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 ...

Really, Venus, 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


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.