Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dirt devils (TTA?'s top clay courters)

The semifinals are taking shape at the big tournaments this week, and on both tours, you see some familiar names that always seem to handle their business on the dirt: Federer, Dementieva, Gonzalez, Jankovic, etc.

So this got me thinking: Who are the best clay courters on the tour today? And since I so love to share my thoughts with anyone and everyone, here's my breakdown of the top five on each tour. I'm basing this on past successes and the fact that if you see them in the draw, you know they're going deep. (Or at least they should!)

1) Rafael Nadal: He's arguably the greatest dirtballer of all time.

2) Roger Federer: All those French Open finals and Hamburg titles have to mean something!

3) Novak Djokovic: He doesn't have a ton of clay-court titles, but he does own one at the second-biggest event after the French as he's the defending champ in Rome this week.

4) Nikolay Davydenko: He lost early in Rome, but his resume is pretty stacked on crushed brick, plus you have to throw in those French semis.

5) Tommy Robredo/David Ferrer/Fernando Gonzalez: OK, I know that's cheating, but I always think you're going to see one or all making it deep in the dirt. Plus, the fact that there's a lot of clay-court titles among them doesn't hurt, either.

1) Ana Ivanovic: I know she's in a rough patch and has been for a little while, but I think technically, she's the best clay courter on tour.

2) Dinara Safina: The new number one can get it done. Remember last season around this time?

3) Jelena Jankovic: She's always going to go far in a draw, and before it's all said and done, I think she'll bag a French or two.

4) Elena Dementieva: The former French runner-up plays good on everything, but I think her athleticism and court sense really shows on clay, too.

5) Serena Williams: You can't leave her off this list. She does have a French title after all!

There you have it. Anyone that shouldn't be here or should be?

(Photo: Getty Images)

Before I take another step...

... I just have to give a quick shout-out about last weekend's Fed Cup action. I'm a Davis Cup fan, but I've never really been sold on its WTA counterpart (blah, blah, blah—you've heard that line from me before, I'm sure). But after the semifinal ties, consider me all in!

So congrats to Italy and the U.S.! Sorry I'm just now mentioning it, I was out of town for a bit and been kind of busy this week, but I didn't think I could discuss anything else before acknowledging those great efforts!

(Photo: AP)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Making a 'Point'

Hi one and all. I haven't forgotten about this blog here that I like to call Tennis Talk, Anyone? I'm going to put something up tomorrow because there sure has been a lot going on the past few days! Until then, if you haven't seen it, check out this week's edition of VANtage Point over at Down the Line!, where I talk about Fed Cup and the Italian Open (for all you old-schoolers out there who still call it that!).

Talk to ya soon!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It's just a little dirt

So last week, I'm reading through the "tweets" I receive on Twitter and I notice one from Jon Werthiem, Sports Illustrated's tennis guru. He posted an item about something going on that I didn't even notice: No U.S. men were in the singles draw at the Monte Carlo event! That's amazing, but here's something that's pretty wild, too: There's none in the singles draw in Barcelona this week either!

And then, get this: Two out of three of the Challenger events this week are being played on clay. And guess what? Yep, that's right: No Americans are playing in the clay-court ones. Rather, the journeyman and up-and-comers are all in Tallahassee, Fla., playing on hard courts.

This leads me to wonder if it's worth any American guys even going to the French? Why not just skip the clay-court season entirely? I'm not sure of everyone's health status, but the way I figure it, only two guys should get a pass for missing the past two weeks of dirt ballin', and that's newlywed Andy Roddick and appendix-bursting-on-him Robby Ginepri. The rest should be out there, I feel.

And if they're worried about their games on clay and how to find success, here's a tip: Serve big, serve kickers, set yourself up to blast forehands. There you go: what should be Success on Clay 101 for U.S. Players taught by Professor Sias.

Or if the guys want tips from an actual pro, why not ask the Bryan brothers, who to their credit, made the finals in Monte Carlo last week and are playing in Barcelona now? Those guys have no fear and are serving and volleying on clay! Their other compadres should be out their playing. After all, it's just a little dirt.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Under the radar ... but why?

It definitely got lost on the sports agate page (as a lot of tennis results do) and overshadowed by the bigger events, such as Rafael Nadal beating Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo and Sabine Lisicki (props to her) beating Caroline Wozniacki in Charleston, but the result in Barcelona definitely caught my eye.

You might have not even noticed that event amid two of the biggest clay-court events on either tour happening, but on it went and Roberta Vinci knocked off defending champ Maria Kirilenko.

Now what's the big deal about this minor tournament, you might ask? Well, it seems to me that Kirilenko is always winning titles so I was kind of shocked she lost this one. But the main thing that kind of got me was what was Kirilenko even doing here? When is she going to stop picking up the smaller titles and start gearing up for the bigger events?

Think about it: Every tennis fan knows Kirilenko, but why? What has she ever done at a Tier I or a Slam? Not everyone has made their mark at the spotlight events, but I can't recall anyone with as many titles as Kirilenko failing to do so.

