Sunday, September 23, 2007

Tsk, tsk, tsk, Lleyton, Tommy and Thomas (and the captains, too)

I just woke up and checked out to see what's transpiring in the ties around the world (told you I'm a fan!) and I saw some of the wackiest matchups I think I ever have seen in my years of following the cup:

Mikhail Youzhny vs. Phillip Petzschner: Who? The story hasn't been updated yet, but from what I did see, it said Tommy Haas wasn't "feeling well."

Jonas Bjorkman vs. Andy Roddick: What? In the first match of the day, when the U.S. can clinch the tie? Note to Mats Wilander: The year is 2007, not 1997, back when Jonas might have had a chance. On behalf of the U.S., we thank you for this gift to clinch the tie. You'd think Thomas Johansson would've been jonesing to get back on the court after the clinic he put on against James Blake. By the time I get through typing this sentence, Bjorkman-Roddick should be over and Andy should be over on the sideline hugging P-Mac.

Novak Djokovic vs. Chris Guccione: Huh? The story says Lleyton Hewitt woke up with a "viral infection." First, why was he playing doubles yesterday, when it's obvious you needed him for singles? Djokovic-Hewitt was gonna be the best matchup of the whole weekend. Too bad it's not happening. And Tennis Australia, you should rethink how things are going: with your program and John Fitzgerald as captain. He's made some weird decisions in the past, like if I remember correctly, sitting Todd Woodbridge from playing doubles, which makes no sense at all.

Oh, and Andy's up two sets to none on Jonas, with three break points in the third, so I guess I was a little off in my estimate of the match time, but not much.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I dreamed of Davis Cup

This weekend coming up is one of my favorite times on the ATP tennis calendar: the Davis Cup semifinals. And what's funny is I think I'm the last American die-hard fan of the event.

I wouldn't say I'm overly patriotic or anything, even though I am a big fan of the Olympics. Maybe it's the team camaraderie spirit of it all. Anyway, when I was a kid, playing in the juniors and thinking like all other juniors that I was gonna go pro one day, being named to the U.S. Davis Cup team was my dream--even more so than winning a Slam. I remember thinking my doubles partner and I could make it as a team (we were ranked among the top-five teams in Alabama our last two years in the juniors), but alas, it wasn't meant to be. But Davis Cup is something that's always captivated me, probably from about 1988 on.

Anyway, I think this is the best shot the U.S. has in years to take home the title. I'm not expecting much resistance against Sweden for the guys. It's gonna be a bunch of big hitting in that tie, and I think Blake and Roddick hit a little bit bigger. My only concern about this tie is if Joachim Johansson sneaks into the singles lineup. Davis Cup does some inspirational things to guys who have been injured: Take the Henri Leconte performance in '91, for instance.

On the other side, Russia should be able to sweep Germany on the clay, even though Germany's Phillip Kohlschreiber (he of my Wimbledon-quarterfinal picks fame) has had some decent results on the dirt this year.

I believe the deal is if the U.S. wins and Russia wins, the U.S. hosts the final. The U.S. would travel to Germany if they both win. I never can get those scenarios right!

But aside from the semis, there's some pretty exciting ties on tap in the playoffs, with these being the best ones, in my opinion: Great Britain-Croatia (So long, Tim!); Switzerland-Czech Republic (It's up to Stan the Man Wawrinka to help out R-Fed in his cameo appearance); and Serbia-Australia (I know Lleyton Hewitt and Novak Djokovic are up for the challenge; it's gonna come down to their less-heralded teammates not being overcome by the pressure.)

Davis Cup: Gotta love it!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Four-gone conclusion

I'm kind of late wrapping up the men's final at the Open here, but it went pretty much how 99.9 percent of the population thought: Another Roger Federer triumph.

A funny thing about my experience with the final: I left to go to the gym when Djokovic had those three set points in the first set. I was just going there to ride the exercise bike and I figured I'd be able to watch a lot of the match there. So I get there about midway through the second set and as I was looking at the scoreline, I kept reading it like Novak had won the first set. It wasn't until the second-set tiebreak that I realized Federer had won the first! Duh! Always look at the score carefully and don't assume anything, particularly when Federer's involved!

