Sunday, February 28, 2010

I didn't see those three coming (well, maybe one of them)


Well, well, well: Will you look at who else won titles over the weekend?

David Ferrer snapped Juan Carlos Ferrero's winning streak at 14, beating him in the finals in Acapulco. Alisa Kleybanova won in Malaysia, stopping heavy favorite Elena Dementieva. And in Delray Beach, Ernests Gulbis won his first career title.

Now, let's talk about these results and some of the impact they have on things going forward:

•I think I'll start with Delray Beach, and what was a little bit of a shocker to me in that Gulbis even got that far in the tournament. I always knew he was über-talented; I just didn't expect him to be able to string together a good tournament yet. But he has in back-to-back weeks now, so maybe the maturity level's ready to match the ability. Something about that final, too: The only other person I've seen handle Ivo Karlovic's serve like that was Andy Murray. Great win for Gulbis!

• With the Malaysia results, I don't know what to think. Congrats to KLeybanova, but I was so sure Elena Dementieva was going to win the event I almost stopped following the results! See, I've raised the bar on Dementieva: I need to see capable-of-winning-a-Slam form every time out from her until she gets one.

• In Acapulco, Ferrer got his revenge on JCF from last week, and this is the one I'm not totally surprised about. Ferrero's been playing a lot of tennis the past few weeks, so a long match against one of the greatest grinders in the world is going to be a tough prospect. Props to Ferrer for getting it done! And a shout-out, too, to Ferrero for a very nice streak.

(Photo: AP)

Repeat after them


So far in finals weekend action, you have two repeat champs: Venus Williams in Acapulco and Novak Djokovic in Dubai.

I don't know why, but I like seeing Venus play this tournament—and winning it. If you think about it, it really doesn't make sense for her to even go there: The true clay-court season is still a little ways away, she just got back from Dubai, clay's not her best surface and the competition there doesn't provide a great gauge of determining what shape her game is in. I guess there are worse places to play a minor tournament than Acapulco, though! And she's exhibited a lot of fight in going back-to-back with title wins there because I'm sure a LOT of players would be hard-pressed to pull off the Dubai-to-Mexico-surface-switch double that she has the past couple of years. Quite impressive, and kudos to her.

As for Djokovic, this is the first time he's defended a title in his career, which is a great achievement. I went back and took a look at his title haul on the ATP site and found that Dubai is the first locale he's won more than one title at: His previous 15 were all at different stops. The only player that I've known of in the past 20 years that won more than 10 career titles but never in the same place twice was Wayne Ferreira. I'm a little shocked in myself that I didn't know Djoko was following that trek: Those are the geeky tennis stats I live for!

Anyway, congrats to both of them!

(Photo: AP)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

In the 'Bagh'?


It's a snowy day here in New York and my mind's wandering about the results at this week's Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships. (I know, I need to get out more!) The tournament's been wracked by losses of top players to injury (Roger Federer and Andy Roddick) and upsets (Andy Murray and Marin Cilic). Three-fourths of the semifinal field is set with Novak Djokovic, Jurgen Melzer and Mikhail Youzhny through. The fourth spot will be filled by Marcos Baghdatis or Michael Berrer, who are going at it right now.

And as my mind wanders further, I wonder if Baghdatis is on a return trip to the top 10? And if so, will he stay there?

I thought that was going to be the case last year after he had a decent start to the season, but that old stickler, injuries, got in the way. He came on strong at the end of the season, winning Challenger after Challenger before taking the title in Stockholm. His good form continued into 2010 with a title in Sydney and an alright Aussie showing before injury reared up again. Now, here he is with a deep run in Dubai. And with the field so depleted here, who's to say he can't bring home the title?

The clay season will slow him down, but when playing conditions speed up again, the ex-Wimbledon semifinalist should be in the mix.

And perhaps a top 10 finish will be in the Bagh! (Get it? Like "in the bag" but I used "Bagh" instead, a shortened version of his name! OK, sorry for that. The cabin fever's getting to me!)

