Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Link of Champions

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Associated Press - “Serena to voice animated queen.” How fitting.

The Guardian - “Serena’s triumph over tragedy a weepy classic.” I love melodrama.

New York Times - “After Times of Grief and Doubt, a Tennis Ace Is Hungry Again.” Note to the WTA: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The Age - “Party pal Federer’s head spins over win.” Roger amazes himself. Again.

The Age (Again) - “Coach Roche says Roger has yet to reach his peak.” Talk About Tennis talks about it.

Times-Standard Online - “Who’s better?: Solving the Tiger/Federer debate.” What is there to debate, really?

International Herald Tribune - “Serena and Roger look to stay on the right path.” Anything is possible for Serena the Great and the Last King of Switzerland.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Australian Open: Slow Motion Glances


ESPN and The Tennis Channel Strike Grand Slam Alliance

The Tennis Channel (TTC) and ESPN have entered into a multi-year, multimedia programming and marketing alliance for Grand Slam coverage. Through this unprecedented arrangement ESPN will share a portion of both the live window, delayed telecasts and new media coverage of Roland Garros (commonly known as the French Open) with The Tennis Channel, continuing its five-year coverage run. The Tennis Channel acquired U.S. broadcast and new media rights to the event last August from the French Tennis Federation. The networks announced they will also share coverage of the Australian Open beginning in January 2008, with TTC adding 100 hours of live and prerecorded coverage to ESPN’s already extensive program offering. As a result, both tournaments will receive unprecedented, virtually around-the-clock coverage on American television for the duration of the two-week Grand Slam events through 2011.

Read More

For those of us lucky to live in a market where TTC is available, this is great news. Especially since ESPN's Grand Slam coverage is terrible. No more having to wait for college basketball matches to complete triple overtime before a scheduled tennis match, no more having to endure the talking heads masturbating to their own voices for up to 20 minutes in the studio while live tennis is being played. At least I hope not. If a network could put the tennis fan first for a change, it can only increase its ratings, which would only increase its advertising revenue, which would only be good for all parties involved.

Here's to TTC's Grand Slam coverage.

Hall Of Fame's Breaking The Barriers Exhibit Honors African Americans In Tennis

Photograph taken by Genevieve Naylor (1915-1989)

Tennis Week

Australian Open champion Serena Williams has expressed interest in producing a film about ground-breaking African American champion Althea Gibson, who broke the color barrier when she entered the U.S. Championships in 1950, becoming the first African-American to be allowed to enter — forever changing the sport.

In recognition of National Black History month, the International Tennis Hall of Fame Museum will present a new exhibit entitled Breaking the Barriers, honoring the achievements of African Americans in tennis.

Breaking the Barriers, on view starting Feb. 2nd in the Hall of Fame Museum, will spotlight the American Tennis Association (ATA), the earliest African American sports organization. Founded in 1916, the ATA organized competitive tennis opportunities for the black community, encouraged player development and fought discrimination in the sport.

A special focus will be on the familiar names of Gibson and Arthur Ashe, both Hall of Famers. Gibson, inducted into the Hall in 1971, was the first African American to win a major championship — the 1956 French Nationals. Attaining the world No.1 ranking, Gibson personified the beauty and power of the sport.

Ashe, inducted in 1985, was the first black man to capture a Grand Slam singles title — the 1968 U.S. Open. However, he was more than just a champion of tennis; in addition to his 13 titles and Davis Cup play, Ashe was a pioneer of causes for the underprivileged.

Breaking the Barriers will also contain two unique exhibit items from the Hall of Fame Museum’s collection: a telegram from Jackie Robinson to Arthur Ashe congratulating him on his 1968 U.S. Open victory and a letter to Ashe penned by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Read More

Monday, January 29, 2007

Guga Still Alive in Comeback Despite Loss

Thanks to the round-robin format making its debut in South America, Gustavo Kuerten still has a chance to make the quarterfinals of the Movistar Open in Viña del Mar on his comeback to the ATP after nearly a year due to injury.

The former world No. 1, beloved superstar, and three-time Roland Garros champion played his first round-robin match against Spaniard Oscar Hernandez who won in two tough tiebreaks, 7-6(2), 7-6(3).

“I felt I was playing well,” said Kuerten after the match. “I obviously was lacking rhythm but I felt I was controlling the match at times. I think it's probably at the end that I played the best. I really had my chances to win that second tie-break. I also need to acknowledge that he played a very solid match; he gave away very few points and lifted his level in the key moments.

“Now I want to try to keep playing the way I played today. I have another singles match tomorrow and I still have the chance to qualify into the quarters.”

Former No. 1 Marcelo Rios was also supposed to make a one-off comeback at this event but he withdrew last Saturday with a back injury, the same ailment that drove him from the game in the first place.

Serena’s Back and the WTA Trembles

“I love to play, I love to win. I love holding up trophies ... I love the challenge and I love people saying what I can't do and proving them wrong.”

by Savannah, contributor

Forget all about sexy being back. No one is saying what Serena can’t do anymore. The woman nicknamed Terror Fabulous brought championship level tennis back to the women’s game with her dominating performance through seven rounds of tennis.

On her way to the final there were two matches that would have made many a year-end best of list: Her three-set win over Nadia Petrova and her battle with Shahar Peer. The latter was a Battle Royale and when it was over what had been whispered was now being spoken aloud. Serena Williams had a chance to make the Women’s Final at the Australian Open.

Only one woman stood in her way - a girl really. Nicole Vaidisova had quietly played her way into a semifinal face-off against Serena. At seventeen she showed class both before and after the match, refusing to be baited into making statements sure to inflame partisans in both the pro and anti-Williams camp and behaving more professionally than a young Martina Hingis had back in the day.

She brought that maturity to the court as well. In another year or two, she’ll have the experience and will do what she almost did: defeat Serena in a Grand Slam match.

But this time she lost. And after Kim “just call me housewife” Clijsters folded like a cheap suit against Maria Sharapova the final no one expected took place in a closed Rod Laver Arena. The roof was closed due to the threat of inclement weather. There were murmurings about this but in the end it didn’t matter.

Terror Fabulous let the tennis world know she was still a force to be reckoned with. Playing cold, cerebral tennis, she demolished the soon-to-be-ranked No. 1 with a devastating display of power and precision not seen among the women’s ranks in two years.

