Friday, October 30, 2009

Oh, Andre ...

I can't believe the news:

Andre Agassi wore a hairpiece in the early 1990s! What a bombshell he dropped in his new book! (I promise I'm not being sarcastic; I really was shocked to hear that.)

And speaking of that autobiography of his, how about the other big news that came out a few days ago? You know, the whole crystal meth thing? All I have to say is I don't know what to say about that.

I guess I do want to say this: Agassi is, without a doubt, my absolute favorite athlete of all time. Tennis has been as close to a dominant force as anything in my life and 'Dre has been there through most of it. From 1989 until the end, I followed his career every step of the way. And if I saw his name in a tournament draw, you can better believe that I expected him to win it and it didn't matter against who: I always thought he would be able to beat Pete Sampras regardless of the surface. It was just a blind faith I had, I guess.

Here's a funny thing, too: When I tried to model my game after pre-Brad Gilbert Agassi, looking back, it definitely hampered my results. I just wanted to hit all-out on the ball. That was way flashier than the play-it-safe (but winning more) Mats Wilander style I tried to emulate. But you know what? I didn't really care as I adopted that Agassi line, "It's all about the journey" for my game and life.

Anyway, I never figured Agassi to be a saint or anything: Everyone has faults. I never would've thought, though, that he would get busted in a drug test and blatantly lie about it. I mean, wow. And the ATP letting it go with a note? Double-wow. A shame, really.

Agassi's done amazing things both on and off the court, and I don't know if this really taints his legacy or not. I wish it wouldn't have been revealed at this point in the season (if at all, really) when players are still out there battling to better their place in the game and this is the hot tennis story going around.

Unless I come up with some other thoughts about it, I'm just going to keep my own disappointed counsel, and not post anything else on the matter.

And that picture? That's from one of the biggest moments in my life, getting to meet Agassi at a trade-show event in Las Vegas after, like I said, nearly following every single step of his career.

Man, this news still really sucks.

Round (and around and around) robin

The semifinals are now set at the WTA Year-End Championships in Doha with Serena Williams set to play Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams slated to go against Jelena Jankovic.

But honestly, aside from Serena going undefeated, the way everyone else advanced has my head spinning! Venus got there on sets won, Jankovic benefited from Dinara Safina's retirement and Wozniacki got help when Victoria Azarenka had to retire against alternate Agnieszka Radwanska, a real tough break for the Ukrainian.

It's been an interesting tournament, to say the least, just by the sheer unpredictability of the results. And you want to know what's really been shocking to me, though? The performance of Serena. Of course, she has the ability to run through any event she enters, but doesn't do that nearly as much as she did in her earlier years. She's gonna end the year at number one, regardless if she wins the whole shebang here or not. But going undefeated here and taking home the hardware, I think, would be a sign that she really wants to show that she's the best.

(Photo: AP)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Smile and the whole world smiles with you

The winners' lists at last week's tournaments brought a show of pearly whites to this old blogger's face. Maybe not as much as Marcos Baghdatis', but a pretty decent-sized one! A lot of players showed signs of rounding into form after dropping from their earlier highs. Why not take a quick trip back? OK, I will!

• In Stockholm, Baghdatis won his first ATP title since 2007 by beating Olivier Rochus in the final. Now about Baghdatis: Waay back when this season first kicked off, I made a mention that I thought he was due for a big comeback year. He really didn't do too much to prove me right, but he did pick up three Challenger titles and now the Stockholm crown. Can I get a rollover plan for 2010? And a doubles shout-out: Kevin Ullyett won his fifth title at the tournament, all with different partners.

• In Moscow, Mikhail Youzhny beat a player I thought was more known for being a character than a good player, Janko Tipsarevic, and Francesca Schiavone took the women's title. Both of those winners finish runner-up a LOT more than winning titles, so that was good to see them come through.

• Young Swiss miss Timea Bacsinszky won her first career title beating young German miss Sabine Lisicki in the finals. It's always great to see the youngsters duke it out!

