Monday, January 28, 2008

Lessons and observations from the Australian Open

1. The next time someone tells you they've given you sage advice, see if you can understand it first.
"Champions take chances, and pressure is a privilege," Billie Jean "Yoda" King allegedly texted to Maria Sharapova before her final match on Saturday (our world).
Um ... what? What the hell does that mean? And what would it mean to someone like Sharapova who bludgeons every ball anyway? There is no game plan, Yoda. And if pressure were really a privilege, then folks would double-fault all over the place just to get to 0-40. Anyway, credit where it's due to Sharapova. I guess it was just the shoulder all along, huh?
2. What's the deal with Sharapova's mother? Why can't she go watch her kid win a Grand Slam? Manicure appointment? It's not like she'd have to sit with Ricky-Yuri, for crikey's sake.
3. To the Bondarenko sisters: There's this new innovation in women's clothing. It's called a bra.

4. Congrats to Novak Djokovic for winning his first Grand Slam -- and for doing it without the theatrics. One manly tumble to the ground, a wave, and there you go. Of course, if Roger Federer has a drought now of, like, two majors without winning, he might truly feel the need to embrace his inner drama queen.
5. Congrats to Jo-Jo Tsonga for making his first Grand Slam final --and for playing it well. See, if an unseeded player made a women's Grand Slam final (ahem, Marion Bartoli) it wouldn't be competitive at all. Then again, it's hard to find a competitive women's final anywhere these days.
6. You go, Tennis Channel! Landing Martina Navratilova as a commentator is a huge coup for you guys. Now, here's the second part: Don't allow anyone else to speak on air besides Martina Navratilova, except maybe Justin Gimelstob. I think it's fair to tell you, TC, that I used my mute button liberally over the past two weeks.
7. It sucks that you have to wait four months for another Slam. Move the Aussie Open, dammit. That's four months of longingly watching racquetball on the Tennis Channel in the fetal position, remembering the good days.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Random Aussie ramble, Vol. III

Why is it that every time they show Mirka watching Federer's match, she's either clapping like she's in a trance or eating?

No Williams, no cry ... and a semi-sweet preview

Listen, ESPN. There's a reason that Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic are ranked ahead of Serena and Venus Williams. So when the Williamses lose to them in the quarters, it's not an upset. Serena's loss doesn't then become the biggest surprise of the tournament as Mary Carillo theorizes. Just off the top of my head, I'd say no one really expected Roddick to lose in the third round to one Philipp Kohlschreiber (yup, I cut-and-pasted that bad boy) who then lost immediately in the next round. What about Andy Murray's loss in the first round and the rise of Muhammad Tsonga? What I'm trying to say is that the Serbs are good and right now, they're better than the Williams sisters. Seems to me like a long rivalry in the making, not some fluke.
So anyway, let's talk semis:

Maria Sharapova v. Jelena Jankovic: I'm really not convinced of Sharapova yet. Yes, she beat Justine Henin, (and for that, I'm grateful) but she's a ball basher. Plus, she's not even the best strict ball-basher out there. Most of her groundstrokes this tournament are hard, but they're landing in the middle of the court. She doesn't appear to have much of a plan out there. Enter Jankovic. She's got a lot of variety in her game. She has the penetrating ground strokes and that defense that makes her dangerous and more than makes up for that serve. Which is really bad. Anyway, I'd pick brains over brawn any time, unless we're talking about men.
Winner: Jankovic in three
Ana Ivanovic v. Daniela Hantuchova: There were a hell of a lot of good players in her quarter of the draw, and I wouldn't have expected Olive Oyl Hantuchova to make it through to the semis. But Hantuchova hasn't had a tough and experienced player in her path yet. Ivanovic has looked really solid this tournament, except for some hiccups during the Williams match, including her inability to hold serve for a while. I think this is the semifinal where the intangibles will play a role. Hantuchova's been around a while, and has never been this close to a Grand Slam final. Obviously, she could respond to that pressure in a couple of ways. She could knuckle down, eye on prize, and kick Ivanovic's ass on principle. She could also go out there overwhelmed and go out like a punk. As for Ivanovic, she's got a real shot to reach a final and play someone she can beat this time. She owns Jankovic head-to-head and is tied at 2 apiece with Sharapova. How will she respond to that? This could be a really ugly match, or one of extremely high quality, and it all depends on what's going on in their heads.
Winner: Ivanovic

