So a day or two has passed at the Sony Ericsson Open, the unofficial "Fifth Slam," which it's been billed as since its days as the Lipton Championships. I've been a fan of this event since Andre Agassi won it waaay back in 1990. The following year saw Jim Courier take it and nearly all of the big names have won titles here. It had been Serena Williams' personal playground for the past few years, but she's out with an injury. Both draws promise to be exciting, regardless of who isn't there.
Since it is so prestigious an event, I decided I'm going to give it some of my reserved-for-Grand-Slam treatment and make quarterfinal picks down to the winner for both draws. I know the matches are well under way, so I'll base it on who's left (at least I'm not starting from the round of 16 trying to predict the final eight)!
For the men:
Quarterfinals Roger Federer vs. Marcos Baghdatis Andy Murray vs. Juan Monaco John Isner vs. Rafael Nadal Andy Roddick vs. Novak Djokovic
Semifinals Federer vs. Murray Nadal vs. Roddick
Finals Murray over Nadal
For the women
Quarterfinals Agnes Szavay vs. Yanina Wickmayer Venus Williams vs. Agnieszka Radwanska Samantha Stosur vs. Victoria Azarenka Elena Dementieva vs. Caroline Wozniacki
Semifinals Wickmayer vs. Williams Stosur vs. Wozniacki
There was this poll on another tennis blog, Adjusting the Net, that I thought asked one of the best questions I've seen in a long time. It was heading into the women's quarterfinals at the upset-plagued BNP Paribas Open and asked not who was going to win the tournament, but who really needed to win the most for their career. I think I voted for Agnieszka Radwanska, because what has she done big-time in her career so far? Anyway, a great poll.
That got me thinking about who was left in both draws and who needs it most, and one name outweighed them all for me: Andy Roddick.
It's been a looonnng time since he's won an ATP 1000 tournament--Cincinnati 2006, to be exact. Outside of the Slams, these are the only tournaments that you're likely to see 95 percent of the top 20 players at, therefore the level of competition is pretty high, to say the least. Coming out on top of a field like that would show that he still has the goods.
Not to say that he doesn't because he's still racking up titles and top 10 finishes like it's nobody's business. But the tour--whew, the tour--is so tough right now. You have the regular Slam winners (Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal), the true contenders (Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro) and the consistent Slam quarterfinalists that are under 25 (Gael Monfils, Marcos Baghdatis, Robin Soderling, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga). What group does Roddick fit into? His own of being a Slam finalist, quarterfinalist, semifinalist who might be able to beat one or two of those guys in a Major but has no chance of beating everyone?
Even here at Indian Wells, he's really only beaten players that he's had no trouble with in the past. The first test will be against Soderling, which is going to be tough, and I don't know if he can win it. But he really needs to and take the final, too, to show he can win an event with all the big names there--even if he didn't take them all out himself.
I've followed Indian Wells for a lot of years and I can't recall the tournament being such a pratfall for top players.
Less than a day after Roger Federer's loss to Marcos Baghdatis, the second seed on the men's side, Novak Djokovic, falls to Mr. Clean, veteran Ivan Ljubicic in straights. That's a great win for the Croat. With his game, though, I don't think I'd be able to entertain thoughts of him being washed up--big serve, big groundies, versatility on all surfaces--and this win only solidifies that.
While the top two players have lost, Rafael Nadal had a solid win today over John Isner. A win by him wouldn't be bad and I'm sure he could use the boost confidence-wise: Not in the sense of his nerves being shaken, but rather belief in his body being able to hold up to significant tour play. Beating a big-hitting player who's been hot all year in Isner is good.
Anyway, it's still a little surprising to see the top two seeds get knocked out so early here, but the quarters should have good matches.
You know, I'm glad I didn't take part in any kind of bracket challenge for the women's draw in Indian Wells! Talk about March Madness!
This tournament has been hit by so many upsets that I can't even begin to list them all, but I'll throw out a few: Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Sharapova, Flavia Pennetta ... you get the idea. Makes you wonder who could bring the hardware home.
There are some big names still around, such as Kim Clijsters, but with the way things have gone, it might be another slightly unexpected player that could take advantage, say, like Vera Zvonareva. I didn't think she would win last year, but she pulled it off. Why not envision her repeating? She's playing solidly so far here.
But if Aravane Rezai was holding up the trophy, I wouldn't be surprised either!
OK, everyone: It took a few days, but I'm ready to move on.
Yes, if things don't go the way I'm hoping for with Davis Cup, it kind of shakes me up a little. There were some highs over the weekend, like Chile winning and Argentina, too (major, major props to David Nalbandian), but ...
Team USA really lost a tough one!
Granted, they were underdogs going to Serbia and playing on clay, but to me, when you play on dirt indoors, it provides more of a level field for big hitters. There were some shining moments like John Isner pushing Novak Djokovic to five sets and getting a win in doubles in his first tie. But I also thought he should have been able to take out Viktor Troicki first up. And if it would've come to a live fifth rubber, I'd go with Sam Querrey over Troicki nine times out of ten to win that match.
So again, tough loss for the guys, but congrats to Serbia for its first quarterfinal appearance. Serbia and Croatia in the next round should be a good one, as should the rest of the matchups. I just wish Team USA was still in the mix: Oh well, there's always the qualifying round!
