Sunday, December 30, 2012

Welcome 2013!

I know it's something the players on either tour aren't exactly thrilled with, but the short offseason sure is a good thing for the tennis fan!

Tournaments for the new year kick off this week with events ranging in locales from Australia to India in preparation for the year's first Major, the Australian Open. Big names are all out there ready to do battle: among them, Maria Sharapova, Andy Murray, Serena Williams and David Ferrer.

There are others, of course, but these four are the creme de la creme. And why shouldn't they be considered that? You can't knock what they accomplished in 2012: Ferrer led the tour in titles, Murray captured his first Slam, Sharapova completed the career Slam and Serena's '12 needs no explanation.

It would be hard to discount their potential for the season ahead, so I won't do that here! Rather, I'm just glad to be able to catch them and their peers back in action. It's been too long.

(Even though the players themselves probably wouldn't say so!)

(Photo: Getty Images)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

So, about Serena and 2012...

That latest news about Serena being recognized as WTA Player of the Year should lead to greater accolades, in my opinion.

Like her being named athlete of the year—across all sports.

Who really had a bigger year? LeBron James won Olympic Gold, his first NBA Championship, and was regular-season and finals MVP. Not to deny James' obvious talent, but you can't discount his teammates helping with those achievements. And that's something that has to be taken into account for other stars in team sports, such as Eli Manning or Miguel Cabrera.

If you were to look at performers in individual sports outside the tennis world, you would probably have to take a hard glance at Rory McIlroy (who actually isn't without his own tennis ties). A Major title, plus a few other titles along the way is definitely solid.

Nice, but that season by Serena … wow. She captured the four biggest tournaments of the year's second half and did so in such convincing fashion. Nobody in any sport displayed such dominance, especially against opponents considered their toughest challengers.

So AP, SI (Sports Illustrated) and any other letter-like organizations, please recognize what we were witness to in '12 and name her athlete of the year. TTA? is doing it!

(Photo: The Associated Press)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic for ... bragging rights?

Truth be told, I thought Andy Murray's dream season would've continued with a finals trip, but I guess one thing in this tennis world of ours holds true:

Never doubt what Roger Federer can do!

Now, he and Novak Djokovic are a few hours away from battling in the title match at the World Tour Finals. Not to be too cliche, but I think this is as big a tossup as it gets. Federer's win over Murray was a very nice one, particularly after he just fell to Juan Martin del Potro in round-robin play.

Speaking of del Potro, he fell to the hammer that is Djokovic in a tight battle. But if there's one thing Djoko knows how to do it's gut out a win.

All that being said, I'm not sure who to pick to win it all. (Wait, what's that? Show some guts, you say. and make a pick? Got it!)

OK, I'll pick Djokovic. I think despite Fed playing very solidly up to this point, the world  number one might just have a little bit too much everything for Federer. There's not a ton riding on this match, just the fact that it's always better to win the last match of the year rather than be that other guy.

It should be an interesting one.

(Photo: AP)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Old dudes Haas and Stepanek getting it done in Shanghai

Look at that quarterfinal lineup in Shanghai: There are guys out there in my age group among them!

Probably the most unlikely of them are Radek Stepanek and Tommy Haas, both who notched impressive wins over John Isner and Janko Tipsarevic, respectively. The veterans are both former top tenners and are some of the best ball strikers on tour still after all these years.

Their games are a bit of a throwback and a welcome change to see. Steps and Haas can battle from the back of the court and if you don't watch out they'll sneak up and knock off a volley or two—or 10 or 20.

It's been an interesting season for both of them: Haas rebounded from surgery and is at 21 in the rankings right now. Stepanek's singles season hasn't been that great but he's had an amazing year on the doubles court, kicking 2012 off with a bang by winning his first Grand Slam title, the Australian Open, with Leander Paes.

Now they're both in the quarters of a Masters Series 1000 event. Finishing this strong can be a boon for the start of '13—and possibly throughout next year, too.

(Photo: The Associated Press)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Man, I haven't even been able to post about Roddick retiring!

So yeah, I've been kind of busy lately.

I post some U.S. Open picks and next thing you know, that's it. But not it forever, of course, I could never leave behind TTA?!

But wow, how about that Roddick leaving the game behind, huh? Personally, I think he still had some solid top-13 level tennis in him, at least. Anyway, I thought I'd have been more broken up, but I'm OK. He's going to be fine and best of luck to him. And personally, as a die-hard fan of U.S. tennis, thanks "Truth" (old readers of this blog know that's my nickname for him) for all you've done!

And while I'm here, how about a few more "how about that"'s?

Like, how about that Andy Murray? Or Serena Williams?

Or Tomas Berdych beating Roger Federer? Or the Bryan Brothers making more Slam history?

How about Spain in the Davis Cup finals again? Or Victoria Azarenka and her U.S. Open finals loss?

How about Rafael Nadal missing more time? Or Laura Robson making her first career singles final today?

I could go on, but I'll stop there. I'll be back soon, though, you watch! You see, I've been doing this full-time work thing, some of which you can read about at The Life and Times of the Anxious Freelancer.

Read there, but be sure to come back here!

(Photo: The Associated Press)

Monday, August 27, 2012

The summer of Serena Williams continues (U.S. Open women's predictions)

Remember that post I wrote a bit ago about Serena Williams running through the summer's big events?

Yeah, look for that to continue through the U.S. Open, which is mere minutes away from starting. But I'm expecting her to face maybe a not-so-expected finalist in the title match, and this time it should be the opposite of what happened last year.

So here you go, the Tennis Talk, Anyone? Grand Slam predictions, U.S. Open edition:

Round of 16
Victoria Azarenka (1) vs. Sabine Lisicki (16)
Li Na (9) vs. Samantha Stosur (7)
Maria Sharapova (3) vs. Nadia Petrova (19)
Marion Bartoli (11) vs. Petra Kvitova (5)
Carol Wozniacki (8) vs. Ana Ivanovic (12)
Maria Kirilenko (14) vs. Serena Williams (4)
Venus Williams vs. Christina McHale (21)
Urszula Radwanska vs. Agnieszka Radwanska (2)

Azarenka vs. Na
Sharapova vs. Kvitova
Ivanovic vs. S. Williams
V. Williams vs. A. Radwanska

Na vs. Kvitova
S. Williams vs. Radwanska

Williams over Radwanska

(Photo: Getty Images)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Novak Djokovic in repeat mode (U.S. Open Men's Preview)

What a year we've seen in the Slams, huh? The re-emergence of Roger Federer as a winner, Rafael Nadal dominating the French, Andy Murray coming close and it starting off with Novak Djokovic defending his Australian Open title.

I'm picking him to defend his U.S. Open win, too.

I know it's been the year of the Fed, but I just like Djokovic's draw too much, and he's not playing too shabby, either.