Roger Federer v. Novak Djokovic: I still don't think Federer's going to win the Australian Open and here's why. Every time I watch Djokovic, I think: "I didn't know he could do that. He's getting good so fast." Every time I watch Rafael Nadal, I think: "Man, he's making some good adjustments to his game and the surface." Every time I watch Federer, I think: "Damn, he's incredible." Don't get me wrong, Federer is a great player and overall, better than both Djokovic and Nadal, but I think they're catching up to him. Especially Djokovic, who hasn't struggled at all this tournament. Federer's had a tough time of it here and if there's a time for him to get got at a major, it would be now.
Winner: Djokovic, and it'll be a long one. Fed's not going down in straights.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga v. Rafael Nadal: The first thing Jo-Jo needs is a publicist, so he can get him a snazzier name. He can keep the last name, though. It's kind of cool. Look, Tsonga doesn't have a shot against Nadal. I thought at the beginning of this tournament that Nadal was playing with an injury, but he sure hasn't looked that way. He's started slow in a few matches, but he's outlasted his opponents. Tsonga looked fairly winded toward the end of his first-round match against Murray, so he'll probably be looking for a wheelchair by the end of this one. Still, Tsonga's got game and is one of the quicker guys out there. Once he gets that publicist, surely we'll hear more about him.
Winner: Nadal in three

You think I'm crazy, huh? Post your picks, then!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Random Aussie Ramblings Vol. II

Yes, he is untouchable and a legend, but Bud Collins has lost his damn mind.
Yes, he really called Roger Federer the "Lord of the Swings." And he really implied that because Janko Tipsarevic switched to a black outfit -- the color Federer wore through the U.S. Open -- it might be a sign. Yes, Bud, it might be a sign that a longer offseason wouldn't be a bad idea -- for you.
Let's not forget the "menage a trois of television" reference, which was greeted by a full minute of awkward silence from his fellow commentators. Here's my question: When are they going to put Mary "Geri Jewell" Carillo and Collins together? I can tell you this: the commentary would last far longer than the match.

Roll call at the Melbourne Airport:
Murray: "Hold my flight a sec. I'm just checking out these classifieds in the newspaper. Maybe I should place a want ad. 'Mute coach with hands-off approach wanted. Must be able to surgically detach me from my trusty drop shot.' "
Roddick: "$#*&^@*! I'm here. Stay in school, kids, or you'll end up a stewardess who loses my effin' luggage."
Mauresmo: "What happened to the days when people just pulled out of matches against me?"
Tipsarevic: "Not planning to sleep much during this flight."
Baghdatis: "Me neither. We should watch some YouTube during the flight."
Davydenko: "Guess I'll be losing some ranking points now. Obviously, whoever set up this draw wants me out of the top 10."

Pickup line: Your volleys are hot!

I realized last night that I have a crush on David Nalbandian's game. That's it. He's not attractive to me at all, especially not the Big Bird nose. Not attractive. But I love his groundstrokes. Freaky.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Random Aussie ramblings

Dammit. The day I've dreaded has finally come. Guga announced the other day that he's retiring after the French Open. It's really too bad his hip couldn't hold up. Tennis is losing one of its biggest and brightest personalities. He also was not a bad tennis player. Moo. I shall cheer for you, Brazilian.

You know what, India? Get off Sania Mirza's back. She's been accused of insulting her country because she was photographed with her bare feet near an Indian flag. Some social worker went to a judge, who issued a summons against Mirza under the "Prevention of Insult to the National Honor Act." Yeah. Mirza said she thought about quitting tennis, but maybe she should just quit India and play for Australia. Or Britain. Britain could use some help.

What the eff, Lindsay Davenport? She almost looks fitter than she did before the kid. The one thing that obviously hasn't changed is the poor court coverage. It's like watching a Hummer racing in NASCAR.

Speaking of, it was nice seeing Ricky-Yuri Sharapov in the audience in full camouflage gear. And was that chewing tobacco he was spitting onto the court? Dude, camouflage? That is so not Nike.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Whatever, Andy. Whatever.

So I'm watching Andy Murray dismantle my Australian Open bracket, and I'm wondering: When did Muhammad Ali start playing tennis?
Somewhere, Brad Gilbert rubs his hands together, laughing. "You can't reverse this curse, baby!" he cackles.

Who puked on my tennis shirt?

No matter how you wear it ...

Or who wears it ...

It's still ugly.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oy vey ... (is that how you spell that?)

