Saturday, May 31, 2008

The truth about American tennis

I'm speaking to myself, too, tennis fans, when I say that it's time to move on.
The heyday is over. American tennis has gone as far as it's going to go without a little extra (tennis) elbow grease. We're getting by on fumes.
But it's gone far. For years, American stars dominated the scene -- Johnny Mac, Connors, Evert, Seles, Sampras, Agassi, Capriati. Great rivalries and long-lasting careers.
But what was the USTA doing during this period? Not what Russia's doing, apparently, which is creating a powerhouse. Go through the top 100, especially on the women's side, and there are more "ovas" (17) on that list than Americans (7). The other problem is that of those six women, exactly none of them are young up-and-comers. Unless you count Ashley Harkleroad, and you're talking about ascending the ranks of adult magazines.
Where's the young talent? Answer: Sitting on the bench at Fed Cup matches. Really, how long before someone realizes that one day, Venus and Serena Williams (who aren't even really USTA products) are going to retire? Andy Roddick's elastic arm's not going to last forever, either.
Belgium tennis somehow managed to produce 2 great stars. Belgium's population is 10.5 million. For some context, the population of New York City and Houston combined is just over 10 million. I'm not making that up, although Wikipedia might be. So Belgium has filled its quota.
Riske, Brengle, even Mattek -- where's the support? How bad does it look when France -- France, for crying out loud, has 18-year-old Alize Cornet making some noise. (and not because of that nose, either. Honestly, can she smell anything?)
There is American talent. There's Donald Young and Scoville Jenkins, too. The USTA needs to develop their talent. If it weren't for Britain, we'd be at the bottom of the barrel. The expectations should be higher for the USTA, though. With the legacy American tennis already has, why is it resting on its laurels while Americans strike out at every Grand Slam (ahem -- including the one in our country -- ahem)?

Friday, May 30, 2008

... And that's why you don't pick an American to win the French ...

Down goes Serena. Her mom called her loss to Katarina Srebotnik the result of being "in a funk." Okay ... but there about four players, one who's related to Serena, whose moods have just improved dramatically.
Venus, who could have faced her sister in the semis, still has to get past Jankovic. So far, Jelena's not looking too sharp, either.
A more direct beneficiary is Ana Ivanovic, who now can look forward to making the semis by beating the likes of Petra Cetkovska and Srebotnik. If she can get past Williams or Jankovic, I'd have to anoint her the new favorite. After all, if Maria Sharapova's getting pushed to three sets by Bethanie Mattek ...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ferrer def. Santoro: 6-0, 6-1, 6-0

Some people play against Fabrice Santoro. I guess some others just hit through him. Sheesh.

Where in the world is Roscoe Tanner? Just bouncing around

From the wires:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—Former tennis star Roscoe Tanner has been arraigned on felony theft charges in Knox County.
According to information from the Knox County General Sessions Court, Tanner is accused of writing a $72,263.43 check to a Knoxville Toyota dealership for two Toyota Highlanders and refusing to return the vehicles when the check bounced.
Tanner appeared in court Wednesday for the arraignment but did not enter a plea. A court hearing is set for July 8.
His attorney, Scott Green, did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Tanner was convicted of grand theft in Florida in 2000 after bouncing a $35,595 check used to buy a 32-foot boat.
A Chattanooga native, Tanner won the 1977 Australian Open.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

LEAGUE WATCH: Eh, I'm over doubles ...

Have you ever played a match where you felt as though you were watching yourself play -- at least until the ball is upon you? I just did. The League Watch is on, and I wouldn't look if I were you guys.
In years past, I've approached my league season with one goal: Don't lose! I have never had an undefeated season. This year, to try to cope with my match-time nerves, I've joined not one, but three leagues. My reasoning is that the more matches I play, the more I can get used to it. So far, the game plan's been hit-and-miss. I'm 1-0 in singles. 5-2 in doubles. I want to be comfortable in doubles. I want to enjoy having a partner to share the pressure. That's been working out -- until today. I felt like my brain was disengaged from my body, and I hated letting my partner down. Fortunately, she's a lot of fun, and if I ever remember she's lefty, we might get into the swing of things.
My goals for this season are simple: First, I want to learn to play under pressure. I used to think I wasn't nervous, until I realized that it was the reason I wasn't moving my legs or swinging my racquet. Second, don't lose! Just kidding. I've already done that. So, it's on! Hey, feel free to post your league results and experiences. We'll laugh and cry together.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

If it keeps raining, can plants grow on clay?

