Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tuesday Tirade: What's Up, Americans?

Three events into the US Open Series, and Americans have posted exactly one player, James Blake, on a final Sunday. And he allowed himself to be psyched out of that match. So far, Slavic nations rule on US soil. Serena Williams remains injured in the hand, Andy Roddick remains injured in the head (yeah, I know, he was sick in Indianapolis, but I actually stopped "watching" his matches in the quarterfinals when he double-faulted for the first time in a perfectly played match leading 5-4 in the tiebreak with two serves to come for a straight-set victory, but dropped the breaker and had to play another set. He claims he's not over his Wimbledon loss. Well, neither is this fan and I simply chose not to sit through more of that last week. Why he doesn't do something about these mid-to-late-match mental lapses is a head scratcher, and that's putting it diplomatically...), Blake is off this week (one would think he'd want to promote his book in DC of all places, but...apparently not), the trio of too-young wildcards couldn't notch a single win in San Diego, even though CoCo Vandeweghe (whoever named a blond vanilla girl CoCo... okay, I won't go there...but I will be stealing the name for a character in the years to come) served for the second set at 5-2 against Elena Bovina (remember her?) but lost the last five games of the match, and Sam Querrey, one of last week's revelations, can't build on his momentum because he chose not to play the Legg Mason Classic. Venus Williams (will ya look at those legs!) hasn't won an outdoor hardcourt title in more than five years, so let's see what the Wimbledon Champion can bring at the Acura Classic. She started great last night, losing just three games and serving up a bagel to Russian Anastasia Rodionova.

Rant over.

Speaking of the Legg Mason Classic, two DC residents are blogging up a storm live from the nation's capital this week. Lynn over at Off The Baseline is back by popular demand. And Ben over at Washington Tennis is providing ever-so-detailed daily reporting interlaced with his own photos and personal history of the event. Great stuff. Check them out. Here's a Ben snippet:

Once we got there, we redeemed our vouchers for our Andy Roddick seat cushion that came with our tickets. It was very thick (about two inches or so), and lacked any pictures of Andy Roddick or anything like that, which is probably wise as one does not often do self promotion by encouraging others to sit on his face. At least not in most business ventures…


Later this week, our very own MadProfessah will be taking in a few matches at the Acura Classic. I look forward to reading his live reports right here as well.

If you're a fan of US Tennis, I have one word to say: Pray.

Monday, July 30, 2007

A Russian (Or Two) in America

(AP Photo/George Nikitin)

Anna Chakvetadze won her second consecutive hardcourt title with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over India's Sania Mirza in the Bank of West Classic at Stanford for her fourth title of the season. The Russian remains a perfect 6-0 in WTA finals. Her win moves her up to a career high ranking of No. 6 and gives her the early lead in the US Open Series on the women's side. Mirza exacted a bit of revenge by pairing with Shahar Peer and beating Chakvetadze and Viktoria Azarenka to take the doubles title later in the day.
WTA Tournament Rap

(AP Photo/Ron Hoskins)

Dmitry Tursunov ended Frank Dancevic's dream run with a 6-4, 7-5 victory at the Indianopolis Tennis Championships, his first title this year and second of his career. He is tied with Radek Stepanek, who won last week's event in Los Angeles, for first place in the US Open Series on the men's side. ATP Match Report

Full US Open Series Standings

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Roddick to Face Dancevic in Rainy Indy

Just when I thought Wimbledon was over. Rain delayed play yesterday for up to 7 hours as only two quarterfinals were completed.

Frank Dancevic defeated Igor Kunitsyn 6-4, 7-6(3) in a match that was stopped and started at least three times before the Canadian came back from 1-5 down in the secondset and eeked out the victory to advance to his first ATP semifinal.

"I feel pretty privileged to be in the semi-final of this tournament being that I was the last guy in the draw," Dancevic said. "I'm a pretty happy guy tonight."

Apparently, he drove from Niagara Falls to Indianapolis at the eleventh hour when he got the call.

Unfortunately, the rain kept all the quarterfinals from being broadcast live. Apparently, the commentators were off at 9:00 PM EST because when Andy Roddick and Hyung-Taik Lee finally took the court at nearly 10:00 PM, The Tennis Channel was showing repeats of the first quarterfinal of the day.

(And even as I type this, the James Blake - Sam Querrey quarterfinal is being played live, but TTC is showing the same old repeat over and over again. What's up with that?)

But anyway. "I'm not used to getting here at 1130 and having to play so late," said Roddick, who didn't finish his match until after midnight. "It's frustrating."