Off-season, shmoff-season. As a fan, the return of the Australian Open is exciting, but let's face it: If there's one Grand Slam that can be iffy in terms of results, it's this one. There's no time for players to recover from major injuries or not enough time for them to play themselves into shape. Although for players like defending champ Serena Williams, that might not be too much of a problem. Anyway, the Aussie Open preview rundown:


1. Roger Federer: What can be said about Roger that hasn't already been said? "Federer's a hack!" That's right, and he won't win the Australian Open! No, I mean that part. And, no, you can't have any of what I'm smoking.
2. Rafael Nadal: Nope. For someone who's been ranked No. 2 for forever, it's starting to seem as though Nadal has plateaued. Injuries have been a major part of the story for him, and if he can't stay healthy and fit, it doesn't matter how talented his is. He's been having trouble of late beating folks like Carlos Moya, for cryin' out loud. A 6-0, 6-1 loss to Mikhail Youzhny in his last tournament final? I'm not saying Nadal is washed up. I'm saying he does a great beached whale imitation.
3. Novak Djokovic: He's funny as hell, but he's probably not laughing about that U.S. Open final. He showed, though, that he's ready to be a threat at the majors. Assuming he's learned something about coping with that big-match pressure, I think he's going to be dangerous.
4. Nikolay Davydenko: Before we get into Davydenko's chances for the Aussie, check out his comments about the never-ending gambling probe. "Maybe they just found one tennis player who they want to remove from the world's top 10. Maybe there is someone below me in the rankings who is more popular and they want to increase his popularity."
He really said that. If he's not a gambler, he certainly is delusional as all hell.
Anyway, Davydenko's in Nadal's half, which is the one without Federer, so that's good. However, his results have been spotty since Gamblegate, so I wouldn't expect much. A loss to Youzhny in the fourth round, perhaps.
5. David Ferrer: He wrapped last year in style, waxing the likes of Nadal, Nalbandian and Djokovic. Is he consistent enough to navigate his quarter of the draw, which includes Djokovic, Nalbandian, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt? We shall see.
6. Andy Roddick: Look, when you think semifinals, let alone finals, of Grand Slams, you don't think Roddick. Unless it's the French Open, when you're thinking first round. Or qualifying. It's a little surprising, but even with Jimmy Connors aboard, Roddick has made little headway against the top 5. As in, none. Well, except Davydenko. Anyway, it's a little like watching a bird trying to fly with a broken wing. Just goes to show: If you've got heart and little else, sometimes you just land on your ass.
7. Fernando Gonzalez: Anyone who thinks Gonzalez could ever beat Federer again needs to stay out of my stash. 2007 was pretty hit-and-miss for Gonzalez and while you can't help but get confidence out of beating the world No. 1, I think there's a lot more miss ahead for the flaky Gonzo. Although a fourth-round battle of the flakiest, between Gonzo and James Blake could be entertaining. Or really bad.
8. Richard Gasquet: Tough player, but inconsistent. Last year's Wimbledon campaign was impressive, but he needs to stay healthy and become a consistent threat at Slams. Not really seeing it here, though. But I think he's going to make Murray wish he had a coach in the fourth round.
9. Andy Murray: Speaking of ... You know it's bad news for you, Brad Gilbert, when your boy admits to listening to you only sometimes. That's the point when you break out the classifieds. It is interesting however, that whenever Gilbert is canned, that player appears to tank. Of course, there's Roddick and I count Agassi as well, although he was already 74 when he fired Gilbert. A curse is a curse. Back to Andy: I think he'll be all right. I expect a little tussle between he and Gasquet in the fourth round, and I'm tagging Murray, for the semifinals, too. Keep your head up, Andy. Jimmy Connors might be free any day now.
10. David Nalbandian: If it weren't for the injuries, we'd be talking about a Slam winner, methinks. He's not really flashy. He's got a great economic, meat-and-potatoes game. I'd like to pick him for a finals appearance here, but his spazzy back might prevent him from showing up at all.

Bringing up the rear:

12. James Blake: O, how the flaky have fallen! One second, the Selsun Blue spokesman's challenging the very best in the world, and the next, he's losing first round matches to Fabrice Santoro in baby tournaments. It's probably crazy to expect him to make the quarters. But you've got to think he can beat Ljubicic in round 3, right? Right?
14. Mikhail Youzhny: It's not Davydenko's quarter. It's Youzhny's quarter. What's he going to do with it?
19. Lleyton Hewitt: Remember what I said about having a lot of heart and little else?
Fabrice Santoro: I know it'll never happen, but I want Fabrice Santoro to win a Grand Slam. Just one. (TiVo that second round between he and Federer.)

