Monday, December 29, 2008

As seasons roll on by...


It's only a mere matter of days before the pro tennis players hit the court again for the 2009 season. I know: It seems like they just left! I mean, weren't we just talking about Shanghai and Doha?

Here's my thing, though: I've always had mixed feelings about the offseason for the pros, particularly its length. Everybody who follows tennis knows what the pros think about it—it's way too short. And I guess if you were to think about it, then technically they're right. I mean, most of the players are participating in a season that takes up 40-something weeks of the year. Once that huge run is done, there's a few weeks off, then Bam! Right back at it. Throw in the travel around the world and back, and all the practice that has to be done while not at an event, and it makes for a ridiculous grind.

I can't think of a pro sport that's close to being as long with the extra elements. Golf? You can't say that because for the most part, the tours are regionalized. Ninety-nine percent of the PGA Tour events are played in the U.S. And there are different continental tours, meaning you can play from close to the comfort of your own home.

However...

Here's why sometimes I don't sympathize with the tennis players on their complaints about the offseason:

You don't have to play every week! You have mini offseasons in-season.

Let's say you're a top player: Rafael Nadal, for instance. In 2008, Rafa played 19 events (including the Olympics), winning eight titles. He also played two Davis Cup ties for Spain. Now let's say that's about 25 to 28 weeks of the year, including the two-week events. Now last time I checked, there are 52 weeks in a year. So that's about 24 to 27 weeks of no tournament play! I don't know about you, but I think more than five months off is a pretty nice chunk.

Also, if you were to win every match you play during the tournament, that's still only five days out of seven at a one-week event you're out there, or seven out of 14 at a Slam. So there are off days over the course of a tournament.

And here's something else: An eight-hour shift is not devoted to practice, practice, practice. I'd assume about half of it goes to that.

See why I'm mixed on this? In relation to other sports, the pros definitely have it rough. But from what I gather, there's a lot of down time over the course of the year. And I don't want them playing every single week of the season, the argument just gets kind of lost on me sometimes. I wish I had an offseason! Don't worry, not from TTA?, but the regular 9-to-5. I can't let my boss see that because there's a word for offseason in my world: "Fired."

(Photo: thesun.com)

Friday, December 26, 2008

'URL' get a kick out of this

First, let me say Merry belated Christmas! If you observe it, hope you had a good one!

And as a special gift to me, I've taken 10 bucks of my hard-earned lettuce and bought me one of those customized domain names. All the kids are doing it, so why not me?

So if you want to change the address in your bookmarks, feel free to: Tennis Talk, Anyone? can now be found at .www.tennistalkanyone.com. However, if you don't want to, then no worries: The old address will still bring you here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sweet home, Alabama (I hope!)


The latest from the world of Davis Cup is that the U.S. will be hosting Switzerland in my home state of Alabama, at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Arena in Birmingham. It's the first time 'Bama is hosting a Davis Cup match.

I've been kind of excited about this tie since the draw for next year was announced. Truth be told, though, I'm a little worried. I mean Switzerland does have that Roger Federer guy on its team and we all know how he gets down. Plus, with he and Stan Wawrinka playing a pretty mean game of doubles (having beaten the Bryans on the way to the Gold in Beijing) that makes the match-up even more scary.

But aside from Switzerland's lineup, I'm a little worried about a tie being hosted in Alabama. Unless things have changed since I lived there, I can't recall any section of the state being a hotbed of tennis activity, unless, I guess, you count where I'm from, Mobile, which has one of the country's largest public facilities. I don't think many in-state fans will be willing to trek there, but hopefully some will come in from Tennessee to make the place pretty rowdy. I mean, this is as good a first-round tie the U.S. could ask to host. It would be a shame to see thousands of empty seats while I'm watching it in New York.

Something else that comes to mind when thinking about this tie: Who does the U.S. pick? I guess Patrick McEnroe's first inclination would be to throw out Andy Roddick, James Blake and the Bryan brothers. It'll all depend on who's really in form. But let me throw this out at you: When was the last time an American male has been hot for more than a couple of weeks? Blake in the summer of '07? I don't think any of the guys had a decent streak going last year. So that even adds more pressure to the situation.

Anyway, I hope plenty of fans come out to show some Southern hospitality because the U.S. is facing a tough-enough task as it is. It could be even rougher with no fans out there.

(Photo: AP)

Friday, December 12, 2008

All good (and bad) things must come to an end (From the sublime to the ridiculous, part 3)


So this is the final chapter of my year in review. Gee, I'm getting all misty-eyed with this reminiscing! This one won't be as long as the others because all my picks were so awesome (yeah, right!).

Anyway, on to the last part of the trilogy:

SEPTEMBER

The Good and the Bad

• "I bet this is the ONLY place you'll find the following statement: The U.S. team can, and will, pull off the upset this weekend! I know, I know: A rookie's on the squad and one-half of one of the greatest doubles teams ever is out. The other team is led by a 22-year-old, who's already a legend. Plus, the hosts are playing on their favorite surface, one in which they've become pretty much synonymous with. However, here's why I'm picking the U.S. for one of the most stunning upsets in Davis Cup history … " (Sinking the Spanish armada, Sept. 16)

NOTE: "Good and Bad? What are you talking about, Van? It's just bad!" There, I took the words right out of your mouth! In case you didn't catch the post the first time around, I picked the U.S. to beat Spain in Davis Cup. In Spain. With Rafael Nadal playing. On clay. I'm giving myself a "Good and Bad" grade because I really, truly believe it could have happened, despite the most daunting odds probably any team has ever faced. Check out the post to see my reasons why. It may seem crazy, but I kept the faith!

OCTOBER

Up in the Air

• " ... Then hopefully you'll be reading about her on the pro circuit! I'm planning on making her into a serve-and-volleyer. Nobody does that anymore in the women's game. What do you think?" (I'm giving her until at least around 2024..., Oct. 22)

NOTE: Another switch-up from the "Good" and the "Bad." The "her" I'm referring to is my new daughter. 2024 is still the target date; rolling the tennis ball in front of her starts next week!

NOVEMBER

The Good

• "However, the match after that one is what I think will be the most important one of the tie: Juan Martin del Potro against Feliciano Lopez. … For all his success, del Potro is still a kid and this has to be the most pressure he's faced in his life: playing a Davis Cup final at home and being the favorite. Lopez has been around the block a little, plus he's Spain's best fast-court player … So, in other words, I'm declaring that the tie goes as F-Lo goes." (Going with the F-Lo?, Nov. 20)

NOTE: Lopez pulled off the upset on the first day of the tie, then partnered with Fernando Verdasco to take the dubs and put Spain on its way to winning the Davis Cup. I hope this carries over to next year for F-Lo.

The Bad (There's a couple, so watch out!)

• "Except for Zvonareva, I wouldn't be surprised if any of the top seven won the whole thing. That's how even I think it is this go-round. You really can't say that every round-robin match could potentially be a classic, but I think this time, you can. (Except for, again, ones involving Zvonareva. Sorry, Vera!)" (Please, please, PLEASE let everybody be healthy!, Nov. 3)

NOTE: I thought this was the strongest field in years at the WTA Championships, save for Vera Zvonareva. Man, was I wrong! She only almost won the whole thing before falling to Venus Williams!

• "Rafa's not here, but Roger Federer—the man he replaced—is. I'm picking R-Fed to add to his Masters Cup haul this year—and would have even if Nadal were playing. It won't be easy, though." (Master of his domain, Shanghai predictions, Nov. 8)

NOTE: If not for Andy Murray going 3-0 in round-robin play, I would've completely blown everything I said in this whole post! I didn't even make it out of the round-robin stage! Props to Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko for exceeding my meager expectations for them by winning and making the finals, respectively.

And I'm gonna wrap up this little series here. December's just had some drips and drabs of things happening, mainly exos, a few Challengers and some seniors stuff. It was a great year to be a fan and make predictions, both good and (horrifyingly) bad!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sharapova? For the French? (From the sublime to the ridiculous, part 2)


Oh, what memories!

Digging through the archives over there for the second part of my Year in Review brought one question to mind:

"Dude, what were you thinking?"