Yeah. Well. How frustrating was this? Andy had these amazing stats (9 aces, no breakpoints faced, winning 90% of first serve points and and 85% of second) and all of a sudden at 5-4 in the breaker with two serves to close out the encounter, he double faulted for the first time in the entire match. He dropped another point on serve (I was scoreboard watching [how fun!] so I had no clue what happened there), saved a set point against serve, but couldn't hang on and dropped the set 9-7 in the breaker to lose his 3rd tiebreak in a row after a record run of 18 straight wins.

Train headed in the wrong direction.

I went to bed. Happy to see this morning that he finished off the match 6-1 in the final set. Why must he continue to make things more complicated than they ought to be?

The bottom half of the draw is officially screwed, since the final four will have to play both their quarterfinals and semifinal today. And we don't get to see the all-American quarterfinal live or Dmitry Tursunov find out what Kei Nishikori is all about, so we're screwed, too.

Tennis. Can't live without it. Can't kill the tournament and network executives.

On the West Coast
Mirza, Chakvetadze, Hantuchova, and Bammer advance to semfinals
Matt Cronin's summary

Across the Pond
Juan Monaco marches on; faces Starace in Kitzbühel final
ATP recap

Friday, July 27, 2007

All-American Quarterfinal Set in Indy

Getty ImagesSam Querrey lost six straight first-round matches before putting together two wins at the Indianapolis Tennis Championships to book a spot in the quarterfinals against James Blake, Davis Cup hitting partner.

The younger American served 14 aces and rallied from behind to defeat Ivo Karlovic 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(6), saving two match points, the first on his serve at 4-5 in the second set, and the second in the tiebreak.

"It feels good. I'm starting to get on a roll," said Querrey. "Any time you win a big match, it builds your confidence. Hopefully, in the next round, I'll play even better."

He hopes that roll will continue against Blake who needed a mere 66 minutes to send Brazilian Ricardo Mello packing 6-4, 6-2.

Getty ImagesBlake is the defending champion and looks determined to repeat. "I knew I had to be attacking him all the time," said Blake. "If I sat back on the baseline and let him play his game, it would be tough."

At least the South American is in the States working on his hardcourt game in preparation for the US Open instead of disrespecting the sport and playing on clay in Europe. (Alright. Okay. I could't resist. I don't really feel that way, but turnabout is fair play, no?)

The winner of the Blake-Querrey quarterfinal will play either Dmitry Tursunov who beat Russian compatriot Teimuraz Gabashvili 6-3, 0-6, 6-2, or Kei Nishikori, the 17-year-old Japanese qualifier who dismissed Germany's Michael Berrer 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

"Unbelievable," Nishikori said. "Did I expect to reach the quarterfinals? No. My serve is getting better. Everything is good."

Andy Roddick is up against Hyung-Taik Lee and Igor Kunitsyn will take on Frank Dancevic rounding out the other quarterfinals to be played later today.

Getty ImagesAnd speaking of claycourt tennis across the pond: Argentina's Juan Monaco upset top seed Tommy Robredo 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 at the Austrian Open in Kitzbühel to book a spot in the semifinals against compatriot and defending champion Agustin Calleri.

The 23-year-old Argentine is having one of the best seasons of his career. Ranked No. 32, he has now won 26 claycourt matches this year and is in the hunt for his third title on the surface to go with his two in Buenos Aires and Pörtschach. More from ATP Tennis

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Serena Withdraws from Acura Classic

More bad news for Serena Williams and her quest for a third US Open title. She has withdrawn from next week's Acura Classic in San Diego. News items report that Ana Ivanovic has also withdrawn due to a knee injury. Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Jelena Jankovic have entered.

As for Serena, I'm wondering if the thumb injury is also a wrist injury. Sure the thumb has a very unstable joint but.... Venus referred to Serena's wrist during Fed Cup. A wrist injury can be far more problematic than a sprained thumb.

Here's a cryptic article from the Middletown Press. It never ceases to amaze me how "journalists" can continue to confuse Serena for Venus and vice versa. Notice the parenthetical use of "thumb" in Serena's agent's quote.

Venus' [sic] injury leaves her 'day to day'

Journal Register News Service

The irony is hard to ignore.

The last match Serena Williams played was against Justine Henin in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon earlier this month.

With an injured thumb forcing Williams to withdraw from three consecutive tournaments, it is worth pondering whether Williams will follow Henin's 2006 lead by entering next month's Pilot Pen Tennis tournament in New Haven to get much-needed matches before the U.S. Open.

