Saturday, January 31, 2009

Random Aussie Ramblings, Vol. VIII: Post Script, part one

You know, when you see Serena Williams shouting like a pissed-off lioness, pumping her fist and with her big hoop earring looped over her ear instead of hanging neatly on her lobe, it makes you realize that you wouldn't really want to run into her in a dark alley. She reminds me of the wannabe gang members girls I knew in junior high who packed a plastic container of vaseline in their bookbags just in case someone looked at them wrong.
Also quite glad I didn't stay up until 3:30 a.m. to watch the Williams v. Dinara Safina final. I'm almost upset I got up at 9 to watch it. What a stinker -- really? 6-0, 6-3?? Anyway, Safina's movement, or lack thereof, really hurt her in this match. Up until now, Safina's gotten the edge because of her solid groundstrokes, and not because she's chasing everything down. The writing was on the wall early here, but at least Safina can take a lot of positives out of this tournament.
Moving on, I will be staying up for the Roger Federer v. Rafa Nadal match tonight (this morning?). First, some props to Fernando Verdasco for pushing Nadal to the limit in the semis. It's nice to see a journeyman finally tap that potential. I've said it before, but this is what's great about men's tennis right now. Everyone in the top 20 is dangerous. Here's hoping we see some more great tennis for The Hot Truth.
Back to the battle of the titans. I wouldn't even venture to guess who's going to come out on top, but the idea that Nadal will have trouble recovering from this tournament is a little ridiculous to me, even if it's coming from Nadal's own mouth. Dude is 22 years old and I again point out that he's pretty much a cyborg. He sleepwalked through the first five rounds of this tournament. One match, and he's tired? Are you kidding me?
As for Fed, he has recovered nicely from going the distance with Tomas Berdych earlier in the tournament, and against Andy Roddick in the semifinals, he was fairly frightening. A lot is being made of this match being the first Grand Slam final against Nadal on hard courts, and Fed has a 3-2 edge on the surface. However, it has been more than a year since Fed last beat Nadal on anything. In that time, Nadal's been able to expose Federer's backhand, and Fed's been unable to settle on a match-long strategy. But it's a new year and a new major. The real question is "What can you snack on at 4 a.m. during an instant-classic match?"

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Random Aussie Ramblings, Vol. VII: More guesses that are just going to be wrong

OK, that's what's great about Serena Williams, right? Love her or not so much, only very special athletes can summon their best game when they're on the verge of losing. Her win over Svetlana Kuznetsova was phenomenal. Yes, she might have gotten an assist from Aussie Open organizers, who opted to close the stadium roof after the first set, but she still was down 5-3 in the second set. Then she started hitting the ball. Really, what was she doing in the first couple sets? It was like she didn't want to break a nail. Anyway, she recovered from that dire concern to lay the smackdown on Kuznetsova, who, unfortunately, has to wonder again what happened to her in a high-stakes match. She can't just blame the closing of the roof. Just as Serena grabbed victory from defeat, she's got to believe she was just as capable of sticking one more volley. She definitely let Serena off the ropes.

Anyway, a few semifinals coming to a court near you (if you live in Australia):
Elena Dementieva v. Serena Williams: Still not ready to give Dementieva her props, and after watching Serena yesterday, not utterly convinced that she'll beat Dementieva, either. Maybe Dementieva's finally ready for her Grand Slam close up. If it gets tight, and it comes down to someone getting free points on the serve, well, I guess we all know Dementieva's not winning that battle. I'm hesitantly going with Serena in three.
Vera Zvonareva v. Dinara Safina: Too close to call. This is a huge moment for both these players. Safina's been to a major final before, but she is really playing with conviction now. For Zvonareva, this is the best she's ever done in a Slam, and it's hard to tell how a player will respond to that. I just hope they don't revert to their former selves at the same time on court. Could you imagine? Safina's over there smashing hell out of her racquet and Zvonareva's on the other side having a nervous breakdown. Here's hoping nerves don't get in the way of what could be a great match.
Andy Roddick v. Roger Federer: Federer in straight sets. I'm not drinking the Andy Roddick Kool-Aid. I don't care how much weight he's lost. OK, I do. Very impressive rededication to fitness, blah, blah, blah.
He needs to learn how to volley, and really make that serve work for him.