Anyway, here's the one-of-a-kind, exclusive, only-seen-at-TTA?, from-the-round-of-16 U.S. Open preview:

Round of 16
Roger Federer (1) vs. Mardy Fish (23)
Nicolas Almagro (11) vs. Sam Querrey (27)
Andy Murray (3) vs. Milos Raonic (15)
Marin Cilic (12) vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (5)
Janko Tipsarevic (6) vs. John Isner (9)
Tommy Haas (21) vs. David Ferrer (4)
Juan Martin del Potro (7) vs. Andy Roddick (20)
Stanislas Wawrinka (18) vs. Novak Djokovic (2)

Federer vs. Querrey
Murray vs. Cilic
Isner vs. Ferrer
Roddick vs. Djokovic

Federer vs. Murray
Isner vs. Djokovic

Djokovic over Federer

(Photo: Getty Images)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Take a knee, Rafa

So you don't need me to tell you the big news of the day. But I will chime in with this:

I think Rafael Nadal should shut it down for the rest of 2012. Of course, I'm sure that's already out there on the table in the Nadal camp, but if they wanted an outside opinion, well, that's mine!

I don't know what's going on with that knee except it's causing some major disruptions to his playing. I don't think the grind of the tour is to blame. Rather, his playing style is what I think is the culprit. And there's another factor, too:

Just plain old bad luck.

Not everyone is gifted with the greatest of knees. Sometimes, what you do just leads you to have "bad" ones and I think that's the case here.

Anyway, if Rafa were to shut it down for the year, there's plenty of time left in his career to make up the bit of difference.

Still, it's sad that Nadal won't be at the Open, as it was sad he couldn't make it to the Olympics. Hopefully, though, there's plenty of good years left ahead of him.

Just not the rest of this one.

(Photo:  Getty Images)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Now that the Olympics and Canada are out of the way...

It's time to get down to the real nitty-gritty of the season.

Not that the Olympics and the tours' respective Canada tournaments were any slouches, mind you. But the Olympics are such a specialized event: a prestigious event squished into the span of a few days with singles, doubles and mixed all thrown in. Of course, that would take a toll on the players going to Canada to play in the Masters 1000/Premier tournaments, which were won by Novak Djokovic and Petra Kvitova, respectively.

Those two had to deal with numerous rain delays and prevailed over less-stellar fields than what's been seen in recent years.

Anyway, that's all in the past now and the hard-court season really gets into swing with this week's play in Cincinnati. Roger Federer's there, Serena Williams, too, and both face the usual amount of big threats.

The U.S. Open is just around the corner, and it'll be interesting to see how the past few weeks impact the top players. If they're going to make adjustments, now's the time to do it.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Andy Murray and the quest for Gold

In case you missed this Tweet of TTA?'s the other day, I'll repeat it here—or at least the gist of it:

I'm picking Andy Murray to win Olympic Gold.

His campaign has gotten off to a nice start with a solid win against Stanislas Wawrinka in the first round. Sure, Stan's not as great on the grass as some other Swiss tennis players we might know, but it's still a solid win against a perennial top-20 player.

There are a couple of reasons tied into each other on why I'm picking the "hometown" favorite to win. For one, grass is a tricky surface to win on for the majority of players out there, Murray not so much as he's proven with a few grass-court titles and deep Wimbledon runs over the years.

That segues some into my next point: the best-of-three format to the finals is going to shake things up a bit. You'll see more upsets than you would during Wimbledon, but the more accomplished grass-court players will find the format to their benefit.

And as he's shown over the years, Murray's much more a threat against the players ahead of him in two-out-of-three sets.

Does that make sense? In essence, the shorter format on grass helps him more. I guess we'll see how right I am in a few more matches!

(Photo: The Associated Press)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Andy Roddick: Your Olympics snake in the grass?

Andy Roddick won his second out of his last three tournaments over the weekend in Atlanta. Granted it wasn't something on the caliber of Miami or any other Masters 1000 or a Slam, but a win's a win. And knocking off someone like John Isner along the way is nice, too.

Now, it's off to London for that little event called the Summer Olympics. Serious competition abounds on the grass courts of Wimbledon, but crazy enough, I think Roddick can consider himself among the top-flight players. I say crazy because who pegged A-Rod for a contender at the beginning of 2012?

I don't know about a medal but I am sure he will be doing some damage on the grass courts. One thing's for sure, his preparation couldn't have gone better.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The summer of Serena?

And just like that, we're back!

Truth be told, I hate posting posts where I lead off with being out of commission for a bit, but I feel it's something I shouldn't ignore. I just started a new freelance gig and it's doing work I've never done before, so it's been an adjustment period. I'm going to do my best to get back here as frequently as possible the next few weeks. I'm even typing this right now as I'm on a mini-vacation to Disney World. Talk about dedication!

Anyway, it seems like things are pretty much in order on the ATP and WTA Tours—If this was 2005 or something! Roger Federer's on top and it looks like Serena Williams is close to getting there. She just followed up her stunning Wimbledon win with victory at the Bank of the West tournament, beating Coco Vandeweghe in the finals.

This could be a very interesting summer for Serena with a Grand Slam and nice-sized tournament win already. Then next week the Olympics are starting. The U.S. Open'll be right around the corner, too. Provided she's healthy, she could conceivably win out over the next few months—and I honestly mean that.

There'll, of course, be great challenges on the way in the form of a Maria Sharapova or Agnieszka Radwanska or Victoria Azarenka. But a motivated and healthy Serena is a dangerous one. Stay tuned for how it all plays out! (And by "stay tuned," I'm referring to here at TTA?! I'll be back again—promise!)

(Photo: The Associated Press)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Serena has to win again: Why not now? (Women's Wimbledon predictions)

It's been a minute for Serena Williams lifting any kind of first-place Grand Slam trophy.

Expect that streak to end here at Wimbledon. Or better yet, I expect it to end!

Here's how I see it all happening, from the round of 16 on:

Round of 16
Maria Sharapova (1) vs. Sabine Lisicki (15)
Jelena Jankovic (16) vs. Christina McHale (28)
Venus Williams vs. Nadia Petrova (20)
Li Na (11) vs. Jarmila Gajdosova
Serena Williams (6) vs. Yaroslava Shvedova
Dominika Cibulkova (13) vs. Petra Kvitova (4)
Caroline Wozniacki (7) vs. Marion Bartoli (9)
Julia Goerges (22) vs. Victoria Azarenka (2)

Sharapova vs. McHale
Venus vs. Li Na
Serena vs. Kvitova
Bartoli vs. Azarenka

Sharapova vs. Venus
Serena vs. Azarenka

Serena over Sharapova

Enjoy the first day of tennis!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A return to his winning ways (Men's Wimbledon predictions)

You know, I thought of breaking up the "Big 4" on my own with my Wimbledon predictions, but I couldn't do it. I have all four in the semifinals.

And one familiar favorite coming out on top. With the rankings battle in full effect, I'm picking Roger Federer to win the title.

