Thursday, December 31, 2009

It's not "Goodbye 2009." It's "Hello, 2010!"

So, I'm watching a replay of Andy Roddick lose the best match he's ever played at Wimbledon this year and it made me realize that 2009 was indeed full of ups and downs. An example: I was talking tennis with a friend at work who is a Roger Federer fan and he was trash-talking against Rafa Nadal. "C'mon, Federer owns Nadal now!" he says. "Really?" I said. "Really, Garrett? Remember the Australian Open? Remember Federer crying like a little (you know) after getting his (you know) handed to him by Nadal? Really? Really?" (I get a little worked up talking about tennis sometimes.) As it turned out, he had forgotten all about that. Understandable, though, isn't it? Federer went from that to winning the French, Wimbledon and almost the U.S. Open, placing him in every final this year. Not bad. At the very least, the man managed to silence the "Who's Next" talk -- Murray or Djokovic. For now.
It was a remarkable and history-making year for Federer (and also had a couple kids!). But that was then. What about 2010? Let's take a gander, yearbook-style:

Most likely to succeed (or win his/her first major):
Male: Andy Murray. I know a lot of people don't buy Andy Murray as a Slam winner, but his game gets stronger every year, and his fitness also improves by leaps and bounds. The question is: Can he handle the pressure, the fact that myself and many others expect him to do something big? I think so. He's no ...
Female: Dinara Safina. I would almost go with Caroline Wozniacki, but she doesn't have the firepower Safina has. Now, if you put Wozniacki's brain in Safina's body, you might have something. Seriously, Safina's melted down too many times at big moments to continue in that way. At some point -- and I think she's reached it -- you get tired of coming up short because you don't have the nerve to take a win. Barring serious injury issues, I wouldn't be surprised to see her come up big in Australia.

Most likely to skip a grade (or make a big ranking move):
Male: John Isner. I can't believe I'm picking an American and one who has a big cheat because he's like 10 feet tall. But I was really impressed with Isner at the U.S. Open, and he's showed that he's more than a big serve. He's got the game to give the top 5 players fits.
Female: Justine Henin. I hate to say it this way, but if Kim Clijsters can come back and win a major, then Henin can win the French after eating Bon-Bons for a couple years. If we're talking about someone who hasn't been to the top of the mountain, I say Sabine Lisicki. She's got power, she's got nerve, she's got wins over tour veterans like Venus Williams, Patty Schnyder and Svetlana Kuznetsova and I see top 10 coming for her.

Most likely to be at the head of the class at this time next year:
Male: Rafa Nadal. I know. Injury, injury, injury. But I believe in Rafa. He has been well able to adjust over the years to get to No. 1 in the world. I think he next has to change his game so it's easier on his body, although he is a grinder. He's got to find a way to make it to the end of the season, but he's young. Time's still on his side.
Female: Serena Williams. Justine Henin. Dinara Safina. Come on. It's women's tennis. As unstable as a mental patient.

Most likely to graduate (or to stay retired):
Male: Marat Safin. I went to my first U.S. Open in 2000. If you're an American tennis fan, going to the Open is like being cut loose in a candy store. You've got your show courts, of course, but then there's the Grandstand, where I saw James Blake for the first time playing doubles well into the evening. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario was also playing doubles on an outer court. Martina Navratilova and Venus Williams were just walking around the grounds. Pretty awesome, sure, but my eye was on one man. We got into the Safin/Sebastien Grosjean match, I think, in time to watch Safin pull out a tough one. My brother and I were close to the front rows through the match and when it was over, I shot up to get close enough for a photo of the man who I thought was going to be my husband one day. (There's still time, Marat. Call me. I already have a husband, but I'll figure something out. Pool boy. Gardener. Whatever.) One problem: I was so nervous to be close to him that I couldn't move. But there he was, signing autographs close enough so I could see his sun-kissed forehead and perfect hair. Still couldn't move. So I did what big sisters do -- I ordered my brother to take that picture for me:



It's the closest I ever got to my first tennis crush. He won the Open that year. And everyone, including Pete Sampras thought there was more coming.
There was, but not exactly what we thought. Safin had the ability to be the equivalent of Federer for a window of time, and for some reason, he didn't. He showed flashes of greatness, but the year he lost to Thomas Johansson, in 2002, at the Aussie, was without a doubt the biggest head-scratcher of the decade. When people retire, having done the best with what they had, such as Andre Agassi, it's a celebration. When Safin retired last month, having barely scratched the surface of his potential, it's like, "That's it?!? I coulda had a V8!" Oh, well. Fare thee well, Marat. At least you'll always be hot.
Female: Amelie Mauresmo. Hell, there's no shame in retiring with two Slams. In retrospect, that was probably about as far as her abilities could take her, considering her contemporaries -- Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, the Williams sisters, the Belgians. When she was quoted last year as saying that playing in front of half-empty stadiums wasn't doing it for her, you could see the end was near. Even when she peaked against this season, and looked like she could do some damage, she seemed uninterested in the work that went into getting those results. But whatever makes you happy, right? Wonder what she'll do next. She doesn't seem like the knitting type.
OK! I'm off to prepare for my social rounds for New Years! Everyone have a safe one and pick one part of your tennis game you're going to improve for 2010. (I'm choosing the forehand. Oh, and the volley. Also my backhand.) I'll be back for more on Jan. 13.

Friday, November 06, 2009

OK. Now I'm confused.

"The 22-year-old player is gathering evidence to prove his innocence despite two samples testing positive."
No, that's not Yanina Wickmayer, who has just been suspended by a Belgian anti-doping committee panel. (Besides, she's a girl, and it clearly says "his.") Why? Because she didn't report her whereabouts to the same officials three times. Sounds about right. Rules are rules. And when you blow off officials three times, it does appear as if you're hiding something. It will be interesting if her one-year suspension stands. Because, of course, these are the same people (the ITF, or an independent group assembled by same) who let Richard Gasquet get by with "I kissed cocaine-crusted lips." For the record, the ITF and the World Anti-Doping Agency is still pushing for a suspension for Gasquet. Confused? No, it is retarded. (Gosh, Martina Hingis has got to be kicking herself right now for not fighting her positive test. All she'd need to say is that she brushed past a cokehead in the doctor's office and the residue got in her system. But really, who would have known it'd be that easy?)
Throw in Andre Agassi's Mountain Dew theory and we've got a severe case of mixed signals, people. Aren't all these countries using the same rulebook? Then why can you get suspended for not testing positive for drugs, but get let off when there were drugs in the system? In Gasquet's case, the point is not the drugs. It's cocaine. Hardly performance-enhancing. The point is that we need some consistency here. A spotty drug policy is worse than no policy.
Oh, and Xavier Malisse also got suspended for ducking officials twice. Which should guide him gently into the pasture of retirement. Unless he has been using something.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hunh. I would have guessed cocaine.

So, the top eight women in the world (now minus Dinara Safina with a back injury) are battling it out in Doha. Venus and Serena Williams just finished a heckuva match with a lot of great hitting and entertaining points, especially at the end.
But, really. Who cares about that?
So Andre Agassi used meth while he was playing tennis! As far as autobiographies go, it's no Mackensie Phillips-sized revelation, but this is a pretty big deal and not for the reason one might think.
Yes, Agassi is a role model and he ought to be ashamed of himself and his image (which is everything, remember) might take a hit. But, hey, it's the bombshells that sell books, not being a philanthropist who came back from being 141 in the world all the way back to 1 and winning "the" Grand Slam. Go figure.
The real question for me is why it took 12 years for this to see the light of day. The man failed a drug test while playing pro tennis. His excuse? His assistant, a drug user, used to put meth in his soda and Andre accidentally had a swig of Meth-Dew. That, and an apology, apparently was the end of that.
Really? I thought Richard Gasquet's line for testing positive for cocaine was lame.
And how is it that the Martina Hingises and Gasquets of the world are exposed the second their drug tests come up dirty and Agassi tests positive for meth ... and all is quiet on the drug-testing front. Is there a double standard? If Roger Federer or Serena Williams test positive for drugs, would we ever know about it? If that positive test had come up, it might have derailed Agassi's career, and tennis, the business, would have taken a hit. Is that a consideration these days?
Put plainly, is there some sort of double standard for athletes who are doping? If there's not, then the drug-testing policy is pretty lame. If you can tell folks you kissed a girl who had cocaine-crusted lips or that you drank some meth juice -- and it works -- that's a problem, too.
Really, the only way tennis looks good here is if we find out that Agassi made this up to move some books. It'd make his fans feel better, and it would also hold out hope that Mackensie Phillips is telling lies, too. Because that's just disturbing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The TWA Crystal Ball

I don't think Andy Roddick's really injured. Come on -- one day he's complaining about the long tournament schedule, the next he pulls up lame doing almost nothing on court. Grow up, dude and get back on that calendar! One month is puh-LENTY of time off!
Seriously, though. Seems like the fastest way to get the powers that be to do something about that calendar is to make them travel all over the world and play from January to November -- in their work shoes! Now we're talking.
This annual debate begs the question -- what if the players went on strike to protest the effed-up tennis calendar? Hmm ...

January:
The top ten male and female tennis players, in a rare move, call a press conference in Belgium. (Because that's where all the interesting press conferences have happened lately.) They announce that neither they nor their fellow players will play on their respective tours or any Grand Slams until the tennis heads come up with a schedule players like AND they want full input! Just days before the Australian Open, the ATP, WTA, ITF and other three-letter organizations quickly sit down with the twenty players. When TPTB tell the players to wait for a few more years to get it settled, the players, led by Roger Federer and Serena Williams declare a strike! Serena brandishes a racquet, but because she's on strike, she can't be fined.
Organizers are forced to cancel the Australian Open and disappointed fans lash out at the players for not entertaining them. Elena Dementieva announces that she married her hockey-player boyfriend and that she is pregnant. Maria Sharapova appears on David Letterman to talk up the players' viewpoint and appeal for fan support for their plight. Letterman asks Sharapova if she's ever considered becoming a model.

March:
The Indian Wells and Miami tournaments scramble to rustle up some tennis players so the show can go on. Charlie Pasarell, the organizer of the Indian Wells tournament, even apologizes to the Williams sisters and offers to allow them to play that semifinal from 2001 in an empty stadium. It's a no-go. The Sony Ericcson tournament continues on -- as a table tennis tournament. Some 10-year-old from Texas who's on vacation in Florida wins. Maria Sharapova poses for the covers of Vogue, Glamour and SI for Women.