I Can't Believe They're Still Seeded!

Ivan Ljubicic (17)
Juan Carlos Ferrero (22)

The way it'll go down:

Quarters: Federer v. Blake, Djokovic v. Nalbandian, Murray v. Youzhny, Roddick v. Nadal
Semis: Federer v. Djokovic, Murray v. Nadal
Final: Djokovic v. Murray
Winner: Djokovic

1. Justine Henin: No man problems now. Watch out, girls.
2. Svetlana Kuznetsova: She's not a glamorous player, but she's been clawing her way back to the top of the game over the last year. She's a much better player than she was when she won her major. She's going to roll to the semis -- at least. She'd have to have the edge, whether she plays Venus Williams or Ana Ivanovic.
3. Jelena Jankovic: Sounds like Jankovic: It's Jan. 12, and she's already dealing with an injury. She's got a nice draw, though. Anytime you're in the same quarter with Amelie Mauresmo, you've got to like your chances.
4. Ana Ivanovic: Maybe she's figured out how to beat Venus in her offseason.
5. Maria Sharapova: Her seemingly endless streak of cushy draws has finally ended. Second round: Lindsay Davenport.
6. Anna Chakvetadze: You know, if I'd been a victim of a home invasion, I would not be in the mindset to play tennis. So props to Chakvetadze for showing up. She looks to have a good chance to make the quarters.
7. Serena Williams: The buzz on Serena is the fact that she's looking fit, which should be a given for any pro athlete, but whatever. Maybe those losses to Henin last year finally gave her the kick she needed. Anyway, she's going to need that newfound fitness, because she's got a nasty draw. The third round could be a battle with Victoria Azarenka, who made waves last year by beating Hingis at the U.S. Open last year. Then there's Nicole Vaidisova and Jankovic. That's just to get to Henin.
8. Venus Williams: She's got a spotty Australian Open history, but her draw's not bad. She could ride the likes of Marion Bartoli and Ana Ivanovic to the semis.
9. Daniela Hantuchova: I still think she needs a burger, and none of that vegan crap, either. She's been playing well lately, but is missing that Grand Slam success. That's why I'd give Chakvetadze the edge should they meet in the 4th round.
10. Marion Bartoli: C'mon, Marion. You have got to learn to share your food. Don't you realize there are tennis players starving in Slovakia? Unless Pierce Brosnan shows up, I wouldn't expect much from Bartoli. Quarterfinals loss to Venus will probably be the end of road for her.

Bringing up the rear:

11. Elena Dementieva: Always hanging around, despite that serve. She could give Sharapova or Davenport trouble in the fourth round.
13. Tatiana Golovin: I feel like I've been saying this for a while, but it's time for a Golovin breakthrough. That's going to be a little difficult with Henin lurking in the fourth round.
18. Amelie Mauresmo: I see a third-round loss to Patty Schnyder and an angst-ridden post conference in Mauresmo's future. I swear, I have never seen anyone react as badly to winning two Grand Slams than Mauresmo.
20. Agnes Szavay: Miss Thing generated a lot of buzz last year. Will she make more noise? I can tell you that Nadia Petrova's not going to be happy to see her in round three. Neither will Kuznetsova in round four.
Lindsay Davenport: True, she has played some small tournaments, but she's been beating the players she's supposed to -- and convincingly. You can't say that all the time about women's tennis. Since she's been back, she's split matches with Jankovic, and beaten Hantuchova. Might sound crazy, but I think she could beat Sharapova.

I Can't Believe They're Still Seeded!

Nadia Petrova (14)
Patty Schnyder (15)
Virginie Razzano (30)

The way it'll go down:

Quarters: Henin v. Davenport (yup.), Jankovic v. Vaidisova, V. Williams v. Ivanovic, Chakvetadze v. Kuznetsova (say that three times fast)
Semifinals: Henin v. Jankovic, Venus v. Kuznetsova
Final: Henin v. Kuznetsova
Winner: Don't make me say it.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Naffi Freed!

And just in time for the Australian Open. Talk Tennis apologizes for the inconvenience and welcomes me back to the fold. Damn. What am I going to do with all those "Free Naffi" t-shirts I ordered?