Thursday, December 30, 2010

TTA? Looks Back #10: Wayne Odesnik ... wow


You probably didn't think it would happen, but here we are: kicking off the top 10!

Earlier in the spring, one of the coolest things happened to me in my life regarding tennis: I posted something I wrote about Wayne Odesnik on tennis social networking site Tennisopolis, and none other than Brad Gilbert gave it a shout-out on his Twitter page! (I'm still blown away by that!)

That Odesnik story was something else, and now it looks like he's about to come back. I haven't formulated a complete opinion on that yet, but what I'm going to do is post a link to the BG-approved entry:

This Is My Brain on Drugs


Enjoy, and remember, just say no!

(Photo: AFP)

TTA? Looks Back #11: They'll always have the Serbia Open


The last entry before we enter top-10 land on the 2010 retrospective.

For years, before there was even a Tennis Talk, Anyone?, I always thought that American men should be able to succeed on the red dirt in Europe. But before 2010, the last time one of them had won a singles title on it was in 2003, when Andy Roddick won in Austria.

That was a far cry from the days of former French Open champs Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang--and even French semifinalist Pete Sampras. And speaking of those '90s stars, the last time there was an all-American final on European clay was in 1991, when Agassi and Courier squared off for the French.

See, to me, it should be simple for guys to have success over there: Hit big serves, then hit big forehands, then you can work your way through a draw. It finally happened when two of the game's biggest hitters--Americans John Isner and Sam Querrey--used that philosophy to get to the finals of the Serbia Open. Querrey won the title in three sets over his doubles partner for the week--breaking the seven-year winless streak.

Both of the guys played a lot on the dirt over the season and had varying degrees of success. But if that Serbia Open was any indication, there's no reason they--and other U.S. men--can't have more of it in the future.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

TTA? Looks Back #12: The Surprise Slam finalists


So, I'm trying to crank out the countdown before the New Year's: Will I do it? Stay tuned!

OK, a show of hands if you had Robin Soderling, Tomas Berdych, Vera Zvonareva, Sam Stosur and Francesca Schiavone making finals at Majors this year.

Just what I thought: No one else raised theirs! (I did because I picked Fran to make the French finals! : )

Really, though, it was nice to see those above players get that far in Slams (even though Soderling had accomplished that the year prior). Berdych was supposed to start making Slam finals years ago, many predicted, but had developed into Marat Safin-lite: all the talent, but even less living up to it than the now-retired Russian. Before 2010, I would've bet money that Zvonareva didn't even think she would make a Major final, but she got to two of them over the year. If Soderling only would have finished runner-up once in his career, I wouldn't have knocked that. To do it twice now shows he's really legit.

And what you can say about the French finalists on the women's side, Stosur and Schiavone? I'll get to them later in the countdown!

Anyway, a tip of the cap to those players as their runs at the big ones brought more to the game.

(Photo: The Guardian)

Monday, December 27, 2010

TTA? Looks Back #13: Andy Murray's Slamless run continues


Hope you enjoyed your holiday weekend, if that's the holiday you follow! Anyway, here's the latest "look-back"!

After Andy Murray made the finals of the year's first Major, the Australian, I don't know if you thought this, but I certainly did: There was no way he was going to go through 2010 without picking up a Slam.

Despite going down to Roger Federer in straights there, he'd been playing him tough and winning most of their encounters. Plus, Rafael Nadal was looking like he was definitely slowing down. The rest of the guys on tour couldn't hold a candle to Murray when it came to playing on hard courts or grass. 2010 had to be the year that decades-long streak of Great Britain going Slamless came to an end.

However, as we know now, that definitely didn't happen: Murray didn't even pick up a regular title until the second half of the year. And there were a few weird things, too: like Mardy Fish owning him and falling to Stanislas Wawrinka at the U.S. Open. You hate to call a loss to Rafael Nadal "bad" under any circumstances, but Murray falling to him at Wimbledon can almost be considered one, in my humble opinion, at one of the Majors he's supposed to have his best shot at.

His 2011 is already off to an odd start to me with the plan to keep Alex Corretja on as coach for the first half of the year. Corretja's game when he was a top-level player was like a weaker version of Murray's, based primarily on defense. You would think Murray would have gone in the opposite direction if he wanted to ensure '10 didn't happen again. Maybe things will work out for him, but you can bet he doesn't want another year like the past one again.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Friday, December 24, 2010

TTA? Looks Back #14: Venus rose to the 2 spot


I know—shocking, right? There's actually another Look Back! Here's the latest!

There was a lot of shaking up on the WTA rankings this year. I mean, who woulda thunk Vera Zvonareva could end the year at number 2? This, though, is about a player who spent some time in that prime rankings real estate earlier this year.

Keeping in line with some of the shocking ranking movement, Venus Williams' rise to number 2 earlier in the year caught a lot of folks by surprise. She won two tournaments before the halfway point of 2010—a great start. V was really looking like a serious contender to pick up at least one Major and perhaps even make it to number one.

Injuries cut short her season, but before they came into play, there was that kerazy upset loss at her Slam, Wimbledon, to Tsvetana Pironkova in the quarters. And then, if you were to look at it, Williams probably should've won that semi against Kim Clijsters at the U.S. Open. Plus, I know Nadia Petrova's a tough clay-court player, but based on form going into the French this year, maybe Venus should have taken their quarterfinal match.

So, really, who knows how the year could have gone for Williams? She ended it at 5, which is nothing to sneeze at. Rising to 2 showed she still has it in her.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

TTA? Looks Back #15: Where Did You Go, Svetlana Kuznetsova?


The latest in the look-back series, where I do some of my best past-pondering!

Funny thing about the year-end WTA rankings: Only two Russian players finished in the top 10.

And one of them was not Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Believe it or not, she didn't even finish in the top 20, the first time since 2003 that that had happened. That's an interesting stat, considering she's a two-time Grand Slam champ who should be at the peak of her powers. In 2010, she won only one event and made one other semifinal, both during the summer hard-court season. Those results had you wondering if the year-long slump was over and if she'd be a true contender at the U.S. Open. But she fell in the fourth round there.

So what happened?

Truth be told, I don't know! But here's what I think: Kuznetsova is going to be one of those players that will have sporadic results over the course of their career, simply because tennis is not the end-all, be-all for her. She seems to be a social butterfly who enjoys life, and you can't be mad at her for that. I'm not too worried about her, and if she won a Slam next year, I wouldn't be surprised.

(Photo: AP)

Friday, December 17, 2010

TTA? Looks Back #16: Ernests Gulbis' maiden crown


The second in my reflections on 2010--Tennis Talk, Anyone?-style!

As I mentioned in my previous post, by the time Indian Wells rolled around a few youngsters had really been making waves on tour in '10. One of them was a guy many thought would've really made them back in '09. Or maybe back in '08?

Ernests Gulbis' start to the year wasn't really anything to write home about until he got to the stop in Memphis. There, he made the semifinals, bouncing two Czechs (how's that for a pun) out of the tournament--super-talents Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych--along the way. He lost to Sam Querrey, but so did a lot of players over the year. Time to pack up the bags and head to Delray Beach, Fla., for more tennis.

Now, if you've been following Gulbis over his career so far and saw that he was slated to play a tournament right after making a good run in one, you'd probably think, "He could lose in the first round as well as win the thing." Maintaining form hasn't meant much when it comes to guesstimating the young Latvian's chances on tour.

He didn't lose in the first round, so that was a plus. What he did do, though, was win the first tournament of his career, beating serving machine Ivo Karlovic in the finals in straights. As a matter of fact, he didn't drop a set the whole tournament! Could it be that he was finally ready to make his predicted-by-many move into the top 10?