On a non-AO note, the U.S. Fed Cup roster was announced and the Williams sisters are absent. Scheduling conflicts or the skirmish between the USTA and Zina Garrison? Inquiring minds ...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Random Aussie Ramblings, Vol. VI: Is it hot in here or is it me?

Today's TWA post is brought to you by the number 95, as in the on-court temperature that sucked the game right out of Novak Djokovic. He eked out a tiebreaker win against Andy Roddick, but couldn't hang for much longer after that. Post-match, Djokovic complained about having a couple of late matches, then an early one, which threw off his preparation for this match. Normally, the schedule goes like this: Ladies first. And it just figures that men would have an issue with that. Geez. Seriously, though, he raises a good point. Why not balance out late matches among all players? Never mind, really, how the players feel about it, but if messed-up scheduling leads to lopsided late-round matches, then spectators don't get the best matchups, either. And isn't it really all about us?

The weather sure has turned out to be the third man in Australia. I wonder, though, are players not as fit as they should be, or is it just too darned hot in January out there?

And, AND! Did anyone catch the women's doubles match between Cara Black and Liezel Huber and Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama? What a match! Who doesn't love Ai Sugiyama? Or at least saying Ai Sugiyama?

On tap for today:
Carla Suarez Navarro v. Elena Dementieva: I'm just not ready to jump on the Dementieva bandwagon. Everyone's all, "She's won 14 straight matches. She's a threat." She sure seems to be on a roll, true enough, but so does Suarez Navarro. She's followed up her win over Venus Williams with a trip to the quarters, so who knows? Plus, I'm still waiting for Dementieva's serve to fail her yet again. At some point, she's going to encounter someone who can attack it. So ... I'm going with Dementieva in straights.
Svetlana Kuznetsova v. Serena Williams: Serena. Straights. Let's move on.
Fernando Verdasco v. Jo-Jo Tsonga: Curious matchup, and exactly what I expected in this part of the draw. Uh-huh. It's hard to pick against Tsonga, and I won't do it here, although if the excessive heat continues, it would probably hurt him more than Verdasco. Otherwise, it's hard to beat the kitchen sink when it comes at you with every shot. I think Tsonga's going to cruise.
Rafa Nadal v. Gilles Simon: Nadal. Simon is crafty and patient, but Nadal has the best form of anyone left. He's smacking winners around like the ball stole something from him. Maybe Simon grabs a set. Maybe.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A quarterfinal for your thoughts?

Boy, these are exactly as I called 'em!

Marion Bartoli v. Vera Zvonareva: I might have to stop calling Bartoli "Candy". She looks to have slimmed down a touch, and she's in the quarterfinals of a major again. After she beat the fuzz off the balls against Jelena Jankovic, it's pretty clear that when she's on, she's on. But Zvonareva has been very solid lately. I think this'll be a tight one, but Zvonareva will come out of top. It's about time to her to make a move in a major.
Andy Roddick v. Novak Djokovic: OK, Djokovic did not look very impressive against Marcos Baghdatis. Or Amer Delic. And Andy Roddick has been firing on all cylinders at this tournament. I can't see Djokovic getting aced off a court, though, and that's all Roddick's really got. Novak in four.
Dinara Safina v. Jelena Dokic: This match should be really entertaining. Basically, it's the collision of two really good stories this tournament. It looks like Safina is really maturing these days -- digging deep when she falls behind instead of going all Marat on her racquet. And Dokic, now baggage free, is collecting her own little collection of scalps. I don't even want to call this one, because if I did, I'd have to favor Safina, and what kind of heart would I have to do something like that?
Juan Martin del Potro v. Roger Federer: Look, after watching "Houdini" Federer get out from under Tomas Berdych the other day, I can't see him losing to anyone except the big 3 (or 4. Whichever.). Del Potro's been starting his matches slowly this tournament, and he should really not try that here. Friendly suggestion. Fed in straights.

Random Aussie Ramblings, Vol V: Shame on me ...

