Thursday, January 28, 2010

A new way of seeing things

What is this, year before last or something? We have our dream women's final set in less than a hour's time: Serena Williams vs. Justine Henin. These two are, in my opinion, the two best players of the past seven or eight years, so it should be a good one.

I just thought of something, though, and it may not be a new argument, but I believe it's a new way of thinking for me. So you have Henin, who took a little more than a year off and appears now to be fresher than ever. And then you have Williams, who gets called out by many (and probably up until this posting, me too) for all of her outside activities taking her away from the game, but still wins the big ones.

Which has been the better way of going about things? The sabbatical or the outside interests? I guess you can't argue with either player's results! But I want to acknowledge that I was wrong about Serena because the fact that she's still winning Slams more than a decade after her first one deserves major props, even as her red-carpet appearances seemed to take away from her game and what she could've achieved in many fans' eyes. And while I can't say I'm a big fan of the player "retirement comeback" I have to give Henin kudos as well for achieving something so big, only two tournaments into her return.

So now that I've made my apologies, it's closer to finals time, and as I said earlier, it should be a good one!

(Photo: Getty Images)

I guess Andy Murray has the answer!

Looks like my question in my previous post was answered.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How does Marin Cilic ever lose?

It's almost a day later, matches have come and gone, but I'm still impressed by Marin Cilic's run so far at the Aussie. Even though he knocked off a TTA? fave in Andy Roddick, which I figured was going to happen, he still gets props!

I've been looking for him to make a big run at a Major the past few Slams and it looks like it's really happening here. Actually, every time I see him in a draw for the past year or so, I think "Why can't he win?"

Which takes me to the point of the headline of this post: How does he ever lose? I don't know, maybe it's beyond the comprehension of this 4.0 player, but I just can't figure out how you'd stop him, particularly on a faster surface. Here's my breakdown on him:

• The serve: Big.

• Groundies: Big.

• Movement: Great, especially for a big guy.

• Net game: Better than a lot of players.

• Confidence in his shots: High. Look how many winners he blasts off both sides, no matter the score.

Those are just a few of the technical and mental factors. But here's what really does it for me: the body type. I personally think a long, lean body can do wonders as far as helping with reach and leverage to generate power. Also, heavy topspin's not going to bother him, and I don't think slice is going to eat him up either. He's kind of like a male Venus Williams (who I'm also baffled by when they lose, like tonight).

Now I'm not gonna run out and start a Cilic fan club, just taking a look at the product, which with his age, isn't even a finished one yet. Juan Martin del Potro beat him to Slam glory, but I like Cilic's game way more, and I expect him to have better stats than del Po when it's all said and done.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Some tall ordering

The men and women have hit the midpoint at the Australian with the round of 16 matches kicking off. My bracket sheet looks pretty good with 11 of the 16 men and 10 of the women I picked making it this far. (Here's my new slogan: Tennis Talk, Anyone?: If we get half of our calls right, we're happy!)

One thing about today's matches, which promise to be some good ones, really stood out to me: You have two tournament favorites, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal, going against two of the biggest servers on tour, John Isner and Ivo Karlovic, respectively. Now, Isner hasn't lost a match this year and Ivo's Ivo, meaning you never know what's going to happen with that monster delivery of his. Can one of the giants (in stature) beat one of the big guns?

Pre-tournament, I picked Murray and Nadal to make it to the quarters and I'm sticking with that call. But I don't think I'll be too shocked if one of the members of the 6'9"-and-above set got out with a win.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Good win or a bad loss?

We're on day 3 of the Australian Open and something is sticking in my mind that I'm trying to figure out, and that's making sense of Justine Henin's win over Elena Dementieva.

Does it automatically mean that Henin will pick up right where she left off? Or does it mean that Dementieva, one of the longest-running top 10 members out there, just isn't in the same class as Henin? Will she never win a Slam? Is it like Tom Perotta said in the latest issue of Tennis magazine, that all of those players that have scaled some heights the past couple of years -- like Dinara Safina, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic (who just lost in the second round to Gisela Dulko) will never see big-time success again? Are there really only five Slam contenders out there: the Williams sisters, Henin, Kim Clijsters and Maria Sharapova?