May:
Rafael Nadal announces that instead of the playing the French Open, he will instead make his debut on WWE Raw to launch his wrestling career. He will be known as The Conquistador. In his first match, The Undertaker gets the drop on The Conquistador when he takes a second to pull out a wedgie from his very uncomfortable one-sie.
Halfhearted attempts from players to negotiate with tennis officials mean they won't be playing the French anyway. Hemorrhaging money, officials meet with tournament organizers around the world and finally offer the players an eight-month tennis schedule, with fewer required tournaments. Federer, whose wife is expecting again, tells them his people would call their people. Andy Roddick signs with the New York Yankees.

June:
Peyton and Eli Manning grace the cover of Tennis magazine, under the headline "Five Other Sports Out There." At the top of the list is table tennis, which has gained in popularity since the Miami tournament. The 10-year-old, who's now 11, is touted as the youngest table tennis champion ever. Table tennis officials consider setting a minimum age for players to join the pro tour, hoping to head off any Mountain Dew dependency problems in the future.
The Outback tour takes over at the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon, and in the final, Pete Sampras beats John McEnroe in straight sets. McEnroe breaks four racquets and swears at a line judge in the first set, but because there are few other options, officials let it slide. The next month, Venus Williams wins the U.S. Women's Open -- in golf. It's her first golf tournament. Michelle Wie doesn't make the cut.

August:
Bud Collins speculates that players are purposely holding off on an agreement with TPTB in order to get an entire calendar year off. When asked about this, Federer, reached at home and shouting over screaming children, offers a terse "No comment" in response. When he's asked what he thinks about the officials' proposal, Fed says he's trying to organize a meeting with the players, but it's "tough with their schedules." Sharapova appears in the soap opera "All My Children." She plays an injured tennis player who misses an unnamed major tournament held in Queens, lands in Pine Valley and falls in love with Tad Martin, who is now 60, but still hot.

November:
Federer and Serena Williams hold a joint press conference with tennis officials to announce that the players have agreed to the new schedule. Only Bud Collins is present. The rest of the sports world has its eye on the year-end table tennis championship in Shanghai. In a major upset, the 11-year-old wunderkind loses in the quarterfinals after showing up with a yellowed tongue and, according to a spectator, "hopped up on sugar." Andy Roddick is suspended from the Yankees, who are in the World Series, after an altercation in the locker room with Alex Rodriguez.

March 2011:
The Australian Open begins at its newly scheduled time and Roger Federer and Serena Williams are seeded first. Fans demand to get in for free because of last year's debacle and organizers refuse. Millions of tennis fans nationwide declare a strike.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Coach swap!

So, tough times for Venus Williams and Dinara Safina. Two weeks, two early round exits for both. For Venus, she's lost twice in a week to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (and, yes, that, too, was cut-and-pasted), a mere qualifier. Meanwhile, world (ahem) No. (ahemahem) 1 Safina lost to Shuai Zhang, who is ranked TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY SIX IN THE WORLD! Think Roger Federer could do that? And men's tennis is actually deep.
It is late in the year, and as they say, shiz-nit happens. But both these players have had very interesting seasons. Safina gets to the top of the mountain, but wimps out in major tournaments. Venus gets her ranking back up, only to suffer puzzling losses all year, and sometimes, she has looked utterly lost out there. What can these players do to change things around?
COACH SWAP!
First up, Safina. Right now, she's under the tutelage of one Zeljko Krajan, who, some say is kind of hard on her. I will say I've never seen someone so irritated to see his student win a match. Maybe what Safina needs is some positive reinforcement, someone who can convince her she is a worthy No. 1, that she can beat anyone.
Someone like Richard Williams.
Now that man might not be able to fix a forehand, but he can sure light a fire under a sister. A Williams sister. But how about a Russian? How would that coaching session go?
Dinara: Oh, I hate my serve!
Pop Williams: What kind of crap is that? You need to go out there and beat those white turkeys! Ace 'em!
Dinara: I missed another one! (smashes racquet on court)
Pop: Listen, I'm from the ghetto. When you're from the ghetto, you don't get all nervous and stuff. Where are you from?
Dinara: Moscow ...
Pop: Got any ghettos in Moscow?
Dinara: I don't know ...
Pop: Ever hear gunshots on the tennis courts? Have to pay off gang members to protect you while you practice?
Dinara: No.
Pop: And you're worried about a serve? A forehand? Girl, you better shut up and hit that shot. And be glad you didn't get shot!
Hey, that logic has produced about, oh, 20 majors for the Williams clan. Couldn't hurt, right?
Now, on to Venus. Still, after all these years, she's being coached by her parents, who frankly, couldn't be less interested during her matches, it seems. Richard's fixing his ball cap, Oracene's sleeping and Serena's texting Common while Venus is trying to beat Kim Clijsters at the U.S. Open. What she needs is some passion, some anger, a fresh fire, someone to get mad at her.
Someone like Zeljko Krajan.
Maybe what Venus needs is someone to call down during one of those stupid mid-match coach conferences:
Krajan: What the hell is the matter with you?
Venus: I don't know. Too many errors. She's playing well.
Krajan: (mutters in Croatian) I told you move into the court. Be aggressive. What you doing back there?
Venus: It's just a tough day at the office right now..
Krajan: Oh, you look terrible. Six double faults. Pushing your serve? How you expect to win like that?
Venus: (drinking water and nodding)
Krajan: You gotta start every match 6-0, 5-0?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Top Ten(nis) -- I am so clever

From the "Mardy Fish Injury Duh" file: Sam Querrey is out for 6-8 weeks because ... wait for it ... wait for it ... because he sat on a glass table and it broke under his 6-foot-6, 200-pound ass. Which should have been completely unexpected. The glass cut his forearm and thus the vacation. I gotta admit, just looking at him, he looks sort of lanky. Surprise.

Venus Williams, Dinara Safina, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Dementieva all were tripped up at the starting gate at the Toray Pan Pacific tournament. Dementieva said she felt players didn't have enough time to recover from the U.S. Open. I guess that'd be true of Kim Clijsters or even Serena Williams or even Mel Oudin. Dementieva lost in the second round. Sounds like plenty of time to me ...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

LEAGUE WATCH: Princeton -- True Story.

So the Early Start ratings came out around here. For the uninitiated, the Early Start ratings come out after the end of the summer league season and alerts you to the rating you can look forward to next year, which gives you time to go through an appeal process. I can still remember the year I opened them up and found I had FINALLY been moved up to 3.5.
I was fairly sure what I'd find when I looked this time, and I wasn't surprised. Still a 3.5. My year was as inconsistent as they come, and I would guess my results at Princeton pretty much sealed the deal. The Early Starts, for me, was the frustrating cap to a really frustrating regional tournament. Read on -- if you dare.
Now, before we went, my team captains had already decided on a lineup for each of the five matches we would play in Princeton because almost our entire team was going and, of course, you want to get everyone in. Sounds good. Well, our lineup was based ONLY on that. I was playing doubles with someone I hadn't played with all year. Our best singles player was on the bench in the first match and none of the successful doubles teams were together. It was a mess.
That was already in the back of my mind on the drive up, and the morning of, when I woke up and found it was pouring outside. The co-captain of our team (and I'll get back to her) called me to tell me we were indoors. OK, I thought. Works for me!
It had stopped raining by the time I made it to the complex where we would play, and it was there the real hammer fell. That was when I found out how the weather would change the tournament format.
We wouldn't play a regular scoring match. No. We would play an 8-game pro set. Yeah.
So, basically, we were made to play an abbreviated match -- to decide which team GOES TO NATIONALS. (Wow, I thought I'd have recovered from this bitterness by now ...) But there was nothing we could do. The decision had been made and play had begun.
Another really brilliant decision made in reorganizing because of the rain was that we would play only one match on Friday instead of the planned two. The second match would be made up on Sunday. (More on that boneheaded call coming up, too.)
Anyway, I was slated to play first singles against the strongest team there right out of the shoot. But I felt OK. I had recently begun taking on a more relaxed approach to my matches. By that, I mean I'd take more time, about three games, to really feel my opponent out and then come up with a plan. I'd decided that even though it was a pro set, I'd continue with that plan. I could afford to lose a couple of early games, I thought, if it came to that.
Well, it came to that. I was down 4-1, and on that changeover, I realized something. "Holy crap. The whole match is almost over!" And I went into overdrive and tried all kinds of tricks. Rushing the net. Drop shots. Slices. High loopy topspin. But in the process, I was making waaaay too many mistakes -- probably because I had one eye on the clock. After one too many missed backhands (and probably the easiest one I had all match), it was over. I'd lost the "match," 8-4. The news wasn't good for the rest of my team, either. None of us took well to the new format, and we lost 4-1.
I hadn't planned on attending the banquet, and I probably shouldn't have. Not because I got too wasted or stayed up too late -- I wasn't even on the Saturday morning lineup. But as I was leaving, our co-captain walks up to me, gets right in my face, tells me in as deadly a tone as you can get for someone who was just dancing to "It's Raining Men," that I needed to be at the courts at 8:45 tomorrow morning. And then stared me down! For real! There are witnesses! Now, we all know that last year, my lateness caused a bit of a problem for my team. I didn't realize that meant I could be scolded like a 4-year-old. I wasn't even in the lineup! So, more consternation.
The next morning, there's a message on my phone from Co-Captain Stalin, saying that I wasn't in the lineup (really?) and that "she wouldn't be upset with me" if I weren't there before 9 a.m.
Well, thank God.
Anyway, I got there to watch my team start three of five matches with a solid lead, only to lose them, and we were out 0-5 when it was all over. Yikes.
The second match, I was at first doubles with a teammate I had never played a match with before. Okay, I've tried to contain my frustration with the lineup thing, but I gotta get it out! I get it. You want everyone to play. Fine. But we are at PRINCETON! Allegedly, we spend ten hours round trip in a cramped vehicle to win. So why am I playing with someone for the first time HERE? And why, with the crappy-ass hand we were dealt, were we not rolling with the punches? In an 8-game pro set, there's no time to get a feel for your partner, and if you screwed up giving her the deuce side, well, then. That's that.
So, yeah, we lost, although we both played well, and had the chance to go up 5-4. My partner had been serving great, and after one of her service games, she walked up to the net, and I went back to the service line to fetch a ball. When I turned around I heard one of the opponents telling my partner, "I didn't want to say anything ..." and I was a bit curious. I asked her what they said, and she answered, "They said I was foot faulting." I could see it really bothered my partner even before her next service game, even though she tried to laugh it off. The next time she stepped up to the line, her serve had lost its sting and accuracy. On break point, she double-faulted AND the bitch, er, opponent called her on a foot fault. I, unlike Serena Williams, held my tongue but I did almost clock her with my racquet on the changeover. (Aaaand, yogahz, it turns out that in an officiated USTA match, an opponent is not allowed to call a foot fault. They can warn the server, which they did, and then they can call an official, who would call a foot fault.) Anyway, it was over from there. We went down pretty quickly and again, so did the rest of the team.
This left us at 0-3 in overall competition, and by extension, out of the running. This also left us in a very interesting situation. On Sunday, we normally would have had one match and then we all break for home. Now, we had two, including the makeup from Friday. Matches were slated to begin at 11 (outside, because now it was gorgeous after two rainy days. Nice. Reeeal nice.), and with the backlog of matches on the day, the second match would probably start no sooner than 3 p.m., which meant we'd hit the road at about 6 p.m. for a five-hour drive home. I wasn't in the first lineup, but I was in the second, and attempts to get into the first match failed. My captain called me and said that it'd be okay if I didn't want to stick around for the last match. Some people would probably debate with themselves loud and long. "Do I support the team?" "Do I leave early so I don't have to drive at night and so I can escape this hellish weekend?" "Should I tell my co-captain that she can stop being a bitch anytime she's ready?" "Should I find the tournament director and give her a piece of my mind?"
I left at 2 p.m., with my team ready to secure our first and only victory of the weekend, which made me feel good, especially because it was against the top team! As I was walking out, though, I happened to notice a little old lady sitting at a folding table, looking official. That was because she turned out to be the tournament director. Piece of my mind, here we go!
I introduced myself and explained to this lady that deciding who goes to nationals with an 8-game pro set was pretty effed up. I told her that I had played a 2 1/2-hour match just to get to New Jersey, and this seemed terribly unfair. She frowned at me and told me that the tournament was going to be finished, which would have happened no other way, although, she said, there was the idea of dividing teams into flights and playing a regular match. At that point, at hearing that there was a better choice, and that it was nixed, I wanted for the first time in my life to hit an old woman. No offense to old ladies (and when I'm one, I'll probably delete this post because I'll be more bitter than ever at that point because I'll probably still be a 3.5), but an 8-game pro-set setup pretty much ensured we'd be sending a bunch of blue-haired to Arizona to represent the Middle States, not necessarily the best team. She capped off her little lecture by saying I just wanted to complain, like everyone else. Then she just turned her back on me and started talking to someone else. True story.
So that was my experience at Princeton. I didn't think that if I made it back again, that it could potentially be worse than last year. Obviously, I'm frustrated with myself for not playing better. I still feel that in a real match, my chances would have been much better. But everyone had to play a pro set, so I can't complain too much. I can complain a little. But not playing for real sucked, and it wasn't worth a five-hour drive.
And then there's the matter of my team. I can't shake my team co-captain being a complete jerk all weekend, and as great as they are during the year, I have to ask myself if I want to still be part of this team. Given a little time, I can probably get past the whole taskmaster 'tude. But what if this happens again next year? I don't want to be on a team that's going to waste their chance at Princeton to let everyone play. And yes, if I was the worst person on the team, I'd feel the same way. I think we could have all played AND done better. It's always tough to lose when you feel like you had a chance to win. Those teams weren't better than we were. We played our cards wrong and got slaughtered. I think we'd make the same mistake again, and therein lies the problem. Is it wrong for me to tell this to my team captain? I'm still not sure, and as of now, I have yet to return a call to her because I don't know what I'll say. I'm still disappointed, and a little pissed. In the timeless words of Tina Fey, "Bluurgh!"
And now? Now, I get into winter tennis mode, in mixed doubles league. Hopefully, put this year behind me and do something about my drop shot, which can also be referred to as a drop lob. And think about something other than tennis and work.

