Thursday, July 31, 2008

How about 'None of the Above?'

So, I've had this poll going on for the past few days on who deserves to be number 1 on the WTA tour and I'm wondering after last night's matches at the Rogers Cup if those four should be considered.

Maria Sharapova going three I understand: Her arm's about to fall off, which is sad because it's going to be tough to navigate around that as her career goes on. She just pulled out of the Olympics and is doubtful for the U.S. Open.

But Ana Ivanovic, the current number 1, going three against Kvitova? That's no good. Granted, it was Ivanovic's first match since Wimbledon, but you know what? Why was it her first match since Wimbledon? That was eons ago, and she lost early then! While what she's achieved is great, she doesn't seem like a dominant number 1. And I don't know about you, but I like my number 1's dominant!

Serena Williams has been playing more this year than she has in years, but it looks like the knee's acting up again. She's been pretty consistent, but she needs to take the U.S. Open to have a legit shot at the top.

Jelena Jankovic has been consistent, too, but sometimes I wonder how she even makes it through two matches in a row. Has anyone ever taken the court as bandaged as she usually is?

It's funny, the only player that's handling her business like a potential number 1 is Dinara Safina: someone I ragged on forever until finally seeing the light this year. She gets out there and plays, she's fighting out of top spots and she's dropping hammers on weaker opponents. Just look at that picture of her with the big check: That's how it's supposed to be for top players! However, the way the WTA's ranking system is set up, it would take her winning all four majors next year to be queen of the hill!

I can't go in and edit that poll over there because once someone's voted, but with injuries and some weird sort of apathy taking a toll among the top candidates, maybe "none of the above" should've been an option. Or Safina should at least be a write-in candidate!

Where have you gone, Justine Henin?

(Photos: Getty Images)

Go for the Gold!

Well, any thoughts I had about Roger Federer skipping the Olympics to focus on the U.S. Open should be disregarded at this point. I was worried he wouldn't be rested enough to make a decent run. I guess that point's moot now as he just lost to Ivo Karlovic. I guess the odds of all the tiebreaks with Dr. Ivo was going to catch up with him eventually.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A bagel in the third isn't bad, though

Federer won the third set in about 15 minutes. Tough break for Robby, but that's good for R-Fed. A little butt-kicking never hurts (unless you're the one getting your butt kicked!)

Having to rally against Robby Ginepri?

Not good. Not good at all.

Roger Federer and Ginepri have just started the third set of their second-round match at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters. Ginepri actually served for the match in the second! R-Fed's got two break points right now, but even being in this position is not a good sign.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Monday, July 28, 2008

'Bite me, Van! What do you know?'

You know, if he knew me or read this blog sometimes, Rafael Nadal could easily say that to me!

Over the course of the past couple of years, I haven't given him much credit for what he's done:

• He's won four French Opens in a row? "Big deal, there's always been clay-court specialists," I've thought before. "He just happens to be a really good one."

• He's won Wimbledon: "So? No way he would've beaten Edberg or Becker on grass."

• He's won Masters shields on hard courts, like his most recent one in Canada: "Win a Major on a hard court, then we'll talk."

• He's gaining on the top spot: "Roger's still the best all-around player. He's just in a funk."

Well, first let me say that I've always liked Rafa. I just never thought he could accomplish what he has with that game of his, which to me seems to lack the versatility of Federer's or even Novak Djokovic's. But something he has is an incredible drive to be the best he can. He's respectful to the game and his opponents, which I've never questioned and always admired.

I still plan on going with R-Fed to win the U.S. Open, but if Nadal were to pull it off I wouldn't be surprised, which is something I couldn't say before. And my apologies, Rafa, for ever doubting ya!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Shades of 1996?

Let's see here:

• His winning streak at Wimbledon was broken.

• No new Masters shields or Grand Slam trophies have been added to the mantelpiece.

• The tournaments that have been won were minor, at best.

• His rivals are threatening to take over his number-one ranking after he's had a stranglehold on it for years.

• There's whispers of him being done.

• His coaching situation is precarious.