After being hit by a ball, an accident on purpose, some said Serena mumbled, “You’ll pay for that.” She did not, however, go head hunting. Instead she buckled down and wiped up the court with the women’s No. 1 player, reducing her to a spectator in her own match. The final score of 6-1, 6-2 does not reflect how one-sided the match was. No. 81 is now No. 14 and those ranked above her are now shaking in their La Perla’s.

Serena Williams is back.

“I have it. I feel like I’m a great tennis player, that I was put on this earth to play tennis. I’m here to play tennis - I do that the best.”

Thank you # 81.

Read More

Related article: Weight a Mintue: A plus-sized Heart

Say it Again!

“I’m definitely in better shape than I get credit for. Just because I have large bosoms and I have a big ass. I swear my waist is 29-30 inches. I swear I have the smallest waist. And just because I have those two ‘assets’ it looks like I’m not fit. I was just in the locker room staring at my body and I’m like, ‘Am I not fit? Am I really not fit? Or is it just because I have all these extra assets that I look not fit.’ I think if I were not to eat for two years I still wouldn’t be a size 2. No matter how slim I am, I always have this [points] and that [points]. We’re living in a Mary-Kate Olsen world. I’m just not built that way. I’m bootylicious and that’s how it’s always going to be.”

—Serena Williams, 2007 Australian Open Champion

Venus to Play Fed Cup against Belgium

(AFP/File/Glenn Campbell)

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Venus Williams will play in the Fed Cup against Belgium.

U.S. Fed Cup captain Zina Garrison announced Monday that Williams, who missed the Australian Open with a left wrist injury, has committed to play in the first round on April 21-22 at the Delray Beach Stadium & Tennis Center.

“Venus is really looking forward to playing Fed Cup this year,” Garrison said during a teleconference call. “Venus contacted me around the end of November and said she was really interested in playing. She’s excited about trying to bring the Cup back to the U.S.”

Garrison said she’d like to lure Serena Williams, who won her eighth Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, onto the Fed Cup roster.

“I have been in talks with Jill Smoller, Serena’s agent, and been texting Serena about playing,” Garrison said. “I think our being back in Delray Beach gives me a lot of edge since it’s close to her home.”

The Williams sisters live in nearby Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., about a half-hour drive from the Delray Beach facility.

Garrison, who said Venus Williams is practicing fulltime, will announce the rest of her roster later. She mentioned young players Vania King and Ashley Harkleroad as possibilities, along with doubles specialist Lisa Raymond.

In the 2005 first round, Venus Williams, Serena Williams (who did not play), Lindsay Davenport and Corina Morariu beat a young, unheralded Belgium team 5-0 at the same Delray Beach facility.

Garrison expects Kim Clijsters, who will retire after this season, to be on the Belgium team.

“When we played here before, I had the best team you could ever think about having,” Garrison said. “I think this time around we’ll have the opportunity to play against Clijsters since this is to be her last time to play Fed Cup. I think Justine (Henin) is a wait-and-see until it’s closer to April.”


Happy New Links

Andy Murray pulls out of Zagreb - Cites a blister.
ATP Players fear round-robin format will prompt match fixing - Sounds likely to me.
Rebound ace under review at Australian Open - About time.
20 questions for Anna Kournikova - Just in case you care.
Federer's Hewitt respect - Read between the lines.
Hawk-Eye blurs line on cheating - Scroll down past the white space on the page.
All about Serena - Tennis4you talks about Serena. Great photos.
Serena inspired by slain sister - The healing has begun.
Serena ready for the clay courts - Eyes on the Grand Slam prize?
Serena set to sizzle in Bangalore - The Queen plays in Inda for the first time.
Justine confirms split, plans Paris return - And speaking of Justine...
Justine fears Serena most? - Whatever you decide, this is the rivalry I most want to see develop. For four years, Justine and Serena have missed each other in Slams. It's time for that to change. Here's hoping 2007 brings these two warriors together in some great Slam matches.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Serena Williams Interview

You go, girl.

Roger I: 10-Time Grand Slam Champion

Roger Federer d. Fernando Gonzalez 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-4

A Perfect 10
With his straight-set victory over Fernando Gonzalez in the final of the Australian Open, Roger Federer became the first male player since Bjorn Borg at Roland Garros in 1980 to win a Grand Slam singles title without dropping a set.

Feña almost ruined the Last King of Switzerland’s perfection. Serving for the first set at 40-15, the Chilean, who entered the match with 177 more winners than unforced errors, missed a forehand into the top of the tape, a forehand he had made time and time again throughout the fortnight. But pressure can be a bitch. He pulled up on the shot, allowing Federer to stay in the game, which he took on his first break point of the set. After a lengthy twelfth game that went to deuce more times than I remember, Feña saved two set points, but meekly lost the set in the tiebreak 7 points to 2.

Swirling wind wreaked havoc on the match. Neither player wowed with the consistently scintillating tennis they brought to bear in the semifinals. The women’s champion Serena Williams, who studied tapes of Feña’s matches throughout the fortnight, so impressed was she by his level of play, stayed around to watch the final live from the stands. (So much for her lack of commitment to the sport!) She commented to Pam Shriver that Feña wasn’t playing the kind of tennis that brought him to his first Slam final and was hanging around too much on the Melbourne letters about 10 feet behind the baseline. Still, he managed to compete as best he could and only dropped his serve once in each of the remaining two sets, ensuring Federer his march toward breaking all the records in the history books.

For his great effort throughout the fortnight, Gonzalez will move to a career-high No. 5 when the new rankings are released on Monday.

Making History
With 10 slam titles, Roger ties Bill Tilden for fifth place on the all-time Grand Slam titles list. This is also the second time in his career that he’s won three Slams in a row.

With the Australian Open under his belt, he will focus on winning his first Roland Garros title, which would secure him a Grand Slam and put him on course for a true calendar-year Grand Slam as well.

With Queen Serena back in rare form and already focused on clay and King Roger’s continued dominance, perhaps 2007 will be the first year in tennis history that both a male and female player bag the calendar-year Grand Slam.

Stay tuned.

Related Articles
What we learned
Fernando’s tennis lesson
A comfortable genius
No stopping Fed express
Poll Results

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Men’s Final Preview: Let’s Have Some Fun!

by Savannah

It can’t be all serious all the time. Let’s take a different look at the two men who will clash tonight in Melbourne.

There are a lot of similarities between Fena and Fed. Numerologically the numbers "1" and "10" are the same regarding their seeding. Both men are Leo's. Fena was born 7-29-80 making him a Leo "2". Roger was born 8-8-81 making Roger a Leo "8" person. Sunday, January 28, 2007 is a “1” day.

