Sunday, January 30, 2011

Going over what happened Down Under

OK, I didn't see a lot of that coming but I'm OK with what did happen!

The year's first Major is in the books and there was a whole slew of things that went down. Let's look at some of it, shall we?

* Novak Djokovic won the men's title: Great win for him. I know he's super-young but I was afraid he was going to be a one-Slam wonder. With this, though, I think his Hall of Fame ticket is guaranteed.

* Kim Clijsters captured the women's crown: This is something that I did expect, and I'm glad not to be proven wrong! She further established her claim as the top hard-court player in the women's game.

* How about those runners-up?: Andy Murray had a great run, but alas, couldn't pull it off at the end. I still think he's going to be OK. And for the women, what can you say about Na Li? The first player from China to make a singles Slam final is quite the feat.

* How about those non-runners-up?: Wow, no top-two player on the men or women's side made it to the finals. Rafael Nadal will be fine, Roger Federer, too. Vera Zvonareva had a great run but just ran into a better player. As for Caroline Wozniacki, the top-ranked woman sure didn't do herself any favors by failing to at least make the final, much less win that elusive first Major.

* A Slam-less top seed comes through: Flavia Pennetta and Gisela Dulko were looking like the Wozniackis of the doubles game: number one with no Major. They got that monkey off their backs here.

* An old-school battle in men's dubs: The Bryan brothers? You knew they'd be there in the end. How about that team they beat, though, for their 10th Major. Mahesh Bhupathi's and Leander Paes' reunion has already paid dividends and it's good to see them back together.

* Bye-bye, Justine: It's back to the retired world for Justine Henin, who announced during the tournament that she's leaving the game a second time. She'll be missed.

* American heartbreak: Only one American in both singles draws made the round of 16: Andy Roddick. A pretty sad showing, to say the least.

* Surprise performances: There were a few of them, from the good--Alexandr Dolgopolov and David Ferrer--to the bad--Jelena Jankovic--to the really bad--poor Dinara Safina.

On that note, I'm gonna wrap up this wrapup. It's back to the regular season this week!

(Photo: AP)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Can Li Na get it done?

So the end is near for the women's side of the Australian Open, and as yours truly saw it, Kim Clijsters has made it to the finals. (Great pick, Van; way to show your pro tennis acumen, he said sarcastically...)

What I definitely didn't see was Li Na making it through on the other side of the draw. I wasn't much of a Caroline Wozniacki believer here going into the tournament, actually thinking she would've fallen earlier. She made it fairly deep, just to get taken out by Li in a tough one.

Li's been making moves for the past couple of years now, and this year has started off as perfectly as one could imagine. She won the warmup in Sydney, taking out Clijsters there, but as she's said, that won't mean anything going into the finals in Australia. I think she definitely has a great chance to pull off an upset, provided her nerves don't overcome her. Clijsters has the edge in experience, but I believe she has a little bit of pressure on her, too, thinking of the opportunity to grab a Slam outside New York.

Anyway, I'm still going to go with Clijsters, but I wouldn't be mad at an equally deserving Li pulling off an upset.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer: Who's playing better?

Not to jinx anyone, but whew, that Rafael Nadal fellow and the other guy, Roger Federer, sure are playing some good ball right now and could definitely be seen as on a collision course for the Australian Open finals.

Federer got tested some in two of his first four matches, but just got through dropping the hammer on one of the hottest players on tour in '11, Stanislas Wawrinka. Granted, he probably knows his old doubles partner's game inside and out, but it's still an impressive performance.

And speaking of hammer-dropping, Rafa's been doing that every round. Funny thing, but I actually thought Marin Cilic had a real good shot against him in the 16s, but we all know how that went. His next opponent, David Ferrer, is scrappy, but really shouldn't be able to hurt the top seed.

Looking at the form both Roger and Rafa have shown so far, I think you'd have to give the edge to Nadal in regard to playing at a higher quality now. However, Federer's already been pushed to the edge in the draw, and that could stand him in good stead come finals time. That is provided they both get there.

With the way things are going now, I wouldn't bet against it happening.

UPDATE: Looks like I'd lose that bet!
(Photo: Getty Images)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kim Clijsters and the road to the Aussie title

So, I missed making my women's predictions for the Australian Open before the whole shebang kicked off. I don't want to go back in do it now, with players already making their way into the third round. But I will give my semifinal picks, and scout's honor, I was thinking this before things started: pinky swear!

Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters vs. Sam Stosur

Clijsters over Williams

I just think Kim Clijsters is currently the best hard-court player out there, which she demonstrated by winning most of the big events on the tough stuff last year. I hope I don't jinx her with this late prediction, though!

(Photo: AP)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I have a guess on who will win the Aussie (Men's predictions from the 16s on)

The Aussie is here! The Aussie is here! (Well, almost. Pardon the excitement, but a tennis fan can't help it, even if it is still a day away!)