Everyone knows this to be the case with Roger Federer, right? And that loss to Gilles Simon only adds fuel to the fire. However, I'm not talking about R-Fed.

I'm bringing it way back to the King of Swing, Pete Sampras, circa 1996.

All of the above things were going on with Pistol Pete that year. He suffered one of his earliest Slam losses in years at the Australian Open; Paul Haarhuis beat him in Indian Wells; and his longtime coach, Tim Gullickson, died before the French Open, where Sampras made the semis on willpower alone.

He gets to Wimbledon and Richard Krajicek takes him out as he's trying to go for four in a row. He manages to win a warm-up tournament before the U.S. Open and gets through to the finals at the big one. Waiting for him there is Michael Chang, his old childhood rival, who was playing in his second Slam final of the year and coming closer than ever to the top spot.

What does Pete do? Comes out smokin' and wins in straights! From then on, he pretty much dominates the indoor season, wins another World Championship and quiets any doubts about who the man is.

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.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Canadian mists

The rain wiped out a pretty awesome schedule today at the Toronto Masters tournament. It's not like the matches will never happen, though! So I'm just going to say a quick thing about a few of them before they actually get played:

• Roger Federer (1) vs. Gilles Simon: The King takes on last week's Indy champ in his first match since Wimbledon. A good test to work his way back into that tournament-winning mind-set right off the bat. R-Fed in straights.

• Jesse Levine vs. Rafael Nadal (2): Also playing his first match since capturing the big W, Rafa should get a nice workout here but nothing too stressful.

• Nikolay Davydenko (4) vs. Tommy Haas: It's always wild to me when you see matches like this and they're second-rounders! It's a testament to the depth in the game and the strength of Masters tournaments. Nik has a better head-to-head against Tommy, but I'm going with the German in the upset here.

• David Ferrer (5) vs. Robby Ginepri: These two play so similar to each other. If it were earlier in the year when he had that hot streak going, I'd pick Ginepri. But since that's a thing of the past, I'm going with the Spaniard.

Here's a couple of upset picks I'm throwing at you: Soderling over Verdasco and Andreev over Berdych.

And that's just a few of the great matches on tap for when the rain stops! (That sounds like an ad; I wonder if I can get some money from the tournament?)

(Photos: Getty Images)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The 'Road less traveled

An interesting little story for you:

So there was this guy, right? A hotshot junior tennis player in Alabama who had a couple of scholarship offers to some small schools, but because his dad was sick at the time, he stayed home and went to the big college in town: a Division I powerhouse. The hotshot (or so he thought he was) couldn't keep up with the guys on that team, but he knew the coach and his own instructor used to play there, so he got to hit with those guys a lot. And he got to pretty much be a practice partner for the women's team, which was also very solid.

Well, one day the men were out of town and the women were playing their own practice tournament. The junior played with them to help make the draw even and was paired against the assistant coach. Let me tell you, though: This dude thought that any guy, especially one of his caliber, could beat any woman player, even if the coach was the winningest player in conference history. The junior went on to promptly be blasted off the court by said coach and from that day on, his perspective about women in sports was changed forever. Actually, the junior can tell you the moment: The two were playing on Valentine's Day, and after the coach won, she shouted to the team: "I was feeling romantic, so I beat him six-love!"

And if you couldn't guess it by now, then that junior was me!

Why did I tell that story, you might ask? Well, I was checking out the results in the tournaments on the professional tours yesterday, and I saw a scoreline that really caught my eye: Stephanie Dubois (CAN) d. Ashley Harkleroad (USA) 6-2, 6-3.

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.

See, my past eye-opening experience has made me more aware of sexism and the way it manifests itself. It's sad that Harkleroad thought this was going to pay off for her, maybe build her "Q" rating, so to speak. (I'm personally not buying the "want to show off an athlete's body" line she's throwing around.) A co-worker of mine that doesn't follow tennis and I were discussing it when the news broke. A month later, he couldn't tell you her name to save his life. What female's been in Playboy at the height of their popularity? It's always some last-ditch move or publicity stunt when they pose. Harkleroad was at that stage in her life? Trying to win matches and improve wasn't good enough? I hate to see someone feel that's the case.

