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)