Anyway, I'm about to get down to what I like to do most of all here at TTA?: Make my round of 16 predictions. I think you're going to see a lot of the big names getting pretty deep this go-around, and perhaps the biggest of them all taking home the title. Here's how I think it will all go down:

Round of 16
Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Radek Stepanek
Mikhail Youzhny vs. David Ferrer (7)
Robin Soderling (4) vs. Ernests Gulbis (24)
Jurgen Melzer (11) vs. Andy Murray (5)
Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. Nikolay Davydenko (23)
Igor Andreev vs. Novak Djokovic (3)
Andy Roddick (8)vs. Stanislas Wawrinka(19)
Sam Querrey (18) vs. Roger Federer (2)

Nadal vs. Ferrer
Soderling vs. Murray
Davydenko vs. Djokovic
Roddick vs. Federer

Nadal vs. Murray
Djokovic vs. Federer

Federer over Nadal

That's how I see it! Stay tuned for my women's predictions.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Welcome, 2011!

Wow, the new year has really gotten off in full swing, huh? (no pun intended with "swing" even though this is a tennis blog; just thought it'd be a good word to use.)

Anyway, enough with all that etymology talk: Let's talk tennis!

It seems like there are a LOT of top players out there mixing it up at the various stops on the ATP and WTA tours. You have the Hopman Cup with Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic, Andy Murray and Justine Henin mixing it up out there.

On the ATP Tour in Chennai, India, Tomas Berdych is the top seed and playing well. Brisbane features Andy Roddick, Robin Soderling and Marcos Baghdatis among the talent. And how about the big one in Doha with a couple of guys named Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer as the top two seeds?

The WTA is also in Brisbane with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (watch out for her in '11) and Marion Bartoli still standing. In Hobart, Maria Sharapova is the top seed, gearing up for the year ahead.

Anyway, I hope I don't sound too much like a press release for both tours and what to look forward to, but as a tennis fan, I don't think you can't help but feel some excitement!

(Photo: AP)

Monday, January 3, 2011

TTA? Looks Back #1: Isner, Mahut and the Match

Alright, 2010, it's goodbye to you with the final look-back. Thanks, readers, for being reflective with me!

Even though the classic, epic, what-have-you match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut was legendary, I'm actually not gonna devote a ton of time to looking back at it—which is probably the antithesis of what you'd think when you see those two guys' name together!

I don't think this was actually a bigger accomplishment than what Rafa pulled off by any means. But sadly, as far as the non-tennis-watching public goes, it was. It was great to see pro tennis get the attention it deserves—sadly, it took something of unreal proportions to make that happen.

Pro tennis players should always be throwing out first pitches at ball games or reading Top 10 lists on late-night shows as far as I'm concerned, but it hardly ever happens. If it takes a three-day match to help make that happen, then I can live with it.

(Photo: Getty Images)

TTA? Looks Back #2: Rafael Nadal: What can you say?

A number-two for the ages right here.

Rafael Nadal: done? Not. Likely.

Remember when Rafa hadn't won a title for months on end, going from 2009 to the start of the '10 clay-court season? It's hard to believe that even transpired after the year he ended up having.

Three Majors won--in a row. Three ATP 1000 titles won. The career Slam completed. The year-end number-one ranking. Truly a year for the ages.

Here's a link to some thoughts I had after his U.S. Open win, and I think the title says it all:

Rafael Nadal and the greatest men's Slam year EVER

Months later, and I still feel that way. Right on, Rafa!

(Photo: Getty Images)

TTA? Looks Back #3: Serena Williams' pain with the glass

Today's math lesson: After number three here, there's only two more look-backs to go!

OK, like most of you out there, I just don't get it:

How has a piece of glass taken Serena Williams out of the game?

I don't mean to make light of it, but when you read stories that say "Serena cut her foot on a piece of glass," you don't expect too much of that being a seriously threatening injury. She only played six tournaments in '10 and won two of them, the Australian and Wimbledon. If not for that piece of glass, would she have won the U.S. Open, too? Would she have finished the year in the top spot?

A few weeks ago, she announced that she won't be returning into spring '11. It's crazy to think that a fluke injury could stop her when 98 percent of the players on tour couldn't.

(Photo: AP)

TTA? Looks Back #4: Serbia's win defines Davis Cup

Hitting the home-stretch, one look-back at a time.

What can I say that I haven't said a million times before? Davis Cup is my favorite sporting event, which I know keeps me in some rare company.

But how can you not get excited when a tiny nation such as Serbia wins the sport's biggest team competition? When you have one of the world's top four players--Novak Djokovic--doing everything he can to lift his nation to the title? No one would have blamed Djokovic if he skipped his team's semifinal tie, especially as it was so close to his epic U.S. Open run. He got out there, though, as he knew history was for the making and taking.