That being said, let me kick off the May to August review:

MAY

The Good

• "Day 1 of the post-Henin era sees Maria Sharapova take over the number-one spot on the WTA rankings, but can she hold on to it? That's the million-dollar question. The way I see it, there's really only two other legit contenders and here's a hint: Their last name begins with "W" and ends in "illiams." By the time it's all said and done, I think that barring injury the top three spots at the end of the year will be filled by Maria, Serena and Venus: not necessarily in that order, but there, nonetheless." (Three the hard way, May 15)

NOTE: Well, Serena got to the top, if only for a brief moment; Sharapova's year was wrecked by her shoulder and Venus fought some aches, but had some pretty good results. Injuries all played a part in how they finished.

The Bad (These might be my two worse predictions of the year!)

• "Nadal's made big strides in his game as his back-to-back finals at Wimbledon shows. However, I just don't see him being a year-round threat to Federer." (Is it REALLY a rivalry?, May 17)

NOTE: We all know how that turned out: Rafa only took over the top spot.

• "For the final: Sharapova over Jankovic: It's crazy to think, I know, but the bottom half of the draw is just too loaded and whoever comes through will have won a tournament within a tournament, and could possibly be easy pickings for Maria." (A career Slam in the cards?, May 24)

NOTE: Wait, let me explain why I picked her to win the French! She was the hottest player on the planet the first half of the year, and I thought with her draw, she could cruise to the finals and roll over whoever made it through on the other side. See, there was some logic behind it!

JUNE

The Good

• "If Marcos Baghdatis can be moved up 15 spots from his ranking of 25, then the All-England Club doing this with Roddick and Nalbandian is a huge mistake. If Davydenko is drawn against a big-serving qualifier in the first round, I guarantee he loses." (Seeds of discontent, June 18)

NOTE: I thought it was weak for Nik Davydenko to be seeded so high. He ended up losing in the first round to Ben Becker.

• "For the final: Serena Williams vs. Venus Williams: Most people think Serena's the better player of the two, but on grass, I just don't see it, even though Venus lost their previous two final matchups. Third time's the charm for her as she nabs her fifth Venus Rosewater dish. (or "Williams" dish!) (Maybe they should rename it the Venus 'Williams' Plate (Wimbledon women's quarterfinal predictions), June 21)

NOTE: For the future, I won't be able to count this as a good pick since it seems like she'll be winning Wimbledons for years to come, but I'm taking it now!

The Bad

• Actually for this one, the whole "Lurking in the grass" post! I tabbed four upsets and blew them all, then I had a cutesy statement at the end about Marat Safin beating Novak Djokovic, but backed away from actually making the call, because I thought it was too far-fetched. I could have looked like a genius!

JULY

The Good

• "Now, if you know Dubois, then you get a gold star because I sure don't. Everyone is supposed to know Harkleroad, though, since she's currently the cover girl on the latest issue of Playboy. But what has that Playboy cover accomplished? Nothing. What will it? Nothing." (The 'Road less traveled, July 22)

NOTE: Poor Ashley. That decision to pose is going to trail her for the rest of her career, and not necessarily in a good way.

• "Federer's had a tough year, and that loss to Simon last night was really bad (it doesn't matter if Simon had just won a tournament while Federer hadn't played since Wimbledon). He should be OK, though, and he's still my favorite for the Open. I think he's made of the same stuff Sampras is and look how '96 and the rest of his career went for him." (Shades of 1996?, July 24)

NOTE: Federer went on to win the Open, which added to his Slam title haul.

The Bad

• You know what? I'm going to take it easy on myself, and say I didn't have anything crazy for the month. I guess I had to dial it down after May and June!

AUGUST

The Good

• "You know, I'm just gonna jot down my predictions from the quarters on: No details; I still have to pack! For the men: Rafael Nadal vs. Mardy Fish, Juan Martin Del Potro vs. Andy Murray, Fernando Gonzalez vs. Novak Djokovic, Dmitry Tursunov vs. Roger Federer" (I had such grand plans, Aug. 22)

NOTE: This was the most accurate Slam quarters lineup I've ever picked. Fish himself didn't even think he was going to get to the quarters!

The Bad

• "For the final: Safina over Dementieva" (I had such grand plans, Aug. 22)

NOTE: That was my women's final for the U.S. Open. Things went so well for me on the men's side, but this and other quarterfinal picks (Amelie Mauresmo, Aggie Radwanska, Svetlana Kuznetsova) brought me down.

Anyway, I hope you kept reading after the Sharapova pick! There's more to come later!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Friday, December 5, 2008

The French Connection


So back to BlackRock before I embark upon more of my hits and misses of 2008!

I saw that Cedric Pioline took out John McEnroe in straights today and is set to play Pete Sampras, the guy that blasted him in his two Slam final appearances, next. Seeing old Ced still going at it and playing well doesn't surprise me because in his day, he was definitely one of the better ball strikers out there and could compete on any surface.

This got me thinking, though: What is it with the French men?

For the third year in a row, they've led the way as a nation on the ATP's top 100 rankings, this year placing 14 among the most successful. They're often the most versatile—finding success on any surface—and can hit any shot in the book. It's something, though: No one's had the career that Pioline has had and you can't automatically say the young guys (like Jo-Willie Tsonga, Rich Gasquet and Gael Monfils) even will, for sure.

See, even though he only won five titles while on tour, I think you can make a case for Pioline (who made the top 5) being the second-most successful French player of the Open era. (You have to give the top spot to Yannick Noah because he's the only one with a Major.) There have been a couple of other Slam finalists and numerous top tenners, but no multiple Slam runner-ups from France. If you wanted to put more weight on the Majors, then maybe you give Pioline the nod.

I'm gonna compare him, though, to some French top 10 players over the years, excluding Noah:

• Henri Leconte
Best Slam finish: Runner-up at the '88 French.
Career-high ranking: 5
Number of titles won: 9
Biggest title: German Open (1986)
The nod goes to: Pioline. Sure, Leconte won more titles, but one Slam final? With his game?

• Guy Forget
Best Slam finish: Two quarters at Wimbledon and one in the Australian.
Career-high ranking: 4
Number of titles won: 11
Biggest titles: Cincinatti, Paris (both in 1991)
The nod goes to: Pioline. Forget had great doubles results, but underachieved in singles for years before turning it around. Not even a Slam semi. Tsk, tsk.

• Arnaud Clement
Best Slam finish: Aussie Open runner-up (2001)
Career-high ranking: 10
Number of titles won: 4
Biggest title: Washington (2006)
The nod goes to: Pioline. It looked like Clement was on to big things after that Aussie final, but such was not the case. He's still going at it and is a threat on faster surfaces, but is no more than a top 50 player at this point.

• Sebastian Grosjean
Best Slam finish: Aussie, French and Wimbledon semifinalist (multiple years)
Career-high ranking: 4
Number of titles won: 4
Biggest title: Paris (2001)
The nod goes to: Pioline. Grosjean's career has been as solid as they come, but no Slam finals? That's pretty weak for his results.

• Richard Gasquet
Best Slam finish: Wimbledon semis (2007)
Career-high ranking: 7
Number of titles won: 5
Biggest title: Gstaad (2006); he has made two Masters series finals, though
The nod goes to: Pioline. What can you say about Gasquet? Probably one of the best players on tour, but if he makes a Slam final, everyone will be surprised because he's so mentally fragile.

• Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Best Slam finish: Aussie finals (2008)
Career-high ranking: 6
Number of titles won: 2
Biggest title: Paris (2008)
The nod goes to: Pioline. But not for long—finally, someone that will break the Pioline era of dominance! Barring injury, Tsonga has the best bet at becoming the most successful French player of the Open era.

So, I guess the point I was trying to make here is that it's kind of wild for such a prominent tennis nation to be led by a guy that's only picked up five titles. Come on, young French guys: Allez!

(Photo: Getty Images)

UPDATE: Pioline won the BlackRock title over Greg Rusedski, further adding to his "legacy"!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

From the sublime to the ridiculous: A different type of Year in Review, part 1


I was thinking of writing a "Year in Review"-type post, but after reading the one at GoToTennis and the series at Tennis is Served..., I decided against it because those have everything wrapped up in great, concise packages. However, I can't just let the past season go, so I'm going to do something a little different.