It's quickly becoming clear that being a favorite at the Australian Open will mean nothing. Whoever wins the Open this year will be the last man standing (possibly literally).
It won't be Andy Murray, who lost in five sets to Fernando Verdasco. I swear, I fell asleep last night with Murray up a break in the third set. What happened after that? Anyone? Well, I guess I'll see it in the replay, but I did suspect that Verdasco would be a bit dangerous with that Davis Cup win under his belt. As for Murray, it's back to square one trying to convince Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic to take him seriously. And me too, dammit. Once again, I pick Murray to make noise in a Slam, and he comes through -- but it's a whimper.
Gael Monfils won't be the last one standing, either. He managed to win the second set against fellow Frenchie Gilles Simon, before he was waylaid by injury. It seems like it's always something with Monfils. Isn't Roger Rasheed supposed to be a fitness trainer? So what's he getting paid for, to offer unsolicited commentary on the fitness of the women on tour? He might want to focus on the job at hand, and get his charge deep into the second week of a major.
How-EVAH, I am really starting to dig Simon's game. I have never seen this guy overswing at a ball. He just absorbs power, then waits patiently to whack his own winners. He showed how dangerous he is at the end of last season, and he'll get a chance to beat Rafa Nadal, this time in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam.
Who, by the way, might be a cyborg. He's tearing through the draw like he's going to be late for dinner. Unforced errors against Fernando Gonzalez: 11. Which is just pathetic compared to the eight he had in the previous round. And then only 33 winners. That's +22, people. But this is where the draw's going to get really tough for Nadal. First Simon, then probably Jo-Jo Tsonga, and most likely either Djokovic or Federer in the final. If he can beat them around the court, then it'll be official: He's a cyborg.
Decidely not a cyborg is Serena Williams, who was up against the ropes until Victoria Azarenka had to stop due to illness. For Serena, it must be nice to get through, but really, she was getting outhit and looked really sloppy in the fourth round. Next up: Svetlana Kuznetsova. This could be a really ugly match, or a really good one.
Quarterfinal previews comin' up!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Random Aussie Ramblings, Vol IV: Reason No. 172 that Rafa should NOT be a wrestler

How about Richard Gasquet losing a heartbreaker in five sets to Fernando Gonzalez? Pretty nice match for week one of a Slam. But did anyone notice that Chilean fans appeared to have started a fire in the stands at the end of the match? They apparently set off flares. Seriously. I know I said tennis could use some more active fans, but I wasn't talking about setting the joint on fire.
Despite the loss, Gasquet really showed something aside quite different from the shaky mentality he had last season at Davis Cup. He had a match point in the third set, lost it, and then played a hell of a fifth set before he simply blinked. Here's hoping he doesn't lose massive amounts of confidence from this. Gonzo just beat him, and he fought well. Besides, if you're Gasquet, your consolation is that you know you left Gonzo with very little in the reserves for ... wait for it ... Rafa Nadal.
One of the horrid commentators on the Tennis Channel made an, um, interesting observation against Nadal while he was dismantling Tommy Haas (who really deserved, with his game, to be No. 1 in the world at some point in his career): "Y'know, Nadal should have been a wrestler. You just sense that he's grappling with you the whole time." Nadal does draw every ounce of energy from his opponents, but no, he should not be a wrestler. Why?
1. Nadal with cauliflower ear is not a Nadal I would like to watch.
2. No time to pick out wedgies as a wrestler. Clearly.
3. Onesies.
4. Nadal is actually beating the crap out of people. Triple H is faking it. Seriously. (And what are the triple h's? If one of them is Harold, ...)
Regardless. Nadal made 8 unforced errors for the entire match. Are you kidding me? The big four (and there are four now) are playing like demons, and they're on a collision course. Whew.
On the women's side, I just watched Marion Bartoli beat Jelena Jankovic in straight sets. Bartoli played great, no question, but if you're Jankovic and watching the tape later, you'd have to ask yourself why you didn't make Bartoli run up and back with crosscourt angles. It was a clear weakness that begged to be exposed. Basically, the top draw is now led by Dinara Safina, which means that anyone can come through. I'm officially intrigued by the women's draw now. There. I said it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Random Aussie Ramblings, Vol. III: What is this now, soccer?

... I've never been able to understand why people choose sporting events to make political statements. And why they'd think that throwing chairs and injuring innocent people proves you're right. Ethnic tensions between Bosnians and Serbians came to a boil on Day 5, with morons -- er, spectators -- throwing chairs at each other and knocking some woman unconscious. There's not a lot more to say about this, except that the days of the streaker are sorely missed ...

... except on the doubles court, where a guy showed up on court half-naked during the Williams sisters match. Considering the alternative, bring it on, I guess ...