P.S.: I'm watching a commercial for NCIS: Los Angeles. First, does anyone else think LL Cool J is too old to be going by LL Cool J? That was vaguely cool in the 80s. Second, is it now acceptable to come up with one good idea for a TV show, then slap a new name on it and make it another show? This is why I feel there should be a moratorium on new movies and television programs until someone comes up with a creative idea. I don't care how long it takes. Just give me a DVD of "The Wire" and I'm good.
Yeah, I'm in rare form today. I might need a nap.

Monday, September 21, 2009

From the "Just Kidding" Files ...

Hear ye, hear ye:
From Yahoo! Sports – BRUSSELS (AP)—Former top-ranked player Justine Henin will announce her return to competitive tennis Tuesday, according to two top Belgian newspapers.
La Derniere Heure and Le Soir reported the comeback Monday
Her spokeswoman did not return phone calls and Henin’s Web site had no comment on the rumors.
Last year, Henin shocked the tennis world by announcing her retirement while still ranked No. 1.
As recently as May, she complained that the sport had left her with so many physical ailments that a return was unthinkable.
Henin, a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, has begun training again, but has refused to comment on plans for a possible return over the past month.



Well, well, well. Looks like Justine couldn't let Kim all have all the glory. If true, this announcement is just more confirmation that anyone could take over at the top of women's tennis right now. Even the woman who left at the top, became a UNICEF spokeswoman and laid on the beach for about a year.
And again, if you're under 30, the word "retirement" should be stricken from your vocabulary. I get sick of my job sometimes, too . When that happens, I take a "vacation." Vay-CAT-shun. Learn it, Kim. Live it, Justine. Love it ... Steffi???
Intriguing. Discuss, everyone, discuss by all means ...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

U.S. Open: Kiss your mother with that mouth?

Watching the quite bizarre ending to the Serena Williams/Kim Clijsters match, I remembered Chris Rock's routine about O.J. Simpson where he says, "I'm not saying he should have killed her, but I understand."
I'm not saying Serena should have threatened to shove a tennis ball down someone's throat, but I understand. OK, line lady, you don't call a foot fault late in the second set in the semifinal of the U.S. Open unless it's obvious. No one in that stadium put down a hundred bucks for Ashe Stadium tickets to see the linespeople. Let the players play. Foot fault. From one of the best servers in women's tennis. Really?
Now, the aftermath: Dear lord, Serena. Now people actually did pay to see you play, not to go postal. I can understand being irritated enough to walk over and tell that woman, "Are you blind?" It's another thing entirely to say you'd kill her if you could. She goes back three times! Shut the hell up and get back to the match. And you have got to love Serena's denial about what she said at the end: "I never said I'd kill her!" No. You just said you'd shove a (censored) ball down her (censored) throat. Big difference. Right. It's like Jack Nicholson in "The Shining." "I'm not going to kill you, Wendy. I'm just going to bash your head in."
I also have to add this. Why do players get penalized for smashing racquets? It's a racquet! AAAnd, it's the player's racquet. Who's getting hurt by that? That's just one of the silliest rules in tennis.
Also silly (but a good silly) is the fact that Kim Clijsters takes about two years off from tennis, comes back about a month and a half ago and now is poised to win the U.S. Open. Now, she's shown she can still be good ol' streaky Kimmy (her scoreline against Venus: 6-0, 0-6, 6-4.) but she played a strong and smart match against Serena and would have probably won it even if Serena didn't get all ethnic out there. Please, please, please, Caroline Wosniacki, please give us a good woman's final on Sunday night.

Monday, September 07, 2009

U.S. Open: Ooo-ooh-ooh-Ou-DIN!

I have a new mission in life. I will not stop until I find a dress that looks good on Nadia Petrova. So far, I can rule out ruffles, poofy sleeves, balloon dresses and the color mauve.
Perhaps the color yellow. After all, she had Melanie Oudin in the corner and she simply wimped out. At the point where Petrova stopped playing aggressive tennis and began to let herself get pushed around by a kid, at that point in the match at 4-2, it was actually harder for her to lose that match than to win it.
OK, maybe Oudin had something to do with it. Besides Petrova, she's knocked out Elena Dementieva and Maria Sharapova, who probably was the main source of her own undoing. But how does Oudin do it? I'm asking. I don't know. It's like a movie script with this Oudin girl -- and it would finally be a tennis movie I would watch, by the way. I am, however, heartened by another successful vertically challenged woman such as myself. So far, no conspiracies for Oudin, so I can root for her guilt-free, though (unlike Justine Henin).
Yellow, yellow, yellow. Perhaps it should be a significant part of the Russian flag. There was Vera Zvonareva last night having a nervous breakdown and literally beating the hell out of herself during her match with Flavia Pennetta. (So, at what point does a player say to themselves: "You know, I'm wearing more bandages than clothing. Should I sit this one out? I mean, really.) I thought Zvonareva was past the meltdown stage. Clearly she is not.
Of course, Svetlana Kuznetsova also did a nice job at choking a match against Caroline Wozniacki. I don't have anything against Wozniacki, but really? Her? Wozniacki is not exactly a big hitter, but she's got a heckuva pair. Big props to her. Back to Sveta, though. Here's another classic case of having to work harder to lose than to win. With a game and athleticism like Kuznetsova's, she should have been right in the mix at every Slam for about four years now. But no. She only comes through when she's facing other nervous Russians in Slams.
Like our world No. 1 Dinara Safina. She is like the queen of freaking out on court. I almost feel like Safina wakes up in the morning freaking out. Not necessarily about tennis, either. Just freaking out in general. Anyway, it's like she showed up to the Open thinking waay too hard about what everyone thinks about her being No. 1. Who cares? And who cares about getting your match moved from the main court? (Yes, James Blake and Tommy Robredo are no Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, but neither is Safina v. Whoever-the-hell-she-let-beat-her. Sorry, girl. Fact is, just about any men's match will be higher quality than just about any women's match. It pains me to say that, but it's true.)
But, thanks to Oudin and Kim Clijsters, this women's tournament has got to be one of the best in recent memory. I just have a really bad feeling that Serena Williams is going to end up steamrolling somebody in 42 minutes in the final. Maybe it'll be Clijsters doing the steamrolling. Who knows? If it were Clijsters, I almost wouldn't mind it. Almost.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Open preview: Well, or not.

No U.S. Open preview this year. I can't. Princeton was a nightmare, and I can't even bring myself to do it. But I will listen to your picks while I recover. For the record, I'm thinking Dementieva and Murray. Eh.

Monday, August 17, 2009

LEAGUE WATCH: Oh, hello, New Jersey. How are you?