One of my favorite things to do in life is to look at the draw of a tournament and make predictions on how things are going to shake out. (That's true; it really is one of my favorite things to do—how sad!) I'd say I come out about even on the hits and misses, and this year I had some doozies on both sides!

So I'm going to dig in the archives and do a little series on the predictions I made, both good and bad, over the year. Feel free to cringe along with me over some of the ridiculous calls!:

JANUARY:

The Good

• "Watch Out for the Young Guns: The biggest tournament on the men's side was the one played in Doha, which was won by Andy Murray. If he stays healthy, watch out. I'm thinking he's going to be top 4 by the end of the year. ... Another young guy to watch out for is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: That kid's a beast! If he stays healthy, too, look for him in the top 15 by the end of the year." (So what has the first week of the season shown us?, Jan. 6)

NOTE: Murray ended up at 4, while Tsonga ended up in the top 10.

• "Sister Sledgehammers: This is to Venus and Serena: Please, PLEASE stay on track this year! The winning weekends you had (Venus at an exhibition tournament, Serena at the Hopman Cup) could really bode well for the season ahead. … I'm picking you two to stay in the top 10, but just being there is not a true testament to your ability." (So what has the first week of the season shown us?, Jan. 6)

NOTE: They both went on to win Slams over the year and also picked up other big titles. Serena even got back to number one!

The Bad

• "Finals:
Federer over Roddick: Another major final for Andy, another loss to Federer. R-Fed's getting closer to history!" (Aussie Open picks: The men's edition, Jan. 13) NOTE: Mono and Phillip Kohlschreiber messed this up for me!

• "Venus Williams vs. Eleni Daniilidou: ... Daniilidou has had a pretty good start to the year, winning a title already, and while I could never figure out why she hasn't put it together, maybe this year is the time she finally does, starting with taking out Ana Ivanovic in the second round." (Aussie Open picks: The women's edition (late!), Jan. 13)

NOTE: Who? Why, oh why, did I think this quarter was going to go down like that? Ivanovic ended up making the finals, while Daniilidou went on to ... pretty much nothing.

FEBRUARY

No posts or predictions were made! I guess I gave myself the month off!

MARCH

The Good

• "Kevin Anderson vs. Novak Djokovic (3): Now you're probably thinking, "What kind of match can a qualifier give the hottest player on the planet?" Well, when you happen to serve bombs like Anderson does, have already played a few matches at the venue with qualifying and winning the first round, and recently coming off your first career final, your confidence should be pretty high. I still expect Djokovic to come through, but he definitely needs to be on guard." (It's tricky, tricky, tricky*, Friday, March 28)

NOTE: Anderson got the defending Miami champ, then promptly lost in the next round.

The Bad

• "The Andys (Murray and Roddick) and Michael Llodra also have two titles each on the year. OK, I can see the Andys pulling that off, but Llodra? If Llodra kind of cuts back on the doubles playing, I can see him finishing in the top 20 by the end of the year." (Since I've been gone..., March 17)

NOTE: Llodra definitely ended up cooling off despite the hot start. I barely even remember him playing the rest of the year!

APRIL

The good

• "You know, why not tonight for Andy Roddick to break his losing streak against Roger Federer? If he protects his serve like he's never protected it before, get into some breakers, grab a mini-break or two in said breakers and who knows? Now's the time to do it. Roddick, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4). That's my pick and I'm sticking to it!" (Why not tonight?, April 3)

NOTE: A-Rod broke his 50-match losing streak (it only seemed that long!), but then had a losing streak broken against him in the next round, falling to Nik Davydenko in the Miami semis.

The bad

• "Technically speaking, from a tennis standpoint, Blake should be able to beat Nadal pretty much any time they get on a fast surface, particularly hard courts. But Nadal is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and definitely won't go down without a fight, especially to someone who's had half the career he's had. Enough of the preludes: Here's how it will go down! I'm going with Blake on this one, but he has to do it quickly. He can't get into a third set with Nadal, because then it gets down to intangibles, where Blake definitely takes a backseat. ... It's all about matching up game against game, and his just doesn't go up against Blake's as well as it does others. So my scoreline on this match, 7-6, 6-2 for Blake." (Payback time, April 2)

NOTE: Nadal fought and came through in this one, then went on to make the finals in Miami. If Nadal EVER loses to Blake again, I'll eat my hat! (And for a personal note on how this match went, check out "Sometimes, it's all in your head.")

That's some of how the year went down in my eyes! There's more doozies (such as Maria Sharapova, French Open Champ!) to come!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Kickin' it old school


Well, it's not all completely null and void in the world of tennis this week.

The BlackRock Tour of Champions wraps up its season in London this week with the BlackRock Masters Tennis event. I've been meaning to write something about this tour (and to use that headline!) forever now!

This event is like the other stops on the tour and goes with a round-robin format: In one group, you have Greg Rusedski, Guy Forget, Pat Cash and Stefan Edberg going up against each other, while the other one pits Jeremy Bates, Cedric Pioline, John McEnroe and Pete Sampras head to head to head to head.

This season on the BlackRock tour has been pretty good, particularly if you've been a fan of the game for a while. It was great to hear of Sampras stopping by for an event or two; and a couple of guys I really wasn't expecting to see play much—Edberg and Patrick Rafter—also broke out the racquets. Michael Chang and Yevgeny Kafelnikov made their debuts, too. Marcelo Rios, who absolutely dominated last year, scaled back on his play this year and Goran Ivanisevic is at the top of the rankings this year.

Now, I really dig this tour, but I think some guys you could definitely do without seeing in singles competition—and I hope I'm not committing blasphemy to the tennis gods—such as Bjorn Borg and Guillermo Vilas. Whenever I see that those two are in an event, my interest level drops about 50 percent. I mean, really: What chance do those two have against the serves of Ivanisevic and his Wimbledon-winning buddies, Michael Stich and Richard Krajicek, who can both still bring it? I know there's been some complaining among the oldest and most out-of-shape players about these younger guys on tour, but I'd much rather see the stars of the late '80s and early '90s anyway.

McEnroe, though, is an exception to that rule: I don't know if anyone else thinks this, but that guy is an athletic freak! He looks like some average Joe, but think about how he plays the game: the eyes, the hands, the reach... all tools that still help him succeed.

Anyway, if you get a chance to somehow watch any of the action in London this week, I'd recommend doing it. I think you can at least catch highlights on the BlackRock Masters site. And a tip (one Englishmen can be proud of): Watch out for Jeremy Bates here. Back when they were all on tour, the other guys would have chalked him up as a guaranteed win, but now everyone's a little slower and more on the same level. Plus, he's got the home crowd behind him. I'm sure he'll be looking for a little payback!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks a lot!


As many of us (not all, shout-out to the international contingent!) get ready for a whole buncha turkey eating today, there's plenty to be thankful for (like little Tillie for instance!). And there's a lot for us tennis fans to be thankful for after what we saw this past year, such as:

• Rafael Nadal's hard work being rewarded.

• Roger Federer continuing his march toward history.

• Both Williams sisters winning Slams.

• Spain and Russia both putting forth true team efforts and capturing the Davis Cup and Fed Cup, respectively.

• The top two expanding into the big four in men's tennis.

• Classic matches, such as Rafa-Roger at Wimbledon.

• Jelena Jankovic fighting her way to the top.

• Dinara Safina turning it around and playing to her potential.

• The Olympics, where Elena Dementieva achieved her career dream.

• Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka's doubles victory celebration!

• And me, personally, thankful for anyone reading what I write here at Tennis Talk, Anyone?!

So, if you're so inclined to celebrate it, have a Happy Thanksgiving, and if you don't, then have a great day!

(Photo: AP)

Monday, November 24, 2008

If I was Davis Cup captain for Argentina ...


I might would've gone with Gus Calleri or Willie Canas out there over Jose Acasuso.

First, let me say congrats to the Spanish Davis Cup team for bringing home the title: The odds were as stacked against them as they can get, yet they came through playing in one of the toughest nations to play an away tie on tour.

However, I can't help but think that Alberto Mancini kind of blew it, and for that he's got to go. I made that call a couple of months ago and I'm sticking by it. Argentina's too stacked a nation not to have at least one title during his captaincy. They should be considered the Yankees of Davis Cup! Here's some things I saw that were kind of shaky going in and over the weekend.