Ana Ivanovic bowed out to Alisa Kleybanova in the third round. Kleybanova's a nice player and played a great match, but it's hard to win a match when you give up 50 unforced errors. And can anyone name one man in the top 100 who is so obviously not fit, because I can name about 10 women, and that ain't right.

Marat Safin indicated that this will be his last year on tour in his post-match conference. For those of us who could just break a tooth over that eye candy that is Safin, it's a sad day. As a tennis fan, though, it's about time, methinks. It's really sad to watch someone so naturally gifted lose matches for no really good reason and manage to lower his level to that of journeyman. If, as he says, he's no longer happy playing tennis, then that's that. At the conference, though, he was asked if he knows what he'll do next. His answer: "Yeah, but I'll keep it to myself for the moment. I would love to do that. I'm ready."
So, inquiring minds want to know: What's Safin's next move? Actor? Model? Wrestler? (Heaven forbid.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Random Aussie Ramblings, Vol. II: Yikes, Venus. Yikes.

There's always one alternate reality day at a Grand Slam, and Day 4 might have been the one. Amelie Mauresmo went three rounds with Elena Baltacha (huh?), Serena Williams struggled with Gisela Dulko (wha?) and Venus Williams lost in three sets to Carla Suarez Navarro.
Now, Suarez Navarro is no Julie Coin, who upset Ana Ivanovic at the U.S. Open last year and will probably do nothing else. She's drawn a lot of comparison to Justine Henin in the last year or so, but Venus is her biggest scalp yet.
As far as Venus, it's a disappointment, but it was also a close match against someone who played their butt off. It's not like she threw in one of her classic 72-error/12 winner matches. Regardless, she could learn a lesson from little sister Serena, who found herself in a bit of a dogfight finishing out her second-round match. Serena was spraying errors all over creation, but found a way to come back.
Venus is running out of time to prove that she can start a season strong. She even played some exos this year to get ready, so she had matches. Maybe she'll have better luck at the Aussie Open if it's ever moved back in the calendar year.

Moving on, Roger Rasheed, Gael Monfils' coach is catching some heat for calling out some female players on their lack of fitness. I, for one, am appalled. Because folks like Casey Dellacqua, Kaia Kanepi, Baltacha, and Marion Bartoli don't deserve to be called out for looking more like spectators than competitive athletes. I, for one, would never call someone "Candy" Bartoli or tell people to pass on a snack for a change.
OK, it might be hard to hear from a man. That's understandable. But the man is right. If you're an editor, you always have a dictonary. If you're a plumber, you always have a plunger. If you're an athlete, you always have a fit body. That's your tool, and to show up on a court looking dumpy, it signals a lack of full commitment. It's certainly an athlete's prerogative not to be as fit, to surrender to the Snickers urgings, but you'd absolutely deserve to be called out about that.

Jo-Jo Tsonga just limped away from a 3 hour and 25 minute match against Ivan Ljubicic in the second round. Get the popcorn ready for that replay ...

And then there's Andy Murray. Novak Djokovic joined Roger Federer in saying that Murray shouldn't be a favorite at the tournament, despite the fact that he beat Federer and Rafa Nadal before it started. Yeah. Whatever. Anyway, it's Murray's comment to Djokovic and Federer that is cracking me up.
“They say there’s a lot of pressure on them, but then (when) people aren’t saying they’re the favorites, they want to be the favorites. Therefore, by saying they’re the favorites, they’re putting more pressure back on themselves.”
Uhmmm ... what?'

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Random Aussie Ramblings: Back in the big leagues?

By far, the big story so far at the Australian Open has got to be Jelena Dokic. Yes, she screwed up my draw a bit, but what a story! At the risk of going all Afterschool-Special here, it really is unfortunate that a father could take total advantage of his kid's talent and status to completely derail her career and make her hate the thing she should love doing. But big props to Jelena. For her to win her first round match against Tamira Paszek, who's an up-and-comer, is a bit more than what most would have expected (which would be nothing). To follow that up with beating Anna Chakvetadze is just cake. It would be great to see Dokic have another semifinal run, to overcome all the family angst to start over and be rewarded. Next up for her is Caroline Wozniacki. Should be interesting ...

