Monday, March 31, 2008

The most important tournament of his career?


There's been a lot of talk lately about the "slump" or "downward spiral" or however you want to describe it of Roger Federer. And make no mistake about it, there is something going on. The bad thing about this is that the timing couldn't be worse.

Every day, it seems, there are more young players nipping at R-Fed's heels, and after seeing him struggle with Pete Sampras (even though, to me, it looked like he wasn't going all-out), then losing to Mardy Fish (Mardy Fish!), why wouldn't they be? I don't think Federer's really done, by any means, but I think he's definitely off track from doing things of historic proportions, which it seemed like a couple of years ago was going to be the case.

That's why I think if he's going to get back on track, it has to start at the Sony Ericsson Open. He beat Gael Monfils pretty easily, and his match today with Robin Soderling (who's had a pretty good start to the year) is just starting. He needs to really go out there and put a whuppin' on Soderling. And if Federer gets through that and his next match, then meets Andy Roddick in the quarters, he really needs to drop the hammer on him as well.

The fact that Novak Djokovic is out of the tournament kind of waters down the quality of winning the whole thing, since Djoko (who's been playing more like the number 2 player in the world) has given him some fits lately. But if Rafael Nadal meets Federer at the end and R-Fed manages to pummel him, that could do wonders for his confidence—and possibly get him back on course to making history.

Granted, I think he's still going to break Sampras' Slam record, (which I think is semi-bogus, since seven of the titles came at Wimbledon), but with Federer's game, he should be doing more than what Sampras did: Just don't pile up titles at Wimbledon, dominate everywhere—and why not get back in that mind-set here at the Sony Ericsson Open?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Grab some popcorn for these

Perusing the order of play at the Sony Ericsson Open at 10:45 on a Saturday morning (What else would I be doing on a Saturday morning?), three matches in particular caught my eye that would be entertaining to watch. I'm gonna just think of these from a fun standpoint. Yesterday, I flagged some matches I thought could be "tricky" for some, and were they ever, with the underdogs winning all four. Today, these are my "Popcorn Matches of the Day":

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (12) vs. Jurgen Melzer: Now, if you've looked here in the past, you know Jo-Willie is my man. The dude's game is big-time—a potent mix of power and athleticism. Melzer (left), whose career numbers should definitely be better than they are, could give Tsonga some fits, particularly with his ability to pull one of the best drop shots on tour out of his hat at any time. If Jo-Willie can impose himself on Melzer right away, then he should have a pretty easy time of it. He can't let Melzer hang around and get comfy in the rallies because the Austrian veteran has enough game to frustrate him. I'm going with Tsonga in three.

Andy Murray (13) vs. Mario Ancic: I actually picked Murray (with Miami Dolphins cheerleaders in tow) to make the finals here, knocking off R-Fed in the semis, but I also picked Novak Djokovic to win the whole tournament, so what do I know? : ) This will be a good test for Andy because even though he's not all the way back from illness and injury, Mario's serve is still huge enough to worry anyone. I think Andy's one of the best returners in the game, though, and should be able to handle whatever bombs Ancic delivers. Scoreline on this one: 7-6, 6-2.

Roger Federer (1) vs. Gael Monfils: Roger will win this one pretty handily, I feel, but technically, he shouldn't—if that makes sense. Monfils (left) is somebody, by now, you should consistently lump in there with the top Young Guns on the ATP, but whether it's physical or mental problems with him, it just hasn't happened. He is a good enough shot-maker, though, to keep things entertaining from that aspect. I'm going with Roger in straights.

(Photos: Getty Images)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Very tricky, indeed


I thought Novak would've been able to come through, but I guess Kevin Anderson (pictured) had a little too much firepower. As I mentioned in my earlier post, Big Serve + Extra Matches Under the Belt = Tough Situation for a Top Seed.

This result has blown my pick 'em bracket for Tennisopolis out the window. Sorry, team!

(Photo: Getty Images)

It's tricky, tricky, tricky*

Today, the top players FINALLY get in on the action in Miami at the Sony Ericsson Open. I'm not expecting any major upsets on either side of the draw, but some players face potentially tricky opponents. So here's what I'm predicting to be my "Tricky Matches of the Day" (seeds in parenthesis):

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.