Just asking.
Another question: How about that Richard Gasquet? Apparently, he withdrew with a fracture psyche. He's going in for an MRI tomorrow. It might be broken.
One more question: Harkleroad. What exactly is there to be proud of? Ashley Harkleroad is apparently honored to be the first tennis player to pose for Playboy! OMG! Well, if you can't become a household name playing tennis ... The other cool thing about the Playboy thing is it just opens the door for you to slide on over to those "Skin-e-max" late night cable movies. You're on the right track, Ash. Keep it up! Uh-huh.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

As yet untitled

For a change, it was a gorgeous day in Pittsburgh. It's the kind of day I've been waiting for, perfect for a tennis marathon. But I was glued to the television.
And I admit, I was crying. It was hard to watch Gustavo Kuerten play his last professional match at the French Open.
If you don't know Guga's story, here it is in a nutshell. He was born in a small town in Brazil called Florianapolis, and began playing tennis as a boy. His father died when he was 8 of a heart attack while umpiring a tennis match. His younger brother suffered from mental retardation and eventually died in 2007. Guga himself went on to have a successful pro career, winning three French Open titles and becoming world No. 1. Does anyone else remember the year-ending tournament in 2000, where he beat Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi back-to-back to gain that number one ranking. Not on clay, either, but indoors.
And then there's the hair. I'm going to try to forget about that close-cropped crap he went with for a while there. That wild, curly 'do defined Guga's carefree attitude on court. You couldn't not root for that smile he wore, no matter what was happening. Even when hip problems made it impossible for him to play to his potential.
There he was again on Sunday, making his face smile, when his heart must have been caving in on itself, knowing that if it weren't for that hip, he could take Paul-Henri Mathieu to school. And I'm sorry, but that's not fair. I don't know Gustavo Kuerten, but there aren't a lot of people who radiate joy whenever you see them. Those few people don't deserve to have their careers ended by circumstances beyond their control. Some people deserve to ride it out on their terms.
Regardless, there Guga was on center court, crying and smiling at the same time, finding joy in tough times. With all he's been through, there have been tougher times for him, and he certainly has been blessed with a successful career and a safe place in tennis lore. True, tennis is just a game, but it's just that something should go Kuerten's way.
I can't think of a better example of someone making lemon out of lemonade. Here's hoping life gives Guga a little something sweeter.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

French Open preview: SPOILER ALERT ('cuz I'm that good)

It's French Open time. Strangely enough, it's also allergy season. Amazing coincidence.
Especially for Americans. Lindsay Davenport? Felled by "personal reasons". Andy Roddick? Shoulder issues and not too interested in wasting his time. Others will show up, such as the Williams sisters and James Blake. Will there be something in the air for them? Well, besides allergens?