See? There's a lot on my mind after this one win -- or one loss!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

No 'knee'd' for concern (Australian Open women's predictions)

OK, this might be kind of weird.

So the Australian Open is in full swing and due to the fact that I was out and about all day, I didn't get to post my women's predictions earlier. But here's where the weird part comes in: I had Maria Sharapova advancing pretty far, but she's already lost to Maria Kirilenko. In the spirit of keeping it real, so to speak, I'm going to still list my predictions as I saw them pre-Aussie.

I'm expecting a familiar face to return to the winner's circle: Serena Williams. I don't think her draw is too ridiculous, knee concerns or not. Anyway, here goes, and just like I did with the men, starting early in the draw.

Serena Williams (1) vs. Samantha Stosur (13
Ana Ivanovic (20) vs. Victoria Azarenka (7)
Caroline Wozniacki (4) vs. Na Li (16)
Agniezka Radwanska (10) vs. Venus Williams (6)
Elena Dementieva (5) vs. Flavia Pennetta (12)
Kim Clijsters (15) vs. Aravane Rezai (26)
Alona Bondarenko (31) vs. Coco Vandeweghe
Maria Sharapova (14) vs. Dinara Safina (2)

S. Williams vs. Azarenka
Wozniacki vs. Radwanska
Dementieva vs. Clijsters
Bondarenko vs. Sharapova

S. Williams vs. Wozniacki;
Dementieva vs. Sharapova

S. Williams over Dementieva

Enjoy the first day of the tournament!

(Photo: AP)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

No 'Djok' this time around (Australian Open men's predictions)

Well, here it is: the first Major of the new decade only a day away from starting. It's been an interesting start to the season so far with veterans (Nikolay Davydenko) and relative newbies (Marin Cilic and John Isner) picking up titles. How will that affect them come Australian Open time? That's what we're here to find out!

Anyway, I was looking at the men's draw and saw so many good potential early-rounders on tap. So I decided instead of my usual quarterfinal predictions, I'm gonna take it back a round further and throw in some NCAA March Madness lingo to boot! Anyway, here's how I see it going down. (And I just want to note that since I said Novak Djokovic was going to win it in my "A Year in Review/Preview" post, I'm sticking with that call.) Seedings in parentheses:

Roger Federer (1) vs. Marcos Baghdatis
Fernando Verdasco (9) vs. Nikolay Davydenko (6)—this is already my match of the tournament!
Novak Djokovic (3) vs. Richard Gasquet
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (10) vs. Robin Soderling (8)
Andy Roddick (7) vs. Tomas Berdych (21)
Marin Cilic (14) vs. Juan Martin del Potro (4)
Andy Murray (5) vs. John Isner (33)
Julien Benneteau vs. Rafael Nadal (2)

Federer vs. Verdasco
Djokovic vs. Tsonga
Roddick vs. Cilic
Murray vs. Nadal

Federer vs. Djokovic
Cilic vs. Nadal

Djokovic over Nadal

Should be a great tournament! My women's predictions are coming up next!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Friday, January 15, 2010

The last apology

Hey everyone, hope all is well! If you get this in your RSS feeder, you're probably like, "Whoa, an update from TTA?! Will miracles never cease!" Anyway, I just wanted to apologize for the lack of posts the past couple of weeks. I've just been a little busy trying to get myself situated with a few things. As the headline mentions, though, this is the last apology, seeing as how I made a few of those in '09 as far as lack of posts go. In 2010, I'm coming back hard again like it's 2008 with posts, thoughts and previews on the regular, so if you're still out there looking here, stay tuned!

Check tomorrow for my thoughts on the season so far and an Australian Open breakdown!

Friday, January 1, 2010

A decade for the ages

Wow! I've actually entered my fourth decade of being a tennis fan: Man, how time flies! (I'm actually not that old: I started playing and following tennis back in '88. But still, that's a long time!)

