Sunday, August 26, 2007

And now, for the ladies


Looking back at past postings, I found a disclaimer: I only have to pick a Williams sister to make Wimbledon finals, not all of the majors! But should I anyway? That top half of the draw has both of them in it, plus anyone else ready to make a claim for the title. I think with everyone beating each other up up there, they're gonna be too tired for whoever comes out of the bottom half. So I'm looking at a repeat from Ms. "oh I'm so pretty."

Here we go:

Justine Henin vs. Serena Williams: Both of these two should get through pretty easily, even though in Henin's section, there's a couple of players I'm perplexed by that haven't done more with their careers, namely Tatiana Golovin and Dinara Safina. They're both capable of beating her from a talent standpoint, but just don't have the mental capacity. And I think it's pretty amazing Serena can go months without tournament play and still make it to the quarters, but the run ends here for her.

Elena Demetiava vs. Ana Ivanovic: I'm picking Elena to come through her fourth-round match with Jankovic in an upset: Jelena's really slowed down over the past few months. And Ana should be able to top Venus in the fourth.

Daniela Hantuchova vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Talk about a soft portion of the draw! Svetlana should cruise through this section. Martina Hingis is in this part and she hasn't done much for a while now, except break up with Radek Stepanek and team up with Ana Ivanovic to beat Andy Roddick and wrestling superstar John Cena on Arthur Ashe Kids' Day.

Sania Mirza vs. Maria Sharapova: The Indian Express has been playing well this summer: advancing in singles draws and winning doubles tournaments left and right. I think she'll knock off Anna Chakvetadze in the third round. But in the quarters waiting for her will be Sharapova, who will have dropped 10 games in four matches at that point.

Henin vs. Ivanovic: Ana's good and will only get better, but she's still not ready to knock off Henin at this stage in a major.
Sharapova vs. Kuznetsova: Svetlana will push her, but she should still go down.

Sharapova over Henin in straights: Maria's draw was just too easy. Henin should be commended for making it through to that point.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

"If they can make it here..."

It's officially my favorite tennis time of the year: The U.S. Open is a day and a half away! One of my favorite things to do is to make predictions for the majors and of course, the Open is no exception. But not only do I pick the winners and runners-up, I go as far back as the quarterfinals. (I would post my round-of-16 picks, but that might look a little too obsessive!)

Anyway, here I go, starting with the men:
Roger Federer vs. Andy Roddick: (If there ever was a stage in a tournament Roddick wanted to avoid R-Fed, this is it. After this match Andy, dump Jimbo and your brother and see if you can get a coach that helps you make adjustments.)

Nicolas Kiefer vs. James Blake: I'm picking Kiefer to come through a pretty weak part of the draw: Davydenko's been playing pretty iffy and Andy Murray hasn't been playing at all. Blake and Sam Querrey in the third round should be a good one, if James isn't tired from all the tennis he's been playing. Tommy Haas or Marcos Baghdatis could test JB in the fourth round, but he should come through.

Mardy Fish vs. Novak Djokovic: I know I said I was giving up on Mardy after Wimbledon, but this draw is so easy for him. If he blows it this go around ... I mean, come on! I could get through a couple of rounds in this section! But Djokovic should put it on him, especially if he gets through the toughest section of the tournament, with three of his first four opponents probably being Mario Ancic, Radek Stepanek and Lleyton Hewitt.

Fernando Gonzalez vs. Rafael Nadal: Gonzalez has been pretty much off the radar after making it to the finals of the Italian Open, but a soft draw should help him out here. Too bad he'll be running up against R-Nad in the quarters, who should be pretty rested and I'm assuming healed up for this tournament.

Semifinal picks:
Federer vs. Blake: Blake breaks through! But too bad about who he'll face on Super Saturday.
Djokovic vs. Nadal: This is the third big semi in a row for them, but I'm predicting a reverse from the other two.

Federer vs. Djokovic

Winner: Federer in four.

Tomorrow, the women (and as per my Wimbledon posts, I have to pick a Williams sister!)

Will it be too much tennis?

In New Haven, local legend James Blake has made another final this summer and will play against his best buddy Mardy Fish, who beat Ivo Karlovic in straights. Blake, meanwhile, played another three-setter this tournament, beating Paul-Henri Mathieu in a third-set breaker.