The magician strikes again: First Phil Kohlschreiber beats Sam Querrey. Then Fabrice Santoro beats Kohlschreiber. The old man's still got it, I guess. He's going to need some more of "it" for his next match, against Andy Roddick. Last time those two played, I seem to remember Santoro nearly in tears because he thought Roddick was trying to kill him with his hard serves. Well, two rounds ain't bad ...

Oh, yeah, and David Nalbandian. You know, being a fan of Nalbandian is like being a woman with a boyfriend who keeps acting up, and you swear him off. Then he comes back with flowers and promises to do better, and you take him back. He cleans up after himself, stops flirting, wins a couple tournaments, whatever. Then he's back to his old loser self, and the cycle begins ... again and again and again. Sheesh. Would it kill Nalbandian to show some consistency?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Aussie Open preview

Let's do this!

1. Rafael Nadal: Very suspect preparation for this tournament (three matches), especially considering that he ended '08 with an injury. The draw won't be altogether helpful if he's feeling any rust. There's Dmitry Tursunov, Richard Gasquet -- and the guy who just beat Nadal a week or so ago, Gael Monfils. However, Nadal is basically awesome. There is that factor.
2. Roger Federer: Here's something I didn't know: Apparently, having previously been world No. 1 gives you the ability the determine who can win a major. Federer seems amazed that anyone would pick Andy Murray as the favorite. There seems some hesitance on his part to let Murray into the club. Could he be a bit touchy about his own tenuous membership of that club?
Federer, of course, is always a strong competitor. He saved his season last year by winning the U.S. Open, but he comes to Australia still with a lot to prove. He mainly needs to prove he can hang with everyone else in the club. The ones will full privileges, that is. Such as Novak Djokovic, who he might face in the semifinals. If he's not careful, Fed's going to have to count all the way to three to get to his ranking come French Open time. (Which would be just what he needs for that tournament.)
3. Novak Djokovic: The reigning champion seems to have been rewarded with a sweet draw. Looks like the second best player in his quarter would be David Nalbandian. To defend his title, though, he'd probably have to beat Federer in the semifinals. As we discussed, Fed might have a slight chip on his shoulder. Plus, no mono.
4. Andy Murray: I wish Murray would lose again in the first round of this tournament. Because that would mean you'd have to lose to Andrei Pavel. Pavel's no slouch, but he's not really Jo-Jo Tsonga, either. It'd be hard for Murray not to find some confidence in his 2008, even though it took some time for him to warm up.
You know, George W. Bush once said, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice ... eh, heh, heh ... y'can't fool me twice!" Wise words indeed. I only mention this because I chose Murray to make the semis last year, and this year, I've gone a bit further. Read on.
5. Jo-Jo Tsonga: Tsonga might return to the site of his coming-out party with confidence, but his draw wouldn't be an easy one. He could meet Murray in the quarters this time. Or he might not show up. Looks like he's tweaked his back and is unsure about playing. It'd be a shame if he couldn't compete.
6. Gilles Simon: Is that right? Ranked sixth at a Slam?? Seriously, Simon's got a great game. He's like a backboard for the most part, but he has the ability to change the direction and add some pace. He deserves his ranking, but he sure doesn't deserve having to play consistent wild card Ivo Karlovic in the third round. Or Monfils in the fourth round. Or Nadal in the quarters. Crikey.
7. Andy Roddick: God bless Andy Roddick for keeping the hope alive, but this is about where he belongs in the rankings right now. This might actually be a bit kind. After all, if Nikolay Davydenko were here (out with injury), he'd be eighth. Whatever. In filling out the draw, I hesitated when I got to Roddick v. Querrey. And again with Roddick v. Nalbandian. In a nutshell, I'm not holding out much hope for Roddick to meet Djokovic in the quarterfinals.
8. Juan Martin del Potro: Del Potro was on a roll last summer, and even into the fall, where he was widely expected to take Argentina past Spain. We all know by now that didn't work out. It'll be interesting to see if he can get back on the horse. A rematch with Feliciano Lopez in the third round might be the motivation he needs.
9. James Blake: Ernests Gulbis in round three. This would be a good time for Blake to beat Gulbis for the first time, and I suppose anything could happen. Sure. James Blake could win the Australian Open. And Andy Roddick could win the French. I could quit my job to become the tooth fairy. See where I'm going here?
10. David Nalbandian: Well, it's only January, so it's hard to know what to expect from Nalbandian. Doesn't seem like he really gets going until somewhere around September (after the Open), but if he was on his game, he could handle his draw until Djokovic in the quarters.