And while all that main-draw action was happening, three Challenger results also gave me a good reason to grin as TTA? faves Xavier Malisse, Donald Young and Eduardo Schwank won in France, California and Chile, respectively.

Good show by all and a nice way to start wrapping up the season!

(Photo: AP)

Monday, October 19, 2009

How will history judge Nikolay Davydenko?

Maybe you expected it, but if you didn't, no worries: I'll bet you're like about 95 percent of the tennis fans out there!

I'm referring to Nikolay Davydenko winning one of the ATP Tour's biggest stops, the Shanghai Masters. He followed up his near-classic semifinal win over Novak Djokovic with a straight-set defeat of Rafael Nadal, the top seed. This is Davydenko's fourth title of the season, all coming post-Wimbledon. I wonder if his legs are a little fresher after being sidelined in the early part of the year? (I still vote "no" on a shorter season!) But there I go again, making excuses for a Davydenko win.

You see, he regularly slips under my radar (and I don't think I'm the only one: Check out this posting at Tennis From Beyond the Baseline on that). But the fact of the matter is this: The dude can ball. Great strokes and excellent footspeed help him seriously grind down his opponents. I think he can open up a point in the middle of a rally almost as good as anyone out there.

Here's the thing, though: Why hasn't he won a Slam, or even made a Slam final.

It seems luck, mainly bad for him, has a lot to do with it. Aside from the loss to Mariano Puerta in 2005 at the French, his other pre-final runs at Majors have been ended by someone named Roger Federer. I thought this year at the French after Nadal lost that he was going to be the guy to make it to the finals from that side, but Robin Soderling blasted him.

Also, I used to have the idea that Tommy Haas was the best player in the Open era to never make a Slam final, mainly because of his career-high number-two ranking. Now I'm not so sure. Davydenko's gotten as high as number three and could realistically end his career with 30 titiles (more than two probable Hall of Famers, countrymen Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin). If there's nary a Slam final on his resume, where does that leave him and his legacy in the game?

I guess as just a footnote, if that.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Season of discontent

The quarters are set in Shanghai, but it seems like all the talk this week has been about injuries leading to match retirements and the big issue on players' minds: a longer offseason.

Scratch that: I meant on "some" players' minds. It's not everybody, but two of the game's big dawgs on the ATP Tour, Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick, have made their thoughts known on the subject. But here's something I thought of that should be brought up: Why hasn't Novak Djokovic come out and said anything? That guy plays almost more than anyone and I can't recall him missing major time with an injury. Is it a matter of training better and more efficiently?

Or what about Robin Soderling? He's been out there chasing points like crazy and has been getting pretty deep in draws. I haven't heard him say anything.

But I'll take it out of the top 10: What about young up-and-comer Marin Cilic? He just had the biggest win of his career last week with beating Nadal. I've heard nary a peep from that camp.

And how about the journeyman? Take Robert Kendrick, for instance: He bounces between Challengers and main tour events all through the year. Guy probably can't get enough opportunities to play!

Now I'm not trying to make light of some players' concerns. I just don't see the need to reduce the season, and I don't know if this (possibly injury-prone?) contingent should be doing all this talking for its peers, especially when it seems a vast majority is doing OK with things as is.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Remember Australia '08?

You know what? Maybe there does need to be a longer offseason for the pros (and as Freakyfrites of GoToTennis once said) for the bloggers, too!

Last night, I was trying to remember when Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga played in the finals of the Australian Open. To me, for some reason, it felt like it was years and years ago, not just January '08. The days are really starting to blur together! This came to my mind upon hearing that they both made finals in China and Tokyo, respectively, and each were going for their third titles of the year.

From that Aussie Open on, the Slam results have been mixed, to say the least, especially as I thought they would have made multiple Major finals since then. But as I mentioned, the two have still been picking up titles and did so today. Djokovic knocked off Marin Cilic in straights and Jo-Willy did the same to Mikhail Youzhny.

