Saturday, September 27, 2008

Seen on my Yahoo page this morning ...

Jankovic, Sela to meet in Beijing finals

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

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The TWA Bestseller List

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

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

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

TournamentWatch: End of an era

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

Friday, September 19, 2008

Decisions, decisions, decisions ...

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

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Oh, this is special.

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

Saturday, September 13, 2008

It's about time ...

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

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

OOH!! He got served!

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

(wait for it ...)

Sam Querrey

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

Sunday, September 07, 2008

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

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

Saturday, September 06, 2008

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

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

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Really, Venus? Really?

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


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

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

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

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

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