• First of all, I wasn't too keen on their surface choice. David Nalbandian usually gets as hot as a player can get when there's a roof over his head, and he did his job here in the first match. But you have to realize Spain's just not a nation of dirtballers and has some guys that can play on fast surfaces, such as Feliciano Lopez.

• Secondly, it's always risky putting a kid out there to play against a guy that has no pressure on him whatsoever to win. I think that before he even got injured, Juan Martin del Potro was on his way to losing against Lopez. The circumstances of this reminded me of Pete Sampras making his Davis Cup debut in the finals back in 1991 and having to play a gimpy Henri Leconte. The free-swinging vet had nothing to worry about but hitting the ball and shocked Pete to submission.

• That said, there was a good chance of going into the day of doubles with a split. And the Argentineans were never a favorite for the dubs, as far as I was concerned. So why risk Nalbandian getting into a long match? Why not just throw your original lineup out there of Acasuso and Calleri? I'm sure they at least had been practicing more.

• And lastly, like I said at the top of this, I'm not sure I would have put Acasuso out there. His record in DC singles isn't that bad, but he had a rough match recently that left him in tears (I think it was against Safin?). That sticks with a guy. He fought against Fernando Verdasco, but don't let him get back on the horse in a final. Calleri's not the best fast court player out there, by any means, but last year I saw him bee-last Lleyton Hewitt off the court at the U.S. Open. You do that, you're definitely capable.

I hate to be calling for his dismissal since like I've said before, I was a fan of Alberto Mancini when he was a player (I had just started getting Tennis magazine when he won the Italian in '89 and had been playing for about a year at that point, man I'm old!). But he's just not getting it done as captain. There's a lot of former Argentinean players out there; give them a shot.

UPDATE: Mancini decided to step down after all. I think it's best, but if you believe stories like these, good luck to whoever's coming in next!

(Photo: Daviscup.com)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Going with the F-Lo?


The Davis Cup finals are mere hours away, and I really think we're in store for a good tie, even without Rafael Nadal.

First up is David Nalbandian against David Ferrer. Nalbandian's been one of the hottest players on tour indoors, while Ferrer's been in a slump. Ferrer leads in head-to-heads and is a decent fast-court player, but Nalbandian might just be in better form.

However, the match after that one is what I think will be the most important one of the tie: Juan Martin del Potro against Feliciano Lopez. JDP has made amazing leaps and bounds this year, while F-Lo had his moments but as usual, didn't really break out.

For all his success, del Potro is still a kid and this has to be the most pressure he's faced in his life: playing a Davis Cup final at home and being the favorite. Lopez has been around the block a little, plus he's Spain's best fast-court player: a two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist who also has good results on hard courts and carpet.

It's not much of a shock to me that Emilio Sanchez picked him over Fernando Verdasco for singles. Then, those two will team up in doubles, which could be a tough match-up for Argentina.

So, in other words, I'm declaring that the tie goes, as F-Lo goes. Can the big-swinging Spaniard pull off an upset off the bat and then pick up another point in dubs? We'll see starting tomorrow!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Shoot that poison arrow through my heart

Like millions of New Yorkers, I like to read the newspaper on the way to work while riding the subway.

This morning, I saw something in the sports section that shocked me, confused me, disgusted me, intrigued me—nearly every verb you can think of but make me happy: A 30-inch story on the U.S. archery team deciding to stand by its embattled coach. The coach, Kisik Lee, is under fire for the team not winning a medal in Beijing and his controversial takes on training and his religious stances.

Now what does this have to do with tennis, you might ask? Absolutely everything.

You see, throughout the rest of the sports section, there was no mention of tennis anywhere: Not in the box score, not in the sports briefs, nowhere. Now, I know the regular season is over, but this is the week leading up to the Davis Cup finals, which despite the absence of the world's top-ranked player, Rafael Nadal, features two tennis powerhouses in Argentina and Spain. But if you were to look through your local newspaper or watch "SportsCenter," you'd have no idea this was about to go down.

But beyond this being a Davis Cup week, this goes on probably 85 to 90 percent of the year: minimal coverage, at best, of the sport we all know and love—at least here in the U.S. And I have some questions about that: Why is that the case and how can it change?

I guess tennis will always take a backseat to the major sports in the U.S., but to Mixed Martial Arts, and as anonymous mentions in the comments section, NASCAR? Does it have to be that way? The skill and athleticism required to play pro tennis is off the charts: Speed, eye-hand coordination, strength, touch—you name it, you have to be the best at all of that to enjoy some success.

Is it because there aren't any U.S. players making headlines with their off-court and on-court antics? How many times have you heard older people say they liked tennis in the 1970s back when Connors and McEnroe played? Well, here's something for those that say that: Those guys acted like buffoons at times! Is that really how you want an athlete to behave? Give me a James Blake or a Roger Federer, or even a Radek Stepanek, anyday: Guys that can either keep it cool, get fired up or get the crowd involved.

But back to my other question: How can the lack of coverage change? I work in the media now, but I'm not among the lead decision makers. I guess it's up to the fans. It's sad that it has to come to this, but maybe we should attack it from a grass-roots approach:

• Write someone if the lack of coverage bugs you.

• Turn elsewhere for your tennis jones, like blogs. Want the latest on the off-court activities of the pros? Read Down the Line! Want to get in-depth coverage on black tennis players? Read Black Tennis Pros. Want to gain an international perspective of the sport? Check out HCFoo's Blogyard, Tennis is Served..., Tennis From Beyond the Baseline, Topspin Tennis Blog. Check out GoToTennis. Want an irreverent look at the game? See Tennis With Attitude (the name says it all!) Just glance to the left of this posting and click on the blog roll or any of the listed sites.

• Talk about it. Spread the word and let people know why you love the sport so much.

That's all I have for now. I was determined to write something as long as that archery story I read this morning! If you like what you read here, feel free to spread it around. We have to start somewhere.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Little trouble in big China


I'm a little late on posting something about the Masters Cup ending (perhaps its because I'm afraid to show my face after my picks didn't go as planned!), but congrats to Novak Djokovic for winning the whole thing, with minimal worries. It's funny: He didn't have to face the guys in front of him or the guy right behind him, but he did beat the guys who beat the guys, which definitely counts!

Last night, I was watching that Masters Cup highlight show on the tennis channel, and I came away with some thoughts about some of the guys. See if this makes sense:

• Roger Federer needs to play a little bigger: "Dude, what in the world are you talking about?" (I always like to anticipate your thoughts on something I write. : ) What I mean is, I don't think he can afford to rally with Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal next year. Shorter points and flatter shots, I think, are the key for him.

• Andy Murray is one of the best scramblers ever: Did you see those balls he tracked down? And what he did with them when he got there? Amazing!

• Another Murray one—he still plays too cute sometimes: He's doing some great things and playing more aggressively, but there are still too many drop shots and looped balls coming off his racquet. He should stick the ball even more.

• Nikolay Davydenko needs a better serve: He's even admitting as much. He just gets no free points when he's serving. Maybe one or two crept in, but I didn't see them. He still wins a lot, though.

• Gilles Simon is all right: You know, I just wasn't convinced about him, but the dude's a scrapper, something you always have to admire. And I guess beating Federer twice in one year is nothing to sneeze at!

That's it, everyone else is perfect! Just kidding, of course. It was, though, a pretty good tournament to wrap up an eventful regular season. Now it's on to Davis Cup, aka Van time!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Freaky Friday (or year, for that matter)


Now that's just plain weird to me:

Roger Federer did not advance to at least the semis of the Masters Cup, falling to Andy Murray in a match that was almost as close can get. I didn't think he would win against Murray in the round-robin portion going in to the tournament, but I thought when it came down to brass tacks (playing for a chance to get further), he would come through. I never thought I'd see him losing twice in one event! He fought hard, but it just wasn't meant to be, I guess.

I guess when you look back on Federer's year, the prevailing storylines will be his health and the three-pronged attack from Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Murray. Federer started off the year with some form of mono and ended it with a bad back and stomach virus. In between were the above-mentioned three nipping at his heels, with Nadal even overtaking him atop the rankings.