But in true TTA? fashion/tradition, I give you picks from the round of 16 on:

Round of 16
Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Jeremy Chardy
Richard Gasquet (18) vs. Tomas Berdych (6)
Roger Federer (3) vs. Xavier Malisse
John Isner (11) vs. Janko Tipsarevic (8)
Andy Roddick (30) vs. Juan Martin del Potro (9)
Milos Raonic (21) vs. Andy Murray (4)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (5) vs. Bernard Tomic (20)
Feliciano Lopez (14) vs. Rafael Nadal (2)

Djokovic vs. Gasquet
Federer vs. Tipsarevic
Roddick vs. Murray
Tsonga vs. Nadal

Djokovic vs. Federer
Murray vs. Nadal

Federer over Nadal

The women's preview is coming right up!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Happy birthday to me ("me" being the blog, that is!)

Happy birthday to my baby blog, Tennis Talk, Anyone?, which turns the big 5 today!

I can't begin to describe all the things that have happened over the past five years in my life, but I know TTA? has been there every step of the way!

So, if you're going out later for drinks, raise a glass to Tennis Talk, Anyone? We plan to. (Or at least I will: Blogs can't drink!)

Friday, June 15, 2012

And don't worry, Nadal's still a beast on the grass, too

It's been a hectic week here at TTA?, but I just had to stop the craziness and post something here: Slams have ended, Slams are coming. I can't miss out on all the action!

Anyway, congrats to Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova for making history in France—and living up to the expectations of this blog. The grass-court transition didn't go as smooth for Nadal, who lost to Philipp Kohlschreiber in Halle.

No worries, though: Nadal will still be fine for Wimbledon. Champion? I don't know. But a good run is in store.

Now, if you've checked me out on Twitter, you know I'm doing a blogging sprint, so follow along to The Doubles Alley, if you'd like!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Rafael Nadal is a beast on the clay

How do you like that headline? Pretty creative, huh?

If anything, though, you can't fault its accuracy! He's through to his seventh French Open final after blasting David Ferrer off the court in the semis. I thought Ferrer would've been able to push him a little, but obviously that was not the case.

Then again, who really can?

Novak Djokovic was able to last year, but Rafa's erased that with his wins over the world number one on the dirt this year. Djoko's going to get another chance to do so as he goes for history in the finals when they face off.

I picked Nadal at the start and I'm sticking with him, but he'll have to be sure he doesn't give Djokovic any openings like he did at the Australian this year. Because if there's anything Djokovic does, it's take advantage of opportunities. Actually, that might be a little misleading: Djoko makes opportunities—probably more so than all but a few who've ever played the game.

I guess I can't be as accurate as I was with that headline!

(Photo: The Associated Press)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sharapova, Kvitova, Stosur and Errani: Worthy semifinalists all around

The semifinal field is complete on the women's side, with Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova defeating Kaia Kanepi and Yaraslava Shvedova, respectively, today. Samantha Stosur and Sara Errani booked their spots yesterday.

For all the talk about the upsets at the tournament, like Agnieszka Radwanska, Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams all losing early, you can't really find any fault with the final four lineup as it now stands. You have three Grand Slam champs and one who's on the verge of breaking out at any moment. Any kind of finals scenario you could think of would be good. Errani versus Kvitova or Sharapova would be such a contrast of styles, while Stosur taking on either of those two would be a heavyweight battle.

I think it's very hard to pick a player more likely to win the whole thing among the four, and that includes Errani. I thought she would've gotten blasted out of the tournament by one of the heavier hitters she faced early on, like Ana Ivanovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova or Angelique Kerber, but she's held tough.

I'm going to stick with my Sharapova call I made pre-tournament, though: No turning back now! The semifinals, though, is where it's at and this round here has the potential to be as good as any recent Slam.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Does Victoria Azarenka really need a break?

You know, I'm just not sure.

Granted, she has played a lot of matches this year. (Winning all those titles in a row will force one to rack up the court time.) But as dominant as she was early on, doubt is creeping into my mind about her being a longtime number one. Dominika Cibulkova is a tough out, but I thought Azarenka would have a little more in her to get through that.

And clay really isn't Azarenka's best surface, but still: The top-ranked player in the world should've maybe one a title on the dirt during the season.

I don't want it to seem like I'm bashing on top players for their losses (read previous post), but there's just something odd to me about how some of them showed up at the second Grand Slam of the season. I don't think it's a testament to the "depth" on the WTA Tour, either. For whatever reason, Paris just didn't work out.

Maybe a break until Wimbledon is the right thing for Azarenka: There's a lot of tennis left on the calendar. The grass courts at the All-England Club could be what gets her on track.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Friday, June 1, 2012

For Radwanska, at least there was Brussels

2012 Brussels Open champ Agnieszka Radwanska fell to former French Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova in the third round today.

Forgive my sarcasm in giving Radwanska her props for being the champ in Brussels this year. You see, that's the tournament she just won last week in what has been a stellar year so far.

However, why was she even playing in that tournament, the week before a Grand Slam? With the way that field was, she would've been better off playing practice sets in Paris during that week. I think it ended up catching her against someone as dangerous as Kuznetsova in the third round. I actually thought Radwanska was going to lose to Venus a round earlier, mainly because she played in Brussels.

I'm not trying to bash the tournament; it does provide a great opportunity to get in match play the week before a Slam. But if you're a true title contender, you don't play in something like that right before a Major.

I'm still anxious to see how Tomas Berdych will make out as he played in World Team Cup last week. So did Janko Tipsarevic, but I don't see him as a major French Open threat. Berdych on the other hand, could do some big damage—if he's not too worn out coming off a week of play, then just being pushed by Kevin Anderson.

Scheduling: It makes all the difference.

(Photo: The Associated Press)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

It's Sharapova's time—but watch out for Wozniacki (women's French Open predictions)

Some of the biggest news on the women's side at the French Open has been talk of the potential quarterfinal between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

I'm not going to mark it as a guarantee both will be there: If anything happens to break it up, I think it can Caroline Wozniacki knocking off Serena. That run should end against Sharapova, who I'm picking to win it all. Here's how else I see it:

Round of 16
Victoria Azarenka (1) vs. Lucie Safarova (20)
Sloane Stephens vs. Samantha Stosur (6)
Venus Williams vs. Ana Ivanovic (13)
Flavia Pennetta (18) vs. Marion Bartoli (8)
Li Na (7) vs. Roberta Vinci (17)
Francesca Schiavone (14) vs. Petra Kvitova (4)
Serena Williams (6) vs. Caroline Wozniacki (9)
Maria Kirilenko (16) vs. Maria Sharapova (2)

Azarenka vs. Stosur
V. Williams vs. Penneta
Li vs. Schiavone
Wozniacki vs. Sharapova

Azarenka vs. Pennetta
Schiavone vs. Sharapova

Sharapova over Azarenka

That's it: Enjoy the tennis! And if you want to get some doubles picks, check The Doubles Alley within the next couple of days for predictions there.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Once again, it should be Nadal (men's French Open predictions)

I almost feel like I could copy and paste my predictions for the men's draw at the French Open—which is mere hours away from starting—and come up with the same result:

Rafael Nadal's going to win.

