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.
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!
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.
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)
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!
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!
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!
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?
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
Jelena Jankovic is back at number one after winning her second title in as many weeks, this time at Stuttgart. Not only did she get the top spot back and a nice check, but she also got a new Porsche to boot!
I'm kind of torn, though, on who should be number one: I thought once Serena Williams won the U.S. Open, then it was a wrap. She also made the finals at Wimbledon and won Miami, plus picked up a nice-sized clay-court title. I mean, what else do you want out of your top player?
But look at what Jankovic has done: She made the finals at the U.S. Open, the semis of the French and the Aussie, and has won three titles overall.
I guess if you were to break it down, her accomplishments aren't as big as Williams', but what she has going for her is that she's out there every week racking up points.
If she keeps playing over the next few weeks while Williams is semi-idle, she'll only strengthen her hold on the top spot. I remember when she first got to one, almost everyone (here included) was calling her the most undeserving number one in history! I don't think that's the case right now, but I'm still pretty confused about it.
There's a ton of indoor action going on this week, but I just wanted to give a quick acknowledgement to Tomas Berdych on taking the Japan Open by beating Juan Martin del Potro in the finals.
Berdych has had a strong couple of weeks, and by winning Tokyo, he's accomplished what has become a pretty rare feat on the tour: He's now won titles on all four surfaces (clay, hard, carpet and grass). I'm gonna look at the ATP rankings and then tap into my super-tennis-dork memory to list the active players who have accomplished that. I know off the bat Roger Federer and Andy Roddick have done it. Let's see who else:
Wow! That's it! (And I promise, I just looked at the names and didn't open the player profiles. And I only did the top 200 because that's pretty much where the tournament winners preside. If I've missed anyone let me know: And I'm not counting Nadal—Madrid was an indoor hard court.)
Anyway, that's a pretty lofty accomplishment. You'd think someone who's done that and is only 23 would be a consistent top tenner, but such has not been the case. I know he's had issues both physically and mentally that have held him back (which I guess are the only issues you can have!), but here's hoping this is a jump-start to his results matching his talent. Maybe he can make the Tennis Talk, Anyone? top 10 list!
Juan Martin del Potro has made to ANOTHER final, this time in Tokyo. He knocked off top seed David Ferrer already here, then took out Richard Gasquet today in a tough one. He's won 29 of his past 30 matches, a feat of Federerian or Nadalian proportions. (How do you like those crazy adjectives I just made up?)
He's playing Tomas Berdych in the finals, who made it there after coming from behind to beat Andy Roddick. "Coming from behind" is not usually a phrase I associate with Berdych, who some might say can be kind of lacking in the mental toughness department at times, but he did it here.
I was actually hoping for another A-Rod/JDP rematch (remember del Potro blasted Roddick in the L.A. finals?), but that won't be happening. It would have been good to see exactly what type of form Roddick was in by playing against one of the top players on tour right now. Oh well.
I would assume del Potro would be close to booking a place in Shanghai since all he's been doing lately is winning tournaments. We'll see if he can add to the haul tomorrow.
An old friend of mine and I used to talk tennis for hours, whether it was our own games or what was happening in the pros. I've started Tennis Talk, Anyone? to, well, talk tennis with an even broader crowd! My name is Van Sias and I've been playing for 20 years now, and not only am I player, I'm a huge fan of the game as well: pro, amateur, you name it. I'll post links to news items related to the sport, and offer my own personal opinion, predictions and hopefully get some of yours as well.