Plus, the decision to pose isn't going to do much to get guys that are like I was to change their minds about things. A person always wants to be respected, but a move like Harkleroad's makes it hard.

I hate to sound like I'm proselytizing because I'm not a complete angel (I did see the pictures and the article, after all!). And this little posting of mine can even be perceived as sexist ("Who's this man that thinks he can say what a woman can do with her body?") I just hope that a woman wouldn't feel she has to sell her body just to get a few extra mentions in newspaper articles, when her main priority should be trying to win matches.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

It's only going to get harder

So both tours dipped their toes into the summer hard-court season last week with the men playing in Indianapolis and the women in Stanford.

But as far as things go for the men, the situation's definitely about to pick up. The sixth stop on this little thing they like to call the Masters Series is in Canada right now. And this tournament is possibly the first of four big ones the big three—Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic—are all competing in over the course of the next month. And it's just not them that will be there—their other top 10 compadres will be on the scene as well.

The women are still out in Cali, this time in L.A. Jelena Jankovic is the top seed out there, but I can't really call her the favorite to take the title with this being her first tournament in a little while. You could say that about a lot of the players there. The women's tournaments, over the past couple of years, have been kind of hard to call for me. It seems like there are more last-minute withdrawals going on—particularly during this part of the year. I think it was the year Ana Ivanovic won in Canada where that tournament got wrecked by withdrawals before things even got started.

The addition of the Olympics has really changed the way the weeks leading up to the U.S. Open will be handled on both tours. We'll see how it goes!

(You know, I was actually going to wrap it up with the above sentence, but this wouldn't be Tennis Talk, Anyone? without some kind of prediction being made, seeing as how I haven't done one in so long! So here's what I'll give you to nibble on. And I'm expanding the crystal ball's vision beyond this week, to boot!)

Two out of the ATP's big three will skip the next Masters event in Cincinnati.

Tennis Talk, Anyone? has spoken!

(Photo: AP)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Indy stars

Last weekend, I was thinking, "Man, the hard-court season is kind of getting off to a lame start this year. I think this is the weakest draw at the annual RCA Championships in Indianapolis that I've ever seen. Gilles Simon is the second seed? Geez!"

But as the matches have shaken down and it's gotten to the quarters, I'm reconsidering that. There's some guys out there that whose mission it seems is to make a ball split apart at the seams with every swing. Big bangin' will definitely be the order of the day for the rest of the matches.

Past champs James Blake (2006, in what was one of the best regular tour finals I've seen in years) and Dmitry Tursunov (2007) are slated to meet each other in the semis, which if they don't make it to that next step, I'd be surprised. Those two are among the hardest hitters out there so that should be a fun one to watch.

And you know who else is looking good out there? Tommy Haas. The way he had been playing this year wouldn't give any indication that he could take out the two players he did so easily. I'd like to see him take out Simon and make a good run here.

A quarterfinal I think will be pretty intriguing is the Bobby Reynolds-Sam Querrey one. They've both had career years so far and hard court is their best surface. If you haven't watched Reynolds before, check him out: He has a perfect hard-court game. He hits hard, serves big and can get into the net. Querrey, like many big servers, is pretty unpredictable I feel. This has the potential to be a really good one.

Anyway, I've learned that I just can't write off a tournament upon first glance. You never know how it's going to shake out when it gets to the end!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In the spirit of the Games

That quest for Olympic Gold sure is powerful!

It's enough to bring moms out of retirement, a la Lindsay Davenport, and to me, this shocker of shockers: Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes (pictured) are teaming up for some tournaments this summer before the Olympics, which I thought would basically be the equivalent of hell freezing over, pigs flying, whatever metaphor you would want to use. They pretty much could have been a new metaphor for something unlikely happening! ("You want me to do what? When Paes and Bhupathi get back together!")

If you go to the ATP's home page, you'll see the pair in the video section talking about their chances at the Games. The image of them with big grins on their faces is surprising because these two have really called each other out in the past few years. But they're confident of their chances in Beijing and realize they don't have to be buddy-buddies to do well.

