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


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?

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


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 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.)

LEAGUE WATCH: Hail the queen of the third-set tiebreak!!!

I'm not saying I win them. I'm just saying I play them an awful lot. Sheesh.
Week 8 of my USTA league pitted us against the first-place team in our division. The top two teams at the end of the season advance to the playoffs. So, kind of a big-deal match.
I know the opposing team well. Most of them are my teammates in a city league. I felt that overall, my team would do well. I wasn't so sure about myself. Unfortunately, my opponent was familiar to me. I played against her last year, and she beat me in two close sets. We agreed after the match that it was the best one either of us had played all year.
Basically, we picked up where we left off, playing a very tight first set, until I donated my serve game. Meanwhile, my captain's playing on the next court, and she's not doing well. Automatically, I start doing the math. "If I lose, and she loses, and one doubles team loses ..." (It occurs to me that if I had been taught math using tennis scenarios, I'd be able to do calculus right now. Hmm.) But I refocused and retool my strategy, which becomes ARE YOU EFFIN' NUTS!!?! DON'T HIT TO HER FOREHAND! My subtle adjustment brought instant dividends, and I started the second set with a 3-0 lead. I held serve to wrap it up at 6-3 and broke early in the third for 2-1. It was really hot, and I thought I noticed my opponent tiring. She wasn't running for everything, and her money shot seemed a bit wanting. I led in the third set 5-3, and had, oh, about three match points on her serve. On two of them, I hit my return into the net. The third? Stupid mistake. (I just want to know why I try shots I don't have at the most important time in a match.)
So, I'm standing at the service line at 5-4. Most of my team, and the opposing team, is watching our match, and my captain yells over, "Do you mind if we watch?" I'm like, heck no. It could only help, right? Heh. Anyway, I'm a bit nervous, but I'm trying to reason with myself. I actually thought this to myself: "It's OK to be nervous. It's what you do with the nerves." Who am I, Dr. Phil? I'm serving for the match, and I'm trying to talk myself down. Oh, Lord. So my first serve attempt is the worst miss I've had in some time. It lands practically in front of me. I don't think I have to tell you how that serve game went.
I failed to break her again. I have to credit my opponent here. I got very sloppy, convinced she was tired, and even started hitting to her forehand again, because she had been missing them. Well, she took advantage, and when I served again, now down 5-6 (let me repeat that. I went from serving for the match to 5-6, sudden death for ME!!!) my opponent unleashed a series of forehands that I could barely see, let alone respond to. I was down 0-30, my team's cheering me on, and I just told myself I was going to lose. For some reason, this strategy seems to work well for me. I hit some of my best serves, and held on for the tiebreak.
We traded minibreaks right away, and switched sides at 3 all. I was feeling pretty good about myself. Then I double-faulted. Then I watched a forehand sail past me up the line.
Then, things got really dramatic. Up 5-3, my opponent moved to chase one of my shots, screamed in agony and dropped to the ground. She'd rolled her ankle. I, like a total idiot, went for my tennis bag and brought it to her. There was a first-aid kit inside. I'm not sure how she was supposed to know that. I don't think my babbling would have conveyed that very clearly. Anyway, so one of her teammates is a physical therapist and starts giving her the massage, a-la-Doug Spreen. My opponent was in a lot of pain, so when her teammate wrapped up her leg, I was a bit stunned when she said, "Let's try to finish it up." Okay, I'm going to be real here. I thought the match was over. I just wasn't prepared to play again. We'd been standing around for 10 minutes, hoping she'd just sprained her ankle and nothing worse. So, we square away the score, and I head back over to my side, and my job is simple. I have to not screw up three points. Honestly, I didn't trust myself to hit too many groundstrokes, and I hit some safe serves, and lobbed her backhand side twice in a row to wrap up the match.
Before I get all selfish, she's going to be fine. No major damage done as far as I know (she left under her own power), and if I don't see her again in the playoffs, she'll be the bane of my existence again next year. Now, back to me.
It took me about three hours to convince myself I deserved to win that match, and even now, I don't know how true it is. I was up 5-3 in the third set, and should have won that match three times. I only won, I thought initially, because she hurt herself. That might be true. I reminded myself though, that I'd played well, too, and that instead of flaking out at 5-6, I made it out of that game. But really, who knows? Who knows what would have happened if she hadn't fell? Knowing her, I'll find out next year.
Oh, and by the way, our team won the match! We're back in first place, with two matches left for the season. One's a rain make-up with another tough team. Will we make the playoffs? Will I have to play third-set tiebreakers on back-to-back days? Am I learning to play under pressure? What should I wear?
The answers to all those questions -- and more -- next week in League Watch! (Cue Batman music -- campy version, OK?)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

