Friday, August 29, 2008

U.S. OPEN: Bless those underdogs

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

U.S. Open Night One

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

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


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

Dark horses:

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

Players NOT to watch:

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

Scintillating first-round matches:

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

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

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

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

Dark horses: Ooh, horses! Where?

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

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

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

Shut up. The Olympics are over already?

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

LEAGUE WATCH: Tournament watch

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

Saturday, August 16, 2008

No way. The Olympics started already? part three

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

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

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

No way. The Olympics started already? part one

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

Monday, August 04, 2008

Just like tennis ... except not

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

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

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

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