Now, I know there's been some talk out there about how his draw is easy compared with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer's, but his draw would look easier no matter who he played. I think he shouldn't be too troubled, and here, in true TTA? fashion, is the breakdown/prediction/call from the round of 16 on:

Round of 16
Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Andreas Seppi (22)
Stanislas Wawrinka (18) vs. Thomaz Bellucci
Roger Federer (3) vs. Feliciano Lopez (15)
Juan Martin del Potro (9) vs. Tomas Berdych (7)
David Ferrer (6) vs. Marcel Granollers (20)
Alexandr Dolgopolov (16) vs. Andy Murray (4)
Janko Tipsarevic (8) vs. Nicolas Almagro (12)
Juan Monaco (13) vs. Rafael Nadal (2)

Djokovic vs. Wawrinka
Federer vs. del Potro
Ferrer vs. Dolgopolov
Almagro vs. Nadal

Djokovic over Federer
Nadal over Ferrer

Nadal over Djokovic

The women's prediction post is coming soon!

(Photo: The Associated Press)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What have we learned during the clay-court season so far?

With the French Open only days away, here are few things that I think have been revealed in the past few weeks:

• Maria Sharapova is as legit as they come when it's time to get down and dirty on the dirt. I remember saying a few times over the past couple of years that she shouldn't play on clay to save her shoulder. So much for that notion!

• Rafael Nadal looks pretty good on the stuff. So does Novak Djokovic.

• The red stuff, that is. We all know how they felt about the blue stuff in Madrid.

• Roger Federer and Serena Williams didn't seem to mind it as much, and are playing super-solid as well.

• Defending French Open women's champ Li Na is rounding into form. Last year's finalist and '10 champ Francesca Schiavone is rounding out of form.

• Sara Errani, she of the three tournament wins on the dirt so far this year, could be a darkhorse—or she could get pummeled against elite, hard-hitting players which seems to be the case the past few weeks.

• Andy Murray is going to be hard-pressed to defend his Roland Garros semifinal points.

• Maybe Tomas Berdych will be the one to grab them up? Or David Ferrer? Or Juan Martin del Potro?

• American men hadn't played enough to be marked as contenders. (And I'm not just referring to Mardy Fish, who's sick: I don't want to be called the next Ivan Ljubicic!)

(Photo: Getty Images)

Friday, May 18, 2012

David Ferrer and the 'Big 3': How will that work out?

It all almost went to plan with the top four men all making the semifinals of this week's tournament in Rome.

That is, until Richard Gasquet threw a wrench in the plans by knocking off Andy Murray in the round of 16.

Gasquet, in turn, had a wrench thrown in his plans by the indefatigable (come on, how many times do you see that word in a blog post?) David Ferrer.

Now Ferrer has to take on Rafael Nadal, while Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer square off. It's a great effort by Ferrer, but you have to feel his run is going to come to an end against Nadal. Provided he does knock off Rafa, would he have enough game in him to win the finals?

And there you would have it: Another major tournament won by a member of the "Big 4."

It's tough out there for the guys. I'd been thinking over the past couple of days that there are only two solid chances for guys such as Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Tomas Berdych to get far in a big tournament: If they're in Murray's part of the draw on clay or Nadal's on a hard court.

Of course, there's been some exceptions—even this year with John Isner at Indian Wells and Berdych breaking out in Madrid. But I also feel those are fluke events.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that guys outside the Big 4 are vying for semifinal spots and seeing what happens from there. Ferrer's the latest and he's indefatigable (I just wrote that to write it) enough where you hope he gets an even bigger breakthrough.

It seems like the odds will be tough, though.

(Photo: The Associated Press)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It's like schooltime at the Italian Open for the men

The draw at the Italian Open has some pretty great round of 16 matches on the men's side: I feel this round is one of the strongest at a Masters 1000 event all year.

And call me crazy, but for some reason, I think these head-to-heads will reveal a lot about some players and where they're at and going in the months ahead.

Case in point: I see a lot of ramifications in that Novak Djokovic and Juan Monaco matchup. Djokovic's year so far hasn't exactly matched up to the incredible 2011 at this point. Monaco's playing some of the best tennis of his career so far in '12. This is a great test for both of them: For Novak, it could only boost his confidence heading into the French and for Monaco, a win could prove that he's on the right track to the top 10.

And how about Andy Murray vs. Richard Gasquet? Murray's coming off an injury and Gasquet is looking solid so far on the dirt. Tomas Berdych, runner-up last week in Madrid and a former French Open semifinalist, goes up against Nicolas Almagro for what seems like the 12th time this year. A win for either one of them solidifies their chances as French Open darkhorses.

You even have an unseeded match that really bears watching with implications going into the weeks ahead: Andreas Seppi vs. Stanislas Wawrinka. Neither one of them are players a big guy wants to see early on at the French. Having a quarterfinal appearance at the Italian Open would only enhance their drive to take out a big scalp at Roland Garros.

It's a big day ahead, with victories that could leave a big impact.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Novak and Rafa vs. Serena and Federer: all about the attitude

It's semifinal time now at the much-maligned Madrid event. On the men's side, Roger Federer will go up against Janko Tipsarevic, while Juan Martin del Potro faces Tomas Berdych.

For the women, Serena Williams is slated to play qualifier Lucie Hradecka and for the cajillionth time--this year--Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska will do battle.

Where's Rafael Nadal? Novak Djokovic? Maria Sharapova? Well, Fernando Verdasco (who got beat by Berdych today), Tipsarevic and Williams, respectively, got them.

Nadal and Djokovic had a lot--I mean, a LOT--to say about the event's use of the now-infamous blue clay. Federer voiced his complaints and Serena seemed to blow off any thoughts about it. But of all four of those great/legendary players, only Federer and Serena are still around this weekend, when that shouldn't be the case--unless it just really comes down to what types of playing styles are more conducive to success on the surface.

Still, though, I would think Nadal and Djokovic would've been able to tag their respective countrymen on any surface.

Maybe it's just all a matter of the approach: Federer and Serena go on to fight another day after making their thoughts none and moving on. Nadal and Djokovic made their thoughts known, and then some, and now they're left to regroup for Rome.

An interesting contrast between the two pairs, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the two that are still in Madrid hold up the big trophies at the end.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Monday, May 7, 2012

What say you about the Madrid blue?

I guess I've been reading too much Dr. Seuss to my daughter!

Anyway, the Madrid Masters/Premier event is well under way at this point and players are getting their feet dirty on the famed/controversial/nontraditional/what-have-you blue clay.

I have an adjective to throw in about it: weird.

It just seems so odd and out of place to me, personally. And I also feel that it kind of takes away some of the status of what's supposed to be an elite event. It looks like something that should've been rolled out for an exhibition--or at least a smaller-scale tournament.

Of course, how it plays is a big factor for the folks who have to compete on it and there have been mixed reports from both the ATP and WTA stars.