Right now, I'm sitting in the lobby of a Howard Johnson hotel at 8:44 a.m., blogging and watching the rain fall. Yeah, it's not supposed to be raining, but it is, and (I guess) sectionals will go on anyway.
While I'm waiting for my 11 a.m. start indoors, I suppose I have some time to catch LEAGUE WATCH up. When last we left, I was preparing for the playoffs. Which went well. I'll tell you about it.
Do you know what you get for winning your flight in the Allegheny Mountain District? You get an 8:30 a.m. start for your first playoff match. Hey, thanks. Where will I hang this?
Anyway, once again, I was awake at 6:30 in the morning to play tennis. And with not nearly enough sleep. (Ever know you have to wake up earlier and are so paranoid about it that you keep waking yourself up and when you do fall asleep, you dream that you overslept. Yeah.) I set up a coffee IV and left the house to hopefully kick some ass.
Of course, the rest of my team was there with bells on and we hit the courts to warm up. I'm spraying balls all over the place and I hit 20 serves before I got one of them in. Not exaggerating. Worst. Warmup. Ever. I was playing second doubles that morning and hitting with my partner, and she was being very cool, but I could tell she was terrified. Anyway, we hit the court and found a tough team awaiting us. Great. Couldn't wait 'til the second round, huh? Anyway, one definitely appeared to be stronger, with a flat and hard forehand and serve to match. The first warmup ball I hit to the other girl went to her backhand at the net and it went two courts over. Paydirt, I thought. So we picked up a 4-1 lead picking on that backhand and something bad happened. She got better at hitting it. Now both of them were playing well and getting EV-erything back. So a little nip here, a little tuck there, and before you know it, we're at 6-all. My partner and I ran away with it and on our way to start the second set, she said two words to me in a deadly serious tone: "No more." That is, no more games, no more mistakes -- it was time to assert our dominance. Her tone kind of scared me, and we went out to a 3-0 lead. At the next changeover, it was 3-2. Then they were up 4-2. My partner and I couldn't find a weakness anymore and we still weren't prepared for some of the shots that came back to us.
Manwhile, throughout our entire battle, I had been peeking up to see how the rest of the team was doing, but not to closely. Was a bit preoccupied. I knew we'd won our second singles match with ease and our third doubles match was wrapping up in our favor right next to us. We had just lost our first doubles and on first singles, they were locked in a tough second set.
When we switched sides, I looked up to where spectators would be and there were a couple of my teammates, giving me the thumbs-up and gushing. I returned the gesture. Hell, yeah, we can do it! And thanks for believing in us! What can I say? It was early. I had no idea what they were saying.
They did it again the next time we switched, and now we were down 5-6. I was locked in, and I looked up again and found surprisingly little team interest in our righteous struggle. But I did get the thumbs-up again, and this time, I realized we won the match! It didn't matter what happened in our match -- we were already through! Sweet!
But. I didn't really want to lose, and neither did my trusty partner. We did lose the second set 7-5, and ran up to take a break. I ran into supportive teammates and a hopeful future opponent -- my sister-in-law. She was playing in the opposite half of the draw and if her team advanced, I wanted to play her. I think I've gone over BallGate here in detail, but I was motivated. Plus, she was moving soon, and it would be my last chance to take her down. But, hey, still love her.
Back to the match. We were now joined by an umpire and we got started. It was more of the same. 2-all. 4-all. 6-all. 8-all. I thought it was about to be 10-all when I threw up a weak lob right at the net person. She dumped it into the net. Victory was ours!
Our team won, 4-1. We merely had to wait for our next opponents. We went to lunch to bask in our victory and returned to see the conclusion of the other half. My sister-in-law looked a lot better than I remembered out on court. She was poaching and forcing errors. Her partner? Eh. They were locked in a second-set tiebreaker against the other team from our division, a team (if this is possible) made up entirely of slicers. I don't think anyone on that team was capable of hitting with any topspin. Anyhow, my SIL double-faults twice in the tiebreaker and her team loses, which meant her team lost in the playoffs. Sigh. Maybe some other time ...
Well, at least our next opponents were familiar to us. We had won the last matchup against them, but I had lost a terrible singles match against some old dumpy lady I should have beaten. Speaking of, she was now my opponent in third doubles -- and half of the same team that had just beaten my sister-in-law. I had my same partner, and I was ready for some revenge. We had the perfect balance against this team -- I hit deep shots with plenty of topspin, and my partner had the cutting slice and aggressive net play. We beat them 6-1, 6-1 and notched one win for the good guys. Plus, no one beats Naf twice in a row. That's actually not true. At least that lady didn't!
As a result of our lengthy match earlier, we had set the next matches back, and so our second singles player wasn't even on court yet. The first singles match was a tussle, and our first singles team made it a valiant fight, but lost in straight sets. Soon the second dubs finished up with a win for us, which left us up 2-1 with one match being played and another yet to start. So, our second singles player began to freak out a bit, and we all began to watch the other singles match with much interest. They had split sets and were playing a back-and-forth tiebreaker. The umpire had joined them, as he did for all stupid tiebreakers. And it was sort of a good thing he was there.
At around 13-12 or something like that in favor of our girl, she served to her opponent. The receiver said in response, "I think that's out." Our teammate looked up to the umpire for confirmation, and he said, "That's good. Game, set, match." Whoa. Now, to this day, we still go back and forth as to if that ball was out. Half of us said yes, half said no. It didn't matter. We still screamed like idiots because WE WERE GOING TO PRINCETON!!! I did feel bad for the other girl, who stormed off. Later, the umpire would say that not only did he see the ball in, but admitted that the flimsiness of the call influenced his decision as well. If you're not sure, he said, it's in. Count that a lesson, league warriors.
We ended up winning our match 4-1, which leaves us here in rainy New Jersey. I'm about to start my second cup of coffee and head out to meet my team. We don't know what awaits us, as far as opponents or surface. I hope hope hope it's not har-tru. Yeah, I know it's good on the body.
Off to battle. Woo!

Monday, August 10, 2009

More evidence that women's tennis needs help

Right now, Kim Clijsters is three points from taking down Marion "Candy" Bartoli in Cincinnati in her first match back. Yes, you can be a female professional tennis player right now (and fresh off a tournament win) and still lose to a woman who just had a baby. Look, Chris Evert could get back into the top 20 right now. True story.
Seriously, it's great to see Kim back. Vote in the poll.

Friday, July 31, 2009

LEAGUE WATCH: "The worm has turned for you."

Lately, all my matches have followed a similar theme. I start out well in the first set, sometimes even winning it, then "take a personal set" and then - at just when I used to need to talk myself down - I think. At the tightest points I've been playing lately, and sometimes in the middle of a point, I just breathe. Then I do what I need to do by going back to the strategy and just making it happen.
I guess the best example of this was my team's last USTA match of the season. It was a pretty big deal. We win and we are in. As in, in the division playoffs. We get a spot in a four-team, one-day competition for a spot in Princeton for sectionals. We lose, and we're done for the season. So, although the team we were up against wasn't the toughest, the scenario might make a few racquets a bit heavier.
I had to admit to a few nerves, but I swear, every time I get nervous, I think of the last time I got nervous and choked away a match, and I toughen right up. I was back at singles, and my opponent was a solid-enough player, and really liked to crush balls midcourt. So, simple plan. Keep the ball deep.
I was feeling pretty comfortable at the beginning, and peeked down to check on everyone else. Down the line, all our teams were up. Yes! So I win the first set, 6-2, (amid my opponent's annoying "habit". Every time I had a sitter that was mine to put away, she would start squeaking her shoes, just as I was about to swing. "Oh, but Naf, she's just a noisy runner. Can't help that." Yeah, but she wasn't going anywhere! She's just standing in place, and obviously following this line of reasoning: "Well, damn it. I just messed up and gave her an easy ball, which was a mistake on my part. I've already effed up my shot, but if I try to distract her while she's hitting, it'll stop her from making the shot, and then I'll win the point anyway. It'd be nice if I could win on my skill, but since I can't, might as well use my sneakers. My, that IS annoying!")and checked in on my team again. Well, my teammate in singles had also won the first set, but was now down a break, and farther down, our first doubles team was struggling. Same with the third. But, the second dubs was looking solid. Anyway, I got back to business and built a modest lead. A few minutes later, our second doubles team walked off with a win. One down, two to go to win the match. Oop, one. Somehow, my teammate on the other singles court had turned it around and come back in the second set to win 6-4.
Back to it. I'm up in the second against Squeaky, and I look up to find our first court doubles were finished. But did they win? I looked up at the spectators from our team for a sign, and got nothing, so I kept playing. At the changeover, I was up 3-2, and I looked up at my team. They gave the thumbs-up. WOO! WE ARE IN!!
Which rendered my match meaningless. And I was fine with that. More than fine. I saw my teammates busting out the margarita bucket, and I wanted to stop! I was so relieved that my team had won that at the next changeover, I noticed that the score of my match was now 3-4. Don't ask me how, but now I was down in the second set and had put myself in an interesting spot. I wanted to hurry up and get off the court and celebrate, but now, I'd increased my chances of playing three sets. Sigh. Back to it.
It wasn't really that tough - keep the ball team, ignore the squeaking and run her all over the place. (Have you ever looked at your opponent in a match and seen a beet-red face and heavy breathing and thought: "Hell, yeah!") But here was the cool part: So, we're at deuce at 4-all, and we're both running back and forth during a point. In the middle of the point, I thought to myself, "Well, what's the hurry. Just take it easy and set up the point." And I did it - adjusted in the middle of a rally, and I stayed on course for a straight-set win. And a MARGARITA!
So, all told, we won the match, 5-0, which earned us a spot in the divisional playoffs on Sunday. As followers of League Watch know, that was not the road we started on as a team. We started out struggling, but steadied ourselves just in time and ran the tables. We went from middle of the pack to blasting our way into the playoffs. Sweet. But.
There are two open spots in our flight. One of the teams in our flight had gone undefeated for most of the season and all of us had just assumed they'd get the first spot. While we were making our push, the undefeated team lost their last two matches, which dropped them into a four-way tie for first place with us, among others. However, the next tiebreaker is matches won, and the previously undefeated team came up with the third-most matches, which cost them a spot in the playoffs. (Yeah, that'll leave a mark.) The team with the most matches won? That'd be us! Not only did come back from a slow start to make the playoffs, we finished first in our flight!
So that was unexpected. And awesome. You know what they say. It's not how you start, it's how you finish. We'll find out on Sunday how we finish, but I swear, I can smell Jersey from here. And believe me, I'd know that smell anywhere.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

LEAGUE WATCH: The final countdown!

In life, one has to visualize goals. It allegedly helps. So, one more time, with feeling, are my tennis goals for my USTA season:
1. To make it back to Princeton -- and to win maybe two matches this time.
2. To get moved up to the 4.0 level.
3. To win (the rest of) my matches and utterly dominate all my opponents.
I gotta admit, my last league loss is still staying with me -- but in a good way. It doesn't hurt as bad, but every time I find myself in a tight situation, I realize that it's more important to play my game than to win like a scaredy-cat. This has come in handy in the matches since my last team loss.
Quick recap:
Y-Not: Our next match was against the undefeated YMCA team. Again, I knew a lot of them from another weekday league. Basically, we needed this match. With two losses, we were down, but not out -- as long as we could get the rest of the field to come back to us a bit. So beating the Y was key. My captain made a key change to the regular lineup and moved me to line one doubles. I was relieved. In the winter, I'd been playing so much dubs, and I felt more comfortable there. I could tell you all about it, but I'm going to let my team captain, Lyn, do the honors:

"Bev and Nafari also won their first set pretty easily—6-3 and started their second set. Their opponents started playing much better and I moved away from their court when they were losing 4-1—this is way too painful for a Captain to sit and watch! I headed for the bathroom.
After three trips to the bathroom with diarrhea, Marla and Vicki were down 4-3 in their second set. Bev and Nafari were still losing 4-3. Wait . . . what is this???? Donna and Karol are shaking hands . . . . they won!!! 6-3! That means—we won too! We beat the Y!
One more trip to the bathroom and back to Bev’s and Nafari’s match.
I’m not sure how this happened but all of a sudden their score shows us winning 5-4! Is it possible we could beat the Y 4-1??? Yep, we could and soon Bev and Nafari were hugging on the court and jumping around."