(Photo: Getty Images)

Monday, February 22, 2010

The 'Mosquito' coasts


"I think the key to my current success is the physical work I have done. ... That helps my game a lot because I get to the ball much (earlier) and can be more aggressive."

-- Juan Carlos Ferrero after winning the title in Buenos Aires over the weekend.

The 'Mosquito' won his second tournament in a row and his third in less than a year, after going winless before that for nearly six years. Last year, a countryman of Ferrero's, one Tommy Robredo, did the same thing and I thought it was going to carry over through the meaty part of the clay-court season, but it didn't really happen. However, I think Ferrero--barring injury--could have more success on the dirt. And here's why:

* He just beat David Ferrer. Now, while Ferrer hasn't seen the top 10 in a minute now, he's about as tough as they come on dirt. I would think it hard for a 30-year-old with a lot of miles on his legs to grind down one of the ultimate grinders out there, but Ferrero did in his 10th match in two weeks. Very impressive.

* Like the quote above says, he's playing more aggressive. I think in recent memory that when some of the great counterpunchers in the game, such as Michael Chang and Lleyton Hewitt, have added a tad more oomph to their shots, it's helped them stretch out their careers. There's no reason to think that couldn't be the case JCF. Plus, he has a little more size than those guys, which helps, too.

* He's a veteran. There isn't much that Ferrero hasn't seen out on tour. He's used to handling tough situations, I mean, how else would you classify winning a Slam? That should help him if he were to come across a top 10 player on clay who's not entirely comfortable on the dirt, such as an Andy Roddick or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Wins over those guys equals bonus points, which boost rankings. Plus, his clay-court pedigree outshines a lot of guys out there not named Rafael Nadal.

So, just to be clear, I think it would be tough for Ferrero to win the French because three out of five sets is a different animal, especially if he's making deep runs at tournaments up to that point. But a more aggressive game plan and playing the ranking points game could land him back in the top 10.

(Photo: AP)

Friday, February 19, 2010

I won't use 'Venus Rising' for the headline—I just won't do it!


"Venus Rising" or "Venus Rose" or "Venus Isn't Rising" are usually my fallback headlines whenever I'm writing a Venus Williams-related post, but I vow to stay away from those from now on! : )

Anyway, in Dubai, the third seed is slated to take on Victoria Azarenka in the finals after they beat Shahar Peer (kudos to her for her history-making tournament) and Agnieszka Radwanska, respectively. But really, you could say it's all about Venus as she's been clocking opponents left and right throughout this tournament.

There was a story making the tennis headlines earlier in the week with Williams saying she wanted to win more titles in 2010. I really hope that's the case, at least to set my mind right because I can never figure out why she doesn't win four to seven events a year anymore. She should be more entrenched on the Slam contender circuit besides when it's time to hit the Wimbledon grass.

I wouldn't mind seeing her get it done here and hopefully using this as a springboard for the rest of the season.

(Photo: AP)

Monday, February 15, 2010

My, how times have changed


The year was 2002, and playing in the finals of the indoor tournament in Memphis was James Blake--making his ATP final debut--and Andy Roddick, already a perennial top tenner at that point. Roddick won in three tight sets, but it was like a breath of fresh air for U.S. men's tennis.

Now, eight years later, these two are playing in the first round of the same event, where Roddick is the top seed and Blake enters outside the top 50. The years since that final-round matchup have been interesting ones for the two: a slam win, top 10 ranking finishes, a Davis Cup title, double-digit titles for both and millions in the bank. And it's great to see both of them still going at it out there.

But it's also a way different indicator for the future of U.S. men's tennis than it was back then. As I mentioned, Blake's out of the top 50 and if you know a way that he can break back into the top 20, seeing as how he's going to be matched up against top guys early on in draws, you're a much better tennis prognosticator than I am! As for Roddick, he still has some top-10 tennis left in him, and I hate to say this since I'm a fan, but I don't know how he's going to add to his Slam haul.