David Nalbandian (7) vs. Xavier Malisse: I think over the course of their careers, these have been two of the flightiest players ever. There are few out there that are pure tennis players like them: the court sense, the shot-making ability, etc. But both of their careers are nowhere near where they should be. Nalbandian's been playing at a pretty high level the past few months and Malisse is trying to work his way back from injury. This would be a perfect opportunity for Malisse to show he's on the right track, but I still see Nalbandian (seen here practicing at Indian Wells, courtesy of Mark "Da Mayor" of Tennisopolis.com) coming through. It shouldn't be easy though.

Richard Gasquet (8) vs. Dmitry Tursunov: There's going to be big bangin' going on all match for this one! This would be a good chance for Tursunov (pictured) to pick up a top 10 win, playing who I think is the most mentally fragile top tenner on the ATP side. But I don't know if Tursunov really cares about trying to be the best tennis player he can be. If he wins a title, cool; if not, cool. Gasquet should win, but Tursunov has the ability to take him out.

Virginie Razzano (23) vs. Ashley Harkleroad: Who vs. who, you might ask? Razzano was one of the hottest players during last winter's Asian swing, picking up back-to-back titles and almost a third. Any time you go back-to-back on either tour, that means you definitely have game. Harkleroad is in a good spot to pick up a win over a seed. You know, the way she came semi-blazing out of the gate to start her career, I never would've predicted Harkleroad being a journeywoman. This one is definitely a toss-up.

And for other matches involving seeds, Justine Henin, Rafael Nadal, sisters Williams and Blake should come through pretty easily. In lower seed upsets, I'm picking Grosjean over Stepanek and Mahut over Moya on the men's side. The rest of the women seeds should come through.

* A nod to Run-DMC!

(Tursunov, Djokovic pictures: Getty Images)

Monday, March 24, 2008

'Serb'-ing notice

I know, the headline's kinda corny, but I couldn't resist!

Well, the first big non-Slam tournament of the year has come and gone, with Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic (the Serbs who inspired my "witty" headline there!) taking the titles. I saw Djokovic making the finals as I mentioned in an earlier post, but his opponent was someone I never thought could do what he did in a million years: Mardy Fish. I've thought Mardy has missed plenty of opportunities over the past few years to do big things, but he really put it together this week.

But even without Mardy wiping out the top half of the draw there, I don't think it would've mattered who Djokovic was going up against looking back on it now. Novak can do some Federer-type things this year.

Ana Ivanovic took out perennial bridesmaid Svetlana Kuznetsova pretty handily. And after winning this title, the biggest of her young career so far, it was refreshing to hear her talk about going for Slams now. I thought she was kind of more Kim Clijsters-like than Justine Henin: too nice and not focused enough to seal the deal at the big ones. But it sounds like that's not the case, and good for her.

(Photos: Getty Images)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The big bangers


There's definitely going to be some ball-blasting going on at the Indian Wells tournament today as the quarterfinal fields on the men's side get set and half of the women's quarters get played. Here's a look at some of the matches:

Jo-Wilifried Tsonga vs. Rafael Nadal: You can never bet against Nadal on any surface (as I've come to learn picking against him at Wimbledon for the past couple of years!), but I'm going against him here. Tsonga has too much power and variety to his game for Nadal, who I feel can still get pushed around by free swingers on hard courts.

Richard Gasquet vs. James Blake: It's big forehand vs. big backhand: Who will win? So far, it's been the big backhand that's come out on top, as Gasquet leads Blake 2-0 in head-to-head matches. This time, I'm looking for crowd support to be a big factor and help James get the win.

Maria Sharapova vs. Daniela Hantuchova: The Undefeated One comes up the pride of Indian Wells, defending champ Hantuchova. I'm expecting Sharapova's streak to continue here; she just has too much firepower for Daniela.

Other picks: R-Fed over Lijubicic, Murray over Haas, Fish over Hewitt, Ferrero over Nalbandian, Wawrinka over Lee and Djokovic over Canas.

And in the othe women's quarter, I'm picking Svetlana Kuznetsova to come through.

(Photos: Getty Images)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Going back to Cali


So the tours are back in Indian Wells for the first men's Masters series tournament of the year and a huge stop on the women's side as well. (Actually, they've been there for a few days: I'm still playing catch-up!)