It didn't happen, as he was slowed by injury. But it was nice to see him start to match some of the hype. And who knows? Maybe 2011 will see more titles come his way--or more first-round losses... you never know!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

TTA? Looks Back #17: The 'Lube' job at Indian Wells


OK, my calendar was a little off, but here's the first entry in my look back on 2010's biggest stories!

By the time the first Masters series event of the year rolled around in March, Roger Federer had already won the Australian, and young guns like Sam Querrey, Marin Cilic and Ernests Gulbis had already won titles.

However, it was an old dog showing the youngsters some new tricks in Indian Wells as Ivan Ljubicic won the biggest title of his career, beating Andy Roddick in the final.

Now, that win against Roddick was a good one, but perhaps a little more impressively were the scalps he claimed in the 16s and semis--Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. That win against Rafa was his first since 2005; back before Nadal was Nadal.

Anyway, it was nice to see Ljubicic, who had lost a lot of finals in his career and all of the Masters Series ones he played, come through to grab a big one. The rest of the year was kinda ho-hum for him, but he'll always have Indian Wells!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The TTA? countdown on 2010 starts tomorrow!

Hey everyone, please pardon the lack of posts over the past week and a half or so. I haven't forgotten about ye olde TTA?: It's my baby!

Anyway, to segue into 2011, starting Tuesday, I'm going to reflect back on '10 with a posting a day looking at the top stories of the year, countdown-style. I always try to switch it up when I'm looking back, so hopefully you'll like this year in review!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Roger Federer: Winning big at the beginning and end


Talk about a roller coaster ride for Roger Federer! 2010 definitely was that.

Back in January, after he won his 16th career Major at the Australian, it looked like nothing would stop him. But then came all those title-less months, that included losses to Tomas Berdych (twice!), Robin Soderling, Marcos Baghdatis, Albert Montanes ... I'd say things were looking kind of grim--and I bet a lot of other folks would, too.

But then Federer ended up righting the ship after Wimbledon, and while he didn't win the U.S. Open, he did pick up four titles in the last half of the season including a nice-sized one yesterday at the ATP World Tour Finals. He ran through his first four opponents there before stopping Rafael Nadal in a three-setter. It's always impressive when you're beating single-digit-ranking dudes all in a row like that--a perfect way to end the season for the legend.

And because I'm such a big man and can admit my mistakes (actually, I'm only doing this before someone out there calls me on it!) I'd like to give props to the work Paul Annacone has done, after knocking Federer for bringing him aboard. I still think it'll be interesting to see how Fed approaches the clay-court season next year, but that's a story for another day. Let's let the guys enjoy this one!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Andy Roddick and the distraction factor


Just wondering, how many times over the past few years have you seen stories after Andy Roddick losses that include the phrase, "Roddick, who was bothered by ... "?

Whether it's bad calls, lack of lighting, wrong feet called on foot faults or flickering ad lights, when those distractions happen, it seems you rarely hear of him overcoming them.

But just because I always like to think of "what ifs," maybe if he did, he would be a three-time U.S. Open champ, a French Open semifinalist or after this latest incident at the World Tour Finals, a player with a good chance of advancing instead of being one with a great shot at going home early.

Granted, the flickering lights must've really sucked, but man, let it go! Ask for them to be cut off, then dust Berdych--easy as 1, 2, 3! I'm just kidding; it's never that easy. But this group was actually set up great for Roddick, particularly the way he's played against Berdych and Novak Djokovic over the years.

If you're a regular reader here, then you know I'm a big Roddick fan and I'm not trying to bash him. I just wish the distractions didn't play such a big part in stunting his results. Now that he's older, all focus needs to be on the game if he wants to pick up that extra U.S. Open title or be a threat at the French or a semifinalist at a World Tour Final.

(Photo: AP)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

No drama with Murray-Soderling? Look again!


Well, here we are: World Tour Finals time! This is the finish line for everyone on the season except Novak Djokovic, who still has Davis Cup duty to attend to.

While the first day of action was pretty straightforward, there was an interesting result: that being Andy Murray defeating Paris Masters champ Robin Soderling pretty easily. It's funny to think that an opening match could have a big impact on the rest of the tournament, but I feel that was the case with this one. No offense to David Ferrer, but the other players in Group B must feel that he's a gimme. Then you have Roger Federer in there, who's absolutely the opposite of that. So you're left with the winner of the Murray-Soderling match having a good shot at the semis, and Murray came through it.

Now, I'm not saying anyone should actually pack their bags because that's just not what you do, but Soderling has an extremely tough task ahead of him. Should make for interesting viewing in the days ahead when it comes to him.

(And props to Murray for rockin' the Lendl gear!)

(Photo: Getty Images)

Monday, November 15, 2010

How far can Robin Soderling go after Paris?


A day without ATP main-level tennis: Wow!

But yesterday wasn't a bad way to send off the regular season, as I'm sure Robin Soderling will attest to. He knocked off Gael Monfils in the finals in straights. I don't know if that epic with Roger Federer had any impact on La Monf's game, but you can't take anything away from Soderling's win. And to think, he's now in the top four, something I didn't really think would happen any time soon.

It's hard to say if he's had a better year than Andy Murray, who he leapfrogged over with just 20 points to spare in the rankings. They both made Slam finals, won a couple of titles and were generally threats throughout the season. You can also say the same about number-three player Novak Djokovic. Soderling's gaining on that spot, though, as well. And as he's one of the most dangerous players on tour indoors, who's to say where he'll be ranked after the World Tour Finals?

I guess we'll all see in a couple of weeks!

(Photo: AP)

Friday, November 12, 2010

MIA just a little bit longer...

Hey everyone, sorry for the lack of posting: The past week has been a little hectic, to say the least. And sadly, I'm heading out of town for a funeral the next few days so I won't be able to do any posting over the weekend. I hope you've been enjoying the Paris tournament, though!

And while I hadn't posted about it here, you can catch the latest VANtage Point column, written by yours truly, at Down the Line!, where I wrapped up the year in Masters Series tournaments and previewed Paris. I picked Federer to win and I'm sticking to it!

See you soon.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Roger Federer and Andy Roddick: What maybe, might have, could have been


The semifinal lineup is set at the Swiss Indoors tournament with Novak Djokovic taking on unseeded countryman Viktor Troicki and in a marquee matchup, Andy Roddick vs. Roger Federer.

Well, actually, is it still "marquee"? It's funny to think that this used to be a contest tournament organizers and fans would dream about. A lot of people probably have forgotten that there was a period, however brief, that they were the top two players in the world. They haven't played since their epic match at Wimbledon last year in which Federer came out the winner--as he's done 19 of the 21 times they played.

That's a lot of times to lose to one dude. But I think you have to give Roddick a lot of credit because he put himself in a position to always challenge one of the best ever as most of their matches were in the later rounds of tournaments. And I can't help but wonder this: What if Roddick would've won, say six, more of their head-to-heads? Not even the ones in the Slam finals, but maybe those Aussie semis or those Masters series matches. Would that have helped spur belief in himself that he could be an all-time great and not suffered some of those horrible upsets he suffered in Majors?

Woulda, coulda, shoulda, I guess. This semi in Switzerland still has some luster to it, maybe not what it would have once upon a time, but it should still be a good one, regardless.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hitting the home stretch hard on the ATP Tour


Looking at the draws of this week's stops in Valencia, Spain, and Basel, Switzerland, you can't help but think (or I can't, at least) that those draws are stacked! Sixteen of the top 20 were slated to play this week between the two events.

Aside from all the big names hitting these stops, I really like that they're full 32-player draws: I still haven't figured out why the ATP started doing those first-round byes for the top four seeds at some tournaments. Let everybody play all the rounds, I always say!