LEAGUE WATCH: Special deluxe edition, Part II

It just doesn't feel right to wrap up my itty-bitty tournament results just days after the Fed-Nadal classic, but popular demand dictates. (Ahem, Van.)
So, at last League Watch, I was coming off a four-match day, ending with a not-that-disappointing loss in the women's doubles final. My partner and I were just happy to beat the second-seeded team (barely) in the semifinals.
The next day -- Sunday -- I had only two matches. First up: the women's B-level (3.5 USTA rating) singles final. My opponent was quite familiar to me; she'd beaten me twice last summer. The second time I'd played her, I had opened up a 4-0 lead in the second set and about twenty minutes later, lost it. About two minutes after that, the match was over. Total meltdown on my part. And although I felt as though I'd improved since last year, I was still not terribly confident. Remember my four-match marathon? Well, my first match was singles, and it was against a real pusher, which was exactly the style of my finals opponent. So my expectations were not too great when we took to the court for warmups -- under overcast skies. As we were wrapping up, it began (of course) to rain, and we had to drive over to a nearby indoor court. On my way over, I felt that I was in better shape during the warmup. My strokes were more solid and I sensed she was trying for power early, but missing her shots. By the time we really started the match, my expectations had crept up a bit. I was thinking I could WIN! If I come into the net, take care of the weak stuff, mix up my shots, use my speed ...
... actually do any of those things. All it took was for me to get lobbed once, and that was it for the net attack. I sat back there and waited for these weak high balls, and inevitably made an error. It wasn't my game. I tried drop shots, but stayed back, hoping she wouldn't get to them. At first, she had a bit of trouble, but I went too often and early to that well, and it wasn't long before she had plenty of time. Bottom line: I was far too tentative. I played not to lose, and isn't it funny that when you play that way, you always lose? At least I do. An hour later, I (mercifully) hit my last forehand error to wrap up a 6-1, 6-0 blowout. We shook hands, exchanged niceties, and my husband (bless him) instantly went to take the court for our mixed doubles final, which was to take place immediately after my singles match. I wasn't quite ready yet. I was busy doing something I've never done after losing a match before: I cried. (No, this doesn't exactly go with the Tennis With Attitude theme. Try to stay with me.) Don't get me wrong -- I've probably lost dozens and dozens of matches in my day, here was a situation where I knew what to do to win, but failed because of fear. Had I played my best, or even well, I would have been able to keep up head up. But I didn't. So I cried. I didn't get upset in front of the organizers, but they wanted me to take a 20 minute break before the mixed doubles final, but I refused, trying not to wait in front of them. "No," I told them. "I need to get this out of my system now."
I grabbed my stuff and watched our opponents warm up with my husband. I couldn't even stop my eyes from watering, and I didn't quite trust myself holding a racquet. Maybe I needed that break after all. Finally, I just stopped trying to hold it back, and just let it all go into my towel. Discreetly. Sheesh. I can't let our opponents watch me freaking out. They, by the way, looked like solid players. The guy had a fairly solid forehand, and the girl didn't seem at all intimidated by my husband's pace. I hoped it would be tough, so I could play well, and prove that I could do something right.
Talk about a warmup being no reflection of a match. The guy was clearly far too jacked up, and he couldn't keep more than one groundstroke in play. The woman was the calmer player, but didn't adjust to my husband's poaching, or my solid returns (for a change). My husband and I pretty much had our way in this final, and we cruised to a 6-1, 6-1 win. Woo! Our second tournament win in a year (after an ahemahemahem-year drought)! The sting from the singles loss was dullened after our win. As much as I wanted that singles win, I learned that victory is definitely better when it's shared. I might be becoming more of a doubles fan. Well, especially if I keep losing in singles.
Funny story: The wife of the late mayor of Pittsburgh presented the trophies to the winners and runners-up. First, she gave me the runner-up trophy, and said something very general, like, "Good playing" or something. Then, she presented my man and I our mixed-doubles trophies:

and she says to me: "You must be very good!" Ha! Clearly has never seen me play.
Finally, she gave me my runner-up women's doubles trophy, and when she saw me approaching again, she just stared. I said, "I only entered three events. This is it for me!"

