of getting into these rallies. In fact, he did well against Nadal in Hamburg with that strategy. Inexplicably, though, he went away from it, and let Nadal have his way from the baseline. Actually, it's not inexplicable. That's a high-risk way to play tennis, but for Federer, the alternative -- hitting head-high one-handed backhands for three hours --is even worse. He's not playing well enough right now to beat Nadal that way. I'm going to give Federer the benefit of the doubt, and predict he wins one set.

LEAGUE WATCH: Something's missing ...

Most of our league matches require about a half-hour drive for me, which is not a big deal. There is one red-headed stepchild, which means half our teams have to make about a two-hour drive to play a match. That's not an exaggeration. In the hottest weather we've had all year. Yeah. Woo-hoo.
In a situation like this, though, you've got to think the home team comes up a little short. I mean, after a two-hour drive on a route that's mostly under construction, visitors are pretty miffed that they had to go through that, and they'll be damned if they lose. Our team actually made it to the courts before the home team, and we were fired up, all right. But I think that had to do with the fact that it was 88 degrees, and that there were no trees offering shade on the courts.
Anyway, I played singles, and I have to admit to gulping a bit when I saw my opponent. She was built like a softball player and looked like she had plenty of power. Then, while we're warming up, she's hitting a ton of topspin, so that every ball coming to me is like a lob. I returned exactly none of them into the court.
But here's where it gets strange. This time last year, I'd be freaking out mentally at this point. I'd be thinking (already) about double-faulting. When we started our match, and I missed an early volley, I remained relaxed. That's good, isn't it? It was, but I kept thinkin to myself, "Why am I so calm? Am I going to get nervous?" I really hope there's someone out there who's been through this before, or it means that I'm losing it. After years of league play, I stop getting too nervous to play well -- and that worries me!??!
Well, besides my usual double-fault serve game (in which I serve at least three) per match, I kept my head. I went for my shots when they were there, and blocked back shots when I had to. The really exciting part is that I appear to be thinking while I play! If you've been following my league travails, you know that this is huge. I make mistakes -- and I recover from them! Big plus: Our team made the two-hour journey home as winners. I am sorry, but that's what you get for living two hours from the rest of civilization and forcing us to come out and play.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Like a lamb to slaughter ...

But first, a major hissy fit:
What the hell is wrong with NBC? Really, NBC? Really? Is your Today Show so precious? All eight hours of it? Can't air the semifinals of a GRAND SLAM live? Not only that, but you cut the hell out of it? Then, I open my Yahoo page, thinking the stupid match is live, only to find out that Rafa Nadal had already mopped the floor with Novak Djokovic! You know what, NBC? Back off my tennis. I'm better off watching a grainy feed on the internets.
I think that's it.
No, it's not.
Plus, NBC, this is the three-time French Open champion playing for the number two ranking against a bona-fide contender! And that's the one you tape delay? Not the one with Federer playing a surprise semifinalist he's heavily favored against? Had any of you people even looked at the draw, read anything about tennis in the last couple months? No? Why does that not surprise me?
I'm moving on now, because I'm bigger than those morons. So, how about those matches? How about Rafa Nadal making Novak Djokovic look like Andy Roddick on clay? Muy impresivo. How could you not watch that match and think, "Look what he's doing to that poor bastard!" Djokovic tried, but how long can you hang with Nadal's body blows? Nadal's just too good a retriever to allow a point to end quickly. So that was the blowout.
Not the Roger Federer/Gael Monfils match. Yes, Fed came out on top, as expected. I am, however, (a) impressed with Monfils' ability to hang with Fed and (b) thinking that Federer is not looking particularly strong this tournament. I fully expect him to raise his game for the final, but is it going to be good enough for someone who's been in rare form for the entire two weeks? Eh, we'll talk about that tomorrow.
The women's final is tomorrow, and here's hoping that NBC doesn't have something better to show, like "That's so Raven" or a ten-year-old rerun of "Saved by the Bell." The women's draw has been way too schizo to predict. Honestly, I'd love to be surprised. When was the last time there was a competitive women's final in a Grand Slam? Anyway, tale of the tape: Safina's won their only match on clay, but Ivanovic holds a 2-1 lifetime edge. I'm giving Safina an edge, because I think something happened to her when she beat Henin this year. I think she's starting to believe, and considering her harrowing escapes from defeat in this tournament, she's got the mental edge. Ivanovic, though, has been here before, and wigged out under the weight of the situation. She seems to have matured a lot since then, too. So, it could be interesting or it could be a dud. We shall see. Hopefully, it won't be on tape delay. (Due to time constraints, we are jumping ahead in our coverage from 2-1 in the first set to match point. Enjoy the match.)