Anyway, I guess everybody's trying to squeeze in a last little bit of play before the end of the year and we get to start all over again in a matter of weeks. The fans in attendance are really lucky to catch players such as Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in action.

Well, it was good to see Murray before he got bounced out by Juan Monaco!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Best of luck, Elena!


As the whole tennis world knows, Elena Dementieva retired yesterday. I know I was definitely shocked because I thought for sure she wasn't going to stop until she got that elusive Slam title. She didn't, which is a shame, but her career and impact on the game should definitely be noted. I was always impressed by her, mainly by how she was able to perform at a high level for so many years. The fact that she was able to overcome some shortcomings in her game (that serve, whew!) and make it to the top three shows just how amazing an athlete she was.

Anyway, best wishes to Elena Dementieva! The game will definitely miss her.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Can someone PLEASE tell me why pro tennis doesn't get more respect? Or tennis, in general?

So probably the greatest thing in the world to me besides my family and friends is tennis. It's been that way ever since I started playing seriously as a teen more than 20 years ago. I mean, really, I can find absolutely no fault (pun not intended) with it. From going out to hit with a buddy, playing a USTA tournament or watching a Wimbledon final, there's almost nothing like it.

If I'm obsessed with it and hundreds of thousands of people around the world are, too, then why, why, WHY doesn't it get any respect in regard to mainstream coverage or appreciation for what's necessary to play, both from the amateur standpoint or at the professional level?

This is probably an example of "preaching to the choir" because if you're reading this blog, then you obviously care about tennis. I just felt the urge to post something here because today, a pretty decent bit of sports news happened--Caroline Wozniacki clinched the year-end number-one ranking. However, as of this posting, three of the main sports websites--ESPN.com, SI.com or Yahoo sports--don't have a mention of this on their front page. Granted, Wozniacki's not American, but that shouldn't matter: She's the best in the world as far as the rankings go, playing a singular sport.

And yet, on all three of those websites I mentioned, there is a story about the merging of two mixed martial arts leagues. Mixed martial arts is a bigger sport than professional tennis. Does that even begin to make sense to you?

I don't think this is strictly a U.S. problem, either: How many times have you seen stories about Stefan Edberg or Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal ranking behind skiers or handball players or footballers in popularity, despite the heights of worldwide success they've reached?

And in case you didn't know this about me, aside from blogging and being an all-around bon vivant, I've worked in journalism my entire professional career, and I just had an experience with a New York-based newspaper this summer where I was essentially told they didn't care about the U.S. Open. Can you imagine that? I had a similar experience in college, too, when the sports editor for the local paper spoke to one of my journalism classes. It's a longstanding problem.

I'm not expecting any answers to this issue; I guess I just had to vent. Like I said, I think tennis is amazing and shouldn't only be noticed by the people that care about it. It's part of me, it's part of you and should be out there for everyone to see.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jim Courier as Captain America


Jim Courier is among my top-three tennis players of all time.

Davis Cup is my favorite sporting event of all time.

So Courier being named captain of the U.S. squad is a pretty big deal for me! And I think it's a great choice by the USTA. He's a Hall of Famer that's won some big Davis Cup matches over the years and he knows how to find success on every surface, having made the finals at all four Slams in his career.

I also like the squad he's taking over from Patrick McEnroe with John Isner, Sam Querrey, Mardy Fish and the Bryan brothers leading the way. Isner and Querrey are perfectly poised to be brought along in Davis Cup just like Andy Roddick and James Blake were. Plus, who's to say what a youngster like Ryan Harrison will do in the next couple of years? He could be at a point where he's an entrenched top-tenner by then.

All in all, a good move by the USTA. And I'm happy for Davis Cup, too. It's been exciting to see such recent former players--like Patrick Rafter--take the helm for their home teams.

(Photo: AP)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Elena Dementieva and Jelena Jankovic, what are you doing there?


The WTA's year-end championships kicked off today with Caroline Wozniacki, Vera Zvonareva and Samantha Stosur beating Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic and Francesca Schiavone, respectively.

Schiavone's loss wasn't so bad, but man, Dementieva and Jankovic got dusted! Wozniacki and Zvonareva have been playing great--after all, they are one and two in the world--but their opponents have had some serious injury problems this year. I wonder if they'll even make it through the round-robin stage. Actually, I wonder if they should've even gone to Doha.

Part of me hopes they can hang in there, while the other thinks maybe they should concentrate on getting better for the next season. The new season's only a few weeks away, might as well try to get ready for it.

(Photo: AP)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

How does Serbia do it?


Is it too early to start thinking about Davis Cup? Because I'm wondering with Viktor Troicki kind of ballin' as of late, will Serbia blow through France--a thought I never would have entertained even a couple of years ago.

I guess I can come back to any Davis Cup thoughts as we get closer to the finale, but for now, I want to give a shout-out to Troicki for picking up his first career title at the Kremlin Cup this past weekend. Great result for him, and well-deserved because he wasn't playing a slouch in Marcos Baghdatis.

I know I shouldn't be surprised such a tiny nation produces tournament-winning players anymore, but I can't help it. There are so many larger countries out there with bigger tennis federations that aren't producing half the champs Serbia is, a list Troicki can now add his name to.

(Photo: AP)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Is it Maria Kirilenko's time?


There were a lot of Russians in the quarters on the women's side of their "hometown" tournament, the Kremlin Cup. Two advanced to the semis: Maria Kirilenko and Vera Dushevina. Since I have Kirilenko's name in the headline and a picture of her, I think it's pretty clear I'm going to be talking about her this post!

I've always had a certain train of thought about her: It seemed like she was poised to add her name to the list of top Russian players, but for some reason or another, it never happened. Maybe it's the fact that she plays all those minor tournaments, which I've mentioned in the past don't exactly do her a world of good. She has won titles on tour, but not going up against the best in them doesn't really help her game develop. This year, though, she did make her first Slam quarterfinal and here she is, in the semis of a Premier event.

Kirilenko's still really young even though she's been out there forever. I can almost see her pulling off a Vera Zvonareva 2010 kind of run in the future. Doing well in big tournaments is definitely a start.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Stockholm Open: How 'Swede' it is once again


Year before last, I wrote a post lamenting the lack of luster around the Stockholm Open. This is one of the oldest tournaments on the calendar and it lost its elite status more than a decade ago. Sad, but things change: I mean, you have an outdoor tournament (Shanghai) as one of your premier fall events now. Why, back in my day, you never would've seen such a thing.

Anyway, let me get away from my old fogeyness and back to what I was saying: The Stockholm Open isn't what it used to be, but this year, things seem to be picking up as far as status goes.

It's amazing what a Roger Federer appearance in the draw can do for an event!

But it's been more than that: You have two-time champ James Blake showing some fight; Jarkko Nieminen continuing his run of good form, knocking off one of three top-10 players in the draw; and a quarterfinal between that Federer guy (who just played and won his 900th career match) and tough countryman Stanislas Wawrinka. All in all, not a bad week.

And while Stockholm's "Super 9" days may be behind it, here's hoping more good weeks are in store for the future.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

So much for a tall order for Roger Federer!


OK, so maybe I was a little off on wondering if Roger Federer could possibly struggle this week! Dropping the hammer on Robin Soderling like he did was pretty sick. That match with Novak Djokovic in the semis should be a good one and I'm hard-pressed to make a call on it.

Awww, what the heck: Fed in straights! I mean, I already blew it with a supposition of sorts earlier in the week, why not post blog entries throwing caution to the wind?

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A tall order for Roger Federer?


What do you think will happen in a mere matter of hours?