Anyway, it took me a few days not to define this tournament by my butt-kicking in singles. It occurred to me at long last that if you can enter three events and come in first or second in all three, you're not all bad. I've still got a lot of work to do, and I really don't have a lot of time to tweak my game. There's another tournament coming up (only playing two events this time) and on Saturday, my USTA league has a super-important match against the first-place team in our division (we're second). In my doubles league on Friday, my partner and I are up against the undefeated team in our division (again, we're second. Man, that's becoming quite the theme with me. Now that I think about it, I'm the second child of four, too.). I'm loving the league life, and despite the setbacks, I feel like I'm achieving what I had hoped to, which was adjusting to match pressure. Slow, but sure. Right? Hopefully, it's not just the slow part.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Now that my heart rate is slowing a bit ...

Pardon my flair for the dramatic, but this is what makes tennis great.
This is why you don't change a thing. Two great players -- Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal -- shouldn't have a coach on the sideline to tell them what to do. They should have to figure it out themselves, practically on the spot (except for tiebreaks. And I hate to mention this now, but Fed, if you had a coach now, he might have come in handy at that particular point in time).
This is why you don't play a fifth-set tiebreak. A tiebreak to end it all has its own allure and tensions, but really, what's better than watching two champions go back and forth until one of them legitimately defeats the other?
Without those factors, you don't stay glued to your seat watching history unfold, watching the boundaries of a rivalry expand before your eyes. Never mind being glued to a seat. I was on my feet for the entire fifth set. Anyone else?
I guess it takes situations like this to show the mettle of a player, and Nadal showed his, big time. After losing two tiebreakers after having a two-set lead, you just expect someone to just mentally fold it up. Maybe the rain delays helped a little, but how do you get past being up 5-2, and later holding two match points in the fourth-set tiebreak, only to let them slip away?
And then there's Federer, who, let's face it, could have won this match had he played it a bit differently. Meaning? Meaning that he could have serve-and-volleyed more. Meaning that he should be used to having his backhand attacked by Nadal by now, and it should be more than a defensive shot. Meaning that he played it safe with his forehand far too often. He was at his best when he was crushing those midcourt balls into the corners. Can't blame him, but the man clearly got tight with his forehand at the end by practically guiding them into the court, and it's how he lost match point.
Despite all that, Federer had the mental fortitude to come back from mini-devastations during the match, like allowing a 4-2 lead (!) in the second set dissolve. He missed out on a lot of break point opportunities (1-13), but you have to respect that a lot of that had to do with the quality of his opponent.
Of course, the other obvious implication of Nadal's win at Wimbledon means their rivalry has ended all predictability based on the surface. Now, when these two meet, anywhere, anything can happen, and I'm sorry, NBC, but that's what qualifies as Must See TV.
Sure hate to sound greedy after that epic, but I'd like more helpings of matches like those, please.


Talk about instant classic. I was just thinking earlier that what would make this match really cool is if it had to be finished on Monday. If it does, I think I feel the flu coming on. "Unfortunately", I might have to call off sick tomorrow ...


Rafa Nadal is up 2 sets and 4-5 right now over Roger Federer, who is looking downright normal. Will this rain delay help? I don't know. Can Federer learn to hit an offensive backhand in an hour?