The biggest upset at this point between both sides has to be Andy Roddick falling early, but technically how much of an upset can it really be if he's playing Tommy Haas, one of the most talented, versatile guys out there? Tommy's done a lot in his career, and just imagine if the injury-bug wouldn't have hit him so hard? I think it would have been tough for him to win a Slam, though, because he's not dominant on any of the surfaces, but good on all of them.

Anyway, I was just peeping the men's draw and I'm seeing a Roger Federer-Novak Djokovic final, unless James Blake comes through. Blake had a great win today against Carlos Moya, but has a tough one coming up next against Richard Gasquet. Blake and Rafael Nadal could meet up in the quarters. Speaking of Nadal, I wish I coul'dve caught that match with Donald Young in today's coverage. Remember, this was also stated first: Young will be in the top 10 by 2010. From what I've read, experience played a part in their match today. I'm sure there'll be more between them though.

On the women's side, things pretty much stayed the course with Jelena Jankovic, my girl Francesca Schiavone and Lindsay Davenport among the winners. As I mentioned before, I'm not totally convinced how far on the comeback trail Davenport is because it looked like she kind of struggled today.

There's still plenty of tennis to write about this week. Hopefully, I'll get to catch some of the matches at some point!

Since I've been gone...


There's been a LOT going on in the tennis world since I've last posted something. Sorry for the delay; never will that happen again--I'd hate to have to do another recap like I'm about to do now!

• First, let me go back to Australia. Congrats to Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova. As I've mentioned before, I thought Novak still had some thumpings to take from Federer, particularly in Slams, but I don't think that's really gonna be the case any more, seeing as how their semifinal match went. I think Maria will be the first female player to balance dominance with the off-court stuff, something the Williams sisters and (a blast from the past here) Anna Kournikova were never able to do. (Photo credit: TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images)

And staying in Australia, howzabout my man Jo-Willie! I told you he'd do big things there! (Well, he actually lost the coin toss in my pick between he and Murray, but I knew the winner of that match would do OK! How's that for backtracking?)

• The U.S. Davis Cup team dropped hammers in Austria in the first round, which was something that I didn't really see coming. If they can go in and sweep some tough Austrians on clay, then I think a repeat could be in store.

• The South African claycourt swing came and went, and Nicolas Almagro came away with two titles: Costa do Sauipe and Acapulco. You've read it here first: top 10 after the French Open.

• 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.

• Serena broke her titleless drought by winning in Bangalore, and for the first time in what seems like an eternity actually played Venus in a tournament! Venus hasn't really been great shakes this year, but I could see her doing well come Wimbledon time.

• Ma Davenport has added another title to the post-baby haul, winning in Memphis. I think what's going to be key to monitoring her comeback is seeing how she plays in the big tournaments. She managed to blow my Aussie Open prediction for her by losing to Sharapova, but let's see how she does in Indian Wells before really declaring that she's back in my opinion.

• Another Andy Roddick note: He FINALLY got rid of Jimmy Connors as a coach! Sure, Jimbo motivated him out of that slump in '06, but what has he done for him lately? I think if Andy wants to win another slam, he's gonna have to go back to Brad Gilbert, or if that's totally unacceptable, start calling Andre Agassi every week and maybe picking his brain: someone that learned from Brad and someone he respects. Or if that doesn't work, here's some advice: Mix up your serve, blast forehands. On return games, get the return back, blast inside-out forehands. That advice was free: It'll cost next time!

• And last but not least, what the heck is going on with Roger Federer? Playing Pete Sampras close in an exhibition was great for tennis, but bad losses and bad comments aren't good. Hopefully, sour grapes don't keep creeping in and he can get back on his historical run.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Emergency shout-out to GoToTennis!!!

Hey Freakyfrites! Sorry for the weird way to try to reach you: this is the only thing I could think of since I tried to e-mail you and it didn't work. Anyway, I tried to leave a posting on your blog, but I was getting an error message. I know I had to register for Wordpress before, and when I tried to log in, it said I had the wrong password. I got a new password, but I think I ended up cracking your blog! Anyway, you can e-mail me at vansias@verizon.net to talk about it. I hope I didn't screw things up, and I hope you're up with it being Cali time and all!