It's way too late to do anything about it: Post-tournament will be the determining fate of its future.

Or maybe it'll be hear to stay. Either way, it doesn't seem to bother Serena Williams too much, who tweeted the other day that it's OK: She'll play on ice if she has to.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Friday, May 4, 2012

How will Sara Errani stack up against the elite?

This has been a dream season so far for Italian Sara Errani: She made the quarterfinals at the Australian Open early in the season and has just reached her third final of the year on clay, this time in Budapest.

She's actually on a 14-match winning streak in '12 on the dirt and doesn't seemed to be having too many problems against the opponents she's come across. She blitzed through the field at her last event in Barcelona. If she wins this title, you'd have to consider her among the favorites at the French Open in a few weeks.

Or would you?

She's knocking off top-25 talent at these tournaments, but what happens when she faces Agnieszka Radwanska or Samantha Stosur? Or even Maria Sharapova, who has already won one of the biggest clay-court events so far this season in Stuttgart?

I actually think Errani will do OK. Granted, she's not beating current members of the top 10 right now, but winning usually begets winning. If she heads into the later rounds in Madrid or Rome on that huge streak, it'll take a big effort to beat her. Errani's ranking isn't likely to make it to the top 15 come French time, but she'd definitely be a dangerous matchup for someone like Caroline Wozniacki early on if they were to play. And I'd take Errani in a match against a good number of the top 32.

She may not have the elite status yet, but it looks like it's coming for Errani--perhaps even post-French Open.

(Photo: The Associated Press)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Milos Raonic beat Nicolas Almagro: but how?

Easy. With a serve that big, you can beat anyone. Anywhere.

Of course, there are more nuances to it than that. But with the way the men's game is nowadays, clay could be considered the most wide-open surface out there. Just look at what John Isner has done in Davis Cup on the dirt. Perhaps as recently as five years ago, you'd see a big hitter in the mold of Raonic getting eaten up by someone who's won more than 10 titles on clay like Almagro has, but that's no longer the case.

And I promise this is the last time I type this (until the next time I type it!): American men should view the French Open as an opportunity and do everything they can to get ready for it, which means playing more in Europe. The surface is just as favorable to the big hitters. If the footwork's not tight or the condition acclimation is off, that is what'll leave them high and dry.

I'll hop off my soapbox there and give props to Raonic: very well done.

(Photo: The Associated Press)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Petkovic vs. Azarenka: Going three? Straights? An upset?

Tomorrow at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, world number-one Victoria Azarenka takes on number 12 Andrea Petkovic in the second round. Of course, this would've had the makings of a final only a few months ago, but Petkovic's rise up the rankings was slowed by injury and this is her first bit of tournament action in a while. (She did play Fed Cup over the weekend.) In her time off the tour, Azarenka's already had a season for the ages--going undefeated to start the year until her quarterfinal loss in Miami. That's the last tournament she's played before making this her clay-court debut of the year. And while clay isn't her best surface, looking at her career tournament wins, Azarenka is no slouch on the dirt. The same can be said of Petkovic, too, but the rust of being off tour for a while might be too much for her to overcome--combined with going against Azarenka, too! Still, it's as good a gauge as any, facing the top-ranked player, on seeing where your game is and one Petkovic, the hometown favorite in this match, can use going forward in the months ahead as she makes her comeback. (Photo: Getty Images)

Monday, April 23, 2012

More familiar territory for Rafael Nadal

Well, there's nothing like a little Monte Carlo to make things all right again for Rafael Nadal.

For the second year in a row, he won the Masters 1000 event for his first title of the year, this time beating world number-one Novak Djokovic in the final. And this particular event is where he's been the most prolific in his career as this year's edition was his eighth consecutive title in Monaco.

Now it's on to Barcelona, where he's also done pretty good--he's won there six times in the past seven years. Andy Murray and David Ferrer are probably the players best-suited to disrupt that run in the ATP 500 tournament, but maybe not too much.

Expect Rafa to run pretty rampant through the field in Spain. It'll be interesting to see what happens when it gets to the Masters 1000 events in Rome and Madrid. But tearing through the red clay is nothing new to Rafa, and more than likely he will do the same this season.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I like Murray and Verdasco and Rafa and ...

Looking ahead to tomorrow's action in Monte Carlo shows some intriguing matchups on the horizon. I know that there's been a lot of talk about Monte Carlo going down in quality over the past few years as far as player participation goes, but I think this is a great field with great players left--and possibly great matches ahead.

With all those "greats" in the last sentence, the tournament has to be good, right?

Look at what's coming up:

Andy Murray vs. Julien Benneteau, Fernando Verdasco against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Novak Djokovic facing off with Alexandr Dolgopolov, and Kei Nishikori taking on Tomas Berdych. And that's just a little bit of the Round of 16.

Premier matchups all around, worthy of a Masters Series 1000 event.

(Photo: The Associated Press)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Americans should always embrace playing on clay

That is all.

Just kidding there: Of course, there's more for me to say on the matter!

I've said, though, time and time and time again that American pros should not dread the clay-court season. If there's the perception that they all play aggressively and want to be the ones to force the issue, then there's no better opportunity to do that then on clay.

Take a look at what happened this weekend: Serena Williams blitzed her semifinal and final opponents at the Family Circle Cup, and John Isner led the U.S. to a quarterfinal win over France in the Davis Cup with two singles victories--on the red clay of Monte Carlo, no less!

And when it comes to big hitting, there aren't many players out there that do it bigger than those two.

But they're not the only ones: Venus Williams, Mardy Fish, Andy Roddick, etc. They should all be playing as many clay-court events as possible. The conditions of the surface and style of play have never been more in their favor.

Now is the time to keep on taking advantage of that.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Feats of clay ahead for Venus and Serena?

The WTA Tour's in Charleston this week for the prestigious Family Circle Cup. I say "restigious" because it's just one of those tour stops that you seem to have grown up with or can't ever imagine not being around.

Anyway, pardon my nostalgic leanings there!

The field, as always, packs a lot of star power and perhaps no bigger names than Venus and Serena Williams; landing both of them is always a boon for a tournament.

What's most intriguing, though, is the way they're playing heading in. Venus got herself back in the top 100 with a strong run to the quarterfinals in Miami. It looks like that providing her health up, she can go even higher up the standings. What might be shocking about Serena in Miami is the fact that she didn't win as that's usually her spot to bag titles. Still, a quarterfinal run in her first event in more than a month isn't that bad a result.

Now comes the clay-court stretch. I think it gets overlooked somewhat, considering all the Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles between them, but they're quite good on the dirt. Actually, that's really understating it: Serena's a former French champ and Venus has won her share of big titles on the clay.

They both say they're extra-motivated right now. Provided their health holds up, there's the potential to do some real damage. And maybe that will see them get even higher in the rankings.

(Photo: The Associated Press)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Novak Djokovic is back to making it look easy again

Run through one of the biggest tournaments in the game without dropping a set?