Thursday, June 05, 2008

"I will have some dinner and maybe get drunk."

I love reading these post-match press conferences. Who the hell would ask Jelena Jankovic what she was going to do tonight, especially after a loss? What are these reporters doing, looking for a date? Good luck with that. Guess they haven't noticed that Jankovic goes everywhere with her mother.
Anyway, women's tennis remains as unpredictable as ever. Dinara Safina takes out Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets. I wonder what she did with all that extra time that she would have otherwise used coming back from match point down. Let's see how she does against Ana Ivanovic, the new world No. 1 and survivor of a face-off with Jankovic. More on that tomorrow.
Because it's on for the men. Four words: Rafa Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic. (That might actually be five words. Does vs. count as a word?) This could be the match of the tournament, even if Fed ends up playing Nadal again. The problem for Djokovic is that Nadal looks untouchable right now. The problem for Nadal is that Djokovic is improving fast. I still say Nadal's going to beat Djokovic easily, but I'm hoping for a Hamburg repeat.
Roger Federer is stuck with Gael Monfils in the other semifinal. So, at the Australian, Frenchy Jo-Jo Tsonga makes some noise, and now there's another one who's having surprising results at a major. Does this mean that Richard Gasquet's next at Wimbledon? That depends. Is he having a lobotomy in the next couple weeks? Regardless, Monfils is the surprise of the tournament, and he didn't get lucky on the way, either. He had to beat Ivan Ljubicic, who beat Nicolay Davydenko, and David Ferrer, who was looking pretty good in this tournament. Anyway, Federer has been looking dodgy all season, and the clay just doesn't seem like the place for him to rediscover his form. So, my pick is ... Federer. What'd you think I'd say? Although Fed lost to MARDY FISH! this season, he doesn't falter too often at the Slams. Probably won't happen here, either. But what Monfils could get out of this Grand Slam showing is the realization of how far he could go. Or he could get beaten so badly he loses all confidence. No pressure, Gael. None at all

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

"It's really where it gets most interesting." -- Roger Federer

Really, Fed? I would think it'd get interesting when you're getting your serve broken three times in a set. Not so much for Federer. He managed to turn a potential nail-biter into a day at the beauty salon, taking down Fernando Gonzalez after losing the first set 2-6. He'll be taking on Gael Monfils next, who got past David Ferrer.
There's been a bit of TV discussion about Monfils getting the center court, while Federer was sent down to the minor leagues, or the Lenglen arena. "You can't do that to the number one player," Martina Navratilova's grousing. You know what? If John Isner had a chance to win the U.S. Open in one quarterfinal and Fed was in the other quarter, guess who'd be on Arthur Ashe? That's right, Isner, as he gets pounded by Novak Djokovic. Who knows when the French will ever see someone in the quarters of their Slam again? (I guess we Americans can ask the same question.)
Anyway, the women take the center stage tomorrow, with not a Frenchwoman to be seen. Dinara "Nine Lives" Safina takes on Svetlana Kuznetsova first in the semifinals. One thing Safina has managed to do this major is make her matches worth the price of admission. I mean, how do you go from huffing and puffing in the second set tiebreak to bageling Elena Dementieva in the third set? So, she's got a shot against Kuznetsova, and not because she only starts playing when her opponents think the match is over. Safina showed today that she can think and play at the same time. It took her a while, but she figured out her game plan wasn't working and changed it. Kuznetsova looked pretty fierce in her quarterfinal, but Kaia Kanepi is not Elena Dementieva. Kuznetsova has experience on her side, while Safina has worked herself into form. So ... my money's on the Russian. In three sets.
The Serbian semifinal's next, with Jelena Jankovic taking on Ana Ivanovic. Turns out Jankovic's injury might actually be serious. During her off time, she flew to Serbia for treatment for a problem with her arm. She's looked raggedy at times, but she's not been in real danger. Ivanovic, meanwhile, has hit the ground running at this tournament, and she hasn't blinked. So the edge goes to Ivanovic. I'd say this injury is going to be a problem for Jankovic, but when is she not dealing with an injury? (Try Googling the phrase 'Jankovic injury'. I have one question: Why does she not travel with a full medical staff?) Bottom line: Ivanovic wins in straight sets.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Separating Nadal from the boys