But will this week catch up with him heading into the U.S. Open? Gutting out a couple of these matches like he has this week was a good sign. Maybe that can translate into some five-set success. I just wonder if he'll still be in top shape for the final Slam, where he actually has a pretty good draw, with the toughest player I see in it being Sam Querrey. He gets past that, I see him going further and playing on Super Saturday--IF his body holds up.

And while I got it right on the women's side with Kuznetsova getting through, who saw Agnes Szavay making it? I just knew it would be Mirza, who's had a great summer. I still expect her to punch a hole in the draw at the Open.

Speaking of draws and Opens and all, I'll be making my quarterfinal predictions, so feel free to comment!

Monday, August 20, 2007

If only they'd read Tennis Talk, Anyone? before their matches

I tried to spell it out for Blake and Jankovic to do what they needed to do against Federer and Henin, respectively, but did they check this site out? Nooo! In their defense, I guess they were both going up against two of the greatest players ever. The score lines pretty much followed the previous six ones: Federer blows out Blake and Henin beats Jankovic in a tight one. I still don't understand, though: Why not do something different!

Anyway, the U.S. Open Series wraps up this weekend in New Haven, Conn. It's a dual-gender event, which would be great to see more of. An interesting result is Donald Young winning his first ATP match against a solid top-100 player in Delic. Young has been beating some top or former top 100 players for a few months now. Davydenko's the first top 10 player he will face in his career. I wonder how that'll go, seeing as Davydenko's not gonna be able to blast him off the court.

On the women's side, a player that's been on a nice little run the past few weeks has been Sania Mirza. This could be a nice title for her to pick up. I can see her getting through the bottom half of the draw and maybe taking out Kuznetsova in the finals.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Let's go streak-bustin'!

First, congrats to JB for making it to the Cincy finals. Maybe he read my last posting telling him he had to make the finals here! Nice wins against Querrey and Davydenko. His summer really hasn't been too bad. And he's guaranteed to get back to at least 6 in the rankings.

In the much-depleted Rogers Cup, at least the top two seeds came through: Justine Henin and Jelena Jankovic. This tournament has really cast a lot of attention on something I thought has been running pretty rampant in the women's game for a few years now: withdrawals. I get kind of confused by this because WTA tournaments usually give first-round byes to the top seeds, which of course means fewer matches. Is the damage being done on the practice court? This is a bigger issue than I can figure out, but hopefully something can be resolved because the quality of play is better than ever and it'd be a shame for the game for it to be getting negative attention caused by the withdrawal syndrome.

But what I really wanted to do is talk about the head-to-heads in these finals and give my opinion on what can be done for those on the wrong side of the winning streak.

Federer is 6-0 against Blake, which considering who Federer is, it really isn't too much to hold your head down about. But the matches I've watched them play against each other, Blake has never deviated from his game plan, which it looks like to me, is to try to blast Federer off the court. I know he's an aggressive player, but today, why not do something different? And my suggestion is to use more topspin, meaning loop a few shots and keep more balls in play, a la Guillermo Canas in Indian Wells and Miami. Blake's just as athletic as Canas, but does he have the patience? His power game is not powerful enough to take out R-Fed. He should just really try to give him some different looks.

And Henin is 6-0 against Jankovic, which when looking at the scores and some of the matches I've watched, the mental factor plays a big part. First, Jelena, keep your head in the game if Henin fights back! She's a Hall of Famer, that's what they do! And Jelena has to stay dictating the points, but not really run her side to side because I think Henin hitting on the run is one of the best at doing that in the past 15 years or so. Blast a lot of shots at her down the middle. At least when they used to beat up on her, that's what the Williams sisters would do.

Anyway, there's my winning tips. I think they're pretty good for an out-of-shape 4.0 player!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ohio players

In the last big warmup before the U.S. Open, the seeds are darn near no more, with sections of the draw punched through. Federer's still around, of course, but defending champ Andy Roddick got knocked out by Spain's David Ferrer, a very solid top-20 player, but one Roddick shouldn't be losing to at this time of the year.

As I mentioned post-Canada, I don't know what's going on with him. If you really, really look at his results this summer, they have been kind of mediocre for supposed Slam contenders. You don't lose to Dancevic or Ferrer at this time of the year. Winning Washington was nice, but then you get dusted by Djokovic a week later. It's not like he was in the slump like last year, but some of his results I'm just not jazzed about.