Djoko and Tsonga play a great style of tennis, one that'll see them facing off in more Slam finals in the future, I'm sure.

(Photos: Djokovic, AP; Tsonga, Getty Images)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pole in position

With all the losses piling up among the top players on the WTA tour the past few weeks, I'm a little surprised to see a name in the semifinals of this week's China Open, and that's Agnieszka Radwanska. She had a great win yesterday against Elena Dementieva in the quarters, and has a better-than-average shot against her next opponent, Marion Bartoli.

My only question is where has the good form shown these past two weeks been this year?

She's long been a "one-to-watch" as far as TTA? goes. I feel like I've picked her every Grand Slam quarterfinal that's come down the pike the past couple of years. But until last week in Japan, she hadn't even made a semifinal run at a regular tour stop this year.

In a way, I've thought of her as a poor woman's Kim Clijsters: great groundstrokes and really good hustle. With so many young players really establishing themselves this year, like Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki, I thought Radwanska was really going to break through like them. Maybe this little run is her showing that she's ready to make her move.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The bull in China

There's a blockbuster quarterfinal set up on the men's side with Fernando Verdasco set to take on Novak Djokovic. Both have gotten to this point in the draw with not too much difficulty and have been playing solidly all year. I thought there U.S. Open quarterfinal weeks ago was shaping up to be a classic, but it looked like injuries contributed a big part to Fernando's fall in the end.

I know this match doesn't have all the glitz and glamour of a Major showdown, but it's still important, particularly to Verdasco, who's trying to qualify for the year-end championships. That's why I'm going with him to pull off the upset.

And I wouldn't mind seeing him win the whole event, either. Anything that gets him to the Big Dance at the end is fine by me! I really like the improvement he's shown over the past year and a half, and if entertainment value was part of the criteria for making it among the top eight, his semifinal match against Rafael Nadal at the Aussie Open this year should vault him in. To me, that was one of the top three matches of the year. It was great to see a player leave it all on the court like that, and it made me a fan. Here's hoping he keeps it going.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Back in the old days …

Throughout the history of the WTA tour, there have always been one or two players that have separated themselves from the pack. To me, it just seems out of the place that that's not the case any more. I just want some player to really hold it down on a consistent basis

I know I posted something similar last week after the destruction of seeds last week in Tokyo, but it looks like a bad trend is continuing again this week. Two of the top three players in the world, Dinara Safina and Venus Williams, have lost early in China. Serena Williams has a shot to take over the top spot if she wins her next match.

But here's the crazy thing that's going through my mind: Sure, she's won two Slams this year and made the semis and quarters in the other two. And granted, she's done better than Safina at the big events, but let me ask you, the reader: Do you feel like she's playing like a true number one? Do you get the hint of an air of dominance, like the ones created in the past by Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Venus, Justine Henin or even the old Serena?

I hate to sound like one of those old curmudgeons, you know the ones that say, "I miss the Martina-Chrissy matches: Now that was a rivalry!" But wouldn't it be nice to see a player walk out on the court and by name alone, was going to be spotted a few games because her opponent was so scared to play her? I like to see that happen across all sports and wish it was going on now.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Friday, October 2, 2009

It all worked out in the long run

You know, looking back, I think the Pan Pacific Open organizers will be all right with what happens after all. They got a final as good as good can get with Maria Sharapova taking on Jelena Jankovic. Not many names in the sport get bigger than Sharapova's, and Jankovic is no slouch!

Both of these players have gone through a lot over the past year or so, and it's great to see them get ready to battle it out in a pretty major WTA event. It's kind of wild to think that just last year, they both spent time holding down the top spot! Part of me gets nervous watching Sharapova play since she's come back because I get nervous about that shoulder of hers giving out on her again. I'm a big fan of hers and I think the sport as a whole needs her to be out there at her best. I like Jankovic, too, and I'm hoping she ends the year on a real good note as well.

(Photo: Getty Images)