The stragglers:
Gael Monfils (12): Nice win against Nadal this month. Make it happen in a major.
The Fernandos (13 and 14): Pretty boy Lopez and F. Verdasco should still be riding high after their Davis Cup win. Lopez in particular was impressive then, coming up with the big win against del Potro and in doubles. Verdasco, who is not exactly known for his consistency, finished off Jose Acasuso. Who knows?
Marat Safin (26): For old times sake. And because he allegedly shows up to a tournament with his pretty face bruised from a fight. Sounds like a hell of a story to bring to a tournament, but not really boding well for someone already talking retirement. Will he make it to Wimbledon? The French? Yeah, if someone doesn't piss him off, I guess.

I can't believe they're still seeded!
Rainer Schuettler (30): Kicking it old school. Emphasis on old.

First round matches to watch:
Lleyton Hewitt v. Fernando Gonzalez: Here's my question: What good is it to be a home boy like Hewitt only to get a draw like this? Good luck, Lleyton.

The way it'll go down:
Quarterfinals: Nadal v. Monfils, Murray v. Gulbis, Nalbandian v. Djokovic and del Potro v. Federer
Semifinals: Nadal v. Murray, Djokovic v. Federer
Final: Murray v. Djokovic
He is the champion, my friend!: Andy Murray. Prize money should be just enough for those braces.

1. Jelena Jankovic: I've decided that Jankovic deserves to be number one -- in a way. She's played more than the other top contenders, and manages to stay fairly consistent. Realistically, though, if she wants a Slam and wants to stay numero uno, she's gonna have to ease off on that frenetic schedule.
As far as that other, small matter of winning her first major title, Jankovic can work with this draw. Nathalie Dechy and "Candy" Bartoli will be good warmup matches. The quarters could bring Vera Zvonareva and Dinara Safina in the semis.
2. Serena Williams: Well, we all know Serena's general policy about dominance -- "Never say No. 2!" Unless she's adressing a baby. Along with wanting to be No. 1, she also has what looks to be an easy draw .... that could suddenly become a brick wall in the form of her sister.
3. Dinara Safina: Here's one thing that can happen that will automatically make women's tennis more interesting. Dinara Safina could start to believe in herself. Last year, it was understandable that she blinked in the French finals. And in the U.S. Open semis. 6-3, 6-2 in a semifinal of a Grand Slam? Blinked. More like trying to play tennis with your hands around your throat.
Regardless, it'd sure be nice to see Safina live up to her potential. She certainly has the ability to advance to the semifinals and beat Jankovic. But will she?
4. Elena Dementieva: For all the jokes made here at TWA at Dementieva's expense, let's show some appreciation (so we can get back to the slow-serve jokes) for how she makes the most of what she has. Not that she doesn't have a lot. Some of the most solid groundstrokes in women's tennis, and the ability to make things tough for those in the top 10, regardless of where she's ranked. She could face Venus Williams in the quarters, and give her a tough match. And if she loses, at least we'll all have her post-match conference to look forward to, where she waxes philosphically about the Williams sisters fixing their face-offs.
5. Ana Ivanovic: Toss-up. After winning the French last year, she was waylaid by a thumb injury, which appeared to wreck her confidence. She managed to win a title at the end of the season to end on a positive-ish note. Having said that, she could draw Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round. That'd be the same Wozniacki (is there another one?) who almost beat Serena Williams last week. Then maybe Safina in the quarters, and Jankovic in the semis. It just depends on the state of her game.
6. Venus Williams: I'm not really a morning person. I start really waking up starting at around noon. By three, four o'clock, I'm on fire. You sort of get the same idea about Venus in the scope of the yearlong schedule. She generally poops out in the early tournaments of the year, but by Wimbledon, she's kickin' butt. She did end the '08 season on a roll, and it could help her that the offseason's only about 18 minutes. She should be able to take advantage in a draw that includes Flavia Pennetta, Patty Schnyder and Dementieva. Looming in the semifinals would be her very own sister, and their latest matches have been hard-fought, high-quality battles.
7. Vera Zvonareva: So, the last time anyone questioned whether Zvonareva belonged in the top 10, it was the year-end championships in November. She beat everyone there except Venus. Lesson: Don't mess with VERA! Anyway, she's the player with the hottest streak in her quarter of the draw. She's taken down some big names at majors, including Venus in '03. But if she doesn't want to be discounted again, she might want to update that Slam resume.
8. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Yikes. How can someone like Kuznetsova have so much game with such an unsteady hand? To be fair, a lot of people would have been glad to have had the year she had in '08 -- fairly consistent appearances in late stages in tournaments, but with no titles. But those people probably don't have her bag of tricks, either. Being in the same quarter with Aggie Radwanska and Serena Willliams isn't really going to help her confidence problems.
9. Aggie Radwanska: I believe this is only Radwanska's second appearance in the top 10 for a major, and she's been rewarded nicely for it. The biggest obstacle for her (before the quarters) is the aforementioned Kuznetsova. Her issue is that she can easily overpowered, so basically, to win a major, she needs some face time with a hamburger.
10. Nadia Petrova: With Petrova, I always wonder 'What if?' What if she hadn't gotten injured before the French Open in 2005, where she was the huge favorite going in? Would she have gotten her first major and run with that confidence for years? Well, all we know now is she'll have a heck of a time getting past Zvonareva in the fourth round.

