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!


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)