Now, that was sweet. First, nice to get the monkey off the back and get a win. Second, nice to have someone on court with you to release some of that pressure. Third, I wasn't the reason our team sucked it anymore! That was also nice. And for the record, we went 5-0 in that win -- whitewashing an undefeated team AND saving our chances for playoffs.
Next up:
Mt. Lebo: Not one of the tough teams in our league, so the key here was not to drop any matches. I was back at first singles, and my opponent was one of my practice partners from back in the day. Here's how comfortable I was. I won the first set, 6-0, and the first game of the second set before my opponent decided she needed some more water. I accompanied her and before I knew it, we were shooting the breeze with everyone we ran into. We were gone for about 20 minutes. We resumed the match and I dropped three games on the way to another 5-0 win. So far, so good. Were we on a roll, or were we just lucky? Our next match would be a stern test.
The Hills are alive? The next team was usually right in the mix of our league division, but like us, they were struggling a bit this year. Still, our teams always had tough matches. Once again, I was back at first doubles, and as we walked to the court, my partner told me she had played our opponents a few days earlier and went three tough sets before they won. I decided to myself I wasn't going to go three sets with them. We didn't, and we won in two fairly easy sets. And for once, I was the first one to finish! Huge relief. Anyway, we dropped one match on the way to victory. Can't be sure, but it's almost a legitimate roll now. Meantime, looking at the league standings, we'd moved into third place, behind one last undefeated team and another with just one loss. We still needed some things to happen to break our way. It's certainly not ideal to not be in control of your own destiny, but if we did our part, anything could happen. Right? Ri-ight!
West Virginia! Road trip for my team, but I was taking the week off. Which actually is more nerve-wracking than playing when you, in theory, are still in the playoff hunt. I'm at Highland Park, playing with my homies, and wondering what happened. Why won't anyone e-mail me? Until I got a text from my teammate that said one thing: Johnstown lost! Let me help you -- Johnstown was the one-loss team we needed to catch. They lost! Which put us in a tie for second place, but our match wins gave us the edge in wins -- if we beat the West Virginia team, which we did. 5-0! Crazy! What's next?
Default: Anticlimatic, but our next team opponents defaulted the match, which gave us yet another 5-0 win. Aah, no one want to win with defaults. Do they?
So we want to play now. We've got one match left and it's coming up Sunday. Our last match won't be a pushover, but it's doable. The standings: We are in second place, solid. For now. The last undefeated team finally lost, but they're safe as long as they win. There are two slots for the division playoffs. We're in the driver's seat for one of them. All we have to do is win. It's been a crazy road, and it's not over yet, but isn't this why we're on the ride? For the journey? We hope it takes us to Princeton, or at least the division playoffs. But this is the fun part -- the suspense and the fact that it's in your hands. There are so many parts of life -- work, family, etc. -- when it's not in your hands. I guess that's what's great about sport -- the fact that it's all on you. If you fail, you have no one else to blame but yourself (which sucks). But if you succeed, man, is it sweet.
So. Back to those goals:
1. To make it back to Princeton -- and to win maybe two matches this time.
2. To get moved up to the 4.0 level.
3. To win (the rest of) my matches and utterly dominate all my opponents.
We shall see. We shall see.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

July 5, 2009: The Day Andy Roddick Became a Man

Everyone likes to say that Andy Roddick was unfortunate to play in an era with the likes of Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal. Without them, they say, Roddick could be the holder of multiple Slams. Maybe.
Maybe he should have been anyway. Let's be realistic: Had Roddick been working to vary his game in the days of Tarik Benhabiles, he could have already been able to throw in a U.S. Open, maybe an Australian, definitely a Wimbledon.
It took him a while to get on the bus, and get to work on his game, but he did it. And because he chose to get to work at this stage in his career, and chose not to be just another top 10 or 20 for the rest of his career, he deserves a reward.
Yesterday, he played well enough to get it, but still came up short. He finally played the kind of tennis in this tournament that everyone thought he could have been playing his whole career. What does he get for it?
Well, that's the interesting part. Roddick gets possibly the most painful loss of his career, but he also gets -- the most motivational loss of his career. Every champion -- Rod Laver, John MacEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer -- have had that loss that's just like a kick in the stomach. For all of those men, that loss propelled them to never feel that way again. It brings the champion out of them. (And don't tell me Federer wasn't thinking of a specific Wimbledon loss in the late stages of Sunday's final.) If there's still a major to be had for Roddick, this loss is the thing that brings it out of him. Losing that match could be the best thing for Roddick's career -- especially if he goes back to the practice courts determined to learn how to volley. Really, now, with a serve like Roddick's, how do you not follow that to net and win matches in about 35-40 minutes?? Anyway, losing Wimbledon the way he did might leave a mark now, but it'll put some (more) hair on his chest.
As for Federer, well, look. Sampras didn't show up to Wimbledon at the last minute to see Andy Roddick. Sampras knew he'd win, and for good reason. As long as Rafa Nadal's not on the other side, Federer's got that bad boy done. Federer's come a long way, hasn't he, from the man who was practically weeping on Nadal's shoulder in January. Now, he's back on top of the tennis world, is the best player ever if you use Grand Slams to gauge that sort of thing AND now is the holder of two majors this year. And most importantly, Federer has finally won a major without collapsing on the ground in tears.
In other Wimby news, Serena Williams is racking up the majors, isn't she? Must be nice to play an opponent who walks up to the net at the beginning of the second set with a covered dish in hand, gestures at you to move closer, then removes the lid to just gives you the match on a silver platter. Brilliant. So glad I got up early to watch Venus Williams implode when it counted, especially after playing such a nice tournament.
Sigh. I don't know what I expected from the women.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Big "W": What? No rain? and other observations

OK, I haven't been blogging, but I have been playing lots o' tennis! Which is better, right? (More on that coming up in "League Watch."
Oh, and watching a lot of tennis. So much tennis that I've been averaging about 45 minutes later to work trying to watch this. Moving on:
1. Ever seen a 347-pound woman wearing stretch pants? You wonder, "Why would you do that to yourself? You look like a (insert wildly hilarious comparison here)!" Consider, friends, the case of Nadia Petrova. What the EFF was she wearing to Wimbledon?? Here's the thing I'm sure she's not picked up on yet -- not everyone can wear everything. It's a matter of body type. There is a tennis outfit that looks good on her. There has to be, just because of the sheer volume of tennis clothes out there. Is it a burlap sack? Maybe. You don't just discount those options, Nadia. What you especially don't do is walk out of the house wearing something that looks like you're wearing feathers on your ass and that is randomly spewing ruffles. It doesn't matter how well you play, either. Everyone's just busy wondering why. Why, Nadia?
This is why Wimbledon might consider an adjustment to its clothing policy for players. Just because it's white doesn't mean you should wear it.
2. And then there's Dinara Safina. Two-parter: First, if you are losing the battle between tennis and chocolate, then you're gonna need a top that covers the battleground. Listen, girl, no one wants to see the flab. Cover it up, son! Second, until her match today with Venus, I was very impressed with Safina's play through the tournament. In that Lisicki match, as in countless recent others, I could see a glimpse of a Safina who had overcome and played through the jitters. You know, raising the level of her tennis when her back was against the wall, only to come out on top. And you begin to feel as though she could do it -- she could step up her game and get that Slam! And then she rolls over in big matches like my lab who just wants to be petted. It's a matter of time for sure, but it's sort of painful to watch sometimes.
3. Biggest surprise so far? Not Novak Djokovic getting handled by Tommy Haas (have I mentioned before how unfortunate it is that Haas never got his Slam?) or Jelena Jankovic losing to a 17-year-old American (OK, stop sentence! We all know how much of a drama queen Jankovic is -- mostly, it even offers a bit of amusement. But when you blame a loss on your "woman troubles"? That's not crossing the line. It's just pretending there was never one. Gross! No one wants to hear that! Even if it's true!! Yikes. Pop a Midol and call me in August.). It's Elena Dementieva taking Serena Williams to three tight sets using ... drumroll ... her serve! Not even the sneaky underhand serves! Real, well-placed, hard serves! First and second!! It's nice to see that finally, Dementieva is really developing a serve to go with the rest of her great game. To do it on grass should be a huge boon to her. Maybe she can get that major one day. She should be able to now. After all, she doesn't have to play against the likes of Anastasia Myskina.
4. Venus v. Serena: Venus. Easy.
5. And then there's Andy Roddick. Can he beat Andy Murray? Yes. Will he beat Andy Murray? Doubt it. I think the reason is simple. Murray is a well-rounded player who can absorb power, dole some out and has unbelievable touch. He also moves like a freakin' deer. Roddick is trying to become a well-rounded player who still can't volley. (Here at TWA, you have to earn your title of "Andy the Butcher.") Yes, it's Wimbledon and he can always Ivo-Karlovic his way through a draw, but not against a returner like Murray. And then there's this talk of pressure for Murray. And maybe it played a role against Stan Wawrinka. But it sure seems to me that he's embracing that pressure. Why else would you show up to Wimbledon wearing Fred Perry gear? So, I'm going with Murray and I think he's looking good. I would even give him an edge in the final, where he'd face ...
6. Roger Federer. Probably. OK, yes, for sure. In my heart, though, I want Haas to win. Is that really so wrong? Haas has been all over the place in his career, including near the very top of the game. He's always had such a beautiful game, and it's too bad injuries had to derail that. At the French, and here, he's shown he can still compete with the big boys. Here's hoping it lasts a while.
7. Is Djokovic becoming a head case? Vote in the poll.
8. Oh, and I almost forgot. James Blake out in the first round? Of one of Slams the Americans focus on instead of the French? Because it's more important? Sigh. Would it be wrong to suggest Blake needs another coach?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Big "W": The big preview

I am pretty depressed that Rafa Nadal is sitting out this Wimbledon, especially considering last year's epic. So the preview this time will be different. How? Well, I guess you'll just have to read on to find out ...