Fena’s birthday, the 29th, is a two. The number “2” is ruled by the Moon. The number “8” symbolizes Saturn, called the taskmaster by some and “an old devil” by others. By the way “1” is the number of the Sun, the ruler of Leo.

As a side note Serena, born 9-26-1981, is an “8” person. Maria Sharapova, born 4-19-1987, is a “1” person.

For more on numerology visit here.

We can have even more fun.

Roger Federer

1981 was the Chinese Year of the Metal Rooster.

Metal Roosters can come off as arrogant and stuck up at times. They need a cushion for that overextended ego and someone to make sure it stays inflated. They are reasonable people who seem to analyze every decision they make and every situation they find themselves in. They are standoffish at times and can let their aggression get in the way of a blossoming friendship or romance. These Roosters should take a breather from their egos long enough to really enjoy what they have to offer.
Fernando Gonzalez

1980 was the Chinese Year of the Metal Monkey
Persuasive and passionate, this Monkey is a warm person. He is successful due to his innate determination and ambitious nature. He works hard to climb the ladder of success and prefers to work alone. They are loyal employees, always prepared and tactful with answers and upper management. In love these Monkeys are just as loyal as well as loving and affectionate.
For more information visit this site.

Yes it’s a bridal site. But it’s one of the best sites for Chinese Astrology I’ve visited. And I visit a lot of them. Let’s note Serena was born in 1981 like Roger. If Sharapova’s birth year information is correct she was born in 1987 the year of the Fire Rabbit.

The Chinese New Year is late this year, 2-18-2007. The year is that of the Fire Boar. The Boar is ruled by water. The year is ruled by Fire. Water and Fire don’t mix do they?

What does all this mean?

Western Astrology
The moon will be in Gemini for the match. Gemini is an air sign. The sun is in Aquarius, also an air sign. With these two fire signs going at it the match should be exciting. Think of it this way. Fire needs air to burn. There will be plenty of excitement in this match.

By the way this could also explain why Serena, a Libra (Libra is an Air Sign) dominated the way she did over the Taurus woman Maria Sharapova who truly looked earthbound and plodding during their match.

Chinese Astrology
Monkeys can run circles around other people with ease. They are curious and clever people who catch on quickly to most anything. Monkey people generally can accomplish any given task. They appreciate difficult or challenging work as it stimulates them and makes them think.

A Monkey’s good memory and his ability to adapt are two of his most prized possessions. He is intelligent and stoic, able to pick new trades up quickly and easily. Monkeys are also able to do all the work in half the time it takes someone else, but will charge you double what someone else would charge. As such, Monkeys generally take occupations in the world of finance, such as banking, stock exchange or accounting

The Rooster is a flamboyant personality, feisty and obstinate. He is quite the extrovert who loves to strut his stuff and is proud of who he is. Outwardly confident, the Rooster is also a trustworthy, hardworking individual. He’ll tell it like it is with no qualms or reservations.

Roosters are more motivated than most other Animal Signs, making their careers a priority in their lives. They are hard working, flexible individuals able to stick to the given tasks. They are generally successful individuals who reach the top of their chosen professions.
The Element of Metal
Those born under the influence of the Chinese Astrology element of Metal are determined, self-reliant and forceful. You enjoy the good life and all it has to offer -- luxury, comfort and freedom, especially. You're like a reclusive film star: You want the acclaim, but you also want to be left alone. You create your own success, building your desired destiny with single-minded focus. Others look up to you in awe of your commanding, confident presence.

While Metal individuals are strong and virtuous, you can be a bit set in your ways. No arm-wrestling with the metallic ones, either; they might break that appendage in two! They can be stern taskmasters as well, demanding the most from yourself and those you love.
Saturn is the co-ruler of Aquarius. Roger, an 8, has the celestial lights for him in this regard.

I see these two men very evenly matched coming into this final. With all things equal I give the edge to Federer only because he’s been here before. Gonzalez wilted last year in pressure situations. But if he stays focused and plays the way he has been he can give Federer a run for his money. The paying fans as well as the sleep-deprived ones are hoping for a good match. We just may have one.

For a more “traditional” preview, click here.

2007 Australian Open Men's Final Preview

by Mad Professah

Roger Federer (SUI)[1] vs. Fernando González (CHI)[10]. This is a highly anticipated, if somewhat unlikely, championship match-up, particularly after both finalists demolished their prior round opponents, Andy Roddick and Tommy Haas in straight sets. Federer is the 9-time Grand Slam champion on track to become proclaimed the Greatest Of All Time while González is the reigning 2004 Olympic Bronze medalist with the blistering forehand who has lost every single match he has ever played against Federer and is now facing him in his first ever Grand Slam final.

Fernanado González actually has actually played better tennis than Federer in the tournament, against rather good opponents. He had an astounding 42 winners to 3 unforced errors (+39) against Haas, +25 against Rafael Nadal (ESP)[2],+28 against James Blake (USA)[5] and +51 against Lleyton Hewitt (AUS)[19]. It's no wonder that 2007 Australian Open Women's champion was watching video of only two people's matches during the tournament: her own, and the man they call Fena, Fernando González.

Fernanado González is also a big match player, so should not be intimidated by playing Roger Federer in his first Grand Slam final, however in the end I don't think it will matter: history will not be denied, and Federer will improve to 10-0 against Fena and 10-1 in Grand Slam finals.

PREDICTION: Federer, in four sets.

For Maria’s Fans

Take it in good stride. We’ve all been there.

Serena the Great: 8-Time Grand Slam Champion

Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-2

Smackdown Down Under
In just over an hour, #81 swept aside new world No. 1 in the championship match of the Australian Open in Melbourne Park 6-1, 6-2 to win her third Australian Open title, her first title since she won here in 2005.

Playing flawless, aggressive tennis, the focused Dreamgirl simply didn't allow Little Miss Sunshine an opportunity to play the match. Sharapova, who was extraordinarily gracious in defeat, even as her father Yuri stormed out of the stadium, suffered her worst smackdown in a Gland Slam match since the 2004 Roland Garros quarterfinals when she fell to Argentina's Paola Suarez 1-6, 3-6.

Saving both of the two break points she faced, #81 hit line-clipping serves up to 122 mph. She cracked 28 winners to only 11 unforced errors, a superb ratio for a player who admitted her errors are usually in the 50s. It seems that studying the videotapes of Fernando Gonzalez, the finalist who has played the best and cleanest tennis overall in this tournament, paid dividends. The champion remains a quick study.