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Um, make that five Wimbledons, please, straight up

I don't often give anyone permission to openly bitch-slap someone, but Serena, go right ahead.
Here's a clip of Serena's press conference after losing to big sis Venus in the final today:
Q. Have you talked at all?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah, I saw her. I mean, we weren't involved in a big conversation.
IDIOT REPORTER. You don't look happy at all.
SERENA WILLIAMS (icily): I don't? I wonder why.
Seriously, Serena, if you want to haul off, it's all good. It's almost like they were trying to bait her. I mean, losing to your own sister means that you still lose. Lay off, dorks.
Anyway, the match was great. It would have been even better if it had gone three sets. But you can't fault Venus for handling her business efficiently. I wasn't sure what to expect, because usually, Serena is the one who shows that fire to win in these sister-sister matchups. So it was nice to see Venus keep her head down and tighten up her game. Judging from Serena's press conference, I would say that Lisa Raymond and Samantha Stosur should watch their heads in the doubles final. I'm thinkin' Serena's out for blood.
Back to the topic of bitch-slaps, I wonder if I can dispense them like shout-outs. I usually think Mary Carillo's a pretty capable commentator, but today, she attempted a new "high". I can only hope she was actually high on drugs. While discussing the Williams sisters' outside interests, she called the idea of their balance of tennis and other things "a phony debate." I thought she was about to drop some knowledge until she said that the Williams sisters "belong on the tennis court." Is that right, Mary? Is that where they "belong"? I just don't get it. If Carillo is God, why would she also do tennis commentary? You'd think going ahead and proclaiming where everyone belongs would be a full-time job.
Carillo's statement reflects a lot of people's opinions, but it's fairly ignorant, if you ask me. As a tennis fan, I am disappointed in the fact that the Williams sisters are not attempting to dominate on tour full-time. I would love to see them really add to the depth of women's tennis, which is lacking right now. If they were out there all year long at their very best, could you imagine the rivalries? Williams v. Williams. Williams v. Sharapova. Williams v. Jankovic. Get the point? As a fan, I do find myself wondering "What if" with the two of them a lot.
As a person, having their hands in other things is a great thing for them. Why? Two words: Jennifer Capriati. Capriati spent most of her early tennis career trying to be what others expected her to be. She did nothing but tennis, and my goodness, she must have had to bottle up a lot of her own desires to please others. There was no fashion school for her. If she had even hinted at it, she would have been railroaded by High Priestess Carillo, told to get back on that court. The last interview I read with Capriati -- from last July with the New York Daily News -- made me realize just how maladjusted she still is with her life. She spoke openly of depression and thoughts of suicide, even now. Capriati's brother said then of his sister, "For any athlete, once you stop doing what you've loved for 20 or 25 years and all of a sudden it's taken away, it can be a tough progression into the next life."
And I feel bad for Capriati, and I feel good that it's highly unlikely that'll ever happen to the Williams sisters. If they're happy with not dominating year-round, if it means they grow up normal, then I guess I'll just have to be disappointed as a tennis fan. Apparently, there's more to life than sports.

OK, Schuettler, more than six games.

It's not all that surprising to see the Williams sisters posting similar scores in their semifinal matches, but to see Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal doing that is kind of creepy. Federer beat Marat Safin (6-3,7-6(3),6-4) and Nadal eliminated Rainer Schuettler, 6-1,7-6(3),6-4. Nadal played a pretty sloppy second set, although he started and finished strong. Fed looked great against Safin, who had a nice run here. You could almost tell from the beginning, though, that Safin didn't quite believe. He also said, in not as many words, that he didn't believe. Here's hoping that Safin starts tapping that talent of his for the long term -- or at least what's left of his career.
More props to Schuettler, who managed somehow to make Nadal work a little in that second set. Dude's 32, by the way, and played an almost 5 1/2 hour match in the quarters. Go have yourself one or four of those German beers, man. You deserve it.
So, it's Fed vs. Nadal once again. We'll dish on that tomorrow, but first, it's Williams versus Williams. I can remember when these two were meeting in Slam finals all the time, and all you heard was "They're making the game boring, blah, blah, blah." About five years of boring women's finals later, they're back, and no one's complainin'. In all fairness, they contributed to a bunch of those crappy matches. There's been a lot of talk from the Williams camp about increased maturity over the years. If that's true, and they continue to play well, this should be a real battle. I have to give the edge to Venus, because her game's a bit more versatile than Serena's. Venus doesn't seem to mind closing in to the net to end a point, and with that huge serve, cleaning up at net shouldn't be too hard. Serena's will to win, and her more precise serve, though, is going to keep her close. In their doubles match today, Serena popped up a lot of volleys, and that doesn't show a high level of comfort at the net. That's going to be a problem for her in singles, and she'll be a net target when the sisters team up in the doubles final. Anyway, Venus in three. But that doubles final against Lisa Raymond and Samantha Stosur might not go their way. It's hard for me to believe Venus and Serena'll be able to overpower two doubles specialists. But anything can happen, right?
Will be posting during and/or after the final. Happy strawberries and cream to ya!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