The men
The way it'll go down:
Quarterfinals: Andy Roddick v. Juan Martin del Potro, Andy Murray v. Fernando Gonzalez, Tommy Haas v. Novak Djokovic, JoJo Tsonga v. Roger Federer
Semifinals: del Potro v. Murray, Djokovic v. Federer
Final: Murray v. Federer
Winner: Murray ...?
Yeah, I'm off the charts! OK, first of all, I believe in Andy Murray. Kind of. I've listened to all my tennis buddies trash him for the last few days, and enough is enough. Yes, the British pressure to win Wimby just about killed Tim Henman, but Andy Murray is a more complete player than Tim Henman. However, he is playing in a time when men's tennis is unbelievably deep. But without Nadal, the top half is wide open. There is Andy Roddick, who flourishes at Wimbledon, but does he have the confidence of recent success against the big boys? Like del Potro? Like Murray? Del Potro would really have to alter his game, shorten those swings, improve that movement to be a force on grass. Murray's the best player left in the top half. The big question will be the pressure for Murray. In the bottom half, Fed is easily the most established there -- certainly on grass. Djokovic would have to show me something on grass in order to have any part of the second week of the draw.
Which leaves us with Murray and Federer as the last men standing. In such a (hypothetical for now) situation, both would be playing under a great deal of pressure. This is what I've come to, folks. I'm now trying to envision a final that could even approach last year's final. (Now, that's some pressure.) Once can only hope.
Come back, Rafa!

The ladies
Quarterfinals: Amelie Mauresmo v. Caroline Wozniakcki, Venus Williams v. Jelena Jankovic, Razzano v. Dementieva, Azarenka v. Serena Williams
Semifinals: Mauresmo v. Venus, Razzano v. Serena
Final: Venus v. Serena
Winner: Venus
Let's just start by saying here that there are some floaters out there. Maria Sharapova especially. She is still knocking off some rust, but she has a favorable draw, with Nadia Petrova and Azarenka looming. So those could go either way depending on the shoulder. Obviously, I favor Azarenka.
While I'm not willing to just give the title to Venus, really ... who's going to beat her? Jankovic? Grass is Venus' thing, but I have problems with fully endorsing her candidacy. I just don't get it -- how can you play aggressively on one surface, and the rest of the Slams, you don't look like the same person? Why wouldn't aggression work for Venus on any other surface, especially considering her serve? It's frustrating to me, but not quite enough to discount Venus. She's the hesitant favorite because anything can happen in the women's draw and because Dinara Safina is not yet ready to deal with Slam nerves.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

LEAGUE WATCH: Three reasons to hate tennis

Last Saturday, I found myself in a strange place during my team's league match.
Bed.
As per the predetermined schedule, I was sitting for the match, and to be honest, I didn't really mind at first. I couldn't remember the last time I'd started a league season with two straight losses. OK, I can. But one good year has spoiled me, and I expect nothing but the best from myself.
Plus, my second loss was a 6-2, 6-2 beatdown by an old lady who "sliced and diced me to death" -- her words. My words for that match probably involve some language not suitable for a family blog. I spent about an hour in that match running after balls and wondering why I wasn't the one standing in the middle of the court dictating play.
So I needed a week off. In that time, I had been playing more singles, doubles and improving my serve. I was feeling good going into yesterday's match.
What really sweetened the pot for this match was the opposing team -- most of my friends from my home court over at Highland Park. I had also been asked to join this team when it was established this year, but had already committed to my team. So there was a little friendly rivalry.
In warming up with my opponent, I was grateful for two things. First, I didn't know her. I can never play well against my friends. Second, she was hitting the ball. My first two matches were against lobbers (who, I feel, have a special cubbyhole in hell) and while her pace was a bit tough, I still felt it was a matchup I could handle. I felt as though my mind was engaged -- a major departure from my first match.
I jumped out to a 5-2 lead, and found myself getting really tight. My opponent, meanwhile, had taken to hitting lobs. High, arcing, baseline-kissing lobs. And, I, in my supreme idiocy, began lobbing back, pushing the ball around, hoping she'd start missing balls again. I dropped the next two games, but tried to talk myself down. "All you have to do is win this game," I told myself. "No pressure."
So.
In response to myself, I double faulted a couple times in my next service game and took the set to 5-all. Oh, and then I had to serve to get INTO A TIEBREAK FOR A SET IN WHICH I WAS UP 5-2. Oh, yes. That was also awesome.
OK, tiebreak. I build a 4-2 lead, and then make two unbelievably stupid mistakes, including an attempted drop-shot return at 4-3. Guess where that went. If you guessed the net, then you'd be right. And things got really tight after that. We switched sides at 6-6, and one point later, I was serving down 6-7. My second serve plopped right into the net.
To say I was a little, er, miffed, would be understating it. But as the second set began, a couple of my teammates were there to encourage me, telling me I was looking good and that it was all mine. It helped, as corny as it might sound. It also allowed me to relax enough to think about the debacle that had been the first set. I realized that the points toward the end had been far too short -- because I was ending them in errors. I felt I needed to keep the ball in play, go for winners inside the service line and use my burgeoning slice, which my opponent seemed to dump into the net. Speaking of the net, all my misses were landing there, and I encouraged myself to hit out, and if they were long, it was better than the net.
I made a special effort to move my feet (which always stop when I get nervous) and began to hit my shots. I waited for the ball to get to me and attacked the backhand side of my opponent, and put more on my serve. When the ball was short in the court, I moved in carefully and ran around my backhand to hit a better shot. The points were longer, but I was winning most of them, and the second set ended in my favor at 6-1.
The third set was more of the same. Until, that is, I went up 5-2. Now, at this point, there were two matches left -- my match and the other singles. All the doubles had ended, and our team had split 2-1. All we needed was one more match, and we would win. And we needed this win. We were 2-1 in overall standings, and although we have a playoff system, the goal is to keep the "L" column low. So, we needed this.
It's probably not the best thing that I was thinking all this while I was standing at the service line. I peeked over at the score in the other match, and we were up, but it was still close. My goal was to get all my serves in and to be careful. My opponent, meanwhile, hadn't hit a groundstroke since late in the second set, and was now opening her racquet face (the way you would to balance three balls on your racquet head) and pushing everything. Everything. She was remarkably good at this, keeping most balls deep and in corners. She wasn't missing much, except when she stumbled coming in or when she pushed one long. Anyway, I got anxious and went away from the plan. I went back to pushing with her, watching balls land short, but not pursing them because I was afraid I'd miss. And again, I found myself with a dwindling lead. 5-3. 5-4. 6-5. I lost every game. Meanwhile, the other singles match had ended, and I could tell my the cheers of the opposing them that it was all on me.
And I blinked.
One double-fault, a wayward forehand and a two-handed backhand volley that landed wide, and I was down 3-0. I got it to 4-2 with a running passing shot, but it was the last good contact I had with the ball. I tried to calm myself, convince myself to get back to the plan, when I stood to serve, down 3-6. I eased in a second serve and then hit a forehand while stumbling backwards. I knew it would be long.
Nearly three hours later, I had lost a match that I had multiple opportunities to win. And even now, it makes my stomach turn. This one's going to stay with me for some time, I think. I know why -- I've never thrown a match away before. Obviously, I've come out with my back to the wall and lost that. I've also been in real tussles with equal players, but never been unable to convert match points or match games when I had them. I felt I wasn't being outplayed -- my opponent played as scared as I did. If you have that many chances to win and come away with a loss, it's because of you. It's disappointing, because I had a great year last year, and thought I was past the yips. More painful is that I can visualize the points in hindsight where if I had done something else -- no drop shot return in the first set, not quitting on a point because I thought my shot was going out -- that would have made a huge difference. I choked, and that's hard to swallow.
So. It really sucked to have to write this. And as bad as I feel right now, I know the only thing that will make it go away is to play again, to win again. I have to get back on the horse. And there's no better way than to start at the beginning, with my goals for the season:
1. To make it back to Princeton -- and to win maybe two matches this time. (With this team loss, this one's almost completely out of our hands at this point -- everyone would need to lose twice for us to get back in the race. But ... you play to win the game, right, Herminator?)
2. To get moved up to the 4.0 level. (ri-ight)
3. To win (the rest of) my matches and utterly dominate all my opponents. (Stop laughing.)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

FO'09: Android malfunction!

OK, my mouth is still hanging open, so it's a good thing this is a blog.
It had to happen sometime, I guess. Nadal couldn't go undefeated at the French Open forever. But to have to lose to Robin Soderling? The same guy who openly mocked his wedgie issue at Wimbledon a couple years back? The guy who's going to lose in the next round?
This is really the worst part of the whole thing. You lose to the Fed, or to Djokovic (another disappointment -- what is the deal with Philip Kohlschrieber? I mean, this guy shows up to a Slam about once every five years) or even Andy Murray, and that's respectable. But such is life, no? The lesson here is clear: You have to beat all comers. Later, Rafa.
Now, this begs the question: Who wins the French Open? The obvious choice is Roger Federer. He has Tommy Haas next, then either Andy Roddick or GAEL MONFILS. I'm giving the slight edge there to Monfils. But even if Roddick won ... please. He ain't beating anyone good on clay. We're not quite that far into the alternate reality world yet. I think. In the top half, Andy Murray is looking really strong. And may I add that it's really nice to see Alex Corretja again? I've always been a fan and it was really smart of Murray to hire a successful clay court expert. Plus, he just seems like a nice guy. Back to the draw: The top half has fallen apart for Murray. It's just up to him to get past Fernando Gonzalez, and he's in the final. The real dogfights will happen in the bottom half, with Jo-Jo Tsonga and Juan Del Potro to do battle as well. It'll be interesting to see how this will unfold.
On to the women. Shockingly, Ana Ivanovic, defending FO champion, got her ass kicked by Victoria Azarenka. Meanwhile, Dinara Safina continues through the draw as though she has a hot date in 15. Next victim is Azarenka. Should be interesting. Over-under, people, on the games Azarenka gets? I say six.
Maria Sharapova is still around. I figured Na Li would take her shoulder out of its misery today. Should she advance, sure would be interesting to see what would happen against Safina.
In doubles, the Williams sisters lost to Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Nadia Petrova, and I just want to give BMS some props. She was the best player on the court! It's nice to see a team win in doubles on guile rather than brute strength. Not that there's anything wrong with brute strength.

Friday, May 29, 2009

FO'09: Hold that plane, James ...