There were some losses to dudes Federer would've never dreamed of falling to, such as James Blake, Mardy Fish, Gilles Simon and Radek Stepanek. Amid that, though, the guy still made three Slam finals, winning one, and the semis of another. And also, he did win a Gold medal at the Olympics in doubles.

So despite the illness and injury and ridiculous losses, 2008 was still a year that 99.9 percent of the players on tour would dream of having. It just wasn't as dominant as we've come to expect from him after the past few years.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

One foot, and he's out the door


You know what? I really feel bummed Andy Roddick had to drop out of the tournament with an ankle injury. I didn't mention this before in my Shanghai preview, as I like to present the image of impartiality (sometimes!), but I was really hoping he could make some kind of statement there.

He had as tough a task as one could possibly imagine after dropping his first match: beat Roger Federer to have a shot at advancing in the tournament. I think the idea of those two going head-to-head in a match that was pretty important would've been a great one to watch. But now, to quote that narrator from the Tootsie Roll pops commercial: "The world will never know."

I think my disappointment kind of goes beyond this match, too. This season for him, obviously, is a wrap. And it was alright, but not a great one, especially by his standards. What does next season hold for him? What's going to be different? These whipper-snappers that made big gains this year, such as Andy Murray, Juan del Potro and Jo Tsonga, are only going to get better. Novak Djokovic (a Shanghai semifinalist despite my earlier prediction!) and the injured Rafael Nadal, both who are already great, are only going to keep improving, too. Roger's Roger.

So where does that leave A-Rod? Winning San Joses and Bangkoks till the cows come home? Correct me if I'm wrong, but Roddick hasn't even made a Masters FINAL since 2006. In his presser after dropping out of Shanghai, he mentions that his coaching sitch will be addressed (you can see it here at Down the Line!), which is a good thing.

I'm not going to get into being critical of his game, as I've done in the past. I just hope that something changes and he can get on even grounds with these young guns. He's too good for that not to be the case.

(Photo: AFP)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Shanghai surprise


I didn't see that coming!

Roger Federer fell to Gilles Simon in three sets today. That's a great win for Simon, but the deeper question is what does that mean for Roger? I didn't get to see the match, due to this work thing and all, but from what I've read, he made a lot of errors.

Does that mean he's rusty? Is his back still hurting? Does Simon have his number? I was expecting him to lose a match during the round-robin portion, but I thought that was going to come against Andy Murray, not the tournament's emergency space filler. Now, Federer has to win his matches against Andys Roddick and Murray to increase his shots at advancing.

That's a pretty tall order, but I guess if anyone can do it, he can.

(And a special shout-out to my girl Madonna on the headline!)

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Venus rose!


Anyone remember my "Is Venus done rising?" post of a few weeks ago?

I guess I should delete that out of the blog archives now!

Venus Williams won the season-ending championships in three sets over surprise finalist Vera Zvonareva today. And I gotta tell ya, I couldn't be happier for the champ. She did what I was saying she's capable of doing: demonstrating she's still one of the most dominant players on the tour. She really hadn't been showing that to me much over the past few years, except at Wimbledon. I think picking up a title a couple of weeks ago really helped her well going in to this event. Looking at the way she played in Doha makes me think that I can't figure how anyone should ever be able to beat her.

What an awesome week she had. I can't believe this is the first year-end title of her career! I thought that she had managed to grab at least one during her heyday. Anyway, congrats to Venus, and to Zvonareva, who had an awesome week as well.

I'm gonna try to sneak in some year-in-review posting on the women's tour, so I don't want to shut it down on the season yet. What can I say? I just can't let go!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Master of his domain (Shanghai predictions)


The ATP's end-of-the-year championships is about to kick off any minute now (the U.S.-China time difference always trips me up). What a year it's been, too: I think the biggest thing is Rafael Nadal's ascendancy to the top of the heap. Rafa's not here, but Roger Federer—the man he replaced—is. I'm picking R-Fed to add to his Masters Cup haul this year—and would have even if Nadal were playing. It won't be easy, though. Here's my breakdown of how I think everyone will finish (going by seed) and a mini-recap of their 2008 season.

• Federer
Titles: Four, including the U.S. Open. (and an Olympic Gold in doubles, too.)
Year in review: "Is Roger done?" was the question most repeated over the season. It was an off one by his standards, but I think most players would take making three Slam finals and winning one any day of the week. He's not done yet!
Shanghai prediction: Champ (2-1 in round-robin play)

• Novak Djokovic
Titles: Three, including the Australian Open.
Year in review: A great first half of the year with a Slam and two Masters shields. However, the player who looked like he would seriously be challenging for the top spot, kind of fell off in the second half. The indoor season hasn't been that impressive.
Shanghai prediction: 1-2

• Andy Murray
Titles: Five, including two Masters shields.
Year in review: The U.S. Open finalist is responsible for making the "Big 3" on tour the "Fantastic 4." Everything pretty much fell into place for Murray this year and he's been on a tear indoors.
Shanghai prediction: Runner-up (3-0 in round-robin play)

• Nikolay Davydenko
Titles: Three, including a Masters shield.
Year in review: Winning Miami was huge for the perennial top-tenner, but I know Slam-wise, this was the worst he's done in years. He hasn't gotten deep in a draw in ages it seems: Did he even play this fall? And oh yeah, he's off the hook in the gambling scandal.
Shanghai prediction: 0-3

• Andy Roddick
Titles: Three
Year in review: A-Rod's year was OK (wins over the Big 3) and he got to the quarters at the U.S. Open. But I'll tell you this: If he didn't have bad injury spells, he really coulda been a contenda.
Shanghai prediction: 1-2

• Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Titles: Two, including one Masters shield
Year in review: Jo-Willie! The Aussie Open finalist also got hit hard by injury, but won Paris the last week of the regular season to get in. If not for that knee, oh what could've been...
Shanghai prediction: Semifinalist (3-0 in round-robin play)

• Juan Martin del Potro
Titles: Four (and those were in a row)
Year in review: The kid was alright. The youngest guy in the tournament was the hottest player on the planet this summer until Andy Murray stopped him in the U.S. Open quarterfinals. He's had a solid indoor season and should do well here.
Shanghai prediction: Semifinalist (2-1 in round-robin play)

• Gilles Simon
Titles: Three
Year in review: The beneficiary of Nadal's withdrawal came up with some nice results over the season, including a win over Federer this summer. To me, the most impressive thing he did all year was making the finals in Madrid, where he came through in third-set breakers in each match to get that far. That shows a lot of guts.
Shanghai prediction: 0-3

That's my take on the Masters Cup. Even with Rafa out, it still should be a good one!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

OK, Vera. I get the point!


"Except for Zvonareva, I wouldn't be surprised if any of the top seven won the whole thing." — Van Sias, Tennis Talk, Anyone?, Nov. 3, 2008

"You really can't say that every round-robin match could potentially be a classic, but I think this time, you can. (Except for, again, ones involving Zvonareva. Sorry, Vera!)" — again, Van Sias, Tennis Talk, Anyone?, Nov. 3, 2008

Yes, those words were written by yours truly just two days ago on the cusp of the championships—and in the same post, no less! I'm assuming what happened is that someone showed Zvonareva the post and she used it as bulletin-board material to get fired up for the tournament. (Yeah, right!)

Zvonareva beating Svetlana Kuznetsova in her first match up was really kind of shocking to me, despite Vera being in better form than Kuz pretty much all year. Part of me was thinking that Svetlana was going to turn it around here. Then, what she did today, knocking off Ana Ivanovic in three really blew me away. I thought that despite losing her first match to Jelena Jankovic, Ivanovic had been playing better lately than that rough patch she went through.

So now it's up to JJ to stop Zvonareva from going 3-0, something I didn't think was going to happen at all this tournament, much less from the last seeded player (who's thisclose to booking a spot in the semis, by the way).

It's always good to see talented players do good things at a big event, so keep it going, Vera. And if you need any more bulletin-board material in the future, Tennis Talk, Anyone? is always happy to oblige!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Please, please, PLEASE let everybody be healthy!


I don't want to sound like I'm throwing my lot in with the WTA's press crew or anything, but you know what? This year's WTA season-ending championships has the potential to be one of the best ever!

(Geez, how cheesy did I just sound there? "The best ever!" Who writes that stuff? Oh yeah, me!)