I really like following doubles and I've thought it a shame these two couldn't stick together because they were on their way to being one of the best teams ever. They've won tons of titles together, Slams and Masters shields a-plenty, and even in their first tournament back together last month they made the finals. They got knocked out in their first match in Indianopolis today by another Olympic pairing, Canadians Daniel Nestor and Frederic Niemeyer, but just barely.

Here's hoping the Indian Express gets back on track and can pick up a medal in Beijing. (As long as they don't knock off the Bryans, I'm good!)

(Photos: Getty Images)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Where would YOU be without this man?

If you're a tennis fan or player, think long and hard about it.

Michael Chang has to be one of the most, if not THE most, revolutionizing players in tennis in the past 20 years. Here's just a few of the ways he changed the game for the modern fan and player:

• First of all, thinking about what he did at the 1989 French Open, and the way he went about playing throughout his career, always forced you to dig a little deeper: whether you were playing your Monday night league match or playing for your high school team. If you were down, that didn't necessarily mean that you were out. Keep fighting, get one more ball back and you could be rewarded at the end. (As I type, I'm suffering from a slightly overstretched groin muscle after doing a split to keep a ball in play. But I won the point!)

• Without that French win, would Pete Sampras, Jim Courier or Andre Agassi gone on to be three of the greatest players of all time? All three of them at numerous times over times over their careers have said that "If Michael can do it, then hey, maybe I can, too." It forced them all to work harder and start to envision the possibility of winning Majors. And millions of fans can rejoice to that fact.

• Tennis isn't just for the giants. A player that's 5-foot nothing with a pop-gun serve at the start of his career getting to number 2 in the world, winning over 30 titles and almost $20 million in prize money? Anyone can play and do well at it! It's the size of the heart and determination that count, which Chang had by the ton.

I know there was some debate as to whether Chang belongs in the Hall of Fame because he only won one Major and never got to number 1. In my mind, though, there was no question. Congrats Michael! I and the tennis community out there owe you a world of thanks!

(Photo: AP)

Jersey ... Boy! (or back by popular demand: the latest installment of "Oh yeah, I play tennis, too")

Cracking inside-out forehands like my man Jim Courier.

Busting two-handed backhands like Novak Djokovic.

Serving up kickers as if it was Rafael Nadal.

Guess who was doing all of that? None other than yours truly over the week as I got ready to play my first tournament in nearly a year this weekend due to injuries.

First stop on the Van Sias comeback trail: Veteran's Park in Trenton, N.J. I was going to play a tournament at the club I belong to, but I missed the entry cut-off. So I scoured the USTA site for one in the region and Trenton was it. I had never been out there before, so why not go for it?

Can I tell you how much I regret that decision? I get out there, which was about a two-hour journey, get on the court and get my head handed to me by a pretty-good player, but one that if I were to lose to, I shouldn't lose by that much. This is sad, but I've gotten unused to playing a competitive match outdoors. Most of the time nowadays when I'm playing points, games or sets, I'm doing it indoors on Har-Tru. I hit with a guy in my neighborhood outdoors on hard courts in the park maybe once or twice a week, but that's it: We just hit. No points, nothing. I'm not adept at handling the outdoor conditions, such as wind and humidity, anymore, which is sad because if anything I grew up playing in the hottest place in the world, Mobile, Ala.

So my week of hitting like the perfect combination of Courier, Djokovic and Nadal was all for naught. After getting dusted, I was back on my merry way to Brooklyn, another two-hour journey. My total travel time was more than double my on-court time! All those two-hour journeys were expensive, too. So not only did I take a beating, my wallet did as well!

Anyway, I'm not going to pack it in. And I guess I did come away with some things I need to do or be more conscious of:

• First, and foremost, get my sorry butt in shape. I've been playing about three times a week, but I need to hit the gym, or at least jump some rope!

• When I'm outside hitting with that guy in the 'hood, make sure we play some points at least.