Last year Henin pulled out of the San Diego and Montreal tournaments because of a right knee injury and made the last-minute decision to play in New Haven after a four-year absence. She went onto win the Pilot Pen and reach the U.S. Open final.
Williams hurt her thumb in a fall during her third-round Wimbledon win over Daniela Hantuchova.

The injury forced Williams to pull out of the Fed Cup semifinals against Russia and WTA events in Cincinnati, Stanford and, most recently, San Diego.

Williams, currently ranked eighth, is still entered in the event in Carson, Calif., which begins on Aug. 6.

With the series of withdrawals hurting Williams' preparation in her quest for a third U.S. Open title, the possibility exists for Williams to make her first appearance in the Pilot Pen.

When reached by the New Haven Register on Wednesday, Williams' agent Jill Smoller said Williams' status is "week to week."

When asked if she was going to play in Los Angeles, Smoller's response was "week to week."

Smoller said talk of playing in New Haven was premature.

"She is not playing in San Diego next week, that is all we know," Smoller said. "She is going to see the doctor and check on her (thumb). She's very anxious to get back."
When the North American summer hardcourt season began, Williams had one of the busiest schedules as she was entered in four straight tournaments. Now she is entered only in Carson, or Los Angeles, to which it is commonly referred. Williams is not entered in the Toronto event which is sandwiched between the tour stops in Los Angeles and New Haven.

Read More

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Frank Dancevic Puts Canada on the Map

UPDATED - 11:00 PM
Recently, Jack over at TAT ran a US Open Series trivia contest, a minor thing, really, but useless trivia is always fun, and one of the questions he asked was who was the last Canadian national to advance to the quarterfinals of the Canadian Open, now known as the Rogers Cup.

I knew that answer. Patricia Hy-Boulais, a Cambodian by birth who played tennis for Hong Kong became a citizen of Canada in 1991. In 1996, she advanced to the quarterfinals of the Canadian Open. No man or woman playing for the Canadian flag has been back that way since.

Today, Frank Dancevic became the first Canadian to reach the quartefinals of an ATP event since Sebastien Lareau in 2001 at Memphis. He rallied to beat Argentine teen Juan Martin del Potro in a tight encounter 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-4.

AFP/Getty Images"I'm so excited to be in my first quarterfinal," Dancevic said. "I don't know how I won. He served and returned well the whole match.

"I was the last guy into the tournament field and I was behind this whole match. I was even down 5-2 in the second-set tiebreaker, but I kept hanging in and he gave me a small opening.

"I was just trying to stick it to him. I tried to take my opportunities."

The first time Frank caught my eye, he took Andy Roddick to three sets at Queen's in 2005. He has a big, stylish game but lacks consistency and often fades mentally late in matches against marquee opponents.

Frank will play Igor Kunitsyn, who defeated Mardy Fish, who retired with tendonitis in both knees after dropping the first set 6-4.

"It just happened after the first serve of the second set. I couldn't put pressure on my leg," said Fish.

"It's a little frustrating because I have worked really hard. I haven't had any really great results the last few months and I was trying to turn it around.

"I feel like I've been playing well."

Top seed Roddick finally notched an American victory against Russia on home soil when he dispatched Evgeny Korolev 6-3, 6-2. He'll take on Hyung-Taik Lee in the quarterfinals. The Korean, who plays well on US hardcourts, took out American Paul Goldsten 6-3, 6-3 earlier in the day.

"I hit the ball cleanly," said Roddick. "My serve was off, but I had a rock-solid return game.

"My serve will come around. I'll take good matches when I can get them and this was a good match."

He'll need to pick up his first serve percentage against Lee, despite leading their head-to-head 8-1.

Related Article
Victorious Roddick still not over Wimbledon loss - Closing quote: "So it bodes well for optimism in this little head of mine." Always the realist, that Andy.

Across the Ocean
Qualifier Troicki Upsets Djokovic; Canas Advances
Robredo, Defending Champion Calleri Win on Day of Upsets

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tuesday Tirade: A Conversation with Savannah

Yesterday Savannah posted this provocative article by Tom Perrotta on her blog. She tried to post it here as well, as she does many of her other entries, but a technical glitch didn't allow it to happen.

Just as well. She alerted me to the article and the post and we began an email conversation that went a little something like this.

Craig: The most balanced argument I've read to date. And Serena is right, American tennis events are dwindling. So much for the notion that the USTA and Americans influence the tour. The ongoing ATP raucous is being revealed for the smoke and mirrors that it is. All the players on both sides of the ocean ought to be slapped for buying into the bullshit.