Anyway, the groupings for the event are ridiculous: In the white group, you have Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva. The maroon group (which I'd like to go on record as saying is the stronger of the two) has Venus and Serena Williams, Dinara Safina and Elena Dementieva.

I don't see how anyone in either group will go 3-0. If any player wins her group outright like that, then I think they'll have pulled off one of the biggest feats of the year. Except for Zvonareva, I wouldn't be surprised if any of the top seven won the whole thing. That's how even I think it is this go-round. You really can't say that every round-robin match could potentially be a classic, but I think this time, you can. (Except for, again, ones involving Zvonareva. Sorry, Vera!)

So ladies, the fans need you to be "heroes" because something that always seems to be the case at the year-end events, I feel, particularly at the WTA championships, is someone pulls out at the last minute. I just hope that won't be this case this time because I'm telling you, this could be some of the best tournament action you'll see in years! (There I go again with the cheesiness. Sorry about that folks.)

(Photo: Getty Images)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

David vs. the Goliath*


Well, it's all on the line tomorrow with David Nalbandian going against Jo-Wilifred Tsonga in the final of the Paris Open.

Aside from picking up more than 400 grand, the winner gets a ticket to Shanghai to boot. That's been the great thing about Paris over the past few years to me: It seems like those guys on the outside of the race usually are busting their hump trying to make it to the big dance. I remember a few years ago when Sebastian Grosjean had to win to get in and he pulled it off. Sometimes, too, players who you almost rule out of the running (or at least, I rule out!), such as Nalbandian and Jo-Willie get in the mix.

Tsonga's great and I really do like him a lot. I just hate that he took out two of my main guys—Andy Roddick and James Blake—to get this far. I was pulling for Andy to win a major title again, and I would've loved to see JB step it up and win his way in to the big dance but you can't have it all. Tsonga's totally deserving, though.

As for Nalbandian, what can you say about that guy? Can you believe what he's capable of? He was totally off my radar, then all of a sudden, he's handling two of the hottest players on tour (Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Murray) with hardly any difficulty at all, then dusting Nikolay Davydenko in the semis. He's had a great indoor season this year.

Tomorrow's final will definitely be a can't miss event. I think I'm going to pick Tsonga for this one: He brings a lot of heat, which doesn't really bother Nalbandian, but he has other tools that'll help him out (a solid net game, pretty good athleticism) which will help him out against the veteran. As I say that, watch Nalbandian beat him 1 and 2!

*(In case you're wondering, I'm referring to Tsonga as a goliath in the headline just because his game is so big and all. I should know this, though, that the first rule of headline writing is if you have to explain it, it's not a good one! However, I'm sticking with this!)

(Photos: Getty Images)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Oh yeah, Canada


Unless you're among the qualifiers for the season-ending championships in Doha next week, this week pretty much wraps up the season on the main WTA tour.

The Bell Challenge in Quebec is the last event before most of the players head into the brief off-season. It's a Tier III event, but kind of unique in that if you were to look at players that have won it in the past, you wouldn't think it was at that level: Lindsay Davenport, Maria Sharapova, Jennifer Capriati, Amy Frazier, Chanda Rubin, Nathalie Tauziat—pretty big names all.

This year, the top seed is Nadia Petrova, who has been on a pretty decent run indoors. But the story of the week so far has been Melanie Oudin, who took out the number-two seed in the first round and has now made it to the quarterfinals. I'd have to go with Petrova to win the whole event seeing as how she's had way more success than anyone in the draw. You never know, though, how things will play out. Maybe Oudin's mini-run so far will continue until she picks up the title. This little event is keeping my attention.

(Photo: AFP)

Monday, October 27, 2008

I'm through with him


Earlier I thought he was going to make it back to the top 10 by the end of the year after he showed some signs of life during the clay-court season.

Then I thought, "Hey, if he can make the semis of Wimbledon, playing on his worst surface, he still has a lot of tennis left in him."

However, his latest loss, today against Juan Monaco at the Paris Open, has led me to make the following statement:

Tennis Talk, Anyone? no longer endorses Marat Safin.

From now on, if he does something good, then I'm considering it a total fluke—that is, if he even decides to keep playing. It makes no sense for somebody to be that good and have the losses he has without there being some type of major injury. (Check out this post at Tennis From Beyond the Baseline for more on his prior loss.)

So Marat, old chum, continue to pile up your first-round losses or make your deep runs in Majors, but as I noted in my most-frustrating list a few weeks back, you're driving me insane and I just can't handle the stress!

(Photo: AP)

Thumb's up!


Maybe all calls for her to shut it down were a little too premature after all!

Ana Ivanovic won in Austria this weekend, her third title of the year, but first since the French, mainly due to that bad thumb injury. She beat Vera Zvonareva, who's been playing pretty well the past few weeks (and who booked her spot in Doha next week) in the finals. I think, though, with Ivanovic, you could've gone about it two ways to snap out of the slump: Shut it down, like I was suggesting, or keep playing, which she did. I hope this bodes well for her next week at the end-of-the-year championships.

Her countrywoman, Jelena Jankovic, also made a bit of news this week—this time without playing—by clinching the top spot for the year. Granted, it would've been nice if she would've picked up a Major, but she did get to a final and a couple of semis as well. Plus, the main thing she did was get out there and play—and a lot at that. It's a well-deserved accomplishment and congrats to her.

(Photo: AP)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rated BG (Gilbert's impact on Andre and the two Andys)


Andy Roddick lost his quarterfinal match today in Lyon while Andy Murray won his in St. Petersburg.

Murray's had a dream season this year (a couple of Masters shields, a Slam final) and Roddick's hasn't been that bad really, when you think about it: three titles, wins over each of the big three. But for all they've done so far, I can't help but think of one question:

What if they would've stayed working with Brad Gilbert for a longer period of time?

It seems to me that Murray has been doing the things that Gilbert wanted him to do, such as placing an emphasis on fitness and serving bigger. A-Rod's development has taken some steps back since working with BG: no more Slams, wins against higher-ranked guys going few and far between.

From what I gather, Mr. Winning Ugly's personality just rubbed them the wrong way. But I would almost think that if you saw what Gilbert did for Andre Agassi, if you had the chance to work with him, why not stick it out?

Anyway, I decided to take a look at the three A's before and after working with BG.

• Agassi:
Before: Dre was probably the best ball-striker on tour, who had gotten to number 3 in the world and picked up a Wimbledon title in '92 on sheer talent alone. But in '93, that started to get exposed a little bit and his habit of not putting in the work hampered him as he finished up the year outside of the top 10 for the first time since 1987.

During: Agassi entered 1994 a little more focused and asked Gilbert, who was starting to curtail his playing schedule, to help him out in Key Biscayne. He got to the finals there, and went on to win the U.S. Open that year, beating five seeded players along the way. Over the course of their partnership, Agassi went on to complete the career Slam and pick up Olympic Gold.

After: Agassi still managed to do OK, winning Slams and making Slam finals after hooking up with Darren Cahill. Credit to "Killer" for that, but to me, it looked like he was still doing what he learned during the Gilbert era.

• Roddick:
Before: Roddick made his big splash in 2001 with a win over Pete Sampras and a run to the quarters at the U.S. Open. He also won three tournaments that year before making his top 10 debut in '02. The first half of '03 was kind of shaky for him and it was beginning to look like him winning a Slam would never happen.

During: A-Rod got rid of his longtime coach heading into the second half of the season, then proceeded to tear the tour up after hooking up with BG, culminating with his first Slam title and a year-end finish at number one. The future seemed so bright, until it became a matter of he-said, he-said and they broke up.

After: What can you say? It's been a roller-coaster ever since. Probably out of everything going on in tennis right now, I wish these two could get back to working together. Roddick's career has been great (I consider him a first-ballot Hall of Famer), but man, there's still so much out there left for him to grab, and Gilbert's the man to help him out.

Murray:
Before: Murray was showing signs of greatness but had yet to pull it all together. Knocking off guys like Roddick showed signs of being the real deal. It's funny: I saw him play the qualies at the U.S. Open and he had all the shots. Then, when it was announced that the LTA hired Brad Gilbert and he was going to be working with Murray, I thought, "This could be the most talented player BG has had, including Agassi."