• This was a tip from the cab driver who dropped me off and picked me up at the courts: Make sure I give myself plenty of time to get there so I can hit the courts in a more relaxed state rather than being agitated about making it there on time.

• Never play out there again! Just kidding! I'm too hard-headed to give up. Plus, the way I figure it, that place owes me a trophy! I'll be back.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A dirty deed, indeed

Now that the grass-court season has (almost) come and gone—the men are playing in Newport this week—it's time for the players to start getting ready for ... the clay again?

There's three tournaments on the dirt this week that the men are playing in, and two for the women. The men are playing in Switzerland, Sweden and Stuttgart, while the women are in France and Palermo.

Something, though, has really stuck out to me on the men's side with the tournaments this week: Why are there first-round byes for the top four seeds at these events? Did I miss a memo or something? I can't recall a 32-player draw this year passing on the top four to the next round. Or in recent years, for that matter.

I should mention this: I HATE first-round byes at 32-draw tournaments! The WTA has been doing it forever, and I'm not a big fan of it there, either. Is it done for the players' sake? Is it a reward to them for what they've accomplished? Is it to cut down on the amount they have to play?

Well, I know the players complain about the travel and having to deal with injuries, but if you notice, it's only the top ones that do that. Journeymen and women can't play enough!

First-round byes can be both beneficial and harmful to the top players, I feel. Look what happened with Novak Djokovic in Indian Wells this year. He had a few days off, played a qualifier, Kevin Anderson, who had been on a hot streak and promptly lost. Would an extra match under his belt helped him get a better foothold into the tournament? No doubt.

But also if you look at the beginning of the year, where Maria Sharapova won multiple tournaments in a row, fewer matches probably kept her fresher.

If the ATP is doing the byes because it's the week after Wimbledon, that doesn't make much sense to me: The only semifinalist on both sides playing is Marat Safin, who just lost his match in a tight three-setter in Sweden.

Aside from all that, shouldn't the fans get to see as much tennis as possible? I guess it's the economy, though, forcing tournaments to struggle to accommodate players. Stuttgart used to be the fifth-biggest clay-court tournament on tour for the men, but look what it's been reduced to.

That's it for my rant on the matter.

Well, one more thing: Defending Swiss Open champ and bye beneficiary Paul-Henri Mathieu (pictured) lost his first match today. I just wouldn't mind saying bye to byes!

(Photo: AP)

Monday, July 7, 2008

The day after

Can any storylines the rest of the year possibly top what happened yesterday at the All-England Club?

In a five-setter for the ages, Rafael Nadal broke Roger Federer's hold on the gold cup to win his first Wimbledon title and first Slam outside of Paris. Everyone knows how devastated R-Fed is. I have a big question, though, in regard to his state of mind:

What's next?

Tennis With Attitude made a great point regarding what needs to happen, or rather, what could have made a difference: A coach should definitely be in the camp. Federer did a great job of coming back and battling on his own, but maybe a coach could've helped him as to where he shouldn't have been in that situation in the first place. I still think he's technically superior on grass to Nadal. If he has someone on board to scout how Nadal's progressing through the tournament, that could help.

Also, if I might add something here: I just took a gander at Federer's schedule for the hard-court season. He's slated to be back at it next week in Montreal, then Cincinnatti a couple of weeks after that, followed by the Olympics and finishing up with the U.S. Open. Now, I'm a die-hard Olympics fan, but he needs to skip it: Pull up lame, catch a cold, whatever. The primary focus for the rest of the year should be the Open, and back-to-back two-week events could be a killer. The Olympics will be back around before he knows it, and he'll still be young enough to be a contender there. I originally thought it was kind of weak for Andy Roddick to skip the Olympics, but in certain cases, I can see the logic behind it—Federer's situation being one of them.

So, R-Fed, old boy, if these words could reach you, take heed to them: Get a coach and skip the Olympics, then all could be right in your world.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Get ready for some fireworks

Serena Williams won to advance to the finals at Wimbledon, making for another "Sister Act." I'm picking Williams to win in straights! (Venus, that is.)