1. Roger Federer: The tennis world's been tough on Fed lately. Essentially, he's set such a high standard for himself that he's not allowed to lose. Some of the trash talking's a little ridiculous, although he did lose to Mardy Fish. (??) Here's where he tends to dazzle most -- a Grand Slam, that is. Not necessarily this particular Grand Slam. Armed with a new coach, he's hoping for better results at Roland Garros this year. The bad news is, I don't think it's going to happen. The game is catching up to Roger, and on clay, they'll have more time.
2. Rafael Nadal: Is hard to bet against Nadal on clay, no? Yes. I mean no. Wait.
This is a draw Nadal can work with. Few no names early on, a possible tussle against Nalbandian or Murray on his surface, then a duel with Djokovic in the semifinals. Nadal played some ridiculously brilliant tennis against Djokovic and Federer in Hamburg. Those matches show that the field is catching up to Nadal on clay, too.
3. Novak Djokovic: Is it me, or does he get better every time he plays? If Djokovic can keep his injury withdrawals down, he's got a heckuva chance to pick up his second major this year. His progress on clay has been lightning quick, and he's got a cupcake draw. Opponents sure to give him a sugar buzz are Carlos Moya, Guillermo Canas and James Blake. I think you can pencil in that semifinal showdown with Nadal. I'll bring the popcorn.
4. Nikolay Davydenko: I believe I owe Davydenko a bit of an apology. For a long time, I though his high ranking was due to the fact that he plays at least two tournaments a week. That's true, but he does have game. That backboard-like game that those foreign to clay just are going to love. He also happens to have a "Way Back Machine" this tournament. As in, remember Thomas Johansson, Grand Slam winner? First round. And who can forget Marat Safin (who really should have won the Grand Slam Johannson won)? Well, he has two other majors anyway. He's looming in Davydenko's round two. How about that Ivan Ljubicic, who faded from existence about this time two years ago? Round three possibility. Oh, and the hits don't stop there. Juan Carlos Ferrero, also a Grand Slam winner, and the last person to beat Rafa Nadal on clay? Round of sixteen. Yeah, that just to get to the second week. And he thought his hair was falling out now.
5. David Ferrer: If that forehand's not flying, neither is his game. It's great to watch when it works. Pretty horrible to watch when it doesn't. He's in Davydenko's half of the draw, and will have his hands full with Fabrice Santoro in the second round. But I look forward to his match against Lleyton Hewitt in the third round, if it happens.
6. David Nalbandian: Very dangerous player. Also very flaky. If the game -- and the head -- hold up, he's got a chance to try his luck against Nadal in the quarters. If not, he'll be flaming out against Andy Murray in the fourth round.
7. James Blake: Say this for James Blake: He made the flight to Paris, as he does every year. Also say this: If Janko Tipsarevic doesn't get him in the third round, Marcos Baghdatis will in the fourth. Boy, by now, you've got to figure James knows how to say this in French: "Can I have first-class ticket to the States for tonight?"
8. Richard Gasquet: I thought Gasquet was a tennis player until he decided to dodge playing in the Davis Cup until there wasn't a match that didnt' count. That has nothing to do with the French Open, but dude is fragile. He certainly has the talent, variety and home court to be a factor at the French, but since tennis is 97. 2986371 percent mental, he will probably wilt under the pressure of taking on Fernando Gonzalez in round four, let alone Fed in the quarters.
9. Stanislas Wawrinka: Wawrinka: the other Swiss player. Yeah, coming up the ranks at the same time as Roger Federer must be a lot like being Jan Brady. Roger, Roger, Roger! Seriously, Wawrinka's got game. But I kind of like Phillipp Kohschrieber's game, too. Sorry, Jan.
10. Andy Murray: So much talent, so little consistency. There is no one in the top 10 begging more for a coach that young Andy. If he had someone to help him keep his mind on real strategy and off the drop shot, he could do some major damage with this draw. Right now, though, he's reportedly worried about his rep, so he's hired a PR firm. Way to set those priorities. Anyway, a loss to Nalbandian in the round of sixteen.

Early-round matches to watch:
Wawrinka v. Kohschreiber
Federer v. Sam Querrey
Gustavo Kuerten v. Paul-Henri Mathieu: This will probably be Kuerten's last match at the French Open. This makes me very sad. Kuerten is one of the best clay-courters ever, and he has three French Opens to prove it. His personality was also good for the game, because he was a competitor with fire and with heart. Someone as talented as he is should be able to call it a career on his timetable, dammit, not because of a hip problem. I hope Kuerten can pull at least one match out. Even if he can't, it's been a great ride. I shall cheer for you, Gustavo.