Roger Federer plays his first match in Shanghai against John Isner in the second round. This marks Fed's return to tournament play after his semi loss against Novak Djokovic. Now odds are Federer will win against a decent-in-form Isner, but like it was mentioned on Adjusting the Net the other day, he could be in for a bit of a surprise this tournament. And that brings up something I've been thinking about Federer the whole year.

To me, it seems like he's been in a perpetual state of rustiness. He loses a tournament then takes four to six weeks off. I know he's Roger Federer, one of the greatest athletes of all time, but I think getting out there and mixing it up more with these guys would help him maintain a little bit more sharpness. That way, he doesn't get cold-cocked when he returns to the court. Admit it: With all of his game and seemingly magical powers, would you be surprised if he lost to Isner first match out? Of course as an athlete gets older with more outside things going on, it gets harder to return to the grind. But the only way I see him getting 20 Slams is to get out there and play more. No one is going to hand him those extra Majors; he's gonna have to go out and take them, and re-establishing a semblance of that aura of invincibility is going to have to be done at the Tokyo's and L.A.'s of the world.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Taking a bite out of Tokyo


Wait, I thought Nikolay Davydenko was going to be the big winner at a tournament this past weekend! : )

Seriously, though, congrats to Rafael Nadal for being one of the title takers this weekend at the Japan Open. It would have been kind of weird if he had lost that semifinal match to Viktor Troicki: Weird would be the best word to describe it, right? I don't think you could have classified at as "bad" despite it possibly being his second semi loss in a row. With the year he's having you can't really say a loss is bad, just weird or unusual!

Anyway, it doesn't matter since he got through it and defeated a game Gael Monfils in the final. It was a little troubling to hear him say he's feeling tired from the long season afterward because there's still a few big events for him in '10.

TopSpin over at Tennis Is Served ... had an interesting post recently asking why Rafa was even playing in Thailand. I stuck up for the decision in the comments, saying at least he was honoring the commitment (or maybe commitment fee), but now I'm not so sure. I would love to see him cap off the year with a year-end championship; I just hope all the extra tennis doesn't catch up with him. Still, Tokyo's a nice place to win and congrats again to him!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Oh, Nikolay, why do we doubt you so?


Nikolay Davydenko tagged Marin Cilic in straights in the China Open to advance to the quarterfinals. That's a pretty solid result for anyone to pull off (what's going on with Cilic anyway?), but one that shouldn't be totally unexpected from Davydenko.

However, if I were to say I wasn't shocked, I'd be lying to you.

Davydenko has been getting dusted on a regular basis for a few months now, ever since his return from injury. But for some reason, I just get this feeling he's really on the way back as opposed to that dreaded other direction you tend to think of with 29-year-old pro tennis players. After all, this is a guy who was taking out Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal less than a year ago. I guess he still has some play left in him.

We'll see how this week ends up, but if he was the last man standing, I wouldn't be surprised. Funny how a quarterfinal appearance in a tournament will change your mind!

(Photo: AP)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The comeback conundrum, starring Tsonga, del Potro and Sharapova


So a lot of our favorite players have lost in the past couple of days, huh, tennis fans?

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Maria Sharapova and Juan Martin del Potro have all been early-round casualties the past couple of days in Asia. For Tsonga, it's his first event in months, while del Potro is playing his second, both returning after injury-driven breaks. Sharapova's shoulder woes almost seem like an eon ago as she's been out there regularly competing. I'm lumping all three of them together, though, because while I'm a huge fan of all three, I just don't know why they made their comebacks when they did.

I've stated before how I didn't get Sharapova's return to action last year on clay, the toughest surface for her to play on. I think she's been a shell of herself ever since her return, even though I'm always hoping otherwise. With del Potro and Tsonga, why not wait until next year to get back out there? If Tsonga's trying to build up points to make the year-end championships, that wouldn't be a great move, playing in frantic mode and entering every tournament, increasing the odds of injury for an already very-injury-prone player.

As for del Potro, the end of the year event is light years away. Getting in (maybe) six matches before the season shuts down seems like a big gamble to me coming off a major injury.

I know there's a lot of thought otherwise out there on players' returning from injury, and it's good that these athletes want to get back out there. But tennis' offseason is so brief, why not use every opportunity to recover? And these three players that I mentioned are all young and successful, and have their whole careers ahead of them. I'm just asking for a little scheduling consideration to rest my nerves!

(Photo: AP)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Caroline Wozniacki, Serena Williams and the number-one issue


Man, this Asia swing moves quickly, huh?

Caroline Wozniacki just won the tournament in Tokyo (her fifth title of the year) and now she's in China, where she's only a couple of match wins away from taking over the number-one spot from Serena Williams. Serena's had that position on lock for the year with her wins in Australia and at Wimbledon, and it's pretty hard to argue against her as the leader of the pack with two Slams won. But wow, she's only played six events this year!

Wozniacki's almost won that many tournaments, but none of them equal the two taken by Williams. She has played a lot, though, and has had decent runs at the Majors, but nary a Slam final was made by Wozniacki this season.

It's hard to say who really deserves the top spot more, but I'm going to do it anyway and give Wozniacki some props, albeit with a bit of reluctance. She's hitting the court on a regular basis and taking home the hardware, so it's difficult to argue against where she is. It's kind of funny, though, that the WTA could have four women over history that have become the top-ranked player without winning a Major: Amelie Mauresmo, Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina and potentially Wozniacki. But it's also kind of funny someone could be on top who's only played a total of nine weeks all year.

So if Wozniacki pulls off the feat this week and climbs atop the rankings mountain, then I guess she deserves it. I bet she'd trade it for one of those Slams Williams has, though.

(Photo: AP)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

How will Fernando Verdasco look back on 2010?


Fernando Verdasco got bounced in Thailand by Benjamin Becker in straights. Becker's tough, but Verdasco should be able to handle him. Aside from that quarterfinal run at the U.S. Open, the second half of the year really hasn't been that great for the Spaniard.

I thought he would've been able to build on that breakthrough '09 and it looked like early on this season that was going to be the case with titles indoors and on clay. But the guy played a ton, I mean 2000 pounds, worth of tournaments this year, and even though he's strong as a bull, it's just been too much. Like, why play the week before the French Open when you've made deep runs on the dirt that whole stretch?

The dude works hard off the court to be able to maintain that physical style of play, but some pacing has to be done. I think a lighter schedule next year can help continue that upward path of a year ago.

(Photo: AP)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Kimiko Date Krumm and the irritation inducers


How does she do it?

One of the craziest comeback stories in women's tennis keeps rolling along as Kimiko Date Krumm knocked off Maria Sharapova at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, mere hours before she hits the big 4-0.

Now looking at it on paper, you'd think Sharapova would be able to blast Date Krumm off the court, but obviously that's not the case because what Date Krumm lacks in power she makes up for with flat, penetrating groundies that can give a lot of players fits in today's topspin-driven game.

That got me to thinking about some other players over the past couple of decades that defied the odds and notched up big scalps on their way to becoming one, based on games that gave their peers fits.

For the women:

* Date Krumm: Most 40-year-olds don't come back after years and years out of the game to become a solid top-75 player, but Date Krumm has. You'd be hard-pressed to find a player out there, male or female, with strokes like hers.

* Francesca Schiavone and Patty Schnyder: I put these two together because when was the last time you were able to say, "Wow, she cracked that forehand" or "Look at all those aces she racked up." They probably know the nuances of the court more than 90 percent of their peers.

* Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario: Hustle can go a long way, as seen by what she managed to accomplish in her career. She had to come up with tricks to diffuse the power players of her day. Who has hit a better moonball?

As for some of the men:

* Michael Chang: Speed kills, and his did, for sure. His groundies were textbook but he had to hit a LOT of them on the run. He rode that grind-it-out style to the Hall of Fame.