No. 81 become only the second unseeded woman in the Open Era to win the Australian Open, and the first since 1978 when Aussie Chris O'Neil took the crown.

No. 81 also posted the second most dominant performance by a champion in Melbourne since Steffi Graf defeated Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 6-0, 6-2 in 1994.

Teary-eyed, Serena dedicated her third Australian Open crown to her slain sister Yetunde Price.

Serena the Great, who will catapult to No. 14 (with a bullet as the announcers proclaimed) in the rankings on Monday, is back. Back to muzzle every single one of her naysayers. Back to remind the world what championship tennis is supposed to look like.

All hail to the Queen.

Related articles:
Best of Serena's overall Grand Slam victories
Serena sizzles to title
Serena wows even herself
She's Back
Serena's To-Do List
Who Will Win? - Poll Results
Henin out of Melbourne: Who Benefits? - Poll Results
Ode to Serena

Bryan Twins Defend Doubles Title

(AP Photo/Steve Holland)

Bob Bryan of the U.S., left, and his brother Mike hold the trophy after winning the men's doubles final against Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden and Max Mirnyi of Beralus at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2007. The American twins won the final, 7-5 7-5.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine vs. Dreamgirl

Women's Final Preview


by Mad Professah

The dream Women's Australian Open Final. A revenge match between World No. 1 and No. 1 seed Maria Sharapova (RUS) and former No. 1 but currently unseeded (ranked No. 81 in the world at the beginning of the tournament but in the top 20 after it) Serena Williams (USA). Head-to-head the two are tied 2-2, although they have not played each other since Serena eked out a 2-6, 7-5, 8-6 win almost exactly two years ago in the 2005 Australian Open semifinals, saving three match points in the process, even though Sharapova served for the match in both the second and third sets. This was one of the best WTA Tour matches of 2005 and tonight's rematch is expected to surpass that epic battle for drama, suspense and import.

The 2007 Australian Open has been a revelation for Serena Williams watchers. Despite only having played in four tournaments last year due to a nagging and serious knee injury, Serena was able to "shake off the rust" by improving her play round by round in the first Grand Slam tournament of the year. After cruising through the first two rounds, Serena faced Nadia Petrova, a top 5 player, and came through with a victory despite being one game away from a straight sets elimination. That was her closest test, because not enough rust had come off her game to allow her to play her best tennis, but somehow, magically she was able to come up with brilliance at precisely the right moments to pull her through to the end, like a champion.

In her next round, Jelena Jankovic didn't play the tennis which had made her the hottest player on tour coming into the tournament, and a resurgent Serena took her out in straight sets. Shahar Peer did an excellent job of pushing Serena by playing tenacious defense and remaining mentally tough enough to earn a match point. Serena calmly played high percentage tennis and won the last 3 games of the match. Against the powerful ball-striker Nicole Vaidisova her level of play had developed to the point where after surviving a close first set, the result of the match was never really in doubt.

Sharapova's run to the final was nearly ended in the first round where she blew a 5-0 lead in the third set against the wily Camille Pin (FRA) and lost six consecutive games in the over-100 degree Melbourne heat and sun. Sharapova was two points away from a stunning first round loss against an unseeded and unheralded opponent who cooperated by collapsing mentally to allow the No. 1 seed to escape with a 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 win. Sharapova needed intravenous hydration afterwards. By surviving this crucible, Sharapova added to her growing reputation for mental (and physical) toughness. Although her subsequent play has been enough to defeat a trio of Russian players (Rodionova, Zvonareva [22] and Chakvetadze [12]), as well as end the last attempt of Kim Clijsters (BEL)[4] to win her first Australian title with a whimper instead of a bang. However, since that first round, Sharapova has not been pushed, and that will definitely happen against Serena.

In fact, the problem for Maria is that Serena's play in the final is most likely to be even better than it was in the semifinal and Serena is well-accustomed to facing very hard hitting combined with excellent defense every day (i.e. practicing with Venus) and has played tougher matches than Maria in Melbourne. I believe this will lead Serena to her 3rd Australian title and 8th Grand Slam championship.

Speedy Gonzalez Gallops into Final

(Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

Another day, another destruction. Fernando Gonzalez pulled out all of his weapons of mass destruction to send another semifinalist off Rod Laver Arena demoralized and deflated in a 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 demolition.

Tommy Haas didn’t know what hit him.

Just when I thought the tennis couldn’t get any better. Much like Roger the night before, Feña had his way with his overmatched opponent from everywhere on the court. With incredible defense, ferocious focus, and brilliant shotmaking which produced 42 winners to only 3 unforced errors, the Chilean forged ahead into his maiden Grand Slam final in just over 90 minutes.

Gonzalez has gone two consecutive matches without dropping serve. In the semifinal, he didn’t even face a break point.

If he can bring this level of tennis into the final against Roger, we’re in for quite a spectacle.

Like a Charm

by Savannah

Serena Williams should have a charm made with #81 engraved on it.

No one expected much from her in Melbourne this year. Her mother, probably playing rope-a-dope, said that her daughter was rusty. That started the piling on. Next, she was fat, lazy, incapable of rising to her past glories. After the second round, the Grand Poobahs of the press and the tennis blogosphere looked past her to predict who would make the round of 16, the quarters, and the semis.

But then #81 played that marvelous third-round match against Nadia Petrova. Poor Nadia. She had heard all the innuendo and regurgitated it in public. Maybe someone at IMG or her PR rep told her she needed some street cred, that Serena was an easy target. Whatever happened, Nadia found herself facing a Serena who had, to paraphrase Jay-Z, brushed that rust off her shoulders. You could hear the Grand Poobah’s collective gasp. This couldn’t be happening, they suggested. “Nadia’s a head case,” they said. No way #81 could have beaten her unless Nadia was somehow derelict in her duty.

In the fourth round, #81 faced the diva-licious Serbian princess known as Jelena Jankovic. Jelena had been playing great tennis. She had also played a lot of tennis. But the tennis world held its breath as these two Amazon Queens walked onto Rod Laver Arena to face off. Jelena had come within a whisper of beating Justine Henin at the 2006 US Open. Would she have another meltdown? Would #81, all bad footwork and movement, so they said, succumb to the bombs Jelena would throw at her?

Jelena did not meltdown, did not throw big bombs. #81, playing cold, cerebral tennis, dismantled the game of the princess. It was the tennis version of Chinese death by a thousand cuts. Jelena couldn’t even pull herself together to have one of her tantrums. She never knew what hit her.