6-0?
Really, Venus, Really?
Really?
Let's face it -- time is running out for Venus Williams to win the French or Australia. Losing today to Agnes Szavay (who ain't winning this tournament) 6-0, 6-4 (?) obviously is not encouraging. Getting pushed to three sets by Bethanie Mattek and Lucie Safarova isn't good, either. While it's good to know that she could win Wimbledon the day after waking up from a three-year coma if she had to, it's really time for her and her crew to figure out why she can't win a major in the first five months of the year. To me, Australia is the most perplexing. She actually is trying to play more tennis before that tournament, but no luck. I read an interview with her mother Oracene "Sideshow Bob Hair" Price in which she said Venus was focused at this point on winning those elusive Slams, which made me hope. Then I heard Richard Williams say she had a knee injury, and that made me realize that I actually hadn't been missing Richard Williams.
At least she beat Szavay in doubles. I've lost to the same person the same day in singles and doubles. Ain't fun.
Moving on, Maria Sharapova! OK, if there's anyone who would be forgiven for slinking out of an early round match, it'd be her. But for the third time, she pulled out a win in three today. This prompted my husband to note that Sharapova's will to win is stronger than anyone on the women's tour. Which made me look at him like he'd sprouted a second head. Hello? Serena?? Anyway, vote in the poll.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

FO'09: Oh, Lord, Marat.

I'm crushed over this. What's the point of coming back from two sets down just to lose in overtime? I don't know how ready Safin really is for retirement, but I'm ready for it. Grr.
The other thing I have to get off my chest is James Blake. That might not have come out right. All right, kids, heads out of the gutter. Seriously, so he loses in straight sets to someone who's never played in a major before! This guy he loses to, Mayer, doesn't even have a cool name like Maximo Gonzalez! No one's surprised to see Blake, or any other American, fall on their face in Paris. But what Blake had to say about it really was somewhat intriguing. In a bad way.
In case you missed it, Blake said the reason Americans don't do well at Roland Garros is because it isn't a priority. Apparently, they are more focused on their strengths -- the U.S. Open and Wimbledon.
Really. So ... when was the last time an American even sniffed an Open or Wimbledon trophy? Maybe in the locker room when Blake was passing Roger Federer. Ooh. I'll always think of Blake as an underachiever, but I've always respected him as an intelligent kind of guy. But to me, this goes down in the "Grass is for cows" comment from ol' crazy eyes Marat. Look, if you suck on clay and you don't know why, then just say that. Don't say that you and Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish don't care, and that you're warming up to lose in the quarters to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. Really disappointing from Blake.
I can't leave with all this anger. So, let's end on a good and sad note. Fabrice Santoro also lost today and has played his last French Open. Despite the fact he's never won a Slam and never will, Santoro is a class act. He's shown us that you don't have to bludgeon a ball to play high-quality tennis. Although, in retrospect, it was the heavy hitters who had him for lunch all the time. Regardless, fare thee well, Fabrice. I shall cheer for you.
There. That's better.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

FO’09: “A double bagel is fine. I had one last week. It’s nothing new.” – Rainer Schuettler

Well, I know one German who sounds like he’s already thinking retirement.
Moving on, the period of American domination of failure at the French Open continues, at least for the men. Serena Williams eked through in three sets today and right now, she and her sister are battling through their first round of doubles.
But back to the men. Down went Bobby Reynolds (Gael Monfils), Mardy Fish (Maximo Gonzalez (coolest name ever!)) and probably James Blake (some guy named Leonardo Mayer is two points from a straight-sets win). Really, we (Americans) have the discussion every year: How can we get better red clay results? I don’t really feel like theorizing about it this year. It’s exhausting. But if anyone has any ideas, I’m all keyboard.
Another notable match today was a battle of the has-beens: Jelena Dokic v. Karolina Sprem (who never quite did enough to fill up her 15 minutes of fame. She had, like, eight minutes, tops). Anyway, Dokic came through in three sets. Caroline Wozniacki polished off Vera Dushevina with surprising ease, considering she was down a set and a break halfway through the match yesterday.

Monday, May 25, 2009

FO'09: How do you say "Oh, snap!" in French?

Oh, those French.
I'm watching Marion Bartoli take on Pauline Parmentier right now. Every time the French comes back around, I am stunned by the production differences. For instance? A close-up of Parmentier wiping her chin with her wristband -- in slow motion. Are we watching tennis or a model shoot? For the French, I suppose there's no difference. Why limit yourself, right?
Anyway, a few minor upsets so far, mainly Amelie Mauresmo, who had been looking good this year. She lost to Anna-Lena Groenefeld, who herself is on a comeback trail from injury and coach drama. Normally, I get on the case of the not-so-fit player, but I get the feeling Groenefeld's heard it before from her peach of an ex-coach. (Oh, and, uh, way to go Meghann Shaughnessy. You scored.)
Flavia Pennetta just lost 6-1, 6-1 to Alexa Glatch. From America. Seriously.
And if you want an idea about the direction of Venus Williams' FO campaign, she had to go three with Bethanie Mattek-Sands (looking remarkably unremarkable -- no aluminum foil outfits or anything!). Yeah, it's just the first round, but other mid-roaders like Lucie Safarova and Agnes Szavay are looming in the next couple rounds. Just saying.
Maria Sharapova also won today. Still am not quite understanding why you'd make your first major tournament back from injury the French Open. Well, that shoulder'll get a workout, that's fo' sho'.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

FO'09: The men

So you're asking yourself: What's the point? Nadal's going to win anyway. Probably true. But what's interesting is what's happening in the No. 2-4 positions on clay this season. Yeah, Fed just got a win on Nadal in Madrid, but the real problem for Rafa is Djokovic right now. Put on your safety belts!

1. Rafael Nadal: OK, so let's pretend for a second that Nadal is human, and not the android that he is. If he were human, he might find Ivo Karlovic a problem in the third round. Or the "Hot Truth," Fernando Verdasco, in the quarters. In reality, he's on warmup mode until the semifinals.
2. Roger Federer: Roger's status as the second-best clay courter in town is in doubt, quite frankly. Does anyone else here think he's going to beat Novak Djokovic in the semis?
3. Andy Murray: Not so impressive this clay season. I could see him continuing that trend in the quarters.
4. Novak Djokovic: If Nadal were human, and not the android that he is, and therefore capable of losing this tournament, I would then conclude that Novak Djokovic would win the French Open. If.
5. Juan Martin Del Potro: Nice win against Murray in Madrid. But if anything, Del Potro is inconsistent. He should make the quarters, or he could lose to Jo-Jo Tsonga in the fourth round.
6. Andy Roddick: Andy did take a set off Fed on clay, so I have to give him at least half a prop. There it is.
7. Gilles Simon: Fernando Gonzalez in the quarters ... not good.
8. Fernando Verdasco: Can the Hot Truth repeat his Aussie Open run? Well, a clash in the quarters with Nadal will be a good test.
9. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: OK, I don't really think he can beat Del Potro. Now, Wimbledon ...?
10. Nikolay Davydenko: Not this year. I think he needs a few more matches under his belt. You know, like Maria Sharapova.

The way it'll go down:
Quarterfinals: Nadal v. Verdasco, Murray v. Gonzalez, Del Potro v. Djokovic, Roddick (only because Gael Monfils is not in top shape) v. Federer
Semifinals: Nadal v. Murray, Djokovic v. Federer
Final: Nadal v. Djokovic
Winner: Nadal

Friday, May 22, 2009

FO'09: The women

Don't you just love it when the Yahoo!Sports headline for the French Open preview reads: "Williams sisters could face each other in French final?" Yes, I suppose they could. So could the Bondarenko sisters. As could Daniela Hantuchova and Marion Bartoli. Let's not forget Maria Sharapova v. Victoria Azarenka. Because the Williams sisters are the only game in town anymore, right?
Aaanyway, ahem:

1. Dinara Safina: Lord knows. Yes, she has shown remarkable poise in her game through the clay season. And, yes, she made the final last year, and yes, she has been able to finish strong in finals. I gotta say this, though: Watching Safina take advantage of this on-court coaching makes me wonder if she's really able to figure things out on her own when things get tight. Geez, she calls this coach over every 15 minutes! Girl, they don't allow coaches in Grand Slam finals. Yet.
2. Serena Williams: Lord knows. It's hard to bet against the Serena, because she's got that X-factor -- the desire to win, which has propelled her through more matches than her form. And claims to be the real No. 1 aside, she's not been looking great due to injury. Will she be ready?
3. Venus Williams: Oh, Lord. This is the shakiest top 3 ever to enter a major, methinks. Especially when compared to the menfolk. She should have a nice draw, but it remains to be seen what she'll do with it.
4. Elena Dementieva: You know what Dementieva is like? The Energizer bunny. Keeps going, and going ... She's been around a while now, and if anyone has a shot at this title, it's her. I'd give her a good shot against Jelena Jankovic in the quarters.
5. Jelena Jankovic: Speaking of. I really like watching Jankovic play. Hopefully, the personal drama in her life can take a backseat to her climbing the rankings again. If she could get past Dementieva, she could definitely knock Serena off on clay in the semis. Svetlana Kuznetsova? Dunno.
6. Vera Zvonareva: Last minute withdrawal with injury, and I say Venus is lucky. She was going to be a problem in the quarters.
7. Svetlana Kuznetsova: I hate to say this, because Sveta's not dealt well with pressure, but she's looking good coming into this tournament. She split final matches with Safina, 1-1, in the last month. She's always had the game to do damage.
8. Ana Ivanovic: Ri-ight. OK, poll time, folks. Over-under on the rounds Ivanovic will last?
9. Victoria Azarenka: Yeah, I'd pick her over Ivanovic in the quarters. Is she ready for prime time ... the semis? I don't think so.
10. Caroline Wozniacki: Wozniacki is almost there. She just needs to grow up, that's all. She gave Safina a good tussle in Madrid, but also showed she's easily distracted. She's on the up-and-comer list. Emphasis on comer.

The way it'll go down:
Quarters: Safina v. Azarenka, Venus v. Petrova, Jankovic v. Dementieva, Kuznetsova v. S. Williams
Semis: Safina v. Venus, Jankovic v. Kuznetsova
Final: Safina v. Jankovic
Winner: Safina

Monday, May 11, 2009

"Cocaine. It's a helluva drug." -- Dave Chappelle playing Rick James

No kiddin’. Ask Richard Gasquet.
He’s been suspended by the ITF for a positive cocaine test and now can’t play in the French Open, which, in retrospect, might be the least of his problems.
It’s too early to know for sure if ol’ Richard likes the nose candy, but just the accusation can derail his career. I mean, Gasquet says he’s gathering evidence, but what kind of evidence is going to clear him? For the ITF to suspend him, the backup sample had to have tested positive, too.
Of course, he can try to attack the drug testing system. Good luck with that.
So far, Gasquet’s the most promising tennis athlete to test positive for coke. (Martina Hingis was on the down slope of a comeback.) Dude’s 22 years old. This is really not the best time for a possible two-year ban – the penalty if he’s found guilty at a hearing. Gasquet’s had his ups and downs in his career, but as he’s been showing with some solid play on clay, it’s not too late. Well, right now, it’s not too late. If he didn’t do it, let’s hope any mistakes are cleared up. If he did, writing an early obituary on a potentially great career is no one’s fault but your own.
Pittsburgh’s own Ben Roethlisberger almost learned the really hard way that when you’re a professional athlete – when you make money because of your fitness – you can’t do what everyone else does. I guess, in his own way, Marat Safin was trying to say the same thing. But his take on the Gasquet story is a bit perplexing at best.
“Everyone makes mistakes. I feel sorry for Gasquet. When you’re at a party, at a huge table full of people having fun, it’s absurd to have to watch what glass you’re drinking from,” Safin said (after losing to Jo-Jo Tsonga, BTW).
I’m the first to admit I don’t get invited to a lot of hifalutin’ parties with rich people, but is putting cocaine in your drink an acceptable practice? Is that “cool”? And even still, is that the best training regimen?
Maybe it is for the folks Safin hangs out with. It also might explain why he now stinks these days. Just sayin’.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Pick up pedicured foot. Insert in mouth.