* Lleyton Hewitt: Hewitt's accomplishments are some of the most fascinating to me ever: How did he dominate the game for two years? I still can't figure it out, so I'll move on!

* Brad Gilbert: Speed and court sense carried him to a place no one would've ever predicted for him. No one would ever accuse him of hitting the ball too hard, but he did OK with 20 titles and a top-four ranking, achieved against some of the greatest players of all time.

* Gael Monfils: He drives me crazy watching him play, so I can imagine how the guys on tour must feel!

There are so many others throughout the histories of the ATP and WTA, but I just wanted to throw these players out there, and give props to Kimiko Date Krumm, who's doing it for irritation-inducers everywhere!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nary a top 10 player in sight (and maybe some should be)

The Slam season has come and gone (actually it's been gone a couple of weeks now), but there's still plenty of tennis to get excited about. The men are competing in Bucharest on clay and on indoor hard courts in Metz, France. The women have a couple of stops, too, in Seoul and Uzbekistan, both outdoors on the hard stuff.

But a funny thing about this week: No members of the current top 10 on the ATP and WTA sides are out there looking to pad their stats by entering these draws. Granted, there's some top-20 players out there, like Marin Cilic and defending champ Gael Monfils in Metz and Nadia Petrova in Korea, all who've been ranked in the single digits in their careers. I feel, though, a few members of the higher-ups should be out there. For instance:

* Nikolay Davydenko should be in Romania: Now Davydenko, I hope, would be the first to tell you he shouldn't be in the top 10 right now with the year he's had. But he hasn't played since that first-round ouster at the U.S. Open. He has a lot of indoor points to defend from last year, so maybe he's gearing up for that. But I think a solid clay-court run could've helped him out confidence-wise.

* Andy Roddick should be in Metz: I'm usually a big A-Rod cheerleader, but I'm feeling a lot less optimistic. Why not play indoors against a field of guys that he's done a lot of running over in the past? Hopefully, he's just at home doing everything possible to get ready for the last big indoor tournaments, Shanghai and Paris. I just don't know about him contending in the larger events right now: That Miami win was a looonng time ago.

* Francesca Schiavone should be in Korea: That U.S. Open run was nice, but I think a little more play could help her in the months ahead as she's had some success indoors. I'll cut her some slack: After all, she did win the French Open!

* Elena Dementieva should be in Tashkent: This season hasn't gone as planned for the veteran. A romp through a less-than-stellar field could've shown she was back on track.

I guess everybody needs a break, though, and I bet these players are glad I don't make their schedule!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

THAT'S what Davis Cup is all about!


I love Davis Cup.

But you already knew that if you've been around this site before. However, after last year's final, for the first time, I started to have a little doubt about Davis Cup creep in. That tie between Spain and the Czech Republic was so bereft of drama that I barely tuned into it.

But this weekend, my friends, wiped out any and all concerns I had about my favorite sporting event. From the World Group semis to the playoff rounds, so many great stories happened:

* Serbia (yes, Serbia!) makes it to the finals of the Davis Cup. Now, the only person in the universe that had a right to say anything about the scheduling of the semifinals this year was Novak Djokovic, who was playing a Slam final less than a week ago. However, he comes out and wins the fourth rubber, which sets it up for his less-heralded teammate Janko Tipsarevic to clinch the tie. Awesome, awesome result for the tiny nation.

* France makes it to the final for the first time in eight years by steamrolling Argentina. I can't even believe it's been that long for the Frenchmen because with the talent captain Guy Forget can call upon, anyone would be hard-pressed going against them. Great win for the team.

* Mardy Fish--doing his best Pete Sampras circa 1995 against Russia impersonation--might be one of my favorite sports moments of the year. Fish's efforts in Colombia should not be overlooked in comparison to what he's pulled off this season. Two singles and one doubles win against solid top-70 players on their home turf in crazy conditions is amazing.

* India's comeback win over Brazil in the playoffs was huge. Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes come together and spark the turnaround after a dismal first day in singles play for the home team.

* And last but not least, Kazakhstan will be playing in the World Group next year after blanking Switzerland. Talk about an incredible result! Now, Switzerland was playing without Roger Federer, but Stanislas Wawrinka is nothing to sneeze at. Andrey Golubev and Mikhail Kukushkin held strong, though.

A result like that shows you never know what's going to happen on a Davis Cup weekend. I hope we'll see more of those in the future, and that any talk of changing the format is tabled.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rafael Nadal and the greatest men's Slam year EVER


There, I said it.

I've been pondering that since he clinched the U.S. Open title over Novak Djokovic, adding his name to the short list of players with a career Slam and the even-shorter list of players with a career Golden Slam. It's obvious Rafa had an awesome year at the Majors, but the best ever? You're probably thinking, "Dudes win three Slams a year all the time. How many times has Roger Federer done it? Heck, Mats Wilander even did it." Or you might be saying, "What about the cats that made all four Slam finals in a year, like Fed, or the homeys that won all of them, like Rod Laver?"

Well, to answer all your questions, I'm going to break it down for you in just a few words:

It's all about the completely different surfaces he won on.

There are only five guys that have won Majors on three surfaces: Jimmy Connors, Wilander, Andre Agassi, Federer and now Nadal. Three of them have won three Slams in a year: Connors, Wilander and Federer. Connors' trifecta was achieved on grass back in 1974, while Wilander won on Rebound Ace, clay and hard courts in 1988 and Federer pulled that off for the first time in 2004. What knocks Wilander and Federer out of the running for me in this conversation is that Rebound Ace's properties were too similar to a hard court, albeit a slow one with higher bounces.

And I know Laver won all four in a year twice, which is a tremendous achievement, but to do that on only two surfaces kind of takes away some of the oomph of that for me. If Federer or Pete Sampras played three of their four Majors a year on grass, how many titles would they have?

It's been old hat the past few years for Federer to make all four Slam finals in a year, too, but you have to go back to that old adage (how many times do you get to read the word "adage?"), "No one remembers second place."

I'm not trying to diminish any of those great players' accomplishments at all. But what we witnessed in 2010 with Rafael Nadal dominating as usual on the clay of the French Open, coming back two weeks after that to take the grass-court title at Wimbledon and then winning on the hard stuff at the U.S. Open is an extremely rare feat in the men's game, one we might not see in a while. Unless he pulls it off again!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Rainy days and Mondays ...


Who needs a roof when you always have Mondays to make up Grand Slam finals?

I guess that's the USTA's train of thought as a roof at the National Tennis Center isn't being discussed that much, despite yet another Monday men's final. Personally, I'm OK with it, this year at least: The weather was pretty good for the most part and at least tennis in the public eye a wee bit longer, which I'm always pulling for.

But enough of talk about roofs and eyes and weather: How about this men's final we're about to have? And how about how it even came to be?

The way Rafael Nadal was playing, it was pretty much a given he was going to get there. But Novak Djokovic coming through in five against Roger Federer? I didn't see that, obviously, if you read my U.S. Open predictions! I'm not going to sound the death knell on Fed after that loss, and what has turned out to be a kind-of mediocre season by his standards. I think he's still got at least two or three Slams left in him, but I was a little concerned when he said he's not going to watch the final and he's been out playing for weeks and weeks. It was the same post-Wimbledon, too. Look at his schedule: Folks, he doesn't play that much. And you know what? He needs to watch the final. It's like in other sports when the opposite team clinches the title on your home court: You can rush into the locker room and try to put the whole thing behind you, or you can sit there and watch those guys celebrate, then use that as motivation to make sure that never happens again. Federer could stand to do that and be a little pissed off to ensure getting those extra Slams. The Djokos and Rafas of the world are just going to keep coming and coming.