They could (still) be contenders:
Lleyton Hewitt (25): The game is just getting too big and strong for Hewitt. But he can still take advantage of any openings in the draw, such as an early Ferrer elimination.

The way it'll go down:
Quarterfinals: Federer v. Gasquet, Davydenko v. Ferrer, Baghdatis v. Djokovic, Nalbandian v. Nadal
Semifinals: Fed v. Ferrer, Djokovic v. Nadal
Final: Fed v. Nadal
Winner: Nadal. He won't be able to do this again next year, though.

*1. Maria Sharapova: I don't think I need to explain what the asterick's for. But when you take Henin out of the mix, how many real No. 1 candidates are there? Sharapova's not a bad choice. She's also got a decent draw that could get complicated around the time she takes on Dinara Safina in the fourth round. (Or Safina could implode.) Dementieva or Zvonareva could be tough in the quarters because they can give her enough balls to misfire, especially Dementieva.
2. Ana Ivanovic: Last year's finalist hasn't done much in the interim to prove she can cope with nerves. I don't know who's happier about Henin's retirement, Ivanovic or her countrywoman Jankovic. Those nerves will be tested against Serena Williams in the quarterfinals.
3. Jelena Jankovic: Like Ivanovic, Jankovic keeps approaching the edge of success on a big stage and ... backs down. She's had solid results this year, even with a very attackable serve. But, she's still got more variety right now than anyone else in the top 10, and if she doesn't go drop-shot crazy, she should go deep in this tournament. Very deep.
4. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Her results on clay have left something to be desired. Her performance in majors leave something to be desired. That something is consistency. How many times has Kuznetsova been playing unbelievably, then tosses an entire set away on unforced errors? Unfortunately, clay is going to give her just enough rallies to screw things up.
5. Serena Williams: Serena pulled out of her last tournament with a bad back. No comment about how much weight she puts on her back. None at all. If her back holds up, I think she's got the green light to win this baby. One thing, though. Lately, she seems to have some real problems putting matches away. Jankovic in Miami, Safina in Berlin come to mind. Now that she's fit, she needs to get mentally sharp.
6. Anna Chakvetadze: She's been spotty all season, and although this is a draw for her that she could take advantage of, I don't see it. It's hard to see Chakvetadze or Kuznetsova taking advantage of their quarter of the draw.
7. Elena Dementieva: Huge opportunity for Dementieva with this draw. Marta Domachowska will be a test in the second round, but otherwise, she's got a clear view to the quarterfinals. There, she'd meet Sharapova, who can be taken down on clay. If she can get past Maria, she'd be the most solid player left in that half of the draw.
8. Venus Williams: Whatever is going on with Venus will make it tough for her to make it through this tournament. In her last match against Jankovic in Rome, she looked winded in the middle of the second set. If she can't play a three-set match, there is no way she's going to get past Jankovic again in a potential quarterfinal matchup. In fact, Amelie Mauresmo might be a problem in the fourth round.
9. Marion Bartoli: After Wimbledon, she won't be anywhere near the top twenty. Believe it. I guess what I'm trying to say is: Next!
10. Patty Schnyder: Here's one player the other ones don't want to see on a bad day. That lefty slicey-dicey stuff is enough to make someone like Serena Williams, for example, go for way too much over and over again. That said, Schnyder is sort of like Fabrice Santoro. Very good entertainment value, but not a major threat. As wide open as this year's draw is, I feel comfortable saying that.

Early-round matches to see:
Samantha Stosur v. Shahar Peer (round one): I smell an upset for the 17th seed Peer.
Marion Bartoli v. Casey Dellacqua: Battle of the Grand Slam party crashers. I'm going with Dellacqua. Marion Bartoli is so overrated.
Ana Ivanovic v. Lucie Safarova (potential round two): Whoa, there'a a blast from the past. Whatever happened to Safarova. I guess we'll find out when Ivanovic applies the beat-down.