Sure, no problem--or at least that's how it seemed in Miami for Novak Djokovic, who beat Andy Murray in the finals yesterday at the Sony Ericsson Open.

The world number one defended his title, and won his third career Miami crown.

Now it's time to get ready for the clay-court stretch leading up to the French Open, and though it's a different surface and circumstances, the Miami win is sure to give him a lift heading in. And though it's still weeks away before he plays his first match on the dirt, I just have this feeling that barring injury, things should go pretty smooth for him on the surface.

French-Open-winning-smooth? That's something to be determined in the weeks ahead, but if it's anything like Miami was, it could be an easy task.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Will scheduling ever work out for Rafael Nadal?

I just don't know...

Rafael Nadal had to withdraw from the Sony Ericsson Open before his match with Andy Murray due to a knee injury. It was his second tournament back after taking off all of February to do some prior injury recuperating.

I know his style of play takes a heavy toll on his body. However, I wonder if it all boils down to scheduling.

For instance, I know he wanted to get some more court time in, but should he have played the doubles in Indian Wells? Did taking the month off leave him in a rushed state of mind to make up court time? Odds are he's going to play a lot of matches over the clay-court season: Will that take a toll on him post-U.S. Open, when he's playing those extra tournaments in Asia that he's been competing in the past couple of seasons?

So many questions, but I think he has to figure out still the best way to keep on the court. And if I may throw in my NTRP 4.0 two cents, he's still not doing enough to shorten points.

I hope it all works out for him at some point.

(Photo: The Associated Press)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tipsarevic and Tsonga get the next crack at breaking the streak

It's been a loonng time since someone outside of the "Big 4" of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray won a Masters 1000 event: 2010, in fact, when Robin Soderling won in Paris.

But with Federer knocked out the other night by Andy Roddick, one obstacle has been removed for the guys left in the quarterfinals. Next up, to attempt their own bit of hole-punching in the draw, will be Janko Tipsarevic taking on Andy Murray, then Jo-Wilfried Tsonga goes against Rafael Nadal.

For Tipsarevic and Tsonga, those are both--dare I say? I do dare!--very winnable matches. Tipsarevic and Tsonga are arguably at their best on hard courts, and have a handful of wins against their respective opponents. I don't want it to sound like I'm cheering for or against any of those four, though, as I like all of them. (It's just a big love-fest here at TTA?!) And it's not that Miami needs any extra drama this year as it's had plenty of great storylines.

But maybe one or two more wouldn't hurt. Or am I just being greedy?

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

For Venus Williams, Miami's nice (so far)

The Sony Ericsson Open is always going to be like home away from home if you happen to be one of the Williams sisters.

And nobody has needed that sense of being comfortable at this year's tournament than Venus Williams. Everyone knows it hasn't exactly been the easiest past couple of seasons for Williams with injury and illness. But she seems to be settling into a nice groove so far in Miami. Coming off a three-set win over number-three seed Petra Kvitova, she followed it up with a thriller over Aleksandra Wozniak.

Venus is now in the fourth round, scheduled to play another former number one striking the ball well, Ana Ivanovic. That has the potential to be a good one.

But if it isn't, it doesn't matter much in the scheme of things: Venus has done well to get to this point of the tournament. Anything else is just more icing on the cake.

(Photo: A)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Is it time to start a James Blake countdown?

I had such high hopes for James Blake this year.

I mean, not top-10 or top-30 type hopes, but perhaps top-50-and-staying-there-type hopes.

Now, I'm not so sure, and I wonder if this is really the beginning of the end.

His season got off to such an odd start with the last-minute decision not to play in Australia due to injury rehab. He made his season debut in Memphis and got thumped by Ryan Sweeting, which isn't a good sign.

Now, he lost his opening-round match to his personal pigeon, Nikolay Davydenko, after winning the first set. Granted that's not too bad a result, seeing as how Davydenko's been out there playing. But finally losing after going 7-0 against someone has to knock a little bit of the confidence and could start Blake thinking about the big "R": a move two of his peers--Fernando Gonzalez and Ivan Ljubicic--have already started heading toward.

One thing about Blake, though: You can honestly never, ever count the guy out. Even before last year, he was talking about it more, but got himself back solidly in the top 100 after two Challenger wins.

If the body doesn't cooperate anymore it might be time. Here's hoping if he decides to go out, he's doing it on his terms.

(Photo: The Associated Press)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Will Victoria Azarenka's victory march continue through Miami?

Umm, yeah.

Don't worry. I'm not gonna just leave you with a two-word post!

Seriously, though: Barring injury, I don't see how it's going to stop anytime soon. Azarenka really seems to be having an easy time of things right now, picking up tournaments left and right, and Indian Wells was obviously no exception. Witness the demolition of Maria Sharapova in the finals.

Those two could be battling it out throughout the majority of the season in big-time matches (except for probably during the clay-court season) as they've been among the most consistent in the major tournaments so far.

Azarenka will have to contend with Serena Williams, a healthy Petra Kvitova and Kim Clijsters in the field in Miami. However, none of those three have been exactly lighting it up so far in '12. Maybe Agnieszka Radwanska could finally come out on top, seeing as how she and Azarenka are drawn against each other every tournament, who knows? It's difficult for anyone to stop the Belarussian right now.

Expect that to continue in Miami.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

John Isner's big-time moves

I don't know if you happened to catch this little stat of mine over on Twitter, but this was the first time ever no American male had made a singles final before Indian Wells.

John Isner ended that notorious streak in a big way! But then again, if you're 6'9", the only way to do things is big.

Isner's in his first Masters 1000 final, having knocked off world number-one Novak Djokovic in three sets. He was regularly popping off serves in the 140s, then backing them up when Djokovic was getting the ball back in play. Isner's game's improved so much in the past eight months it's ridiculous. I thought top 20 would be as good as it got for him in his career, which segues into another topic of discussion in this post:

Isner is now a member of the world's top 10, an honor he'll be able to carry with him for the rest of his career and even after it's all sad and done. Crazy thing, too: If he wins the final, he can get all the way up to eight and become the top-ranked American, displacing Mardy Fish.

That final is going to be a doozy as he'll either have to play Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. In other words, it doesn't get any easier for the big guy, but that's life at the top--or near it!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ana Ivanovic: the comeback queen?

Of course, there's still a ways to go before Ana Ivanovic could call herself Indian Wells 2012 champion, but you have to applaud the effort so far!

Back-to-back wins over members of the top 10 is nothing to sneeze at. Caroline Wozniacki and Marion Bartoli might not have been at their best--according to them--but Ivanovic did a great job of taking it to both of them.

I don't really consider myself a huge Ivanovic fan, but I have always followed her career. I thought long ago, back in 2008(!), that she should've taken more time to recover from her injuries. Not doing that, I feel, plus the pressure of being number one just got to her. Her game got all out of sorts, which is kind of surprising for a young Grand Slam champion and finalist.