Speaking of those guys, I'm just hoping for a good final tomorrow, which I think they're obviously capable of putting on. It should go four or five sets with them both pulling off shots and gets you only see in video games. If I had a tip to give Djokovic, calling upon all of my NTRP 4.0 wisdom, I'd tell him to hit hard and flat down the middle. If he does that and wins, then I'll be the first one to call me a genius!

(Photo: AFP)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Stanislas Wawrinka: the Swiss mystery


As I type this, Stan Wawrinka is battling it out against Mikhail Youzhny at Arthur Ashe stadium.

This is already the furthest Wawrinka's gotten at a Major, and I wonder if he has more in him to go even further. Slam quarters were supposed to be a given for Wawrinka, but for whatever reason it didn't happen. He has all kinds of game and has been in the top 10, but he also only has two career singles titles, when once it looked like he would've had a Novak Djokovic-type of career.

He has Peter Lundgren in his camp, and I think they both really need each other: Lundgren to show that just because he had one of the greatest players ever under his charge, he knows his X's and O's, and Wawrinka because it's good to have a guy that's seen everything.

I'm not sure how far he's going to go at the Open, but I hope it's only the start of more good things for him.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Federer, Zvonareva, Djokovic and Wozniacki: The Wind-Breakers


Last night, I had to run to a bodega around the corner in my Brooklyn, NY, neighborhood for dishwashing detergent, and thought "Man, it's windy and cool out here. This kind of sucks."

Then I understood what Pam Shriver said during the Caroline Wozniacki match about the weather, if you were planning to meet a buddy out in that wind for a hit, you'd probably both be like, "Forget this. Let's go grab a beer!"

So congrats to the quarterfinal winners yesterday—Roger Federer, Wozniacki, Vera Zvonareva and Novak Djokovic—for getting it done in such tough conditions. None of them were in trouble against their lower-ranked, but very solid, opponents. Still, when the weather is tricky like that, you never know what can happen.

And I guess they're all happy it wasn't that blazing heat like it was at the start of last week! Their semifinal matches should make for some great encounters.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Major hurdle for Sharapova, Roddick and Murray


This has been some U.S. Open, huh? Favorites running through, new kids coming up, fights in the stands—the works. But I guess that's just New York and the Open: You never know what to expect!

As the quarterfinal fields between the men and the women are close to being set or are already, there are three players I seriously thought would have made it that far that fell short. And the fact they're on the sidelines now indicates a level of unpredictability in the game and concerns for their Slam-winning future.

In case you skipped the headline above and just went into what I've written, I'm talking about Maria Sharapova and Andys Roddick and Murray, three of my favorite players on tour.

Let's look at Roddick first. Now as you know, if you've been around this old blog of mine, I'm always optimistic about his chances on any surface, but now a little bit of doubt is creeping into my head on him winning a Major in his career again. Sure, there was the bout with mono this summer, but I think problems started surfacing when he missed the entire clay-court season. I know there were some injury concerns around that time, but it seems his level of intensity dropped after winning Miami. And if you look at the grass-court stretch, there's no reason he should've lost to Rendy Lu. Or Janko Tipsarevic at the Open, not if he wants to be considered a Slam contender.

As for Andy Murray—not to be a negative Nellie or anything—but the whole season now has to be chalked up as a lost one. Sure, there was the final in Australia, but the main thing is that he went 0 for 4 in the Slam-winning department. Sorry, Andy, if this gets back to you (yeah, right), because I don't want to put any more pressure on you now then you must feel already. Everybody always says he has the game—me included—to take a big one, but there's a matter of actually putting it all together at the right time.

But you know, if I were to really think about it, is his game strong enough to take out three top-eight players in a row in the last three rounds of a Major in best-of-five situations? Plus, the level of pressure on him is almost immeasurable?

And then there's Sharapova: Sure, Caroline Wozniacki had been playing lights out up to their fourth-round match-up today, but I think for a confidence boost in her game going forward, Maria really needed to win this match—almost desperately. She was off the court so long with that shoulder injury, but her schedule has been pretty full this year, indicating her arm must be in decent shape. Has the game passed her by? Will she be able to beat the Wozniackis, Azarenkas and Williams of the world in order to pick up a fourth Slam? It only gets harder from here on out.

These are three of my favorite players on tour, and I'm going to keep pulling for them at the Majors. It's something watching the windows of opportunity close for them, though, with each Slamless year passing by.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Federer, Clijsters and the best of the rest at the U.S. Open (men and women predictions)

"On the road again ... "

Hey everyone! So, my vacation is over but I'm actually out of town again visiting friends and family down south. I'm not going to let that stop me from making my U.S. Open predictions, though. I am, however, going to put my round of 16 predictions for the men and women in one post. I like Roger Federer and Kim Clijsters to win, but not without encountering some tough resistance along the way. Here's my prediction for the men's tournament, from the round of 16 on:

Round of 16:
Rafael Nadal vs. Ivan Ljubicic, David Ferrer vs. David Nalbandian, Andy Murray vs. Sam Querrey, Xavier Malisse vs. Radek Stepanek, Richard Gasquet vs. Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish vs. Novak Djokovic, Robin Soderling vs. Kei Nishikori, Jurgen Melzer vs. Roger Federer

Quarterfinals:
Nadal vs. Nalbandian, Murray vs. Stepanek, Roddick vs. Djokovic, Soderling vs. Federer

Semifinals:
Nadal vs. Murray, Roddick vs. Federer

Finals:
Federer over Murray

For the women:

Round of 16;
Caroline Wozniacki vs. Maria Sharapova, Maria Kirilenko vs. Na Li, Jelena Jankovic vs. Yanina Wickmayer, Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Coco Vandeweghe, Alona Bondarenko vs. Victoria Azarenka, Flavia Pennetta vs. Venus Williams, Alisa Kleybanova vs. Elena Dementieva, Ana Ivanovic vs. Kim Clijsters

Quarterfinals:
Sharapova vs. Li, Jankovic vs. Radwanska, Azarenka vs. Williams, Dementieva vs. Clijsters

Semifinals:
Sharapova vs. Jankovic, Williams vs. Clijsters

Finals:
Clijsters over Sharapova

Enjoy the start of the tournament! See ya soon!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

It's vacation time

Hey all, I'm gonna be a little out of reach for the next few days as the fam is vacationing right now. Enjoy Cincy!

See ya soon,
Van

Thursday, August 12, 2010

There are still U.S. guys in the top 10, in my mind


OK, here we are: quarterfinal time at the Masters tournament in and no American men made it that far. Actually, none made it as far as the 16s. This all coincides with the history-making turn in the rankings this week, where no U.S. man was in the top 10 for the first time in oh, about, forever.

But take a look at the rankings right now, where you have four players that haven't even won titles this year (Andy Murray, Nikolay Davydenko, Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga), and three that have missed big chunks of the year (again Davydenko and Tsonga, and Juan Martin del Potro). Can you make the case that Davydenko or del Potro should still be up there in the standings instead of Andy Roddick this year? (Murray and Berdych get a pass for making Slam finals.)

And Sam Querrey has won more titles than anyone not named Rafael Nadal in 2010. Look at Mardy Fish, too: Even though his winning streak in singles was snapped in Washington last week, he still took home the doubles. Americans have brought home a lot of hardware this season.