For me, the most wonderful time of the year on the tennis calendar is the weekend of first-round Davis Cup action. Yes, that's right: I'm an unabashed DC fan. Not exactly the most popular thing to be a fan of, but I'm always into it--for the most part. Even though last year's final didn't exactly do it for me, I'm really looking forward to these ties.
And since I'll be following all the results closely, I figured I'd try to write something about each tie, and predict what player will be the one to watch out for and the tie result. So here's my thoughts in easy-to-read, user-friendly format!
* Spain vs. Switzerland (in Spain, indoor clay court) The Story: Federer vs. Nadal, awesome ... wait neither one is going to be there? Yep, that's right, but the good thing about Davis Cup is that the potential for drama lurks at every tie, even one without the stars of the game. Player to Watch: Stanislas Wawrinka. The Swiss number two can physically compete on clay with Spain's singles players Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer. The question is will he be able to mentally? The Outcome: Spain wins 4-1. Wawrinka will get one point, but his teammates are really outmatched.
* France vs. Germany (in France, indoor hard court) The Story: On paper, France should be a finalist every year with top 20 players aplenty to choose from, but that hasn't been the case. Germany, I feel, plays up to its talent level: a World Group team, but contender? Not really. Player to Watch: Philipp Kohlschreiber. He has a good-enough game to take advantage of a French flake-out by anyone on their squad. The Outcome: France wins 3-2. It shouldn't be that close a score, but Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils haven't been exactly burning up the courts the past few weeks.
* Russia vs. India (in Russia, indoor hard court) The Story: There are a few countries in World Group play this year that aren't traditional tennis powerhouses, and India is one of them. Tough draw for the team, going up against a perennial contender. Player to Watch: Leander Paes. Even though he's only going to be playing doubles, I've rarely seen a tennis player be able to fire up partners and teammates like he can. If Rohan Bopanna or Somdev Devvarman pull off an upset, you have Paes to thank. The Outcome: Russia wins 3-2. I think Russia will drop a singles match and the doubles rubber, but they'll hold on for the win.
* Sweden vs. Argentina(in Sweden, indoor hard court) The Story: Sweden actually gets to play in front of fans this time! (Referring to last year's tie against Israel). Playing on a fast surface should help the big-hitting home team. Player to Watch: David Nalbandian. He's not slated to play, but he's on the team. If he's healthy, Argentina really needs to figure out how to sneak him on the court. The Outcome: Sweden wins 4-1. There's just too much firepower on the side of the home team.
* Serbia vs. United States (in Serbia, indoor clay court) The Story: This is the first time in a long time neither Andy Roddick or James Blake haven't taken part in a tie. Serbia has never made it to the quarters of the team event. Player to Watch: John Isner. The 6'9" rising American is having a career year already, but hasn't really done much on clay. Plus, this is his Davis Cup debut. But big serving should do him well in his opening match against Viktor Troicki. The Outcome: The U.S. wins 3-2. Nobody on the U.S. squad can touch Novak Djokovic and that's a fact. However, the other matches are there for the taking.
* Ecuador vs. Croatia (in Croatia, indoor hard court) The Story: Ummm, this one can get ugly. Playing against a just-hanging-on Nicolas Lapentti and his never-reached-his-potential younger brother Giovanni, Ivo Karlovic and Marin Cilic might serve 100 aces between them on the opening day on the indoor court. Player to Watch: Giovanni Lapentti. It's kind of late in the game for baby bro as far as experiencing success goes. But he has had Davis Cup success in the past, so who knows? The Outcome: Croatia wins 5-0. They bring waaay too much heat for Ecuador to handle.
* Belgium vs. the Czech Republic (in Belgium, indoor clay court) The Story: Belgium's male players are nothing like the nation's top female players, but somehow they've been managing to hang around in the World Group for the past few years. The Czech Republic is coming off a final-round appearance last year. Player to Watch: Tomas Berdych. Almost everyone thought he'd be one of the most dominant players on tour by now, but he hasn't come anywhere close to that. He has to be sure the lightning-quick Rochus brothers don't get under his skin. The Outcome: The Czech Republic wins 3-2. But I'll tell you this: With the quality of shotmakers on both squads, this will be the most entertaining tie to watch.
* Chile vs. Israel (in Chile, outdoor clay court) The Story: Everyone in the world knows about the tragedy in Chile last week and this will definitely be an emotional tie for everyone involved. Player to Watch: Actually, it should be players because I think you have to look at the whole Chilean team. Can their desire to do well overcome their understandable sadness? The Outcome: Chile wins 4-1. Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu always represent their country to the fullest as seen by their huge haul of Olympic medals. They know it's up to them to bring some light to the country, and I think they will.
So there are my thoughts on the Davis Cup ties. Be sure to root, root, root for your home team!
An old friend of mine and I used to talk tennis for hours, whether it was our own games or what was happening in the pros. I've started Tennis Talk, Anyone? to, well, talk tennis with an even broader crowd! My name is Van Sias and I've been playing for 20 years now, and not only am I player, I'm a huge fan of the game as well: pro, amateur, you name it. I'll post links to news items related to the sport, and offer my own personal opinion, predictions and hopefully get some of yours as well.