I like Carlos Moya and Lleyton Hewitt pushing through. Moya's always been a class act and while a lot of people have a problem with Hewitt, his intensity is still impressive. What he's done in his career still flips me out: How does this guy with his game have the results he has?

In the bottom half of the draw, this is James Blake's time to shine and he should really be looking for some payback against Sam Querrey next for that Indy loss. Dude, you HAVE to come through and get to the finals here!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

No Djoke: He really did beat Federer!

OK, I didn't really see that coming. I thought it would take Novak Djokovic a little while to play Roger Federer that tough, much less beat him. But beat him he did, in a third-set tiebreak, which I always think is a kind of tricky result because at that stage of the match anything can happen. It was a great tournament for Djokovic, though. Knocking off the top three players is a pretty rare feat. It'll be tough for him to pull that off at the U.S. Open, I feel. Federer beats him in four sets in the finals there.

"Wait Van, how do you know they'll meet in the finals when the draw won't be out for another week or so?" you may be asking yourself. Well Novak'll more than likely be going in as the number three seed, meaning he'll probably be in Nadal's half of the draw. (Two and three are usually matched, with one and four on the top half.) I think he can handle Nadal comfortably on a hard court.

I was telling my U.S. Open-going companion this last night: Novak's strokes are flat enough and he's big and strong enough to punch through Nadal's heavy spins on faster surfaces, even though Nadal's gotten better playing guys like that on quicker stuff, as evidenced by his Wimbledon run. I think Federer has too many options for Djokovic to handle--he can hit flat shots with him, loop, cut under the ball--or at least that's usually the case.

One more post-Montreal note: I'm not too convinced on the job the Roddick coaching braintrust is doing. There's only three guys ahead of him in the rankings and those guys are waaay ahead of him. And sadly, I don't see him beating either one of them anytime soon.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Pushing along (or, "Oh yeah, I play tennis, too, Part 2")

I played a match last night in a USTA tournament at the club I belong to, Roosevelt Island Racquet Club. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have tournament playing issues, but still continue to compete in them. I've been going back and forth with this for the past few months whether or not to enter 3.5 or 4.0 tournaments: 3.5 because I haven't won a tournament in what is approaching half my lifetime and I figure I should be able to pick up a title there, or 4.0, which I should be playing because that's my skill level.

Anyway, I went for the 3.5 division this time around because I have more ranking points there, and I figured if I made it to be the number-one 3.5 player in the tri-state area, that's pretty legit, right? Well, those plans hit a snag last night after my first-round match. I played this guy last night that some (myself included at times) would call a "pusher." But in all honesty, that's an unfair term to put on him: I guess some of the best words to describe him would be "heady" and "determined." After warming up, I figured there'd be no way this guy could beat me: I just had too much firepower for him. (I like to think I have pretty big groundies.) But this guy returned everything. EVERYTHING! Granted, we were playing on clay, which slows my balls down, but I still can usually get around that as I think I've become a decent clay-courter over the years.

During the match, I was constantly changing my game plan, trying to remember what you do to beat a grinder like that: Do you keep trying to hit through them? Do you try to outrally them? Do you hit drop shots to draw them forward? Do you hit their moonballs on the rise or even take them out of the air? Do you serve and volley and chip and charge? I tried them all, except for the serving and volleying because I'm fighting a pretty tender Achilles tendon and would hate for it to blow up on me trying to push off that leg. The outrallying idea kind of works against me because I'm a pretty aggressive player: I figure if you got big shots, why not use them?

So this is all part of my dilemma: If I keep playing 3.5's, I'm likely to run into that, which can be extra frustrating. And that hurts my chance of winning that elusive second singles title. Or do I play 4.0's where at least I'm playing to the best of my ability, even though it might be even longer before I win again, if ever.

Any suggestions on which way to go? Or at the least, how to beat someone super-consistent?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Say it ain't so, Booty and Stretch!

It looks like my doubles team of the future is no more.

I personally don't know if it's the right move: Sure, they've hit a rough stretch, but winning three titles in a year with three months left to go in the season isn't shabby at all. Obviously, something was going right.