You can debate the hows and whys, but you can't deny the conclusion. Rafa Nadal is unbeatable right now. He's laying down breadsticks, and it's the quarterfinals! Today's victim was Nicolas Almagro. (It's funny watching these guys play Nadal at the French. Nadal starts a little slow, and his opponents win the first game and you can see the hope in their eyes. They blink, and the set's over. They blink again, and they're shaking hands). After Hamburg, where Nadal had a heckuva match with Djokovic, and then Federer, it seemed as though Nadal could be a touch vulnerable. Is he?
His semifinal opponent is set, and it is Djokovic. (I have to say this: Hey, Novak! I normally don't address these sorts of issues, but would you please purchase a bottle of hair gel? Every time I watch you play, before I can even ponder how solid your game is, I have to get past that ... eraserhead 'do. This is how I know you don't have a girlfriend. Who would let you walk around like that? Have you considered a closer shave? Seriously, dude.) Djokovic's last three rounds have had a little too much drama, especially considering the opponents: Matthieu, Odesnic and Gulbis (who actually has got game and will probably go very far at the U.S. Open this year). He's not looking even as strong as he did in Hamburg, and he runs a real risk of getting embarrassed by Nadal. I even hate to add this, (because I'm sure he's past this stage in his career) but if it gets too bad, Djokovic could decide his "fingernail blister" is too severe to continue. Grand Slam champs don't pull up lame claiming stomach aches, Novak. Oh, unless your name is Justine Henin. Anyway, my Ouija board says Nadal, and quickly.
Some people, though, are not yet semifinalists at the French, although they have high hopes. Roger Federer takes on Fernando Gonzalez tomorrow morning in the quarters. The good news is really good: Roger's beaten Gonzo 10 straight times. The bad: Gonzo tagged Fed at last year's Master's Cup. It's surprising to see Gonzalez this far in a Slam again, but really, I don't see him beating Federer again. A word of advice: Book the flight home now, Fernando, not later. Procrastination can cost you another hundred bucks for a ticket. Plus, now you have to pay for bags.
Next up will be Gael Monfils and David Ferrer. Man, it's nice to see Monfils finally doing something at a Slam. I thought he looked to be melting down for a minute there against Jurgen Melzer in the third round, but he sealed the deal, and followed that up with a win over the resurgent (?) Ivan Ljubicic. However, though, he's coming up next against Ferrer. That would be the same guy who hung two bagels on Fabrice Santoro. (I got your slice, Ferrer must have thought. I got it right here.) Of course, he follows that up with a couple of thriller 5-setters against Lleyton Hewitt and Radek "Chick Magnet" Stephanek. He could come into this match a bit tired, which would be a big opportunity for Monfils. Of course, since Ferrer employs the old "kitchen sink" playing style, he might not be expending too much energy. This is a tough one to call, but since you insist, I'm going to go with Ferrer in four. Happy now?

Free to a good home: women's French Open trophy

Looks like some of the favorites aren't too interested in winning the French Open. Sharapova was the latest to tap out, losing to Dinara Safina. First of all, props to Safin's sister, who might end up my sister-in-law one day. (Just kidding, hubster ...) She's been on the cusp for some time, and she's made some huge strides this season. She's taken down Serena Williams and was the person who officially ushered Justine Henin into retirement. She seems to have harnessed that temper, and if she can do that, I give her a good chance to come out of her half. She's never lost to Elena Dementieva on clay, but Svetlana Kuznetsova is the big question mark. We all know what Kuznetsova can do, but she seems to have some serious mental yips going at the end of Slams. She should take care of Kaia Kanepi in the quarters, though.
That was a pretty big "first of all." Back to Sharapova. Very unlike her to let two leads slip away. No question that she is the one of the best ball bashers out there. The problem I see for Sharapova is that there is no plan B. Anyone who can run down her shots can be a problem. Having said that, she'll probably win Wimbledon without having to hit a second groundstroke.
Ivanovic just gave Patty Schnyder the beat down, and Jelena Jankovic is up next against Spain's Carla Navarro. Have you ever met someone who can't function unless they're surrounded by drama? You know, those people who always say they have debilitating injuries during their matches or has a cold or has a chipped fingernail. Yeah. Jankovic in two angst-filled sets.