They could (still) be contenders:
Agnieszka Radwanska (14): Boy, she'd better really be a contender for me to have to type that name. She just beat Dementieva in the final in a warmup. So she has confidence, and is nicely assembling a very Hingis-like game. She's got a real shot at the quarters.
Amelie Mauresmo (22): Just because she has a weak-looking Venus in the fourth round. Her game hasn't necessarily declined, but her confidence has. A few wins at home might change that.
Francesca Schiavone (18): Tough on most surfaces, but a bear on clay. If Kuznetsova or Chakvetadze don't step up in that section of the draw, she just might.
Alize Cornet (19): She's a hometown hope for France, and although she's been hot lately, she won't likely do much at this tournament.

The way it'll go down:Quarterfinals: Sharapova v. Dementieva, Schiavone v. Chakvetadze, Venus v. Jankovic, Serena v. Ivanovic.
Semifinals: Sharapova v. Schiavone, Jankovic v. Serena
Final: Sharapova v. Serena
Winner: Serena

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Goodbye, Justine ...

You might not have heard, but Justine Henin quit tennis last week, at the top of the women's game and just before the French.
Anyone who has ever read this blog knows that I am not a big Henin fan. That is being kind. Even though she has retired, and everyone might be feeling very sobby about her right now, I have not forgotten why I've had my issues with Henin. You know what? I'll run them down right now:
1. The Australian Open debacle
THE BACKDROP: So, Justine and Amelie Mauresmo are playing the 2006 final, and Justine gets whooped in the first set. Badly.
THE HELL?!!??: Down 2-0 in the second set of a Grand Slam final that thousands of people paid big money to see, Justine taps out. She later claims that she had an upset stomach and "nothing left to give." Sounds like her retirement speech, actually. Mauresmo's first major is sullied by the fact that she didn't actually have to win it.
THE BACKDRAFT: Mauresmo did win Wimbledon that year, for real, and against Justine Henin. Poetic Justine? Well ... Mauresmo hasn't done anything since, and Henin, well, she won everything else, except Wimbledon.
2. Serena at the French
THE BACKDROP: 2003. Semis. Third set.
THE HELL?!!??: Serena's serving. Well, no. Because Justine raised a hand, signaling she wasn't ready to receive. In the middle of her motion, Serena follows through, thinking she'll get a first serve. The bad news is the umpire didn't see it. And, although Justine could have confirmed she made the gesture, she didn't and Serena was forced to play a second serve. To Serena Williams (and many other observers) that's just plain "lying and fabricating."
THE BACKDRAFT: Um, Justine won the whole freakin' tournament. Serena burst into tears at the press conference. Since, Justine's rarely seen a French Open she didn't like.
Having rehashed all that, I will add two other things I actually liked (wow, that was hard to write) about her career:
1. Her game -- As a fellow shortie, I have to admire Justine's game. Even when I was mad at her, I had to chuckle at the post-match tale of the tape. Venus Williams, 6 foot. Maria Sharapova, 6 foot. Lindsay Davenport, 6 foot. Justine Henin? 5 foot 5. (Right, Justine. Embrace your size, Miss 5'3".) Henin's beaten them all. She has everything -- power, accuracy, guile and variety -- that exactly no one else in the top 10 has. That's going to be the gaping hole in women's tennis. Now begins the official Big Babe era. They're only going to get bigger, folks. Whether that's good or bad remains to be seen. Although it's already getting boring as hell.
2. Her retirement -- No, I don't mean it like that. How many athletes do you think play longer than they should only because people expect them to? It takes a lot of guts to live your life on your terms, doesn't it? No? Ask Jennifer Capriati, the poster girl for the ultimate burnout. Henin deserves credit for not saying "yes" to everyone except herself, especially knowing the scrutiny she'd face.
So, warts and all, tennis will miss Justine Henin. Her absence will suck, especially at the French Open, but TWA wishes her the best that the rest of life has to offer her.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

White (red and blue, too) flight

Andy Roddick withdrew from the French Open on Monday because of a right shoulder injury and hopes to be ready for Wimbledon.