#81 was through another round. The talk about her chances started to change.

Then came Shahar Peer. At nineteen, Peer is part of the next generation. The young Israeli soldier almost prevailed. Almost. #81 played another classic match and snatched victory from the girl’s grasping hands 8-6 in the decider.

Next up: Nicole Vaidisova. The feisty teen left a nasty taste in some tennisheads’ mouths when she threw a world-class tantrum at the US Open in 2005. That three-year-old who got her parents thrown off the plane? A piker. But Nicole proved a worthy opponent. Since 12-years-old, she admired #81, watching the champion through a fence. But that didn’t mean she was going to roll over and play dead. She fought #81 more than the men fight Roger. She had a minor tantrum but she held it together. With more experience, she might’ve forced a third set. In another year, Nicole will know better how to handle her business.

In the other semifinal, “Aussie Kim,” as Carillo kept intoning ad nauseum, faced the media darling Maria Sharapova. And once again, the Curse of the Cupcake Draw reared her ugly head. I did not see this match so my comments are based on those of posters on several forums.

Most fans wanted Kim to win. IMG and their seemingly bought and paid for shills – I’m sorry, announcers - wanted the Siberian woman to win. I thought that Kim, buoyed by fan support and competitive fire, would give Maria what for. Instead, it seems she made no effort at all. Give me Shahar or Nicole anyday. Jelena would have fought Maria tooth and nail if given the chance and may have pulled off the upset. Hell, Camille Pin seems to have fought harder than Kim.

Kim, do us all a favor. If you really just want to suck face with Brian and have his babies go do that. Let a woman who really wants to win, who wants her chance at the top of the heap get her chance at the brass ring. You had one of the easiest draws among the women so your performance had nothing to do with mental burn out. We’d like to remember you favorably.

From most reports, Maria didn’t play well. Hell, if I’d had the draw she had I wouldn’t be playing well either. She can blame her near loss to Pin on the heat so that will always be her out.

The final should be very interesting. Wonder how far into the match we’ll go before Maria takes a potty break or suffers some kind of bodily malfunction?

If anyone had told me last year that I’d be writing this much about the WTA, I’d have dragged them to the local asylum. The WTA product last year was dull and non-competitive. This year promises to be different.

The Australian Open was supposed to be all about Roger. Instead all eyes are on the women’s final. I wonder why? I wonder which woman pulled more viewers to ESPN’s coverage? Was it the one who is paid millions for her looks or the booty shaking diva in whom the competitive fire is still roaring? You only get one guess, kiddies.

That’s right. #81.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Semi Sweet

(Photos: Getty Images)

by Savannah

There is one more semifinal match left to play. Some say the match is moot but it isn’t. If Fernando Gonzalez makes it past Tommy Haas into the men’s final, it will prove that it was his tennis, not Lleyton’s misplaced ego, James Blake’s latest underachievement, or Rafael’s lack of preparation that got him this far.

If I were Larry Stefanki, I would not be making victory speeches before the match is played at 7:30 p.m. Melbourne time (as we all know by now that’s 3:30 a.m. on the east coast of the States). Instead of talking on the record about match strategy, you and your player should be looking at that second set of the other semifinal. Roger sent you a nice little nasty-gram. I hope you pay attention to it.

Many people are saying that they’ve never seen a set of tennis like Roger played against Andy Roddick. I have. I hate to keep saying it, but part of your tennis education involves seeing the 2006 Dubai Final. Roger played a perfect first set. His opponent couldn’t touch anything he hit over the net. But that opponent came back and won the match. Who did he play? Rafael Nadal. See it. Then we can talk about perfect sets of tennis and how to deal with them.

Don’t get me wrong. Andy has come a long way since he started listening to Jimmy Connors. Must be a Virgo to Virgo mind meld in effect. Andy is now patiently constructing points and actually kept to his game plan during his match against Federer. Racquet toss aside, I think Andy should come away with some positives.

He should also tell PMac to STFU and not predict that Andy was going to win the Australian Open on the basis of his almost-win at the Tennis Masters Cup last year and his actual win over Roger at Kooyong. Roger could’ve played Andy with less anger. In fact, he did play him with less anger. Ask Novak Djokovic.

So, Mr. Stefanki, talk less, coach more. Your player will likely advance in four sets to face Roger in the final.

[Savannah’s World]

The Last King of Switzerland

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt can now be friends. Maybe. At least they have something in common. They’re both Slam champions and former No. 1’s who’ve been bageled by Federer in Grand Slams. I don’t feel like looking up any statistics, but I don’t think Roddick has ever been bageled in a Slam. At least I don’t remember it.

Roger played the best match I’ve ever seen him (or anyone for that matter) play and completely had his way from everywhere on the court in his 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 demolition. During the match, which took all of 83 minutes, someone asked me what Roddick had done to make Federer so mad and I immediately replied, “He won Kooyong.”

How Roddick recovers from such a demoralizing loss will show what he’s made of. If I were he, I’d take the fine and skip the presser because I don’t know if there’s anything he could say about this match that won’t get him skewered by someone, somewhere, and that’s the last thing he needs.

As for the King of Switzerland. It doesn’t get any better than that. I wish I could be a fan. I can’t. But there’s no denying that his greatness is unparalleled.

He’ll be collecting his 10th Slam title on Sunday, and as Pete Sampras conceded, he’ll be well on his way to breaking record after record after record.

Serena the Great, Seed Killer, Strikes Again

Queen Serena does it again. For the fifth time in this tournament, Serena Williams has dismissed a seeded player. She ousted No. 27 Mara Santangelo in the first round, No. 5 Nadia Petrova in the third, No. 11 Jelena Jankovic in the fourth, No. 16 Shahar Peer in the quarterfinals, and just a few minutes ago, she sent Venus-wannabe and No. 10 Nicole Vaidisova packing 7-6(5), 6-4 in a semifinal that had enough drama for an Academy Award nomination.

And, oh, how she did it.

Serena wasted 5 match points, was out of challenges on one of them, a shot Nicole missed wide but was called good, choked in the tiebreak, choked when serving for the match the first time at 5-2 in the second set, and recovered from all of that to hit a volley winner on her sixth match point to close out a formidable opponent in straight sets in her first Slam semifinal in two years.

The 17-year-old Czech has a big game, but needs to get control of her nerves. For most of the match, she was dictating play from inside the baseline, but she couldn't hold onto her leads.

