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)