"What I meant was ..." -- Elena Dementieva

Oh, Elena.
First, Dementieva goes out and plays a pretty wack match against Venus Williams. Screaming all over the place, too, gesturing to her mom, as though her mother has the answers to her serve -- and Venus' forehand, which looked fairly solid for a change. Then in the presser, she's asked about the potential of an all-Williams final, and she says: "For sure it's going to be a family decision." It could be considered a case of struggling with a second language, as she later claimed, but a few years back (also after losing to Venus) she said of the Venus-Serena faceoff: "I don't know what Richard (Papa Williams) thinks about it. I think he will decide who's going to win." Uh-huh. English isn't her first language? I wonder if she knows the term "BS". I'm guessing she does. Another phrase she might want to learn is "No comment."
Anyway, let's talk about good semifinal opponents. Really impressed with "Mini" Jie Zheng. Too bad she couldn't push it to three, and way too bad she double-faulted on match point. That's just not fair. She fought really hard against Serena, and for such short stuff, had Serena sprawling after those backhands. Hopefully, there'll be good things coming in Zheng's career. Like a semifinal against Dementieva.
So, the sisters are back in the big show. Just as I predicted, right? Right. Let's hope it's better than their previous matchups. If I'm getting up early to watch this final Saturday, girls, it'd better be good. I am not a morning person.
And a nod to the fellas: Nice effort from Rainer Schuettler in his marathon semifinal against Arnaud Clement. I predicted Schuettler in straights, but didn't factor in the fact that it was the biggest match of their recent careers. Gotta give it to 'em for leaving it all on the court. Unfortunately, it doesn't leave a lot of time for Rainer to get "it" all back in time for his match. More on this in a minute.
Tomorrow's matches:
Roger Federer v. Marat Safin: Here's what Safin has to say about this match: "I’m playing semifinals, but that doesn't mean that I have a chance there, because the guy has won how many times already here? To beat Federer you need to be Nadal and run around like a rabbit and hit winners from all over the place. It's just a little bit too difficult." Yeah, Marat. All that running and hitting the ball -- that's not tennis at all. Just when you think Safin's back on track, he says something like this to remind you that he's still a little bit of a head case. If he's not a head case, then he's probably just a little too honest for his own good. Anyway, this match will depend largely on which Safin shows up. He could make it very hard for Fed or make it very easy, but the result, I suspect, will be the same. Fed in four, with a side of busted racquets.
Rafa Nadal v. Rainer Schuettler: Hmm. This one's a toss-up for me. See, I can't decide if Schuettler will get more or less than six games in this match. I'm going with the under. Nadal! Next!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"... Andy has a big hands and is very difficult beat him, no?" Rafa Nadal

I can't even begin to figure out what that means. I sure hope that's not code for something.
Seriously, how can you watch Nadal right now without being impressed? The man's on a mission and his game's showing it. He looked almost perfect against Andy Murray today. Gosh, even his shanked balls are landing in. Don't tell me Roger Federer's not looking over at this half of the draw and breaking a slight sweat. (Fortunately, he has his cardigan to keep him warm. I can't quite put my finger on what it is, but every time I see Fed warming up, I have the urge to ask him to be my neighbor.) Fed looked great today against Mario Ancic, too, but Ancic is nowhere near the quality of player Murray is. For one thing, I'd like to think Murray wouldn't engage in the half-hearted serve-and-volleying crap Ancic was doing. Are those volleys, Mario, or are those semi-lobs? It was hard to watch Ancic ambling into net off of weak volleys, as though that was putting pressure on Fed. Fed gets more pressure in Nike commercials.
And then there's Marat Safin, pulling another one out. I think I've figured him out. Basically, when he has a big win, like the Australian Open, he needs about four years to recover. So right now, he's rounding into shape. He hasn't had a lot of success against Federer since Australia in 2004, but who knows? He's playing with a lot of confidence right now. Unfortunately for him, so is Federer.
More on that later. Let's talk women's semifinals. First up is Venus Williams against Elena Dementieva. I would be floored if Venus manages to lose to Dementieva. Dementieva's got a lot of good things going on. One of them is not stability on the court. She said yesterday that all the pressure is on Venus since she's defending champ. Really, Elena? Then let's see you hit a real serve. That's what I thought. Because Venus is not in top form yet, I'll say she'll win in straight sets, but it'll be tight.
Speaking of top form, Serena Williams is looking pretty darned solid. Her match against Aggie Radwanska was a rarity for Serena, keeping her shots under control and not going for more than she needed. Giant-killer Jie Zheng's going to have a tall order. Hard to see her having much success against Serena. Zheng's talented, but she's come up against players who are good, but are mentally unprepared for her. I don't see Serena making that mistake. Straights! Don't blink or you'll miss it.