Anyway, it's funny how the Aughts shaped up: The decade started off with my favorite player, Andre Agassi, winning another Australian Open and ended with him making big news for revelations of crystal meth use in his autobiography. Talk about running the gamut! There were plenty of other things going on in between the two headlines. To keep it concise, I'm going to list what I think were the 10 biggest newsy-type deals of the decade:

10. Aussie Rules
Now, I know Australian tennis players didn't exactly dominate the decade, but for a couple of years there, one of them did. Lleyton Hewitt won two Majors and also finished in the top spot two years in a row. I think this gets overlooked: Has there ever been a more successful "scrappy" player in the history of the men's game? Love him or hate him, you've got to respect what he's accomplished.

9. Open and Shut
I wasn't ever a big Pete Sampras fan, with Agassi and Jim Courier being my main dudes back when they were all out there duking it out. But what he pulled off at the 2002 U.S. Open was something to see. I know I thought he was done after having the worst year of his career up to that point. By the time he made his run to the final against Agassi, I was even pulling for him (only a little, he was playing 'Dre after all)! That final ended up being his last match and was a great way to wrap up one of the best careers of all time.

8. Caught in a Vice
Tennis has never been a mainstream sport, but it was sad to see that aside from when Slams were being contested, the only time it made the front page was with some drug- or gambling-related scandal. Compared with what happens in other sports, tennis is clean. Shame it doesn't get recognized for that.

7. U.S. Men's struggles in singles
In 10 years, only two U.S. players managed to crack the top 10 that hadn't been there before: Andy Roddick and James Blake. This is the longest an American male has gone without winning a Grand Slam title as the last one won was Roddick's '03 U.S. Open win. Only two active U.S. men have more than five career singles titles: Roddick and Blake. Soak that in: There's more, but I'm going to stop there!

6. The Comeback Queens
Just when you thought you had seen the last of them, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport and Kim Clijsters all made successful returns. Whether it was from unfulfilled promise, retirement or motherhood, those four all made big impacts almost like the first time around, or in the case of Capriati, even better.

5. Serbing Notice
I guess you can call Serbia "the little nation that could" because look at what was accomplished by some of its players: two women getting to number one (Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic); a man winning the Australian Open and finishing runner up at the U.S. Open, as well as entrenching himself in the top four (Novak Djokovic); and another man becoming one of the most dominant doubles specialists out there (Nenad Zimonjic). Those are results any country should be proud of.

4. Russian Revolution
Let's see: Players who won Slams? Check. Number-one rankings achieved? Double check. Multiple players in the top 10? You get the idea! Russia was the star nation of the decade with players achieving all those things, as well as winning numerous Davis and Fed cups.

3. Feat of Clay (and Other Surfaces, too)
Rafael Nadal came on the scene like a ton of crushed brick, dominating the French Open and nearly every other clay-court tournament around the world. But proving he was more than a one-surface pony, Rafa also bagged Majors at the Australian and Wimbledon. And after an unprecedented run as the second-ranked player in the world, he finally took over the top spot -- a move that was years in the making.

2. Sister Act
Even though they both made their first big impact on the tour in the late '90s, the '00s are really when the Williams sisters began to shine. From the "Serena Slam" to Venus' dominance at Wimbledon to stints at the top of the rankings to on- and off-court shenanigans, the two were the most captivating forces on tour over the decade. With them, you just never know: That might be the case for the '10s, too!

1. Roger That
I'm not going to list everything that Federer's pulled off, but I will say this and I triple-dare anyone to argue otherwise: Has anyone in any sport EVER made it look so easy? Imagine if Tiger Woods won three Majors a year, or if Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls teams won 75 to 78 of their possible 82 games and swept through the playoffs, or if Lance Armstrong won at least 20 stages of each Tour de France he captured, then that might be close to what Roger Federer did over the course of the decade. 'Nuff said.

(Photo: Getty Images)