Former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport has pulled out of the French Open, the only Grand Slam singles event that she hasn’t won. Tournament organizers said Tuesday that the 31-year-old Californian withdrew for “personal reasons,” without elaborating.


Andy Roddick and Lindsay Davenport withdrew from the French Open, citing their inability to win the event.
"Why the **** would anyone play tennis on crushed brick?" Roddick said in a statement. "Paris is nice and all, but damn, there's only one Eiffel Tower ..."
Davenport told reporters she had a sore back due to carrying her son, then said she was trying to deal with exhaustion. Davenport last played in mid-April.
"Actually, it's my wrist. Clay makes my wrist hurt. Grass makes it better."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

It's official ...

Justine Henin is really retiring from tennis, effective immediately. Some snippets from her presser:

“This is the end of a child’s dream. This is a definitive decision. Those who know me know it is serious.”
“I thought long about this,” Henin said, her voice cracking and eyes watering. “I started thinking about it late last year. I was at the end of the road. I leave with my head held high.”

Okay, now that she's announced, what is really going on here? More on my theories later, but I open the floor. What do you guys think?

Thanks a lot, Serena, for beating the will out of Justine Henin

Check this out. I'm stunned over here. But we'll see. This is pretty weird.

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP)—Top-ranked Justine Henin will make a major announcement about her career Wednesday amid reports she will quit professional tennis.
Henin, who has been in a slump all spring, called a news conference, while local newspapers already carried headlines saying “Henin quits.”
The 25-year-old Belgian has always said she sought a long career and despite injuries and a divorce, she had a sterling 2007 with two Grand Slam victories and eight other tour titles.
However, after winning her home tournament in Antwerp in February, she has been on one of her worst skids of her career and failed to go beyond a quarterfinal since.
This year she lost to Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Italy’s Francesca Schiavone, and some were lopsided. Last week she was ousted from the Berlin Open in the third round and this week she pulled out of the Italian Open.
Her announcement could range from withdrawing for a limited amount of time, to retiring at the end of the season or quitting all tennis immediately.
“She finds it tough, losing matches she normally would not lose,” Fed Cup captain Sabine Appelmans said. “But I don’t think her career is over. She has to get through this and then end her career at the top of her game.”

Only last year in May, Belgium’s Kim Clijsters, a former No. 1 player, said farewell to competitive tennis. Clijsters has since married and become a mother.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Maria Sharapova needs a real job.

She's talking about pictures.
Not a game. Not a match. Not a point.
Pictures. She's talking about pictures.
Maria Sharapova is mad at the WTA for making her take part in a photo shoot before the start of the Italian Open in a week. She says she shouldn't be forced to do a shoot after a 12-hour flight and before the start of a tournament. If she doesn't do it, she faces a fine of at least $300,000. And she wants the public's help. On her blog, she wants her fans to help her decide whether she'll do the shoot.
In her statement, she claims, "I never do shoots before tournaments because they are mentally draining and I want to just focus on my tennis."
I was totally with her until she got to the part about photo shoots being mentally draining. Physically draining? Maybe.
Mentally draining?
To pose for a picture? To pose for 1,000 pictures, even? Come on, Maria. I can just imagine the pressure.
PHOTOG: "Maria, I need you to tilt your head a little to the left."
MARIA: "What?"
PHOTOG: "And lift your chin a bit, love."
I know, Maria. Life's a bitch.
She's being a bit of a primadonna, isn't she? If she really thinks this shoot's going to thwart her training, (whatever) she can eat the cash. She obviously doesn't have to do it, which makes me wonder why the WTA feels the need to fine $300,000 for not taking pictures. Is it because they really can't get the players together to help publicize the sport? If that's the case, then I'm sorry, but I'm all for it. Let's be real. These women are living the dream. They get to travel the world to play a game. Because of tennis, they get major endorsements and make millions without even having to play tennis. They get equal pay in Grand Slams without having to play as long as the men. The least they can do is smile for a minute and help fill the half-empty stadiums at these tournaments.
So, should she take the fine? Should the WTA threaten players into doing publicity? What do you think?