His points about where the players play is spot on. I've always defended the Americans not playing a full claycourt schedule in Europe because of the length of time away from home they'll spend overseas till the end of Wimbledon, which can't be done away with, unfortunately. But I've consistently defended the European top players for the same tendency to stay in Europe as long as possible after Wimbledon. An argument can be made for what this writer writes, however.

I like this notion of tournaments such as Houston, Umag, Stuttgart, et. al., being off limits to top players. Revolutionary idea, sure. But again, it makes sense.

Savannah: I just don't like the idea of officially making the tour two-tiered. Rafa didn't play well in Hamburg but did well in Stuttgart. Smaller markets get to see the likes of Rafa, Djokovic and the other ATP stars as well as possibly seeing a star in the making. [Steve] Darcis may never win another tournament but there will be people able to say they saw him blow away players many considered their betters.

The argument works both ways IMO. Our guys don't go in the spring and theirs don't come in the summer.

I do think that the USTA needs to bring a better product to the court instead of trying to force people to do something against their own best interests.

Most of Europeans and South Americans play a full claycourt season and then play the grass courts. Coming straight to the States they'd be worn out and not playing at their best. I should point out that would not be the case if the Americans went to Europe in the Spring.

Craig: I beg to differ. If Americans went to Europe for the full claycourt season and played through Wimbledon, how can they then be expected to be at their best when they return stateside for their home tournaments? What's good for the goose...

Still, we're focusing on only a part of Tom's article. The calendar is muffed up, no two ways about it. Your point about the Europeans and South Americans playing the clay and the grass and then coming to the States for a full hardcourt run would be too much is well-taken.

I'm of the opinion, though, that clay events after Roland Garros/Wimbledon are overkill. We all know I don't like clay, but these events seem anticlimactic. Much as the Newport grass event makes no sense after Wimbledon. No sense at all.

What to do, what to do?

Then you have a player such as Chris Guccione making me raise my eyebrows. WTF? He plays Wimby, comes to the US to play a hardcourt event, loses early, then trapes back to Europe to play a clay event, and also loses early. Now what? Will he return to the US for the remainder of the hardcourt season? This is a man from Australia, who must be used to behind far away from home for the entire year, save January. Notice how Lleyton Hewitt isn't making an appearance in North American till Canada?

The notion of too much choice is an interesting one.

I read your blog and I'm not sure I see your take on the where he's coming from. Your point about audiences seeing top players at smaller events is also a good one, though. But I'm not so sure there's an undercurrent of "You better play in the States or else!" in his article.

Savannah: If they go with special seeding based on how you do in the US Open series they're telling players you have to play or else.

I actually think he's laid out his the USTA's argument very well. I just don't agree with it.

Craig: Do you really think Perrotta is suggesting altered seedings for the US Open in this article?

Savannah: Last paragraph. Funny because they're having this discussion about forcing players to play in the WTA Stanford/Gastein thread [on Talk About Tennis]. I want to jump in but I'm holding back because of our conversation.

How can the USTA compete with that? In recent months, Kantarian has kicked around the idea of starting a U.S. Circuit — think professional golf — that would rival the current structure of the tour, though a USTA spokesman said any such move is a long way off and not part of the group's current strategy. There's some talk of seeding players at the U.S. Open according to their performance in the Series, too.

Craig: How could I have missed that? Not awake enough, I suppose. It was a long night.

Anyway, that puts an entirely different spin on things. Again, for the sake of consistency, I always thought Roland Garros would be well-served to seed based on claycourt performance as well. Roddick's perennial early dismissals in Paris mess up the draw. Sure, upsets can happen to any top player at any time, but when a top seed is practically guaranteeing that his quarter will open up, it seems unfair to a lower seed with more claycourt pedigree who might be in the same quarter as one of the other top seeds.

Savannah: I was okay with the article until I got to that. I was actually going to talk about how it was a reasoned look at the situation.

There's an entire thread on MTF about it.

Craig: Seems Andy Roddick has just chimed in on the topic.

"It's not surprising to see us (Americans) here and the Europeans on clay," Roddick said. "But it feels like we're at least building for something while they may be just trying to stack up (ranking) points."

Roddick last played one of the main French Open tune-ups, the Monte Carlo Masters, in 2003 when he lost in the first round.

"I can understand how they might like to stay at home for as long as they can," he said of his European rivals.
Yahoo! Eurosport

Okay, girl, fire away!

Continued in comments. Please join us.

Monday, July 23, 2007

I'm Ready for My Closeup...