The stragglers:
None worth mentioning. Now, of course, Daniela Hantuchova's going to make a semifinal run because I said that.

I can't believe they're still seeded!:
Kuznetsova: Although I guess you get points for being a bridesmaid and never a bride ...
Marion Bartoli (16)
Amelie Mauresmo (20): This is what I mean about the wading pool that is women's tennis. Amelie Mauresmo made two semifinals last year. In one of them, she lost to Nathalie Dechy. Unh-huh. She's been struggling in mediocrity for ... well, since she won two majors. But ... she did beat Ivanovic last week. So who knows, right?
Having said that, I read a quote from Mauresmo a while back that really made me feel her pain. Last February, she admitted that: "I sometimes ask myself what the hell I am doing there, in front of half-empty stands."
And at the risk of going off on a rant (especially one I've been on before), that should never happen. With all the storylines and characters on women's tennis, they shouldn't be playing in mostly-empty stadiums. I'm not saying tennis could be as big as, say, football, but it deserves to attract a bigger audience than it does. "Gee, how do we get someone to watch two hard-hitting, history-making sisters play for a Grand Slam title? Hunh. I'm stumped."
OK, that was a rant. Back to the program.

First round matches to watch:
Sania Mirza v. Marta Domachowska
Hantuchova v. Casey Dellacqua: I'm thinking Dellacqua, actually.
Jelena Dokic v. Tamira Paszek: Talk about "Whatever happened to ..." Hopefully, Paszek won't beat her too badly.

The way it'll go down:
Quarters: Jankovic v. Zvonareva, Safina v. Wozniacki, Venus v. Dementieva, Radwanska v. Serena
Semifinals: Jankovic v. Safina, Venus v. Serena
Final: Jankovic v. Venus (I think)
She is the champion, my friend!: One of the above, although I'm giving Venus the edge on experience.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

TWA '09, or The dog ate my laptop

Happy New Year! A moment of silence, though, please, for my ill laptop, which has kept me from ringing in the year a tad sooner. Resolution: get a new computer without the old one finding out about it.
Anyway, let's get right to it. Let's talk sportsmanship.

cheat: the fraudulent obtaining of another's property by a pretense or trick (from Random House dictionary)

So, Serena Williams is playing a warm-up tournament in Sydney (which in itself is surprising) against Samantha Stosur, and she hits a serve that is clearly a net cord, but is not called. So Stosur returns it, and gets the point because the umpire is sleeping on the job. Williams ended up winning the match.
Fine, umpires make mistakes. But whatever happened to the old soccer mom adage? The one that goes something like "It doesn't matter if you win, it's how you play the game?" How does Sam Stosur take that point with no qualms? Just because it's a clear error by the umpire doesn't mean you act like you have to go with it, even when you know he's wrong. Last I checked, that was called cheating. I've seen pro matches on big stages when opponents overruled an obvious umpire error and awarding their opponents a point, or a new serve. Players are not bound to the call -- especially if they think it's wrong. So, a very firm shake of the finger to you, Sam Stosur. Grow up.
Moving on, just read that Maria Sharapova is out of the Australian Open. Boy, this just makes for an interesting start for the women's tour, doesn't it? Bleech.