During: Well, the two never got to really show what could've been, with Murray being injured most of the time. And with those two being such strong-willed individuals it was over before it started. However, Gilbert did lay the foundation for Murray, I feel, like getting him to work out with track star Michael Johnson.

After: Murray's doing big things now with his team, but I can't help but think everything good he's doing now could've gone even better if old Brad was still there. I think Murray will win a Slam next year if he keeps it up like this. And a former coach of his should feel proud if he does.

(Photos: Gilbert, New York Times; Roddick, Getty Images)

Where the action is


Among all the tournaments going on on both tours this week, it seems the best one to follow from a fan's perspective has to be the Swiss Indoors.

David Nalbandian and Juan Martin del Potro, the number two and three seeds, respectively, have already made it to the semis. James Blake, the four seed, is on the court right now with Feliciano Lopez, and Roger Federer plays later on against Simone Bolelli. R-Fed and JB are on the same sides of the draw and would face each other next if they both got through.

Of course, I think Federer will make it, but Blake is going to have a tough match against old F-Lo there. Lopez has been playing pretty well lately with deep runs in his last two events. However, Blake looks to be in good form this tournament and is 2-0 in head-to-heads against Lopez, so who knows? I consider this one a toss-up (meaning I'm kind of chicken to make a call!)

Anyway, you look at it, the Basel organizers have to be happy with how the tournament's turned out, with big names making it pretty far. You know, I don't know why I've become this tournament sympathizer lately; I guess I just like to see the old events stick around!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Better late than never

So, as I was a wee bit preoccupied last weekend, I didn't get to comment on the results of last weekend, as there were definitely some pretty impressive results all around.

• First, I have to give a shout out to Venus Williams for bagging Zurich, just like I practically begged her to do at the end of my post about the most frustrating players on the WTA tour. She took out her recent nemesis, Flavia Panetta, in straights. You know what? On any surface or in any quick conditions, that should always be the case for Williams against pretty much anyone. Anyway, congrats to Williams.

• How about that Andy Murray? He picked up his second Masters shield of the year by winning Madrid, with a victory over Roger Federer in the semis along the way. I don't think there should be any doubt that the men's tour is ruled by a big four now.

• And speaking of Madrid, how about Murray's finals opponent, Gilles Simon? I guess Murray had the right idea: take him out in straights, because if you get into a third-set tiebreak with him, it's a wrap! I really wasn't that convinced about Simon, despite the year he's had, but that was a nice, gutsy run he put together. It would be nice to see him go deep in a Slam now.

Now that the look back is done, it's time to come back to the present. There's plenty of action going on this week, with the men in Lyon, St. Petersburg and Basel, while the women are in Austria and Luxembourg. The season's winding down, but what I do like about this time of the year is that those players with a chance are scrambling to get into the end-of-the-year championships. Good luck to them!

(Photos: Williams, AP; Murray, Getty Images)

I'm giving her until at least around 2024...


... Then hopefully you'll be reading about her on the pro circuit!

Matilda Rose Gannon-Sias was born Friday, Oct. 17, weighing 8 lbs., 5 ounces, and 20 and a half inches long. Mom and baby are doing good.

I'm planning on making her into a serve-and-volleyer. Nobody does that anymore in the women's game. What do you think? : )

UPDATE: Mom gave me the all clear to add a picture!

Getting social


Tennis Talk, Anyone? was feeling kind of lonely so it decided to get on Facebook®! (Well, actually I did it for TTA? because it's a blog and can't do such complex things!)

If you're on Facebook® and like what you read here, become a fan of Tennis Talk, Anyone? I have some ideas I'm going to get percolating there, so check it out here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Great things ahead

So I just wanted to say that I really dig Masters events.

You know what's really cool about them? When you get to the round of 16s, its usually big names all around. In a way, it's a little cooler than at Slams because you get the action a round earlier!

Anyway, I originally wanted to write something about the matches, but I'm kind of in a rush: I'm about to head to the hospital in a few to welcome my baby daughter into the world! But before I go, here's what I think the quarterfinal matchups will be (after the 16s finish of course)! I usually make good picks when I'm on the run, as evidenced by my Mardy Fish U.S. Open prediction. (That's kinda sad that I'm still writing about that months later...):

Nadal vs. Wawrinka
Djokovic vs. Simon
Monfils vs. Murray
Del Potro vs. Federer

So there it is. I'll check later to see how it comes out. And hopefully next time around, I'll have a baby picture to post up here. Should be a couple of days, so catch ya later!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

She drives me crazy (The TTA? top five most-frustrating players: women's edition)


My, what a difference six months can make!

It was back then that Dinara Safina made a turnaround from following in the flaky footsteps of her big brother, Marat. Now look at her: a number-two ranking, titles galore and a place OFF the list of the players who drive me crazy!

Yesterday, I listed the guys. Now it's the women's turn, giving me a chance to examine the players who have given me the most migraines. Again, some of them were on the TTA? Top 10 List. If I missed anyone, please feel free to list them.

Anyway, here's the countdown:

5. Nicole Vaidisova: Tsk, tsk: 19 and almost done. Why she's not among the players battling for a turn at the top of the rankings is beyond me. Every time I think she's about to break out of this prolonged slump, Bam! Another loss. And I'm left wondering, "Oh, what could have been." Usually when you're as young as she was when she made a Slam semi, then that's a good thing. Maybe it's the Radek Stepanek effect: Martina Hingis seemed to put tennis on the back burner when she was rolling with him. (Check out Down the Line! for more on that.) I guess if I stop expecting her to do well, then I could save money on headache medicine.

4. Sania Mirza: I can't tell you how many times I've picked her to come through in matches going by what the pundits say about her game: "Her forehand's huge." "She's a fighter." I know she deals with a lot of off-the-court stuff that nobody on tour can imagine and right now, her wrist is pretty messed up, but she's lost a LOT of matches she shouldn't have. I hope she can come back and play on a consistent level: I don't know what I'd do if she didn't win a match that I picked her to again!

3. Amelie Mauresmo: The legend. And I'll leave it at that.

2. Svetlana Kuznetsova: This is getting ridiculous! There's a whole legion of fans that think her next final will be her next title. The winless streak has to end at some point, right? How does someone lose 10 of 11 finals, and the only one that was won was when the opponent retired? I wouldn't be too surprised if she broke out of this and won the season-ending championships. Then again, if she goes 0-3 there, it wouldn't faze me much either. Talk about putting the fans on a rollercoaster!

1. Venus Williams: I just wrote something about this last week, but I'll reiterate some of the points I made before: One of the greatest fast-court players of ALL TIME, athletic as all get-out and she can't beat players who were groomed on clay in indoor conditions? Come on! Venus, please, for my sanity: Win Zurich this week! Is that too much to ask?

(Photo: Getty Images)

Swiss mystery


The top women players are in Switzerland this week for the Tennis.com Zurich Open, and one question comes to mind:

Why is Ana Ivanovic there?

Her slump, which looks like it was brought on by injury (at least I hope it was that and not the pressure of being number one) has only deepened. She hasn't gotten much match play in over the past few months with the bad thumb and losing early, so maybe that's her reasoning.

But if you were to think about it, what's really left to play for the rest of the season? The end of the year championships? That's not worth risking more injury and more importantly, a bigger dent to her confidence.

Now I'm not saying she should be entering Tier IV's and beating up on lower-ranked players. Rather, I think she should shut it down for the rest of the year, make sure she's healthy and get ready to start anew in '09. It's not like the players have much of an offseason anyway, so any time spent trying to recharge the batteries is precious.

But if she plans on playing it out, I wish her the best of luck. I just hope the slump doesn't carry over into next year. She's too good a player to not be challenging for the top.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Headbangers' ball (The TTA? top five most-frustrating players: men's edition)


I mentioned earlier in my post about Donald Young that I was going to write about last weekend's results in the pro tournaments, which at two of them, could either be considered big upsets or par for the course.

First up, playing in his first tournament final in a couple of years, Marat Safin fell to countryman Igor Kunitsyn, who was only making his tour finals debut—against a former world number one, to boot. Then over in Vienna, super-talented Frenchman Gael Monfils, playing in his first tournament final of the year, lost to German Philipp Petzschner, who was also making his finals debut.