Serena, Serena, Serena.
Had no time yesterday to post about Serena's comments about being the REAL number 1, dammit.
"Quite frankly, I'm the best in the world," she says. Shh, Serena, shhh...
Next day, she's thisclose to getting bageled in the third set by Patty Schnyder on her way to a second round beatdown in Rome.
The really bad part about this is that even though she just got her ass handed to her, she is still the best player in the world. Until someone, namely Dinara Safina, can prove that she's not.
Speaking of, did anyone catch what Safina had to say about Serena's comments?
"She’s also older than me, so she has more experience than me. So let’s see when I’m her age how many titles I’m going to have, and then we can say."
That's nice and sneaky-catty, just the way I would do it. I'm starting to like Safina.

Some quick hits:
-- Rafa Nadal won another tournament on clay. WHAT!??!
-- Roger Federer did not win a title on clay. In fact, Roger's not won much of anything lately. What on earth has happened to that forehand? Is this one of those Tiger Woods things, where he's got to retool his swing -- and look bad for a little bit -- in order to return to dominance? Or have we got some other issues going on? I'm not talking about Mirka, either, people!
-- Maria Sharapova isn't playing the next couple clay tournaments. I'm going to give her about ten more days before she pulls from the French.
-- The Williams sisters now want to play for the Fed Cup team in the final against Italy. Look, that's foul. Great -- just sit around for the early rounds and let the Bethanie Matteks and Alexa Glatches of the world do the heavy lifting, then decide to probably rob them of their chance to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Sounds perfectly fair to me. Yeah, I know. If you want to win, you gots to go Williams. But if I really cared about Fed Cup, which I do not, that would bother me.
-- James Blake lost to a qualifier in Rome. WHAT?!?
-- So, I was watching the Tennis Channel and there was a show about the top 10 chokes in pro tennis, and my boy, Guillermo Coria was just behind Jana Novotna at Wimbledon (y'know, crying on the dutchess' shoulder). It remembered of watching that French Open final, when I was sure Coria was going to beat the crap out of Gaston Gaudio. Personally, watching Coria lose that match, I remembered wondering how anyone could blow a match like that. Unfortunately, that's about the only memory tennis fans will have of Coria, who announced he was retiring this week. Man, I hope he finds redemption somewhere else in life. Later, G.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

LEAGUE WATCH: Ahhhh -- WIPEOUT!

It's springtime in Pittsburgh, which means two things: (1) The sky goes from gray to grayish and (2) That's right. League season, baby! It's on!
Those (OK, you, yogahz) following League Watch know that my team made it to the regionals last season. The Princeton experience wasn't much to write home about, but it has a lot to do with my goals for this season. I will list them here:
1. To make it back to Princeton -- and to win maybe two matches this time.
2. To get moved up to the 4.0 level.
3. To win all my matches and utterly dominate all my opponents.
So, modest goals. But, hey, I can do it, right?
Well, I woke up on Saturday morning at around 10 a.m., two hours before my match. You know that pre-match, jacked feeling you get? Well, I had nothin'. Which can be a good thing. Or a bad thing.
I was still pretty blah by the time I was warming up with my opponent. Now, as we know, warmups are very important. It's when you get a feel for your opponent's strengths and weaknesses, develop a strategy. Or if you're me, it's when you think about how effed up your week was. About the one-day seminar and the six hours you spent in a car in less than 24 hours to get there, about getting reamed out for not calling when you had a defective cell phone anyway, about coming back from a two-week vacation to face immediate deadline pressure and the fact that certain things that were supposed to be done while you were out of town were not done, about having to get a new car and cell phone fairly quickly, about spending nearly four hours in a hair salon for no really good reason watching Judge Judge and Days of Our Lives when I could have been at work, about spending 30 minutes on a phone with some guy yelling at me for something that happened while I was on vacation. About the time wasted on the way to the match on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Whoo. Didn't expect to go there.
Anyway, the match. I started out pretty listlessly, and found myself down 1-2. Then, as I was standing there between points, I realized something. I wanted to, right at that moment, walk off the court and go home. I did not feel like playing. I tried to get myself into the match, but even after hitting winners and retrieving nearly impossible balls, I couldn't get interested. I might have looked at the ball I hit about three times over that two-hour match. Even my opponent's sketchy calls couldn't piss me off enough to get in the match. (OK, I have to say this. People -- ladies -- if the ball lands on the line, it's in. We don't invent different rules for your dream world. In tennis, if you hit the ball OUTSIDE the line, the ball is out and out of play. If it's on the line or inside the line, it's in play. Either you try to play the ball or you walk to the other side of the court. You don't hit the ball into the net and then call it out in order to bail yourself out. (Wo)Man up and say, "Nice shot." Yes, that happened yesterday. A few times. And yet I couldn't get as mad about it as I'm getting right now.)
So, she wins the first set on a AA (accidental ace), 6-4, and I go to get some water from their vending machine. (So, a tennis club without water on the court. Nice. What, exactly, do these people pay for? The privilege to play in a building that also has no air conditioning?) I put a dollar into the machine and absently hit A1. Nothing comes out. I also don't get my dollar back. Son of a @#$^$#. Another dollar later, I have some water, finally. It's only on the way back home (an HOUR LATER) that I realized that the A1 slot was empty. I literally selected, and paid for nothing. Yeah, folks. That's where my head was.
Set two. We start out evenly, and I feel entirely no anxiety or pressure to rebound. That might have been why every groundstroke I tried to hit almost hit the wall without bouncing and why all my drop shots landed at the baseline. It didn't help that the strings in my main racquet broke in the first set, and I was using a backup that felt a bit heavier. I suppose I could have figured out how to keep those balls from sailing, but it just seemed like a process that would injure my brain. Even when I stood at the line to serve at 5-6 to get into a tiebreak, I didn't think it would happen, and it didn't. Strangely enough, my opponent walked up to me at the net and says, "Close match."
I thought, "Really. You think? If you hadn't screwed me on about a dozen calls, it might have been even closer. What are you, blind? Do you not understand the rules of tennis? I can't believe your teammates are sitting up there, cheering, when they watched you screw me on about thirty calls! You almost screwed me on a let cord when it landed right on the line! You said, "Too close to call!" The ball was traveling EXACTLY .001 MILE PER HOUR!! And you said it was TOO CLOSE TO CALL!!! I know a good eye doctor. I can get you his name if you need it. Maybe your teammates also need his number. I'll loan you my glasses next time if you want! I don't mind. I don't need them as much as you do. Even if the prescription's not right, it couldn't hurt you. Do you understand?!"
I said, "Nice match."
Yikes. A day later, I can't explain what happened to me. I'm a little afraid that it might be the dreaded "B" word -- burnout. I've never been unable to get stoked for a match. Even when I lose, I get dialed in enough to at least have a plan of attack -- even if it's wrong. As of this second, I have no idea what my opponent's weaknesses were. I'm hoping it's general life burnout, because if I don't enjoy tennis, what the hell am I supposed to do? Start a blog about macrame?
So, the goal list took a hit, but here's the great thing about our region: Playoff system! All we have to do is finish in the top two and we've still got a chance at Princeton. Easy, right?
Right. Ri-ight.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Musings from the beach

So, I’m on vacation in the Florida Keys, trying to ditch the hibernation weight for the upcoming league season when I notice that Serena Williams lost a match to someone ranked 95th in the world and Dinara Safina, she without a Slam, will be world No. 1 next week. There’s no Maria Sharapova in sight, and no one else in the top five has even sniffed a major, except spring chicken Venus Williams, who'll be 29 this year. And I’m getting ready for the leagues. Does anyone else think this would be a really good time to go pro in women’s tennis?
Anyway, some headlines since I’ve been gone:
1. Roger Federer gets married! OK, I hate starting out with gossip, but this is a big deal! Listen, Fed’s been pretty stubborn about not needing a coach, so who would’ve thunk he’d finally marry Mirka? Well, as someone celebrating her fourth wedding anniversary this week, I feel qualified to say: “Run, Roger, RUN!!!” Kidding. I guess.
The real question is how or if this will change Roger’s game. Because we all know that athletes are incapable of being married and successful at the same time, right? That’s silly. The issues keeping Roger from No. 1 have nothing to do with outside forces. It's that Spaniard ... and that Brit ... and that Serb.
Rumor also has it that Andy Roddick got married over the weekend. Aww. Let’s hope the wings of love will carry Andy to the second round of the French Open this year. But! getting married is a fine excuse to miss Roland Garros. Clever move, young Andrew.
2. Women’s tennis is still whack! This is getting hard to watch. It’s like walking into a bank to find the vaults have been cleaned out and the money left strewn on the ground – and that Jelena Jankovic, Safina, Ana Ivanovic, Elena Dementieva, Vera Zvonareva and the rest of the top 20 are just walking over it like it’s not there. Although congratulations are in order for Jankovic for winning Andalucia and mowing down top 1,000 competition ... and winning a tournament that sounds like a Disney movie. “Someday, my Slam will come ...”
3. WTA’s Larry Scott leaves! I’ve actually been meaning to get around to this one for a while. He’s moved on to some NCAA conference. He claims to have left because attempts to merge the men’s and women’s tours failed. I can see his point. Because the men’s tour is a well-oiled machine compared to the women’s tour. And when you're the CEO of the women's tour, and the tour sucks, then guess who's responsible for that? When you have the Williams sisters and Sharapova experiencing fame -- without the tour taking advantage of some of that, it's really your fault. Yeah, what's happening now is nothing to write home about, but it used to be, and the tour never benefitted from that. I say that's a failing of the PR machine. See you around, Larry. Thanks, anyway.
I'll be back in a week or so. Vacation calls.