She does have the good looks and the Stella McCartney custom Adidas clothes, which counts for something, I guess. I wish she would get out there, though, and fight more on the biggest stages to justify her game matching her Q rating.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Three out of four ain't bad

Now Rafael Nadal, I saw getting through to the semifinals in Monte Carlo. And while I didn't expect Novak Djokovic to beat Fernando Verdasoc, it doesn't really surprise me.

But Andy Murray making it through to the final four? It really surprised me!

Aside from Rafa taking the Aussie this year, it's been all Andy, all the time. And he deserved it, too, because it looks like he just worked extremely hard in the offseason to get to this point. I didn't think, though, that his team was going to have him so geared up for the clay season.

Let me ask you this: Can you imagine if he were to beat Nadal today? I think my head would literally explode: I wouldn't be able to handle the magnitude of it all!

The only one of the big four that didn't make it this far was Roger Federer, who lost to Stanislas Wawrinka, who's facing Djoko today. I know I wrote on GoToTennis' blog that Roger's in a good place—and I still believe that. However, I also feel losing to his homey Stan was bad. But who am I to judge?

Anyway, I'm gonna say we're looking at a Nadal-Djokovic final tomorrow. At least I hope: I really don't want my head to explode!

(Photo: AP)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spreading the love

In case you didn't catch it, I managed to get around the blogosphere a little bit yesterday. There's so many great blogs out there, why not try to hook up with them you can?

First, my weekly piece for Down the Line!, called VANtage Point, ran. If you haven't caught it before, it's a preview of a tournament of my choosing, along with the predictions you would expect from Tennis Talk, Anyone? (Does that sound like a commercial or what?) You can check out this week's edition by clicking here.

And as for the other blog, I was just thinking about the week that Roger Federer has had and decided to write something about it. I was going to put here on TTA?, but figured, why not give it to THE blog for "Fedophiles," GoToTennis? So I did! And you can catch what I wrote by clicking here for that.

So, if you want to catch some Tennis Talk, Anyone?-type musings, this isn't the only place to get them (but it's definitely the first place, so check me out)!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

'Once upon a time...'

There were two players who had made it to number one in the world in their careers, won Slams and established themselves among the best of their generation. Then injuries and improvement from other players knocked them back more than a few notches.

However, the two have shown by winning tournaments this weekend there's something left.

The end.

Or is it?

I'm talking about Juan Carlos Ferrero and Lleyton Hewitt, who won clay-court titles in Casablanca and Houston, respectively. It was Ferrero's first title in almost six(!) years and Hewitt's in a few as well. I don't know how much of an impact the two will have during the season, particularly as these were a couple of minor events compared to something like, say, Monte Carlo, but it's good see them doing something noteworthy.

I've had this special spot for Ferrero for a few years now, particularly since I saw him play one of the best matches I've ever seen in person at the U.S. Open in 2000 against this guy about a year younger than him who was ranked in the top 50 at the time. Ferrero was seeded 12 or something like that, but the other guy was giving him all he could handle. It was wild seeing two young guns go at it like that. It was raining off and on that day, so they had to stop a few times. But when they would come back on the court, they would pick up right where they left off. Ferrero's speed and groundies held off the other guy and his all-court game in four sets, three of them tie-breakers.

When I got home, I called my old doubles partner back in Alabama and told him what I had witnessed. And even though Ferrero won, I couldn't help but being amazed by his opponent. I relayed to my friend:

"Dude, this Federer kid is a stud!"

(I love telling that story!)

Anyway, congrats to a couple of veterans for persevering this weekend. This old guy here's still pulling for ya!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Clay achin'

What can I say? I've really been into "American Idol" this season!

Anyway, the clay-court season—the real one, not the teaser Latin American one earlier this year—kicked off this week and already there's been some pretty interesting happenings.

I guess the biggest thing is Serena Williams losing today to Klara Zakopalova (huh? who?) in the first round in Marbella, Spain. And not only did she lose the match, she also lost the number-one ranking to Dinara Safina, who'll take over the top spot next week. I have a couple of thoughts on this: 1) Why did Williams even go out there if she just got through playing the finals in Miami and is scheduled to be in Charleston next week? I think any tennis realizes that's a pretty ambitious schedule for her. And 2) Her losing the top spot is almost as bogus as bogus gets. 'Nuff said on that—for now.

At the U.S. Clay Court Championships in Houston, the top four seeds—James Blake, Mardy Fish, Jurgen Melzer and Jeremy Chardy—are all out before the quarterfinals. Over at (shameless cross-promoting plug) VANtage Point on Down the Line! this week, I predicted Blake would lose in the first round. Pretty smart, huh? But right on the flip side of that, I picked Chardy to win the whole thing! Great call, Van!

There's a minor thing going on right now that I'm kind of happy about at one of the stops this week. In Casablanca, Juan Carlos Ferrero has made it to the quarterfinals and looked good doing it. He's been too good a player in his career to have not won a title in years. I hope he gets it done this week.

I think this week so far could be a microcosm of what could shape up into an interesting clay-court season.

(Photo: AP)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Miami rhapsodizing

Another week, another trophy for the mantelpiece.