In the caption Serena says: "I’ll take off my shirt in a second - locker room girls don’t have much shame. Once I was getting ready to go out and my hitting partner, who is my best friend and, like, Greek god - handsome, walked into my hotel room, it wasn’t awkward for me, but he freaked out." via women's tennis blog

“This body is 100% muscle. It does not move. When she walks, it’s like watching a rock.” — Jane magazine Editor in Chief Brandon Holley, on Serena Williams’ photo shoot for the magazine’s Nude issue. Off The Baseline (Thanks, Savannah)

Stateside Champs

In the Countrywide Classic championship, Radek Stepanek beat James Blake in an intense, high quality affair in the blistering California heat. After Stepanek took an injury timeout early in the third set, Blake won only one more game. I wasn't aware these two didn't care much for each other, but at times the encounter felt more like a shoot out than a tennis match. Both players spent so much energy on the underneath, momentum swung like a pendulum. In the end, Radek won the war 7-6(7), 5-7, 6-2 and hoisted his second career title and first of the year while a visibly angered Blake, who blew three or four (I lost count) set points in the first set tiebreak, will move on to Indianapolis to try to defend his first US Open Series title and sign more copies of his critically praised book Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life, which debuted at No. 22 on the New York Times bestseller list.

Meanwhile, Anna Chakvetadze made quick work of Akiko Morigami 6-1, 6-3 to take the Western & Southern Financial Group Women's Open title, the Russian's third of the year. If there was television coverage of this US Open Series event, I missed it.

Next up for the women is the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford University. For more on the US Open Series, check out the official site.

Hello, My Name Is...

Steve Darcis and I'm the unheralded qualifier that ran through the draw, surprising everyone, thank you very much, to become the lowest-ranked player in more than three years to win an ATP title after defeating Austria's Werner Eschauer 6-1, 7-6(1) in the final of the Dutch Tennis Open in Amersfoort. (By the by, he was in his first ATP final as well, but he's way older than me at 33.)

Ranked No. 297, I was playing in only my second career ATP main draw, if you can imagine that, and am now the lowest-ranked player to win a title since No. 349 Tommy Haas won Houston in 2004.

Sorry to have screwed up all your predictions. But we unknowns have to make waves every now and then. You probably won't hear another peep out of me for a year or so, if ever, but for the time being, just call me the cat's meow.
ATP Tennis

Related Article
First Time ATP Winner Spotlight: Steve Darcis

Saturday, July 21, 2007

On The Road Again...

by Savannah

Sania Mirza

The period after a Slam is hard to describe. With the Road to Roland Garros and the Stroll to Wimbledon coming back-to-back, tennisheads and players need time to catch their collective breath. Not that the tennis ever stops but you look for the stars to take a rest after the physical and mental stress of more or less consecutive Slams.

Instead most of the European men are playing in Stuttgart and Amersfoot. Both tournaments had good fields and the quality of play has been high. Of course the American commentators are whining about why the European stars are back on terre battue when they should be in the States participating in the US Open Series. I guess it never occurred to them that their argument for not coming over earlier in the spring clay court season works both ways. After this series of tournaments – Umag and Kitzbuhel next week featuring almost everyone who didn’t play this week, and Novak Djokovic’s younger brother Markko getting a wild card into the Qualifying draw at Umag – most of the European men will show up for Canada and Cincinnati, another example of the crack minds behind tournament scheduling at work. I would resist the urge to call them crack heads but why pass up the chance?

While Stuttgart seems to be proceeding as expected except for a great run by Feliciano Lopez who did new coach Albert Costa proud, Amersfoort has provided a surprise in the person of one Steve Darcis from Belgium. Mr. Darcis finds himself in the semifinals against Mikhail Youzhny leaving a trail of upsets in his wake. The only online information about Steve Darcis is from a Davis Cup appearance he made in 2005.

The other semifinal found Werner Eschauer of Austria playing against Robin Haase. Escahuer sent Carlos Moya back to Mallorca in what has to be termed a mild upset. As I write this Eschauer has moved into the final after Haase lost his second match of the day to him after winning the first against Florent Serra. An Eschauer-Darcis final? If you saw this coming you’re long overdue for your toll-free number, turban, and fake Jamaican accent.

Meanwhile the self-proclaimed greatest road trip ever is underway in the United States. The women, Fed Cup drama over – well almost – Maria Sharapova was not invited to play the Fed Cup Final by Shamil Tarpishev who is going to the big dance with the women who got him there (unless Svetlana Kuznetsova is available) – are playing in Cincinnati and Palermo.