But it's not just them getting shut out, the whole ranking system is flawed. To me, I actually miss the much-maligned Race system, where the results were tallied to the standings on a yearly basis and I never thought I'd say that. If I was making a top 10 for the guys based on results this year, here's how it would look:

1. Rafael Nadal
2. Roger Federer
3. Robin Soderling
4. Andy Murray
5. Tomas Berdych
6. Andy Roddick
7. Novak Djokovic
8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
9. David Ferrer
10. Sam Querrey

No muss, no fuss, and it looks like Americans are doing OK here to me. The whole system needs an overhaul: Why isn't Juan Carlos Ferrero being rewarded more for three titles won? Or Davydenko penalized for a poor season? Maybe the Race was the way to go after all.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

If I was Roger Federer ...


Well, first thing I probably wouldn't be doing is typing this blog entry: I'd be doing laps in my swimming pool filled with my millions!

Seriously, though, if I was him, you know what I would've done over the past couple of weeks? (And this may sound crazy) Played either in L.A. last week or Washington this one.

I know: Crazy, right? But not really if you look at it.

First, I know there have been some bouts with injuries this year, but his schedule's been pretty light. I'm assuming if he's about to play the two Masters events coming up, then he's in pretty good shape now. I don't think an extra week of tournament play would've hurt him.

And speaking of that extra week, for whatever reason the ATP's been doing this with it's 32-spot draws and awarding byes to the top four seeds, he only would have had to play four matches to win L.A. That tournament probably would've been best for him, actually, because it was a couple of weeks before the big ones start cranking up.

Then there's the confidence factor: January was a looonng time ago, which is the last time he won an event. Granted, it was a big one, but the months since then have been very un-Federer-like. I just have to assume L.A. would've been the perfect spot to break the title-less drought. A run to the finals even would've been decent: He doesn't even have that many runner-up finishes this year.

Also, if I was Federer, I wouldn't have brought in Paul Annacone on any kind of basis. All Annacone is going to have him do is try to get to net more. I should've typed that sentence earlier, I could've saved Roger possibly tens of thousands of dollars!

I don't know if you were doing much Pete Sampras watching back in the mid-to-late '90s, early 2000s, but Sampras' game changed completely. Pete wasn't simply a serve-and-volleyer, which he morphed into the later years. He was an all-court player that could hang with almost anyone out there on the baseline. If you get a chance, look at footage of him in the 1997 Australian Open finals, when he destroyed a young Carlos Moya. He was slugging it out with him from the back of the court.

You can say Sampras did alright in his career (that was an obvious understatement), but I feel that Annacone took him from the direction that Tim Gullickson was steering him in and actually cost him a couple of Slams.

Getting into net more would probably help Federer against those lumbering big boys like Tomas Berdych and Robin Soderling, but I just have this feeling that Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray will eat him up if he starts increasing his approaches.

I guess we'll see what Federer has in store upon his return. I might would've done things differently over the past few weeks if I was him, though. But I'm obviously not, so let me return to my dreams of swimming in pools filled with dollar bills!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The winners' circle


I just wanted to give a quick wrap-up of the tournaments that wrapped up this weekend. And you know me, I have some kind of opinion on the results!

* First, let's start in L.A., where Sam Querrey defended his title over Andy Murray by notching his first win over the top-four player. Great win for Sam and an incredible effort to fight back like he did. Bad loss for Murray, though, who I feel needed to come in and just dominate the tournament for his confidence. And check out this post at Adjusting the Net, pre-final, for more thoughts on both of them heading into the match.

And while we're in L.A., how about them Bryan boys? Historic effort! Whenever they do something big, I always break out this old post on their place in the game--and all of sports.

* In Stanford, Victoria Azarenka beat Maria Sharapova quite handily to take the title. Congrats to Azarenka and to Sharapova, too, for a good run at a decent-sized tournament. I'm still waiting for Maria to show she can come out on top again at a big event. Maybe this is the start? And how about Lindsay Davenport? The doubles court beckons!

* Juan Carlos Ferrero won his third title of the year in Umag. I liked how afterward he said he was confident on getting ready for the hard-court season. He's been getting it done on the dirt, but it's time to move on!

* Also expressing confidence after his win was Nicolas Almagro, who took the Swiss Open crown for his second title in three weeks. Nic said his goal is to get in the top 10 and stay there. Good luck to him.

* Anastasia Pavlyunchenkova won over Elena Vesnina in an all-Russian affair in Istanbul. They're both part of the next generation of stars from Russia, and in a plug for yours truly, check this out at On the Baseline from a few months back on Anastasia. (Somebody has to promote my stuff!)

And on that note, I'll end it here. Congrats again to the winners!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Keep it going, JB!


That was a tough loss for James Blake to Feliciano Lopez this evening in Los Angeles.

I assume, though, Blake must be thinking that a quarterfinal run at a tournament never felt so good. With his recent run of bad form, pretty much brought on by injury, the threat of the "R" word has popped up a lot coming from him in the past few months. He's definitely one of the veterans on tour now and his body has had some wear and tear put on it. But Blake's forehand and even-slightly diminished athleticism should be able to help him carry on for another year or two at least, provided the body holds up.

I've been a little tough on Blake over the years, mainly because I just wanted him to do even better than his stats indicated. I don't think the expectations were too high; he definitely was a threat to make a Slam final a few years ago, I feel. That time has pretty much come and gone, but he's still capable game-wise of making a run to the top 20, 25. Here's hoping the L.A. run has rejuvenated him.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lindsay Davenport, doubles specialist?


The women have kicked off their Olympus U.S. Open Series in Stanford, Calif., this week where Samantha Stosur and Elena Dementieva are the top two seeds. Half of the quarterfinal field is set, but it's actually the doubles draw and who's in it that's caught my eye.

Two-time mom and three-time Grand Slam singles titlist Lindsay Davenport is teaming up with Liezel Huber there. She's planning on playing a lot of dubs this summer and ripped it up in World Team Tennis. I don't know her comeback intentions, but it looks like all signs are pointing toward one.

I wonder, though, if she is coming back, should she just do it as a doubles specialist. She obviously knows how to get it done when she's partnered up with someone, with a Wimbledon title already in the bag. There's just so many benefits to hitting the doubles circuit and there's so much she can do. Here's what I mean:

* Teaming up with Huber could present a combo nearly as powerful as the Williams sisters, who've shown that's the way to win doubles Slams nowadays.

* Davenport wouldn't have to commit to that ragged singles schedule: Play two or three warm-up tournaments before Slams, then the Majors and the year-end Championships, and I guarantee a couple of big pieces of hardware for the old trophy cabinet before the season's out. It would also mean more at-home time with the kids.

* The dubs is also a lot easier on the body, something I'm sure she could appreciate, even though she looks to be in great shape.

A return to dominance in a different venue is hers for the taking if she wants it.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The magical lure of the Olympus U.S. Open Series


Folks, I've been following tennis a long time. (And you're probably thinking 40, 50 years since no one uses "Folks" anymore! I'm not that old!) I keep up with every tournament on both calendars, just as any other die-hard does.

I have to tell you, though, in all my years (there I go again with one of those aging-myself allusions) I've never been less-enthused with the post-Wimbledon clay-court swing on both tours as I'm this season.

Not to knock the efforts of the players out there fighting for points and paychecks, but I'm all about the hard-court stretch leading up to the U.S. Open, aka the Olympus U.S. Open Series. The first week's about to come to a close with the semifinals in Atlanta today featuring John Isner against Kevin Anderson and Mardy Fish taking on his homey Andy Roddick. Whoever wins the whole shebang, I'll definitely follow their results over the next few weeks, which is the premise behind all sports--developing that rooting interest.

At the not-what-it-once-was German Open, Jurgen Melzer is through to the finals, which is great: I consider myself a Melzer fan. But wouldn't it have been better to see him in Atlanta gearing up for the last Major of the season, after very decent results in his last two?

Anyway, I don't mean to sound like such an Olympus/USTA fanboy: I just think it's a really good thing going on for the game and wanted to acknowledge that--again! (Even though the last time was pretty brief!)