Serena gets credit for hanging tough when down as only Serena can. When your opponent knows you will not go away, that puts even more pressure on you to hold your own when the match gets tight. Serena is the Queen of Fight, and no one on the WTA tour comes anywhere near her.

In the final, Serena will face Maria Sharapova, who just dismissed Aussie Kim in her final Australian Open 6-4, 6-2.

It will be war.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Andy vs. Roger: Showdown Down Under

(Andy: Kristian Dowling/Getty Images; Roger: AFP/File/Dean Treml)

The blockbuster semfinal matchup many people were hoping to see in top half of the draw. This is Federer’s 11th straight appearance in a Grand Slam semifinal, an Open Era record. Ivan Lendl held the previous record with 10. This is Roddick’s 3rd semifinal in Melbourne, and 8th overall. In 2005, both players fell in this round. Roger’s conqueror, Marat Safin, went on to win the championship. Can Andy do the same in 2007?

With Roddick’s new-found confidence, his recent win over Federer in that not-such-a-big-deal Kooyong final, and Jimmy Connors urging Roddick on from the stands, this match could be a barn burner. Or Federer could step up right out of the gate as he did against Novak Djokovic and thwart Andy’s efforts to get a victory over him once and for all in a Slam.

Roger’s play has been scratchy throughout the event; Andy’s has been consistenstly stellar, with a few lapses in matches he won’t be able to afford against Roger. But I think that Andy’s willingness to publicly state he’s ready for Roger without cockiness, without expressing any awe of the man who has demoralized him in 12 of their 13 official meetings just might be playing with Roger’s head a little bit.

Roger seemed visibly flustered in his quarterfinal match against Tommy Robredo. This was the first time that I can remember that Andy had completed his match before Roger, the first time that Roger had to play a match with knowledge of Andy as his next opponent, the first time Roger knew that his next opponent felt confident enough to beat him. Tennis is mental and any change in the terrain of the dynamic between two players can be disconcerting.

Which is why the Kooyong result might count for something, afterall.

As always with these two, the first set will be crucial, especially for Andy. And it’s about time that Andy is able to win at least two sets off Federer in an official match, something he hasn’t done since the summer of 2003, the only time he’s defeated Roger. Can he do it again tonight?

My heart says he can; my head says Roger won’t let him. So I’m going to go way out on a limb and say that this match is too close to call.

May it be a high-quality, well-battled, 5-set war, and may the best warrior prevail.

In tomorrow’s semifinal, I can’t see Tommy Haas having much of a chance against Fernando Gonzalez, provided the occasion of Gonzo’s first Slam semfinal doesn't overwhelm him. Playing the best tennis of the tournament so far, Gonzo seems unstoppable. Sure, Tommy has been this way before. Twice, in fact. But he’ll be lucky to grab a set.

Speedy Gonzalez gallops on.

Women’s Semifinal Preview

by Mad Professah

The 2007 Australian Open Women’s semifinals are now set for 1:30pm Thursday afternoon in Australia which is 9:30 pm EST Wednesday, broadcast live (or tape delay) on ESPN 2.

Maria Sharapova (RUS) [1] vs. Kim Clijsters (BEL) [4]. The 2-time Russian Grand Slam champion played a “scratchy match” to take out Anna Chakvetadze (RUS) [12] in two close sets, 7-6(5), 7-5. “Aussie Kim” Clijsters had an even closer match against the wily veteran Swiss Miss, Martina Hingis (SUI)[6], which was a three set battle: 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. This is the Belgian’s final year on the tour and her desire to put a bigger stamp on the tennis record books is clearly conflicting with her mixed emotions at leaving the sport she has been playing since she was just a very little girl in a very little country. Intense desire to win is an integral component of Sharapova’s game plan. However, head-to-head Clijsters leads 4-2 and beat Sharapova in a thrilling US Open semifinal in 2005 on the way to winning her only major title. Clijsters had 62 unforced errors against Hingis (and 46 winners), while Sharapova had 41 errors to 32 winners in 2 sets, which is only a marginally better performance. Sharapova served better (69% first serves in but only won 56% of first serve points and 42% of second serve points) than Clijsters did in her quarterfinal (61% first serves in and but won 58% of first serve points and 48% of second serve points). Going by the numbers and their head-to-head, I think Clijsters will make her seventh Grand Slam final, though Sharapova will not go down without a fight.
PREDICTION: Clijsters in 3 sets.

Serena Williams vs. Nicole Vaidisova (CZE) [10]. When Nicole Vaidisova was a little girl, oh, four or five years ago, she used to idolize the powerful, athletic play of 7-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams. Now the Czech teenager has to beat her idol to get to her first Grand Slam final. The two have never played, although Vaidisova has played Serena’s sister, taking Venus Williams out in three sets at the 2006 French Open, where she eventually reached her first Grand Slam semifinal. This is the semifinal that no-one predicted (defending champion Amélie Mauresmo (FRA)[2] was in this half, as was the ailing Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS)[3], which would have been a delightful all-lesbian semifinal). This semifinal is equally impossible to predict. I thought Serena was gone in the previous round when Shahar Peer (ISR)[16] served for the match at 5-4 in the 3rd. But Serena did something I have not seen in a while. She got quiet, stopped grunting or shrieking on her shots and calmly played high percentage tennis, allowing Peer to break herself and even the match. Then, still remaining (relatively) quiet, she started hitting with power and precision and won 3 of the next 4 games, and the match. If that Serena shows up, she will reach her 3rd Australian Open final. However, if the Serena who played the first set of that match shows up, she’ll be gone in straight sets. The other question is how will Vaidisova do playing against her idol for the first time in such an important match? She has a history of starting off matches slowly (all her breakthrough matches at Roland Garros were 3 set wins where she lost the first set easily) and Serena Williams is not someone you want to give license to swing freely with a one-set lead. But who knows which player will show up to play? PREDICTION: TOO CLOSE TO CALL.

[Mad Professah Lectures]

Updated Rankings - ATP

by Jack on Talk About Tennis

Roger Federer - 11th straight GS SF, an open era record (previous was Lendl with 10 straight). 13th Slam SF overall, 4th in Australia. Record in previous SF is 10-2.

Andy Roddick - 3rd SF in Australia, 8th overall. Record in previous SF is 4-3. Moves to #3 if he gets to the final. Would be the first time he's ever made consecutive Grand Slam finals.

Fernando Gonzalez - 1st Grand Slam SF. Matches his career high of #7. Moves to #5 with a win in the semis. Moves to #3 if he beats Federer in the finals.