His whole team came up big over the course of the year when it needed to: Nenad Zimonjic, Viktor Troicki and Janko Tipsarevic. This complete display of team unity and desire to get it done for their country saw the guys lift the Cup, and you have to hope there's more for them in the future.

(Photo: Getty Images)

TTA? Looks Back #5: Viva, Francesca Schiavone!

Here it is: The start of the top 5!

A favorite thing of mine that I like to do here at TTA? is make predictions on how I think the Grand Slams will go from the Round of 16 on. I consult my huge super-computer, which takes up a whole room, feed in the data on every player in the field, extrapolate the data then wait for the answers to scroll out in binary format, which I then decode.

That's how I came up with Justine Henin as the 2010 French Open champ--which obviously didn't pan out. But my handy-dandy VCS2000 (that's my super-computer model) didn't let me down when it predicted Francesca Schiavone would make the finals. And I'm glad to be proven wrong by her winning!

I've always been a fan of her game as it's one of the most versatile on the WTA Tour. She can drive, loop or slice you to submission--particularly on a clay court. And while that hasn't brought her a ton of titles in the past, it brought her the biggest one of all when it counted most.

Who knows if she'll win another Major again? Hopefully, it's not all said and done for her when it comes to that. There have been few tennis moments as enjoyable to watch as when she got close to her crowning achievement.

(Photo: Getty Images)

TTA? Looks Back #6: The Roger Federer roller-coaster ride

Another look-back at the year that was, seeing as how we need to start looking ahead soon!

Roger Federer started and ended 2010 in pretty-typical fashion for him: A title at the Australian Open to kick off the season, then another World Tour Finals win, which saw him go through the round-robin-style tournament undefeated.

In-between those wins, though? Two words best sum that up: Oh boy.

Let's see, there were the ridiculously close losses to Tomas Berdych, Marcos Baghdatis and Ernests Gulbis. Albert Montanes tagged him in Estoril. Then there were the back-to-back Slam quarterfinal losses to Robin Soderling and Berdych at the French and Wimbledon, respectively. Probably most shocking is the fact he went without a title from January to August! Sam Querrey won more tournaments over that point!

But, as befitting arguably the greatest of all time, he righted the ship and went on a tear to end the year.

You have to say it's a good bet this form will carry over into '11. One thing's for sure, you can never count Roger Federer out.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

TTA? Looks Back #7: Wozniacki at the top

Somebody slow me down! It's like a whirlwind of postings!

Caroline Wozniacki finished on top of the women's rankings in 2010 after a career year that saw her bag six titles.

But of those titles, none of them were Majors. As a matter of fact, the 2009 U.S. Open runner-up didn't even make a Slam final over the year.

You know what, though? That's OK. There's something to be said for consistency and getting deep in the draws on a regular basis should be rewarded, which was the case with Wozniacki.

Now, I still think she needs a Slam win to really justify her lofty spot at some point. But for right now, it's well-deserved.

(Photo: AP)

TTA? Looks Back #8: (Almost) like old times for Henin and Clijsters

See? The countdown's back already!

What is this? 2005 or something?

Well, not quite, but it was kind of close to looking like that on the WTA Tour as Kim Clijsters' continued her great run from the second half of 2009 and Justine Henin started hers.

I don't think you can say enough about what Clijsters has accomplished in less than two years back: Two U.S. Open titles, a year-end championship won, a solid presence in the top 5 and probably favorite status heading into this year's Australian Open.

It looked like Henin was going to end up right where she left off, too, blasting out the gate in '10 with a runner-up finish at the Australian, her first Slam after her brief retirement. However, an elbow injury slowed her down; still, she finished the year in the top 20. That's pretty impressive, considering she missed most of the season.

If you've been around these parts the past couple of years, then you know I had a problem at first with the comebacks from "retirement" by players. But I've had a definite change of heart because it's been great to see them return with a deeper appreciation for the game than they might've had before their stoppage.

(Photo: Getty Images)

TTA? Looks Back #9: The U.S. Fed Cup team: Ya gotta love 'em!

We're just gonna pretend 2011 hasn't happened and blast through the rest of this retrospective!

Granted, they didn't win the whole shebang, but what the U.S. Fed Cup team accomplished in 2010 was pretty remarkable.

The squad, captained by Mary Joe Fernandez, made it to the finals of the event for the second year in a row, falling to Italy. What's impressive is that they pulled it off without the Williams sisters. If you were almost any country and you were facing a team comprised of Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Liezel Huber, I'd say you would have to like your chances.

However, that line of thinking will get you in big trouble because those women rise to the occasion and will battle any and all comers: away, at home, it doesn't matter as seen by some of the wins they've pulled off. There's no way they should have been able to beat Russia this year--even with that team being injury-plagued--but the U.S. still pulled it out.

Now in the finals against Italy, Fernandez made a questionable move by going with CoCo Vandeweghe, a rookie, over Oudin. But everyone involved with that will only learn from it and be more dangerous in the future.

(Photo: Getty Images)