Anyway, as I said, she still has a ways to go as her next opponent, Maria Sharapova, is no joke. But it looks like this result proves that a comeback is in full swing and an encouraging sight to see.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Will this be Ryan Harrison's Masters moment?

See, I told you I'd be back soon!

As I'm playing catch-up with Indian Wells, I was just taking a look at the men's singles draw. Of course, yesterday saw a big upset with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez knocking off Andy Murray in the fourth seed's first match of the tournament. Next up for Lopez will be American Ryan Harrison, who scored an upset himself with his win over Viktor Troicki, the 25th seed. I think you'd have to like Harrison in that match-up, even though Lopez is a dangerous fast-court player.

If Harrison gets through that, he'd face off against either Stanislas Wawrinka or Gilles Simon. Those veterans are obviously tough, but are also the type to fall prey to an upset.

Get through that and Harrison finds himself in a Masters Series 1000 quarterfinal, which isn't a bad result by any stretch.

Of course, Lopez could render all this moot, but the opportunity is there for Harrison for the taking.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Been on sick leave

Hey folks, to say it's been a crazy week would be an understatement. I've barely been on my computer and I'm actually typing this from my phone. Let me know if you see any weird autocorrects. Anyway, the sick leave isn't for me, but rather my wife and three-year-old daughter. When two-thirds of the house is down, that can cut into some important things--like blogging! I'll be back soon, though: promise!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Now, the pressure's OFF Roger Federer

Amazing what a tournament win can do for a doubting blogger!

Roger Federer stepped up to the challenge I've been posing to him for months and won a decent title by knocking off one of his fellow members of the "Big 4" along the way, defeating Andy Murray in the finals. You may say, "Well, it was only Murray; not Djokovic or Nadal." Well, as we all know, Murray did just notch a solid win against Djokovic in the semis. So Federer beat the guy who beat the guy, and in pretty convincing fashion, too.

I know there's been a lot of "Federer's back" talk the past few months, but I refused to engage in any of it. Consider me a believer now, and I'll say this: If he doesn't win at least one of these big tournaments--Indian Wells or Miami--in the weeks ahead, I'll be extremely surprised.

Maybe that number-one ranking won't be too far behind, either. I hope that doesn't put too much pressure on the guy now, seeing that last sentence. But I guess he's proven he can handle whatever challenges I send his way!

(Photo: AP)

Friday, March 2, 2012

The pressure's on Roger Federer

That's not a bad final coming up in Dubai: Andy Murray, who knocked off world number-one Novak Djokovic in the semis, will face off against Roger Federer, who saw off Juan Martin del Potro in two tough sets.

It'll be the first time the two have played against each other since 2010. Murray actually leads in head-to-head matchups, but Federer always seems to come through in the biggest occasions, like Grand Slam finals. He's done a good job of deflecting any pressure off himself in those instances and directed it toward Murray.

This time, though, I think the tables can be turned.

I've been on and on about this over the past few months: It's great that Federer's winning a ton of matches and titles. He's also been tuning some pretty tough opponents with regularity: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and del Potro most of all.

However, he still hasn't notched a solid win against his fellow members of the "Big 4"--that victory against Rafael Nadal in the World Tour Finals notwithstanding.

I think Federer needs a solid win against Djokovic, Nadal or Murray to bolster his Slam-winning chances going forward. The Majors don't come as easily for him as they once did, but perhaps starting at the Dubai final, the odds can be raised a little more in his favor.

The pressure's on.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Oh boy, Mardy

Over on Twitter today, Reem of Game, Set, Match fame said she talked to Mardy Fish after his loss to Mikhail Youzhny in Dubai, and he said he's lacking confidence right now.

I guess the season he's had will do that to a player.

He flamed out last week in Marseille to someone ranked 380 spots below him, went winless in Hopman Cup, lost in the second round at the Australian Open. This all comes on the heels of finishing as the top-ranked American for the first time in his career.

The only bright spot that he's had in '12 was a pretty big one, being part of two of the five wins the U.S. Davis Cup team racked up on the road against Switzerland. Those results show that the game is there. It could be all in the head.

Perhaps it's knowing opportunity is there to move higher in the rankings as points are few and far between to defend from 2011's first half. There are still big chances to turn things around in Indian Wells and Miami, though -- provided he holds up under the pressure.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ferrer, Tsonga and the Five Spot

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's in the semifinals of Marseille, continuing his run of good form.

David Ferrer is in the semis of the ATP tournament in Buenos Aires, and with the way he's played so far this season, you'd have to like his chances to get to the finals.

Ferrer, at five in the rankings, has a 185-point lead on Tsonga at six. Tsonga has been coming on STRONG for the past few months, and is ready to go even higher than where he is now in the standings. But Ferrer has had a vicelike grip on the five spot and it's hard to imagine him slipping a bit because if there's one thing Ferrer is now it's consistent.

There might be some shuffling among the "Big 4," but the race between five and six is probably more exciting. If Tsonga does break through, which could happen real soon, how long would he be able to hold onto it with Ferrer nipping at his heels?

This could go on all season, and have a big impact on Tour results over the season--especially at the Slams. At the Majors, the fifth-ranked person would more than likely face the fourth-ranked player in the quarters, which is usually the spot where the lower-ranked one can make a breakthrough.

That can be beneficial for Ferrer and/or Tsonga--whoever gets there and stays there.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I still believe in Andy Roddick...

... Or else I wouldn't have written the story that I did yesterday!

I put something up on the sports website Bleacher Report before Roddick's match with Xavier Malisse, saying that despite Roddick being at his lowest spot in the rankings in a decade, it's too soon to count him out.

The recent results would indicate otherwise, of course, but there are a lot of factors working in his favor that could see him in the top 15 by the end of the year. Funny thing: Memphis points were his last big ones to defend for a while now. Quarterfinal or semi runs in Indian Wells or Miami could put him toward the top 20 after they're all said and done.

However, doing that well at those two big Masters Series events will be a tall order, considering where his form is right now. It's not outside the realm of possibility, though.

(Photo: AP)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Do not adjust your computers: It's a post from TTA?!

Sorry about that folks!

I had been a little busy the past few weeks, but I'm back now. At least I hadn't missed much, right? Sure, there was that U.S. Davis Cup win over Switzerland, Roger Federer picking up his first title of the season, Victoria Azarenka continuing her unbeaten streak on the year, Milos Raonic picking up his second title in '12, Angelique Kerber joining the winner's circle, Ryan Harrison making a semifinal and Andy Roddick losing early in San Jose.

Other than that, it's been slow times, right?

Anyway, as I said, I'm back now and ready to bring you back to your regularly scheduled blogging. See you soon!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Juan Monaco: back in business?

I remember waaay back in the day (2007-08) when it appeared Juan Monaco was going to be the latest in a long line of Argentines to crack the top 10. In 2007, he won three titles on clay and a few months later had hit his career-high ranking of 14.

Things were looking pretty good, but for whatever reason, they stalled: seven straight finals lost over the past few years and time spent outside of the top 60. It seemed he was getting lapped by players without his pedigree for a good chunk of time.