You might not know about Palermo. There was no scoreboard, no pictures – one tennishead went online and found pictures of the semifinalists so that we could know what they looked like – nothing but results posted on fan message boards. I ended up calling Palermo the stealth tournament. For your information the semifinals feature Karin Knapp vs. Martina Müller and Sara Errani vs. Agnes Szavay

Cincinnati has turned out to be a very interesting tournament. History was made – Anastasia Rodionova was disqualified for hitting a ball at fans who were heckling her making her only the second player ever to be defaulted, the first being Irina Spirlea a few years ago.

Akiko Morigami

But the real history is the showing Asian tennis has made this week in both the ATP and the WTA. Akiko Morigami, who almost took Venus Williams down at SW19, managed to take out Patty Schnyder here. And the most famous woman ranked 141 in the world, Akgul Amanmuradova from Uzbekistan has made her way to the semifinals. For more on Akgul please click here.

Amanmuradova plays Morigami today in the first semi final. The second semi features Anna Chakvetadze vs Sania Mirza. Chakvetadze who, after losing the first set to Elena Vesnina of Fed Cup fame proceeded to pound Elena into the pavement for the next set and a half, is in the semi due to Elena retiring in the third set. Sania Mirza has been on her own personal search and destroy mission here. Her left quadricep was taped yesterday but that didn’t seem to faze Sania. This should be as interesting a match as Agkul vs. Akiko.

The ATP is on display in Los Angeles at the Countrywide Classic. Fernando Gonzalez of Chile crashed and burned in the first round which left the field wide open. Fans were salivating at the possibility of a Marat Safin, James Blake semifinal but Hyung-Taik Lee of Korea decided he wanted to play James. Marat was up 4-2 in the third set. He lost 6-4. I’m sure there was a line to provide aid and succor to the popular Russian. Meanwhile James Blake blew Vince Spadea off the court bringing their head to head to 6-2 in Spadea’s favor. Go figure. In the other semi Nicolas Kiefer will play Radek Stepanek.

Hyung-Taik Lee

I’m sure Blake’s fans will crucify me here but I still think Blake has one of the ugliest games I’ve ever seen. He looks to be trying to add some finesse but it’s still hit hard and harder tennis aka mindless ball bashing. It’s even uglier in person as I found out at last year's US Open where I saw him play twice including against Roger Federer. Whatever. There will be live tennis on television here in the States and I’ll be watching.

I usually don’t go through all of this recapping but I did it because I was surprised that one tennis blogger decided there was no tennis worth reporting on this week. It could be because he was going on vacation with his family and didn’t want anyone stealing his readers but say I’ll be on vacation and here’s who is playing where and enjoy the tennis until I get back. Why get into the Europe vs. United States, clay vs. hard courts argument for no reason.

By the way for a history of how hard courts became the court surface of choice in the United States please read this article: Why Hardcourts?

Fascinating read for some of the social and political reasons behind the United States' choice of its signifying surface and how it became home of Hit Hard and Harder tennis. Thank you Craig for the link.

I am a fan of the US Open Series and will try and provide as much information as possible. Craig usually posts the links to the websites and posts scores on this blog.

Oh, and if PMac and Cliffy get to be too much for you there is the mute button.

You didn't think I'd end this on such a high note did you? I love wading in the shallow end of the pool as those of you who know me know very well.

Jane magazine did a series of nude photographs of celebrities for charity. I have no idea which charity but for people to get naked it has to be a good one, right? Among those posing nude was none other than Serena Williams. For the purient among you see the sidebar. (You can't miss it, can you?)

Then there was the unveiling of the new Justine Henin. Not to be outdone by any old nude pics Justine was to be found in Armani and hair extensions flaunting her stuff. She's out and about guys. Don't trample yourselves to get to her. (See just below this entry.)

Any resemblance to Celine Dion is hopefully accidental.

In other tennis news Lleyton Hewitt announced that he will be working with Tony Roche. This announcement came during the same week that Marat Safin and David Nalbandian both took on new coaches.

To end on a cautionary note. Jennifer Capriati, admittedly never a favorite of mine, has spoken publicly about her battle with depression. This is something she did not have to do and in my very humble opinion is something that parents of children with any kind of gift should read. A child should not be the primary bread winner for a family. A child who only wants to please his or her parents should not be put into a pressure cooker and fed hype to the exclusion of everything else life has to offer. I wish Jennifer nothing but the best and hope she gets the help she needs.

A Cautionary Tale

Thursday, July 19, 2007

She Got the Sweetest Makeover

You know something is in the air when I'm altering Diana Ross lyrics to the tune of Justine Henin. But I couldn't resist. The makeup artist and stylist wielded some serious magic this time around. You better work the weave, girl.