About that point: I can't recall seeing Federer facing the tests he did from the third round on, basically. Dropping those sets to John Isner and Feliciano Lopez, then being in REAL tight spots against Andy Roddick, Nikolay Davydenko and Djokovic. You hope guys take it to heart they pushed the guy and figure maybe they're closing the gap. But unfortunately, and I hate to be the bubble burster, but guys, you're still miles away from him. R-Fed just wiped out any precarious situation he was in and then rolled--against some of the best hard courters in the game today.

Just a few months ago, I remember it coming up about what would happen if the guy actually got taken out of his comfort zone at a Slam and the match got tight. Would he have the wherewithal to come through after not being tested for a few years? I think it's safe to say he answered that at Wimbledon in the finals and only confirmed it in New York.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

This may sound crazy...

but I was thinking here, right before the men's final comes on: I almost have this sense of deja vu about this match. It almost has that Safin-Sampras 2000 final feel to it.

Aw, what am I thinking? R-Fed in four. (But what if?)

Big things in small packages

Standing tall yet again, pocket dynamo Justine Henin's wrapped up another Slam, winning her second U.S. Open title with a pretty thorough smashing of Svetlana Kuznetsova. What if Henin had been in shape, mentally and physically, for Australia? What if she hadn't been monumentally upset by Marion Bartoli at Wimbledon? We could've been talking about this as a completion of a calendar Slam. She pretty much has the French locked up, unless she's hit by injury, for next year. She's won the Aussie before and knows what it takes to get it done there. And what she did at this U.S. Open, beating the other two Slam titlists of the year--the Williams sisters--pretty convincingly, has to give her confidence for next year's Wimbledon.

That top half of the draw she played through was one of the toughest I've seen on the women's side at a major for a while. I guess it's a testament to her ability and will, to still be able to put it on Kuznetsova like she did. And congrats to Svetlana for doing what Sharapova couldn't do: take advantage of her opportunities. But Svetlana's been playing at a pretty high level all year, making a ton of finals, so I guess it shouldn't be too unexpected.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The week that was ...

Before the Labor Day festivities kick off at the Open, I wanted to take a look back at some of the big things that happened last week at the tournament. There were notable accomplishments, a lot of shockers and a LOT of my picks getting knocked off! But I can't be too bad a sport about that, I guess!

• Not feeling so "pretty" anymore: Maria Sharapova getting knocked off was the biggest thing in the week. And she's really gotta be hating life: What an easy draw! It was set up for her to let everyone in the top to beat each other up and she would be just ready to pick up the title. But I guess that's why "you play the game." (A little football quote from former New York Jets coach Herm Edwards!)

• Young (and tall) Americans: Donald Young and John Isner really showed something this tournament here. Young played solidly in that loss to Lopez and Isner made Federer think a little bit before going down. I think these two really have it.

• Sisters doing it for themselves: Well, Serena Williams is right where I expected her to be, and I'm still gonna go with Justine Henin in that QF matchup, but I thought Ana Ivanovic would have gotten Venus. Oh well, looks like I'm on course to be proved wrong about picking against the sisters once again!

• Five alive: James Blake finally did it! He won a five-setter against the trickiest player of all time, Fabrice Santoro. And my butt sores are evidence that I sat through the whole Novak Djokovic-Radek Stepanek match! What a match to catch live in my annual "First Friday of the Open" excursion.

• So long Tim: Being out there Friday, I also got to see the Tim Henman-Jo-Wilifried Tsonga match, which proved to be Tim's last in tournament play. I really wish that guy could've taken a Slam because he was such a solid player and had a great career. I said to my friend Melissa, who I go to the tournament with, while we were watching the match: "You know, if he only had a bigger serve where he could've won more free points at Wimbledon, like Pete and Goran did ..."

• Keep on rollin': The number ones, Roger Federer and Justine Henin, might as well have gotten byes into the fourth round--even though R-Fed did drop that set.

• Not-so weak in the knees: Rafael Nadal, with a little laser treatment every couple of days on both his aching knees, is getting through comfortably enough now, but we'll have to see how he holds up. I still like Djokovic on the bottom half of the draw coming through.

• Don't stop believin': I say that to myself because my predictions for this tournament got wrecked! Kiefer? Gonzalez? Mirza? But that's what makes it fun, making the tough calls!