However, the past few months have been quite a different story: Monaco made the round of 16 at the U.S. Open and had a solid fall indoor season. He lost a tough five-setter at the Australian Open to kick off his '12 campaign, but this past week wasn't so bad as he won the tournament in Chile for his first title since '07.

Now that he's back in the winner's circle, his confidence should be at an even-higher level than what he's exhibited the past few months. Of course, there's a ton of tennis to be played going forward, but his solid all-court game could take him further than he's gone before.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

There goes Michael Russell, the last of the Americans

As I've been lying around with this injured calf muscle of mine (dang serving and volleying!), I've been wondering about something, which, to tell the truth, has been a niggling thought in the back of my head for years now:

Why don't American men on the ATP play more?

The only player in a main draw out of three events was Michael Russell, who lost in the second round in Montpellier, France, to Gael Monfils. So just like that, Bobby Reynolds remains the only male player from the U.S. to make a quarterfinal this year.


But if no one's playing, what are the chances of that improving?

I know next week is the first round of the Davis Cup, but not every American is on the team. Why wasn't Donald Young in France? Or Ryan Sweeting in Zagreb? But back to Davis Cup for a second: Why couldn't Ryan Harrison or John Isner dipped down to Chile and try to get in some clay-court practice before next weekend's tie against Switzerland?

I don't know what really goes into shaping a player's schedule, but playing only one warmup, if that, in Australia (which it seems many of the American players did) obviously didn't pay off. Skipping the options out there this week probably won't have much of a positive impact either. Odds are most of the Americans will reconvene in San Jose, but from the end of the first week of the Australian Open until then, you're almost looking at a month off.

It could be too late by then to start making up for lost time and lost opportunities.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Novak Djokovic: a different type of number 1

In epic fashion, Novak Djokovic won his third Australian Open, this time over Rafael Nadal, in a five-setter for the ages.

It wasn't easy as the two played the longest Grand Slam final in the Open Era.

But then again, when is it ever easy for Djoko?

He's not the big server that Pete Sampras was, nor does he yank guys around the court like Andre Agassi or Nadal. Obviously, he can do those things or else he wouldn't be where he is now; I just don't think they're the defining qualities of his run at the top.

Rather, what seems to really set him apart is his ability to generate big shots at the most crucial times: How many times in the past year has he escaped from the brink of defeat? And more often than not, it's because he's blasting winners from match or break point down.

To me, during his run, he epitomizes that old phrase, "heart of a champion." He fights and fights, and that has paid off for him tremendously. I really thought the end of last year was just going to be the start of a slide back to normalcy for Djokovic, but this Aussie run erased the rough post-U.S. Open stretch he had--and sets the tone for 2012.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Azarenka vs. Sharapova: a matchup for the ages (I hope)

Yeah, I think this women's final is going to be a good one.

Could be a great one, as a matter of fact--at least that's what I'm hoping for!

You see, I love Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka: Not in the literal sense, but as far as watching those two play, it doesn't get much better in the women's game. There really isn't much grace to their games: It's all about hit hard, then hit harder, for the most part.

It's just that they radiate competitiveness, mixed in with some feistiness--a lot of that, in fact! I always feel that there's no place or no situation they'd rather be in than what they face on the tennis court. Endorsements, outside commitments, blah, blah, blah: They'll put some time in there, but not if it interferes with hurting their chances in a tennis match.

Funny thing, too: I'm not going to be pulling for one or the other. Whoever does capture the crown, I'm good. Just give me an 8-6 or 10-8 third set.

Is that too much to ask for?

(Photo: Getty Images)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Now it's Andy Murray's turn

First of all, congratulations to Rafael Nadal for making it to the men's final with his four-set win over Roger Federer. It was a good match that--not to be too cliche--really could've gone either way.

Now we're hours away from the second men's semifinal featuring defending champ Novak Djokovic and last year's finalist Andy Murray. As you may or may not recall, Murray was my pick to win the title this year over Rafa. Djokovic has been playing quite well, but then again, so has Murray. I'm sticking with the Andy call.

Why, you might ask? (Which is something I might even be asking myself!)Well, this might kind of simple, but he knows what he has to do and that's be more aggressive. He can't engage Djokovic in too many long baseline rallies or else he'll get eaten alive. Look for him to attack more instead of playing cutesy angles.

I don't think you can underestimate the Lendl factor. He has someone in his camp who "the best player to never win a Major" tag was practically invented for. Once Lendl finally did win, the rest was a wrap.

And if anything, there's no time like the present to make a breakthrough!

(Photo: Getty Images)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

If Roger Federer wins, consider me a believer

Here we go again: On the cusp of another Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal battle, this time in the semifinals of the Australian Open.

They've both been very impressive this tournament with only one set dropped between them up to this point. Federer has been particularly devastating, blowing out Juan Martin del Potro and Bernard Tomic (future Aussie champs?) like candles on a birthday cake.

That only seems to be par for the course with the way he's been playing the past few months: his only loss in tournament play for ages, it seems, coming when he had to withdraw from the tournament in Doha.

Still, I hadn't been convinced of his form, mainly because he hasn't caught the other members of the "Big 4" at their best. Federer blasted Rafael Nadal off the court at the World Tour Finals, but was that a matter of being in the zone or Nadal being off. Beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga however many times in a row that he has now hadn't convinced me of Federer's form.

All that being said, tonight's the night where all that can change. Of course, I'm always going to look at Federer as a Slam contender and I'll think he'll win at least two or three more before he's done. But as far as showing me that the recent run isn't a bit of an aberration and that he can tag his younger opponents at the biggest stages, this is the perfect opportunity.

And I don't want it to sound like I'm rooting against Rafa: I'm actually quite impartial on this one. I just think this could be the best opportunity for fans and Federer himself to assess where he really is and how far he can go.

(Photo: AP)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Still on track? Well, kinda...

And just when I thought my picks for the tournament were looking so good!

Tough result for Serena Williams, the TTA? 2012 Australian Open champion. I don't know what to make of it; she didn't play her best, but supposedly Serena at 75 percent should win that match. Actually, let me clarify that statement: Serena "of old" at 75 percent...

The game's just not that easy for her anymore, and I don't know if that's a testament to the women's game right now or how she goes about her preparation. More match play is needed at this point in her career. And I think it's hard to say how much her ankle injury, too, impacted the result. On paper, Ekaterina Makarova isn't much tougher than the three opponents Williams walloped earlier. I guess she just can't get away with bad days.

But to avoid those bad days, you just have to get out more: I don't think she'll necessarily do that, though. Aside from Fed Cup, I would be highly, highly surprised if we saw her in a tournament before Miami.

Anyway, a lot of my other calls are still looking good! On the men's side, I picked six of eight quarterfinalists, including Kei Nishikori and my men's champ, Andy Murray. Things went great for me for the top half of the women's draw. The bottom half? That's another story, with Serena leading the way on that one.

(Photo: Getty Images)