Boy, I have never been so glad to be wrong! Safin in four! More on this later ... Part of me feels ashamed for not believing in him. The other part's already back on the bandwagon.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

"What are you on?" -- Serena Williams

Looks like the Williams sisters finally accepted the TWA challenge, which was, in essence -- DO SOMETHING!
Just when you're ready to write them off, Venus and Serena continue their march through the draw. As expected, Venus handled Tamarine Tanasugarn, and Serena took down Aggie Radwanska. If I say so myself, it was pretty bold for me to stick with my Radwanska upset special. Others might call it foolish. Whatever. Radwanska probably has a lot of success coming her way, but it looked like she was deflated toward the end of the first set, and she spent the second set walking from deuce to ad side, watching the aces and winners fly. Someone's got some maturing to do.
And how about Elena Dementieva trying to give her match to Nadia Petrova, who refused to take it? She opens up a 5-1 lead in the second set and gave it all away before winning, 6-3 in the third. You know, anyone who loses to someone side-arming a powderpuff serve like that should be ashamed of themselves. Ahem, Petrova ... (And does Venus pay Petrova for wearing her gear on court?)
More on the women's draw later. Tomorrow's Gentleman's Day at the All England Club. Let's check these fellas out:
Roger Federer v. Mario Ancic: Did anyone else know that Ancic has a law degree? I have to consider this factoid more impressive than the fact that he was the last person to beat the Fed on grass. Why? Two reasons: (1) Since when are jocks smart? and (2) OK, it really means nothing anymore. Go ahead; take Ancic's business card in case you ever get into a pickle, but don't pick him for this match. Fed in a yawner.
Andy Murray v. Rafa Nadal: Very enticing match-up. I'm curious to see how Murray comes back from that thriller against Richard Gasquet. The other question mark is Nadal's knee. If it's not 100 percent, clearly Murray has enough game to exploit that. However, all things equal, this should go Nadal's way. If he can take care of Murray, he can pretty much punch his ticket to the final, because he'd get the winner of ...
Rainer Schuettler v. Arnaud Clement: Yeah. Because I saw this quarterfinal coming. You should have seen me last week filling out my draw, salivating over this matchup. Schuettler took down Blake in the second round, then Janko Tipsarevic, who beat Andy Roddick to get the quarters. Meanwhile, Clement has taken down such "heavyweights" as Jonas Bjorkman, Benjamin Becker and Jurgen Melzer. Hey, someone had to come out of that part of the draw, right? Schuettler, straights.
Marat Safin v. Feliciano Lopez: First thing's first: Those Wilson racquet commercials have got to stop. Absolutely got to. The Federer one was a little corny. The Djokovic one was ridiculous. The Lopez commercial would be laughable if it weren't so painful to watch. I almost would pick against him just because of that commercial. But I have extra reason. That's right: my man, Safin! Still can't believe he's still in the draw. And really, there's no way to know which Safin shows up for this match -- the one who beat Djokovic, or the one who keeps food on the tables of the employees over at Head by busting as many racquets as possible. This is a real toss-up for me, but I unfortunately have to give Lopez the edge. He's got a 4-1 lifetime over Safin, including a win on grass. If Safin weren't such a head case half the time, I'd say he could overcome that, but I'm afraid I can see this one unfolding, and it involves a lot of broken racquets.