Tommy Haas - Returns to top 10 for first time since Nov 2002. (He had dropped off the rankings in 2003.) In his 3rd grand slam SF; all three have come in Australia. Record in previous SF is 0-2. Moves to #8 with a win in SF, #5 with a title.

1 (1) 7570 Federer - SF
2 (2) 4775 Nadal
3 (3) 2825 Davydenko
4 (7) 2715 Roddick - SF
5 (5) 2605 Blake
6 (6) 2555 Robredo
7 (9) 2460 Gonzalez - SF
8 (4) 2325 Ljubicic
9 (12) 2155 Haas - SF
10 (10) 2075 Ancic
11 (8) 1995 Nalbandian
12 (13) 1785 Berdych
13 (15) 1675 Djokovic
14 (16) 1650 Murray
15 (14) 1610 Ferrer
16 (17) 1580 Gasquet
17 (19) 1335 Hewitt
18 (20) 1325 Stepanek
19 (18) 1320 Nieminen
20 (21) 1230 Tursunov

Fernando Gonzalez to Face Tommy Haas

Fernando Gonzalez of Chile celebrates winning a point during his quarterfinal match against Rafael Nadal of Spain on day ten of the Australian Open 2007 at Melbourne Park on January 24, 2007. In a crushing performance that continues to be the best play of the tournament, Gonzo completely demolished Rafa in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 in no time flat to advance to his first Grand Slam semifinal. He will face Tommy Haas on Friday. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Germany's Tommy Haas, seemingly inspired by Serena, reacts after winning his quarterfinal match against Russia's Nikolay Davydenko at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Wednesday, January 24, 2007. Haas overcame his mental demons, hung tough, and won the see-saw affair, 6-3, 2-6, 1-6, 6-1, 7-5 to advance to his third Australian Open semifinal, his first since 2002. (AP Photo/Rick Stevens)

Clijsters, Sharapova Semifinal Showdown Set

(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

Belgium's Kim Clijsters, right, is celebrated by Switzerland's Martina Hingis after winning her quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2007. Clijsters, despite her 62 unforced errors, won in three sets, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.

(AP Photos/Rob Griffith)

Russia's Maria Sharapova, right, is celebrated by compatriot Anna Chakvetadze after winning her nervy and error-strewn quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2007. Sharapova won in straight sets, 7-6(5), 7-5.

For summaries of these unsightly matches with interview quotes, click here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Federer Advances to Semifinals to Face Roddick

Switzerland's Roger Federer, left, and Spain's Tommy Robredo greet the chair umpire after Federer's quarterfinal win over Robredo at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2007. In a lackluster, error-filled match, Federer won in straight sets 6-3, 7-6, 7-5. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Andy Roddick First to Advance to Final Four

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - TV commentator Jim Courier interviews Andy Roddick after his quarterfinal match against Mardy Fish on day nine of the Australian Open 2007 at Melbourne Park on January 23, 2007 in Melbourne, Australia. Roddick won the match 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. Afterwards, he talked all about it. Andy will face Roger Federer in the semis. (Photo by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Serena the Great

I really thought after losing her third set lead that she would falter.

When Peer, who played a courageous match, stepped up to serve it out, I thought Serena was out of the tournament.

But Serena didn't miss. Peer didn't choke in that game either. I have to watch it again to see if she made her first serves, but I think she made most of them.

That third set felt like a fifth set in men's tennis. It was 83 minutes long and featured some of the best drama I've seen on a tennis court in ages.

Seren's ability to pull it all together in the final three games was nothing short of a Legendary Performance.

As Mauresmo said to the press before heading back to France, “You guys keep burying her, and she keeps coming back to life.”

Say it again.

In that stead, reread Ode to Serena. You can also read my melodramatic reactions in the Live Chatterbox. And then there's always Serena of old force to be reckoned with and Serena's post-match interview.

When You Dig A Grave For Someone Dig Two Holes

by Savannah

This bit of folk wisdom might be remembered by the powers that be in tennis as the first Grand Slam of the season moves into it’s second week. Lets look at the men and women who will be playing today and tomorrow.

On the women’s side we have the following matchups in the quarterfinals:

Nicole Vaidisova vs. Lucie Safarova
Serena Williams vs. Shahar Peer
Kim Clijsters vs. Martina Hingis
Maria Sharapova vs. Anna Chakvetadze

Lucie Safarova? Shahar Peer? Anna Chakvetadze? Oh yeah, and Serena Williams? In some circles Nicole Vaidisova is a surprise quarterfinalist as well. That means five of the eight quarterfinalists were supposed to be knocked off by their supposed betters long before this stage of the event. But they are here and proves what one blogger said about the Australian Open – it’s the quirky one, the one where relatively unknown players can make a name for themselves with the tennis viewing public and hopefully kick start their careers. Some make the big time – remember that kid named Martina Hingis – and some don’t. Remember Tsvetlana Pironkova?

When the draw first came out everyone wondered why Hingis had such a tough draw while Amelie and Kim’s main job would be to make their matches appear competitive. Now Amelie is off to figure out what went wrong and Kim is said by many to have a lock on the trophy. Ironically, that overweight, slow, and unfocused player named Serena Williams is also being talked about as hoisting the trophy, which would be her first since 2005 at the same venue.

Truth be told, if Li Na had not choked and sprayed her way to 65 unforced errors in the second and third sets of her match against Martina and played the same level of tennis she played in the first set she would be the one facing Clijsters and bring to six the number of women who should not be there.

The men’s side has its own share of the drama. The quarterfinals feature the following men:

Mardy Fish vs. Andy Roddick
Roger Federer vs. Tommy Robredo
Nikolay Davydenko vs. Tommy Haas
Rafael Nadal vs. Fernando Gonzalez

Anyone who tells you they expected to see Fish, Robredo, Haas, and Gonzalez in the quarters is lying.

Anyone who tells you they knew Rafael Nadal was making it to the quarters is also lying. No one thought he’d survive his brutal draw which featured men who had made his life miserable last year. Robert Kendrick, James Blake and Tomas Berdych are all on their way to the next tournament or back home to find out what the hell went wrong while Rafa is facing a man in Fernando Gonzalez who decided he’d had enough of the partying and wanted to be at the top of his sport. He’s been the most improved player since last summer and roars into the quarters after a near perfect match against Lleyton Hewitt – you remember him, the guy who had the rebound ace tuned to suit his game? - and a three-set victory over James Blake who was supposed to make the world safe from a twenty year old from Mallorca who doesn’t play text book tennis and yet found himself in the Wimbledon final last year, a feat that has rattled former Wimby king Pete Sampras. There’s something wrong about a 30-something-year-old man calling out a 20-year-old, no?