Click to Enlarge Click to Enlarge

Sources: TAT (where you can see more Serena glammed up in her natural hair) & corned beef hash marks (where Filippo Volandri looks stunning in Armani)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Lindsay Davenport Announces Return

Well, well. It seems like only yesterday I was writing tributes to the Tower of Power from southern California and already, the new mother has announced her return to the WTA Tour. Yeah, yeah, it's only doubles. For now. Look for Mother Davenport to make a comeback in singles before you can say, "Wow!"

Here's the full skinny from the WTA site.

New Mother Davenport to Return at New Haven

NEW HAVEN, CT, USA – Just five and a half weeks after giving birth to her son Jagger Jonathan, three-time Grand Slam champion and 2005 Pilot Pen singles champion Lindsay Davenport has committed to Pilot Pen Tennis presented by Schick, a US Open Series event on the ATP and Sony Ericsson WTA Tour to be held August 17-25 at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale, Tournament Director Anne Worcester announced Wednesday.

Davenport, a three-time Grand Slam singles and doubles champion, has entered the doubles draw and will play with doubles world No.2 and fellow American Lisa Raymond. She joins Svetlana Kuznetsova, Amélie Mauresmo, Marion Bartoli, Daniela Hantuchova and Elena Dementieva as women's players already committed. On the men's side, Nikolay Davydenko, Tommy Robredo and James Blake headline the field.

"After the birth of my son Jagger on June 10, I am very excited to announce that I will return to professional tennis at the Pilot Pen in August," Davenport stated. "This will be my eighth visit to New Haven and I have obviously loved playing the Pilot Pen for years."

"To think that just five and a half weeks after giving birth to a healthy baby son Lindsay has decided to return to competitive tennis is nothing short of a miracle," said Worcester. "And that she has chosen Pilot Pen Tennis and New Haven for her comeback is truly a privilege and honor for us."

Davenport, a 51-time singles and 36-time doubles champion on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, hasn't played since last September due to the fact she was pregnant. On June 10, she gave birth to a son, and her return to the Tour will come with her eighth appearance at the Pilot Pen, but her first appearance in the doubles event. She has had great success in New Haven, winning the 2005 event, reaching the finals five times and the semifinals once.


Welcome back, Lindsay. Kill the people!

Related Article
Davenport's brief retirement could be reversed

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tuesday Tirade: All About Tennis


This is a tirade against singleminded devotion to tennis. Well. Sort of. It's more a cautionary tale, as our own Savannah called it when bringing it to my attention over at TAT.

I haven't always been a fan of Jennifer Capriati. Well. Actually, I've never been a fan of hers. Something about her rubbed me the wrong way. But I respected the battles she fought between the lines, especially all those classics against Serena Williams.

Now, however, it seems more and more likely there won't be a new chapter in that great rivalry. For the time being, Jennifer is fighting a far more serious battle. One that will require all the strength and courage she can muster.

I respect her for speaking out and I wish her well.

Match of her life

Jennifer Capriati tries to beat her demons

Sunday, July 15th 2007, 8:10 AM

JUPITER, Fla. - Jennifer Capriati can't remember where she was when she first had thoughts of killing herself. Between the doctor visits and the pain and the idleness, the timeline isn't easy to keep straight.

She just remembers being boxed in by bleakness, battered by doubts about her purpose and her worth, pounding herself harder than she ever hit any tennis ball. Here she was, a Grand Slam champion and Olympic gold medalist and former No. 1 player in the world, reduced to this, a lost soul with a bad shoulder, a woman in a vice grip of depression.

In those dark moments, neither her successes nor her $10 million in career earnings could offer a shred of comfort. She'd look at the baseline of her life and see nothing but her own faults.

"Sometimes you get to a point where you can't stop what you are thinking," Capriati says. "It's like you're being taken over by a demon. You just feel there's no way out of this space you're in. It feels like the end of the world. When you are just so exhausted and tired of feeling that way, you (think), 'I want to be off this planet right now, because I just feel disgusting inside. I can't even stand my own skin, and I just want to get out.'"

Capriati pauses a moment. "The more you stuff it and don't talk about it, the more it festers and eats you up inside," she says. "It helps to talk about it with other people who go through it. You can't wear an iron shield all the time."

Read More

Monday, July 16, 2007

Fed Cup, Hall of Fame, and The Rivalry

Here's the thing: Venus Williams and Lisa Raymond had no business losing to Nadia Petrova and Elena Vesnina in the deciding rubber of the Fed Cup semifinal tie on home turf yesterday. I know Nadia Petrova is an excellent doubles player, but Lisa Raymond is ranked No. 2 in the world in doubles and Venus has 6 Grand Slam doubles titles with her sister.