I guess I shouldn't be too doubtful: After all, Blake did bang it out with Juan Martin del Potro at the Aussie this year, and Roddick is coming off a final-round appearance in San Jose over the weekend. And I hope they have a great match here. It's still the mark, though, of a different direction in their careers and a far cry from that Memphis final all those years ago.

(Photos: Andy Roddick, AP; James Blake, Getty Images)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My (action) hero!


Let's see …

• Millions in the bank? Check.

• Married to one of the most beautiful women in the world? Yup.

• A national hero? Without a doubt.

What else could former top-10 pro Paradorn Srichaphan want out of life?

How about becoming an action movie star? Done.

I'm probably late to this, but I just saw this on the ATP's Web site that Srichaphan is starring in a movie in Thailand, where he plays a sword-wielding dude who is pretty much forced into kicking ass after just trying to live a peaceful life.

I think this pretty much makes him the envy of a whole bunch of guys around the world.

I don't know: It seems like Srichaphan did something good in a past life. I've always been a fan of his, so more power to him!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tennis is funny sometimes


Five-and-a-half years? I could do that standing on my head: Try 20 and we'll talk!

Feliciano Lopez won his first title in more than five years at the South African Open, beating Stephane Robert in the finals in straights. His game has some holes in it (mainly that topspin backhand), but he does have a lot of versatility that should've resulted in more than two tournament wins to this point. But I can't be too hard on the guy, because in a way, I really relate.

See, I follow the careers of players like him and Francesca Schiavone pretty closely: For all their solid results over the years, winning a tournament is an extreme rarity -- much like my own USTA results. If I hit October 2010 without winning a USTA event over the year, my winless streak will be at 20 years. That's not a typo either. What it is is almost a lifetime since I got a trophy as a 17-year-old kid for winning the Mobile Tennis Center's Junior Grand Slam round robin tournament. (I don't think that event's even played anymore!) Funny thing about that time, too: I was on a serious roll where things were starting to fall into place for me in tennis. I was named best all-around camper at tennis camp that summer, my partner and I had won the city championships in doubles and I was training with some of the best players in Mobile, and I felt holding my own with them.

But for whatever reason, those heights weren't hit again. Sure, I've gotten deep in tournaments over the years, but I just haven't held up the big trophy at the end. I'll keep plugging away, though. And seeing a win by Lopez or Schiavone always gives me hope!

Conversely, you have young kids like Marin Cilic who win titles like it's a walk in the park, like he just did in Zagreb: God, I hate those guys!

Just kidding, Marin! But do think of the Lopezes and Siases in the world for who it isn't so easy!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Greatest


Last year, after Roger Federer won the French Open, I didn't post for days because I was thrown into a tailspin about whether to believe he became the greatest of all time at that point. The same thing happened this time after the Australian, but my head's a little clearer now and I'm ready to say this:

Roger Federer is the greatest male singles player of all time.

You see, to me, it comes down to him and Pete Sampras because A) They've won the most Slams and B) because they played on every surface under the sun during their careers. I had trouble determining who got the nod because of one thing: Sampras, though never one of my favorites, played some DUDES:

Agassi. Courier. Lendl. Becker. Wilander. Chang. Ivanisevic. Edberg. Bruguera. Krajicek. Ivanisevic. Kafelnikov. Stich. Pioline … I could keep going, just spitting out names of the guys that Sampras fought off that were at or near their prime to finish the year at number one for six years in a row.

But anyway you look at it, 16 Slams are 16 Slams. And the fact that Federer has the drive to win more, regardless of the difficulties some Slams might pose—such as the French (which everyone knows Sampras never won) and the Australian (which Pete never contended at again after winning in '97)—solidifies his status in my opinion.

I don't know, maybe going against all those stars wore Sampras out, and who knows how Federer would've handled them as there simply aren't enough players of that caliber on tour today. I'm sure he would've given them hell, though, like he has for 16 different fortnights.

And coming up with the goods that many times makes Federer the man in my book. It was a long time coming, but I'll give it to him!

(Photo: Getty Images)