Thursday, April 28, 2011

If you play on the clay, the results can come

This may sound like a bit of an odd statement, but I'm really in "admire mode" right now when it comes to Kevin Anderson and Milos Raonic.

Those two are near mirror images of each other game-wise: big-hitting, big-serving dudes who are at their best on faster surfaces, as seen by both capturing their first career titles earlier in the year.

But for the past few weeks, Anderson and Raonic have been grinding away on the red clay and now they're in the quarterfinals at the ATP stop in Estoril. Sure, it's only the quarters right now, but that's a very decent result for two guys who no one would ever think of as being a contender on the dirt. Getting out there and fighting and figuring out how to play on a surface least-conducive to their strengths will only help them in the long run.

So, so, so many players should follow that example: Instead of dodging the challenges of European or South American clay-court events, get out there and embrace it. Who knows what could happen? Sharper ground strokes and better conditioning, more money—what's wrong with that?

(Photo: Getty Images)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

So, about that Donald Young hullabaloo ...

That is how you spell "hullabaloo," right?

Anyway, what a mess that all is. I'm not going to get too much into it. But I do want to mention this: You know what would be great, awesome, what have you? If he really went about doing things without the USTA's assistance. And you know what else could even be greater? If he went about doing things without his parents on-board, too.

Just imagine, Young navigating his way through life on the Tour, just him and a coach with no USTA/agency/parental ties, building his game up to that top-40, -30 or even -20 status like some predicted for him. I don't want to play psychologist here, but I think that's what needs to happen for him to be a well-adjusted individual, which is more important than tennis at this point.

He can't afford to really take time off to evaluate things because he's already far behind tennis-wise as it is. But there is room to make adjustments while he's playing. I really hope he does so.

(Photo: AP)

Friday, April 22, 2011

David Ferrer for the French!

Come on now, who doesn't want to see David Ferrer make a Grand Slam breakthrough?

Seriously, the way he's been playing this year, along with the way he carries himself on the court, easily makes him someone to root for, in my opinion. His game is built on hard work, which anyone who's ever picked up a tennis racquet can admire. Plus, it would be nice to see someone who consistently knocks at the door be rewarded—with a finals appearance at least!

I'd say right now, he's playing the best clay-court tennis of anyone not named Rafael Nadal at the moment. (We haven't seen what Novak Djokovic is going to do on the dirt yet this year.) Ferrer will be hard-pressed against Nadal should they meet in the finals in Barcelona this week, or in later rounds down the road. And if those two were to meet in the title match of the French, you'd have to consider Rafa as overwhelming favorite as a player could be.

But as they say, "Everyone loves an underdog" and Ferrer is mine for the rest of the clay-court season.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Can you bet against Christina McHale and Melanie Oudin?

Strange and stranger things have happened in Fed Cup over the past couple of years for the U.S. team. Back-to-back finals with nary a Williams sister involved have proven the team is always dangerous.

The squad fell in the first round and is competing in a playoff tie against Germany this weekend. The German team is led by Andrea Petkovic and Julia Goerges, who will be taking on teenagers Melanie Oudin and Christina McHale. The Germans are heavily favored as they're playing at home on a surface--red clay--on which they have much more experience. But Oudin has proven she's up to meet any challenge when it comes to representing her country, and McHale is at a career-high ranking ...

And enough of all that U.S. cheerleading by me! Sorry about that.

Honestly, though, I have to say what the U.S. Fed Cup team has pulled off recently has been one of the best stories in sports to me. As much as I've always loved Davis Cup, I've been just as apathetic about what went on in Fed Cup, until Mary Joe Fernandez came on board and started winning ties scrapping together teams. If this were football, you wouldn't hear the end of the coverage. It truly deserves more. But it doesn't, so I have to chime in--and up--when I can.

That all being said, I think it's going to be rough for the U.S. team this go-round, but when isn't it? However, I wouldn't bet against McHale, Oudin, Liezel Huber and Vania King continuing a really great story.

(Photo: AP)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rafael Nadal runs things in Monte Carlo

OK, that was quick.

Rafael Nadal beat solid veteran Jarkko Nieminen 2 and 2 in his first match at Monte Carlo, a place where he's going for his seventh title in a row.

That's a lot of dominance at one site.

More than that, though, a routine win like that should bode well for his time on the dirt in the weeks ahead. Even though he's the number-one player in the world, but hasn't won a title, I would still say he's in good form. Back-to-back finals on the hard courts of Indian Wells and Miami is impressive, and his losses in both of them were just to a player who's really coming into his own, Novak Djokovic.

Speaking of Djoko, we all know he's taking a little time to get his body right after such a long stretch and is missing Monte Carlo. That could be a good thing with the points only getting longer. He'll catch up with Rafa and the gang soon enough, just not in Rafa's house right now!

(Photo: AFP)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nothing like the first time for Azarenka, Sweeting and Andujar

Well, maybe Victoria Azarenka's first time is a little different than Ryan Sweeting and Pablo Andujar's, but it's still a nice one, nonetheless!

All three won the first clay-court titles of their career this past weekend, taking tournaments in Spain, Houston and Morocco, respectively. Azarenka rolled into Andalucia after winning one of the biggest tournaments out there in Miami, then dropped the fewest games in a title-winning run this year for the women at 19. Sweeting took advantage of a wildcard given to him by the tournament organizers and won the whole shebang, taking out Kei Nishikori in the finals, for his first ATP World Tour crown. And Andujar pounded Potito Starace in the last match to join Sweeting in the first-time winners' circle.

So, here's a quick thought about each of them:

* Honestly, with the way things are in the women's game right now (a Slam-less number one, an injured player who was on a 14-match winning streak at the Majors), the French is really within Azarenka's reach.

* American players should never, EVER have any hesitation about playing on clay. Success can be found on it, be it in the U.S. or in Europe. Just look at what Sweeting pulled off.

* Andujar really started making his move last year with great Challenger results and a runner-up finish in Bucharest. Not only that, though: He just made the third round in Miami on hard courts, beating countryman Fernando Verdasco along the way. He could make life a little difficult for a top 20 player drawn to face him in the weeks ahead.

And a special bonus thought on another title-winner:

* Congrats to Caroline Wozniacki on capturing her third title of the year in Charleston! (Sorry for the "Slam-less number one" reference above!)

(Photo: AP)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Novak Djokovic and the big test

With the clay-court season getting under way, Novak Djokovic—he of the unbeaten in '11 streak—is about to things will get a wee bit harder, but that might not be a problem considering how great the hard courts went for him.

If that sentence makes sense!

Seriously, his run has been very impressive, and of course, it's not just your run-of-the-mill guys he's beating, seeing as how he's taken out Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer multiple times this year. All of these wins have been on his best surface, but now the season slows down leading up to the French Open. Djokovic could continue his run for a while, considering his solid results on the dirt.

However, there is probably one roadblock in front of him—and it's a huge one, to say the least.

Nadal's going to be waiting for him in a lot of finals over the stretch. And Djokovic needs to win at least one of them if he wants to put at least the tiniest dent in Nadal's confidence heading into the French. Regardless, it should be an entertaining few weeks ahead: It's always fun to see history being made!

(Photo: Getty Images)