(Photo: Getty Images)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Is scheduling still keeping Nikolay Davydenko from winning a Slam?


So aside from the tournament in Atlanta this week, the men are also playing at the German Open in Hamburg, where Nikolay Davydenko is the top seed and defending champ. He's still trying to work his way back into form after missing months out of the season due to injury.

But what I'm wondering is that instead of playing in Hamburg, should he be down in Atlanta gearing up for the U.S. Open? Or if getting a jump on the hard courts isn't his priority, should he just be taking off this week? Wouldn't either one of those options be better preparation for the year's final Slam? If you were to take a look at his schedule over the years, how he gets ready for Slams has always been full of question marks to me, and I can't help but think that plays a key role in him never even making a Major final, even though he's way more accomplished than peers Fernando Gonzalez, Marcos Baghdatis or Tomas Berdych otherwise.

If you look at the draws of tournaments held the week before the French or U.S. Opens, he's often the only top five player on the scene. Or he's deciding to make a comeback from injury during the worst stretch of the year for him, the grass-court season, as he did this year. Why didn't he take that time off, maybe play one of the post-Wimbledon clay events, then get in hard-court mode? It's obvious that he knows how to play on the concrete, just based on what he did at the end of last season and beginning of this one--not to mention a past appearance in the U.S. Open semifinals.

Everybody knows that Davydenko plays way more than your average top-10 pro. Keeping up that pace, though, has me a little skeptical about his chances of shedding that "Best Active Player to Never Make a Slam Final" title. (I don't know if everyone thinks of him that way, but TTA? does!)

(Photo: Getty Images)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hard times ahead


There are still a couple of clay-court tournaments lurking on the ATP and WTA calendars, but it's really all about the hard courts for the rest of the season.

The Olympus U.S. Open Series gets started this week in the ATL with the guys competing. Action's already gotten under way with Mardy Fish and Michael Russell among the first-round winners. Andy Roddick's the top seed there, and I would figure he has a great shot at winning the whole thing, but I guess nothing's ever guaranteed in tennis, sports, life, etc., so we'll see!

And a brief thought about that Open Series: I know it's gotten some criticism since its inception, but you know what? I'm not mad at it at all. It creates a sense of drama for tennis fans, kind of like what NASCAR does with its race to the Cup series. And even if it's not a lot of tension and intrigue it creates, at least it's some! Tennis can ALWAYS use that!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Monday, July 12, 2010

The weekend that was


You ever find yourself thinking, "Wow, a lot sure happened on the pro tours this weekend, and there wasn't even a Slam final being played"? That's where I am right now, and there was a lot that went down to provoke the old thoughts. For example:

* It was Davis Cup quarterfinal time, and tons went down in the team competition: Spain got knocked out by France (as I mentioned on my Twitter page, I think Fernando Verdasco and David Ferrer are worn down); Serbia won over Croatia in the Battle of the Balkans; David Nalbandian put on an amazing performance to lead Argentina over Russia; and the Czech Republic beat Chile (Nicolas Massu and Paul Capdeville put up horrendous performances). Each tie had those moments of intrigue I mentioned that make Davis Cup a must-see in my opinion.

* Mardy Fish won his first grass-court title in Newport this weekend, taking out Olivier Rochus. And this is something else I mentioned on my Twitter page (I guess I was a Tweeting fool this weekend!), the only U.S. men to make more grass-court finals than Fish over the past 20 years are a couple of guys named Pete Sampras and Andy Roddick. Not bad company! (By the way, that little nugget of info is a TTA? exclusive!)

* Speaking of Newport, it was Hall of Fame time as "the Woodies"--Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge--and Gigi Fernandez and Natalia Zvereva made it in. Of course they're all more than deserving, but here's the real question for you out there tennis fans: What does the Hall do about top doubles teams and players in the future? I'm sure the Bryan brothers will get in, but will Rick Leach and Jim Pugh? Ken Flach and Robert Seguso? Sergio Casal and Emilio Sanchez? Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis? Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor? Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic? Larissa Neiland? Helena Sukova? All are multiple Slam winners and many have held the top spot in the rankings.

Here's my solution: Create a doubles wing. Slams and top rankings are generally the criteria to mark a great player. Recognize them for their achievements, too.

* Aravene Rezai won the Swedish Open, beating Gisela Dulko. It's another clay-court title for the hard-hitting Rezai. She hits the ball HARD: Can that translate to success at a Major and a big jump in the rankings? Or does she still have a year or two left of top-15 seasoning to be done before making her move. Agnes Szavay won in Budapest over Patty Schnyder for the second year in a row. I was more intrigued there by the Alize Cornet sighting as the young Frenchwoman made the quarterfinals. I tabbed her to make a comeback at the beginning of the year--I still don't know what happened to her to slow her progress. It makes you wonder ...

Like lot of things did this past weekend.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Those winning smiles


Hey, so a wild-and-crazy Wimbledon has come and gone. Personally, I blew it on my picks, but I couldn't be happier for the two who did get the big trophies, Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal. Great performances by great champions. And shout-outs to the other champs: Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner, Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova, and Cara Black and Leander Paes.

It was a fun fortnight and the perfect lead-in to the rest of the season.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Roger Federer? He's STILL going to be OK


So, about that prediction of mine for Roger Federer as Wimbledon champ ...

Unexpectedly, or maybe not, the way he struggled from the onset of the tournament, Federer lost to Tomas Berdych today in the quarterfinals. We all know the details: the end of his finals streak there, two quarterfinal losses back-to-back in Majors, blah, blah, blah.

Despite all that, I'm far from ready to throw in the towel on him. And here's why, in two words and a number (I don't think I said this before, but if I did, please excuse me):

2010 Australian Open.

Yep, that little phrase makes me optimistic about Federer's results for at least the next couple of years. Based on his insane results in Majors, the Aussie is the second toughest among the four for Federer to win. To do that after coming off some tough losses at the end of last year, and taking out some players that were starting to find some chinks in his armor--such as Nikolay Davydenko and Andy Murray--shows that his will to win is extraordinary and that he still has plenty left. Your game doesn't disappear in the span of six months.

Look at how he came out, though, at this tournament: Struggling against players with no grass-court pedigree makes it look like something was wrong with him physically to me. Not to take away from Berdych's win by any means, because he definitely came up with the goods, but I would think Fed would have enough grass-court savvy to handle anyone--even one of the game's biggest hitters.

And just to be clear, if this is your first time coming to this site, I'm not a "Fed-Head," I'm just calling them as I see them. And despite the recent run of bad form, what I saw from Federer at this year's Aussie indicates he'll still be OK for a couple of years yet to come.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

No quarter given for Venus Williams


The craziness continues!

A day after Andy Roddick's shocking loss to Yen-hsu Lu, the biggest surprise of them all comes with Venus Williams going out 6-2, 6-3 to Tsvetana Pironkova in the quarters. Williams didn't exactly play the cleanest match of her life with tons of errors and double-faults, but you'd still think she'd be able to get it done. After all, she is Venus Williams! Credit, though, to Pironkova for getting it done.

And how about Vera Zvonareva making it through to the semis? And doing it by rallying from behind, at that! I wouldn't mind seeing her make it to the finals against Serena. But perhaps I shouldn't be looking to far ahead: We might end up with a Pironkova-Petra Kvitova final the way things are going!

And about that Roddick loss: Man, that sucked. But credit to Lu for taking advantage of his opportunities. I hope A-Rod bounces back for the U.S. Open. Maria Sharapova, too.

Anyway, I guess we'll see what craziness tomorrow brings: Maybe the Lu train will keep rolling!

(Photo: Getty Images)