Tomorrow, the men are on tap: I'm still sticking with my original prediction of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to make it through. But I'll say this, and I hope it doesn't sound too crazy: If Marat Safin won tomorrow, I wouldn't be surprised at all.

My blogging is going to be extremely limited over the next couple of days for the Fourth of July weekend. So if you happen to observe it, have a safe and happy 4th! And if you don't, have a safe and happy weekend!

Looks like she made it

One-half of Sister Act 3 is complete as Venus Williams managed to blast Elena Dementieva off the court before the rains came, 6-1, 7-6.

Serena Williams is being delayed from joining big sis in the championship round by the wet stuff, but she's up a set and level in the second at 5-5. They're in another rain delay right now. It looked like the first one actually helped Jie Zheng, who is a point away from going up 6-5.

Stay tuned!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The elite eight

It's down to the quarterfinals at the All-England Club, and while many of the pre-tournament contenders (Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick, David Nalbandian, etc.) got knocked out way early, there will still be some great matches on tap.

Personally, four out of eight of my original quarterfinal picks are still alive, which is about all you can hope for with the way this tournament has gone! Here's a preview of what I think will happen tomorrow, match by match:

• Rafael Nadal vs. Andy Murray: As far as all of Britain goes, no other match needs to be played. After that win against Richard Gasquet, I'm sure the fans there are starting to believe. Murray's using the crowd to his advantage and playing at an unbelievably high level. Playing at an even higher level is his opponent, Nadal, who's only won 37 of his last 40 matches. Murray has more versatility, but Nadal's a beast—and I mean that in a good way! Murray should be able to beat Nadal on grass, but not today. Nadal in four.

• Marat Safin vs. Feliciano Lopez: Everyone's favorite comeback kid has done some amazing things this tournament: There's even been some speculation that Marat Safin can come out of nowhere and win this thing. F-Lo has been serving and volleying like he never has before. Still, we're talking about Safin! I'm going with him in five.

• Roger Federer vs. Mario Ancic: Federer's had a pretty easy go of it, despite facing some tough customers, such as Lleyton Hewitt and Robin Soderling. While he doesn't have the credentials of Hewitt on the turf, I think at the moment, Super Mario is definitely a better grasser. Ancic is the last guy to beat R-Fed here, but things have obviously changed since that match in '02. Ancic has shown a ton of heart getting this far, but I think the run ends here. Rog in four.

• Rainer Schuettler vs. Arnaud Clement: These two are basically mirror images of each other, game- and career-wise. This match is a total toss-up; the former Australian finalists have had great tournaments, and too bad it has to end for one of them. I'm going with Clement just because he seems a little more of a natural grasser than Schuettler, but I'm expecting it to be a battle, with the Frenchman coming out in five.

There's my picks and I'm sticking to 'em! Enjoy the tennis!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Sister sledgehammers

I'm still here! I'm in the process of moving, plus I've been working my butt off the past couple of days since we have a short work week and all. I'm going to visit my mom down in Georgia this weekend for the Fourth, so that should be good. My nephew will be down there and ... oh, I'm sorry, I have to remember, this site isn't called "Van's Personal Life, Anyone?" So on to the tennis!

First, let me just say, that if Venus and Serena Williams don't make the finals, I don't know what I'll do. I mean, I won't hurt myself or anything, but I will be surprised!

Today, they took another step toward making that happen: Venus beat Iheartrafa's pick (wink, wink) to make the finals Tamarine Tanasugarn in straights. Serena, who took out TTA?'s pick, Bethanie Mattek (wink, wink again) in the fourth round, followed that up by crushing who I thought was one of the most dangerous players out there, Aggie Radwanska. Now it's on to the semis for those two.

Waiting for Serena and Venus will be Jie Zheng and Elena Dementieva, respectively. Aside from Ana Ivanovic, Zheng has been taking out seeds left and right. I always underestimate Dementieva: I think some big, young hitter is going to blast her off the court at a Major, then the next thing you know, she's in the semis or finals!

With the way this tournament has been going, who knows what'll happen? Team Williams will have to be on their toes going forward, but things should be OK as far as them playing for the big dish.

(Photos: Getty Images)