Roger Federer is still the prohibitive favorite to make it to the mens final. His road to the quarters hasn’t been that difficult. On the way he mercilessly pounded a young Serbian named Novak Djokovic into the ground and then pleasantly shook his hand when it was over. Class guy.

Ironically, on the women’s side people are fantasizing finals that don’t include the media darling and number one seed Maria Sharapova. She hasn’t had to do much since a tiny French woman and the Australian summer almost brought her to her knees. Those cup cake draws aren’t the best thing when you hit the quarters and semis. Ask that other Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo.

The argument about whether draws are fixed, random, or just plain wacky will never end. I am one of those who always find it odd when the same players always get the same tiptoe through the tulips while their peers have to bite and claw their way into the later stages of a tournament. Others believe that some players are just lucky. Whatever you believe the old people had it right. When you set out to bury someone you’d better dig a hole for yourself because as everyone knows what goes around comes around.

[Savannah’s World]

Men’s Quarterfinals Preview

The final 8 of the year’s first Grand Slam features a nice mix of the current giants of men’s tennis, a resurgent veteran, and a player on the comeback trail making his Grand Slam quarterfinal debut. None of the young guns got out of the fourth round, and although this readership predicted that Andy Murray would advance the farthest, it was actually a three-way tie between him, Richard Gasquet and Novak Djokovic, all of whom made the fourth round. (I forgot to include Tomas Berdych in the poll, but he made the fourth round as well.) A step closer to the big time, but not quite there. As it is, we’ve got a Russian roadster, a German headcase, a Swiss maestro, a Chilean powerhouse, two gritty Spaniards, and two big-serving Americans in an all-American showdown. (Who said American men’s tennis was dead?) With a few substitutions, the final 8 looks much like the 2006 Tennis Masters Cup field, and one of the Americans was the only player nowhere close to qualifying for that elite event.

[1]Roger Federer (SUI) vs. [7]Tommy Robredo (ESP). This quadrant lived up to its seeding and will continue to do so. Raja has been in devastating form as he’s plowed down all the opponents in his way without dropping a set. It was frightening the way he slashed up Novak Djokovic, a player he clearly has no respect for, in the fourth round. Even though they haven’t played in nearly two years, Raja has only lost a single set to Tommy in six meetings, and that was way back in 2002. I don’t expect Tommy, fast as he is, to be able to do anything in this match except watch the ball whiz by. If he can take advantage of a lapse in Raja’s concentration and manage to break serve, he should consider that a victory. Otherwise, expect the word above the Ninja’s head in the photo to apply as he cruises in straight sets.

Mardy Fish (USA) vs. [6]Andy Roddick (USA). These friendly rivals from back in the day will take their brotherly competitiveness into the big stage of Rod Laver Arena. As kids, they dreamed about just this occurrence, and thanks to some great play and tough fight from both players, their dreams have come true. Mardy, the only unseeded player left in the draw, is coming back from two wrist surgeries and a rankings plummet, but with the help of Todd Martin, he’s improved his forehand and his net play. His dismissal of Grand Slam underachiever and No. 4 seed Ivan Ljubicic did wonders for his confidence. And he exacted revenge on David Ferrer, the Spaniard who eliminated him in the semifinals of Auckland in the lead up to Melbourne. His first serve rivals Roddick’s and this match should feature at least one tiebreak. Roddick, with Jimmy Connors in the stands, has shown a lot of grit and heart in fending off tough challenges from every player he’s faced in the draw, with brilliant performances against Marat Safin and Mario Ancic. Mardy will play with nothing to lose. He returns Roddick’s serves very well and knows Andy’s game inside-out. He also knows how to push Andy’s buttons. Mardy’s game is similar to Mario Ancic’s and we all know what Roddick had to deal with in that affair. Back in the summer of 2003, when both were in top form, Mardy never dropped serve and held a match point on Andy in the finals of AMS Cincinatti. But Andy saved it with an unexpected flat serve out wide and took the his back-to-back Masters shield in a third-set tiebreak. Andy leads their head-to-head 4-1. The outcome of this encounter will depend largely upon Andy’s attitude. Facing the fifth big server in a row (just how did he draw them all?) Roddick will need to be dialed in off the bat. If he plays aggressively from first point to last and doesn’t allow Fish to rattle him, he will advance to his third Australian Open semifinal in four or five sets.

[12]Tommy Haas (GER) vs. [3]Nikolay Davydenko (RUS). A rematch of the 2006 US Open quarterfinals. Tommy Haas led two sets to love, only to lose his head, as he is wont to do. But Tommy, a two-time Australian Open semifinalist, loves rebound ace, loves playing in Melbourne, and if he manages to build a huge lead against Kolya this time around, I don’t see the Russian coming back to grab victory from the jaws of defeat. Even thought the German has lost his two encounters with the Russian, if both are able to play their best tennis and keep their heads together (no small task with these two), Tommy will advance to his third Australian Open semifinal in four sets.

[10]Fernando Gonzalez (CHI) vs. [2]Rafael Nadal (ESP). The big-hitting Chilean has played (arguably) the best tennis of the tournament through four rounds. He struggled against the ultra-talented Juan Martin del Potro in the second round, falling behind two sets to one, but cramps undid the Argentinean teen and he had to retire in the fifth set, down four games to love. Gonzo hasn’t looked back. He smacked 66 winners (to 15 unforced errors) against hometown favorite Lleyton Hewitt in the third round, and another 52 winners (to 24 unforced) against No. 5 seed James Blake in the fourth round. Added to his Bolo forehand, his deadly backhand down the line is paying dividends, and he’ll need both to be on against Nadal. Rafa hasn’t exactly struggled to make the quarterfinals, but he has been mightily challenged by the German Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second round, and by Andy Murray, who led two sets to love, in the fourth. On both form and how their games match up (Gonzo leads their head-to-head 2-1), this clash should be Gonzo’s to lose. And I think he will do just that. Despite the variety Larry Stefanki has added to Gonzo’s game, there’s a reason the Chilean, who incidentally has advanced this far at all four Slams, proving his wares on all surfaces, has never advanced past the quarterfinals of a Slam. He simply has the mental tenacity of terry cloth. The warrior from Mallorca will pounce the minute he smells blood and will advance to his first Australian Open semifinal in four or five sets.

[Women’s Preview]