Seeing Safin and Monfils both fall to journeymen on the same weekend really put into light how frustrating these two can be. They're capable of beating almost anyone—and losing to anyone, too.

So because I just like to go with themes when I come up with them, I decided to make a list of the five players that make you want to bang your head against the wall when you hear some of their results because you know that despite what they've accomplished, so much more can or could've been done. The only thing consistent about them is their inconsistency! Some of these guys were on the TTA? Top 10 List, but this one is based on how crazy they drive me.

Here goes: Any guesses as to who will top the list? I'm counting down to the leader, so don't look ahead! And if someone I didn't list drives you crazy, feel free to list them. Tomorrow's the ladies' turn.

5. Andy Roddick: I'm a big A-Rod fan, but man, does he drive me crazy sometimes! I know expectations for him have been high from a lot of people, and you can't win every match, but still: Losses to Philipp Kohlschreiber and Janko Tipsarevic in Slams is nuts. I'll always root for him, but I just don't know what I'm going to get: except for a concussion one day for ramming my head into the wall one too many times!

4. David Nalbandian: Well, at least he won his tournament this weekend! But you just never know what you'll get with him: One tournament he's knocking off Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in a row, the next he's losing to Jeremy Chardy. He's the defending champ in Madrid and if he defends, OK; if he loses his first match, OK. I'm gonna pad the furniture just in case I feel like knocking my head against something!

3. James Blake: Let's take a look at this year, shall we? The former world number four has only made two finals in '08 and lost both of them: to Kei Nishikori in Delray Beach and Marcel Granollers in Houston. These losses might look OK in a couple of years if or when those two make it big, but for a top guy near his prime, they're pretty bad. Also, journeymen galore have made it to Slam semis, but Blake hasn't: a bad result for someone of his stature.

2. Monfils: Guys that almost win the Grand Slam in junior tennis shouldn't only have one career title playing with the big boys, but that's where Gael is. Making the finals in Vienna was a decent result, but losing to a 24-year-old just cracking the top 100 and playing in his first final almost negates that accomplishment. Watch Monfils win Madrid this week.

1. Safin: Come on, who else could it have been? I don't even know where to begin. Earlier in the year, after he made a couple of quarters on clay, I thought that could kickstart a run to the top 10 before the end of the year. Then, that Wimbledon run only confirmed it for me. But I guess I should have known. Well at least he got to a final, but I'm left with a lump on my forehead after banging it into a desk after seeing he lost! I'll learn one day!

(Photos: Monfils, AP; Safin, Getty Images)

The 700 club


I just wanted to send some quick kudos to Jonas Bjorkman on winning his 700th doubles match (and taking the title, too, with Kevin Ullyett) in Stockholm over the weekend.

Bjorkman's packing it up after this season, and he's leaving as one of the greatest doubles players of all time. He's won Slams everywhere and picked up numerous titles elsewhere as well. His singles career has been kind of overlooked lately, but he's a two-time Slam semifinalist and has gotten as high as number four in the world, which is definitely nothing to sneeze at.

The first men's pro match I saw live was with him at the U.S. Open playing Patrick Rafter in the quarters back in 1998. Rafter was handling him pretty handily, then the crowd started getting behind Bjorkman, who managed to make it tight at the end—but it wasn't enough. He was a good sport throughout, even with the rowdy New York crowd mispronouncing his first name by saying the silent "J."

And, of course, before Novak Djokovic, there was Bjorkman doing impersonations. You can catch him imitating some old-school players here .

Anyway, Jonas, best of luck the rest of the year, and in the future, too. I'm sure we'll still be seeing you around!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Young at heart, redux

There were some interesting results over the weekend on the ATP tour (which I DEFINITELY plan on writing about later on), but one stood out to me, in a good way.

Donald Young won the Challenger event in Sacramento, beating Robert Kendrick in the finals—and pretty easily at that. Winning moved him back into the top 120, which still isn't where he should be talent-wise, but at least he's going back in a positive direction.

As I've mentioned before, I've been kind of critical of him in the past. I don't really have doubts about his ability, but the way he's gone about being a pro has just left something to be desired as far as I'm concerned. I would love for him to get a real coach and it doesn't even have to be a great one—just someone who's worked with a pro or has been a pro, or both.

Also, since he's down in Atlanta, he should be practicing with Robby Ginepri and Bobby Reynolds all the time. While Ginepri may have pretty much devolved into a journeyman and Reynolds is one, they're still big, strong, fit guys who could show Young what that element of the game could bring to his own. Ginepri's had a lot of success on tour, too, and that could be an example for Young to follow.

This is the main thing, though, that I'd like to see Young do: Play more Challengers! And ones all over the world! After he lost to James Blake in the first round at the U.S. Open this year, I was scanning the Challengers calendar and saw one in Spain I actually thought would have been great for him, but he was nowhere to be found, at any tournament. He just has to play, and playing everywhere can only help.

Guys his age (Juan Martin del Potro, Ernests Gulbis, Marin Cilic) are way ahead of him right now, but if you were to look at it from an ability standpoint, I don't think much separates Young from them. I hope Sacramento is the start (with no backtracking) for him getting there.

Friday, October 10, 2008

How Swede it was


So, over there in my little "About Me" section, I mention how I've been playing and following tennis for 20 years now.

Over that time, I've (almost obsessively) observed the path of tournaments on both pro circuits: At one point, I used to know the winner and finalist of every Masters series tournament played in the '90s. (I guess I should remove "almost" from the "almost obsessively" phrase in the prior sentence!)

That being said, did you know that this week's Stockholm tournament was originally one of the "Super 9" tournaments as the ATP called them when it formed in 1990? It lost its Super 9 status to the tournament in Essen, Germany, which has since become the Madrid event kicking off next week.

If you were to look at the past champions during the Super 9 era, you'd be amazed at the Hall of Famers and potential ones on the list: Ashe, McEnroe, Borg, Becker, Edberg, Lendl, Wilander, Ivanisevic, Stich. However, as the tournament downgraded in status, the champion's roll call got a little shaky with Thomas Enqvist, Paradorn Srichaphan, Mardy Fish, Thomas Johansson, James Blake, Jonas Bjorkman and Ivo Karlovic among the winners. (Notice how I had to use their first names?)

It looked like, though, that the tournament had made a coup this year, with the big daddy, Roger Federer, expected to come in to town. However, we all know how that went. But, miracle of miracles, he's coming back next week to play in Madrid, refreshed after getting that extra week off.

Players bail on tournaments all the time, so what R-Fed did isn't unusual. I mean, Blake (a two-time champ) and Novak Djokovic pulled a no-show here, too. I guess as a sort of recent traditionalist, I feel bad for the tournament, which was one of the crown jewels of the indoor season not too long ago. And the fans, of course, as well. They're still getting to see some good tennis, but just imagine what they could have had: A return to the glory days, if only for one week.

(Photo: AP)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Is Venus done rising?


For some reason, this loss really kind of bothers me.

I'm trying to figure it out: Granted, Flavia Panetta's been playing her butt off this year (a couple of titles, some finals, a quarterfinal run at the U.S. Open). But come on! We're talking about Venus Williams! A walking legend in the game and one of the greatest fast-court players of all time. Why does Panetta seemingly have her number with a 3-1 lead in head-to-heads?

I think why this bugs me is because I see this result as just a microcosm of Williams' career over the past few years: mediocre results against players that back in the early 2000s would be playing just to win a game or two off of her. I'll acknowledge the fact that obviously Williams has gotten a little older and she's been injury-prone, but let me throw this out there: How many players are out there with her physical gifts—particularly the size and the speed? A Venus Williams at 80 percent should be able to beat Panetta, unless Panetta's a solid top-four-worthy talent.

Did you know that since 2005, Williams has won only six titles? And among those six, three were Wimbledons? OK, so maybe grass is her best surface, but you know what should be the next best thing for her? Playing indoors, as they're doing in Moscow this week. Technically, this should be better for her since the conditions are truer.

I thought she'd be in the mix for the top spot by this year or next. She just beat Dinara Safina and lost a real tight one to Jelena Jankovic last week. I'm sorry: If you're capable of that, then Panetta shouldn't be able to carry your racquet bag.

All right, I'm done with my ranting: I'll give Flavia her props, but Venus! Come on!

(Photo: Getty Images)