I'm assuming that's the mind-set for Victoria Azarenka and Andy Murray nowadays as they both picked up their third titles of the year at the Sony Ericsson Open. It's the biggest titles of their careers, but I don't think they'll stop there. I think they're both destined to win Slams: Will it be this year? Next? The year after? When? I can't tell you when, I just think it's gonna happen!

Anyway, I wanted to take a look back at the week and a half that was in a posting I like to call "Miami rhapsodizing.":

• They're number 1 … just not here this year: Top seeds Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams fell short of capturing the crowns with Nadal losing to Juan Martin del Potro and Serena going out to Azarenka in the finals. Tough luck for the two, but their lock on the top spots shouldn't be doubted.

• The Djoke's on me: I really thought Novak Djokovic was going to lose in the quarters to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, but the world's number 3 got through to the finals by winning that match and then taking out Roger Federer. Speaking of old Rog...

• Roger, over and out?: I'm not going to go into detail, but Fed's definitely losing ground to the young fellers. Something has to change.

• Bridesmaid revisited: Svetlana Kuznetsova, who's lost like nine of her last 10 finals, didn't get that far, but had a really good run here, getting to the semis. Not only that, she bagged the doubles, too, with another veteran Amelie Mauresmo, a nice result.

• Ram (and Mirnyi) tough: Andy Ram and Max Mirnyi took the doubles, having made their second consecutive ATP Tour 1000 final in a row. I wonder, though, what happens whenever Ram's regular partner, Jonathan Erlich comes back?

• Plowing the seeds: The women's draw got steamrolled with Dinara Safina, Ana Ivanovic, Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic and Nadia Petrova all losing way early. That's a pretty bad sign for the state of the tour when a big chunk of the top 10 loses before the quarters.

• Honorable mentions: Just some shout-outs for some good runs: Taylor Dent, Andy Roddick, Li Na, Venus Williams, del Potro, Samantha Stosur.

• Dishonorable mentions: Some shout-outs for the opposite: Those above WTA top tenners, James Blake, Gilles Simon.

That's my take on Miami. Now it's time to get dirty with the clay-court season kicking off!

(Photos: AFP)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

What about Bob (Brett)?

Roger Federer lost yesterday.

He's had a lot of losses most tennis fans probably didn't think they'd see for a while in his career. The question is, though, "Now what?" You ask your average fan and they'll probably say that Federer needs a coach. That's how I feel, too. And I'm gonna throw a name out there that I think would be the perfect fit for him. I just mentioned this in a comment on GoToTennis, but I'm bringing it home to Tennis Talk, Anyone?:

Bob Brett.

You mean that Australian guy that used to coach ATP stalwarts (hey, anytime you get the chance to use the word "stalwarts," take it!) Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic and Mario Ancic, and who now works with Marin Cilic? Why yes, that Bob Brett. There's so many good reasons why this should happen. Let me tick off a few.

• Brett, as I mentioned above, has worked with and built Grand Slam winners.

• He's experienced, having coached for a couple of decades now.

• He's even-tempered, which I think can be shown by being able to lead such emotional, hot-headed players as Becker and Ivanisevic. Roger, of course, isn't as fly-off-the-handle as those guys (current racket-smashing exploits notwithstanding), which I think could make he and Brett an even better pairing.

• If anything, Brett would be an extra set of eyes and could scout Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, then work out a gameplan with Federer.

• He's led players to success on all surfaces.

I know it's not that easy to say, "Hey Bob Brett. Come work with me, I'm Roger Federer. Leave Marin Cilic, sit in my box and you can get the credit for helping me make a turnaround." But if I were Federer, staring at the prospect of falling short of the Slams record and losing to these young guys every time you play them, I'd do something along those lines.

I think Bob Brett, more than anyone, would be the way to go.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

An elite eight

The men's quarterfinal lineup is set at the Sony Ericsson Open and it's about as good as it gets. Seven of the top eight seeds made it through, with the exception being Gilles Simon (it's hard to see him ranked ahead of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga).

I figured five of them would get through and was looking at Tsonga, Radek Stepanek and David Ferrer as my Cinderella stories. (Elite eight? Cinderella? There's been too much March Madness watching going on!) I still like my original calls of Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Tsonga for the semis, but I think they should all be on guard because their respective upcoming opponents—Juan Martin del Potro, Fernando Verdasco, Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic—are showing some real good form.

If I were in camps of the guys I picked against, here's what I'd tell them:

• For del Potro: Serve bombs up the T most of the time to Rafa and go down the line with your groundies. Just hit flat and all-out.

• For Verdasco: Keep him out there and use that big lefty forehand to yank Murray off the court.

ª For Roddick: Mix, mix, mix up the serve. What about an off-speed one down the middle on the deuce side? And I know he's been coming into the net more, but stay away unless it's on a floater.

• For Djokovic: Be the mover, not the movee. I don't think one of these guys really does anything better than the other: Novak just seems to get pushed around a little bit more. He needs to reverse that.

We'll see who makes the final four!

(Photo: AP)