Katrina Adams, one of the most knowledgable and fair commentators I've heard, especially when it comes to doubles, her specialty, remarked throughout the match at how flat-footed Venus was around the net. The Russians attacked her in the forecourt and usually won the point. Toward the end of the match, Lisa was yelling, "You, you!!" so that Venus would take shots she had surprisingly left for Lisa to cover early on. I know, I know. This was the first time these two paired up for doubles, but with Zina Garrison captaining from the sidelines, I had no idea why it took the pair so long to come together as a team. When they did, they played great tennis. But it was too much, too little, too late.

And why did Zina rest Vania King and play Meilen Tu, a player with exactly no Fed Cup experience, in the fourth rubber? If you're trying to bring the Cup back to the USA, you don't put an untested player in a match that can close out the semifinal tie for you. Vania would likely have also lost to Nadia, but at least she might have put up more of a fight and tired Nadia out more before the doubles rubber.

I'll continue to scratch my head over Zina's decisions.

For their part, the Russian team played outstanding tennis and came up with great serves and returns on the big points. Vesnina was the biggest surprise, because she had the least experience of the four players and played the best tennis. And once again, Tarpishev captains his team brilliantly and pulls out another victory against the Americans in the semifinals of the ITF's biggest team competitions.

In the finals, Russia will face defending champion Italy, who defeated France in the decisive doubles rubber on the back of Francesca Schiavone, who rallied from 5-2 down in the final set of her singles rubber against Tatiana Golovin (big choke) to level the tie at 2-2.

For more Fed Cup coverage and drah-ma, see Savannah's take.

France invaded the United States this week. Two Frenchman contested the final of the Campbell's Hall of Fame Championships in Newport where Pete Sampras and Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario were inducted. Fabrice Santoro, makeing his Newport debut at the ripe old age of 34, won his first grasscourt title with a straight set victory over Queen's runner-up Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 6-4. It was Fabrice's first title since 2002. Vince Spadea, the last American in the draw, bowed out in the quartefinals to South Africa's Wesley Moodie.

Wimbledon 2007 is history. But it's all about the Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal rivalry. My in box remains inundated with emails about these two and often it seems as though the fans of each or more intense rivals than the players. The following is the most eloquent of these fan musings and is sure to stir up some more discussion.

Why I admire Raja, but Love Rafa
from helen w

I watched the Wimbledon final with my heart in my mouth from the moment the players walked on to the court. I didn't miss a shot. I found myself fist-pumping (with only my abyssinian cat "Little" Rafa for company) and screaming in the privacy of my living room. I was with them until the last shot, and the handshake & hug at the net. But as tears ran down, I turned off the TV as I couldn't bear to watch the ceremony. (OK, I am a confessed RafaTard, a Rafa KAD. Is there a 12-step program for such as me?)

So -- why is my emotional response to Rafa so much stronger than it is to Roger?

Both of these men are fabulous players and great gentlemen. But I sense a core difference in them. Rafa, from his very soul, seems like a generous-spirited, essentially kind man. I believe this is a direct result of being born into the family that he was so fortunate as to be born into. I can't speak highly enough about how much I esteem his extended family. Would that every child could be born to such a family.

One consequence of this gift is his being so able to allow his emotions to shine through in everything he does. This is what makes him such an engaging player to watch, to cheer for.

Roger, on the other hand, plays with tightly-controlled emotions. We are told that when he was a young player, he often had temper tantrums on court. Contrast this to Rafa, whose uncle and coach Toni told him that should Rafa ever threw his racquet, it was the end of their coaching relationship. And he never has.

My experience with people who maintain tight control over their emotions (and I speak from very personal experience) is that the main reason they are afraid to let their emotions show is that so much of their emotions comprise feelings of anger. This is almost always a legacy from early childhood, which I believe is impossible to completely eliminate in later life. The best one can do is "work" on it. I believe that Roger's gentlemanly behaviour is not something he was born with, in the way that Nadal's is, but something that he has worked on, and huge kudos for him for doing it. Nevertheless, sometimes the not-so-gentlemanly side still peaks out, for example when he requested the chair umpire to turn off Hawk-eye during the Wimbledon final. And when he expressed no sympathy for the plight of the players in the bottom half of the Wimbledon draw, while at the same time having complained about having to have a late-afternoon start at the French Open last month. He sometimes seems petulant on court when things don't go his way. Before the Wimby final, he remarked that he did not see any real improvement to Rafa's grass game, which is reminiscent of him calling Rafa's game "rather one-dimensional" during last year's clay season. That these attempts at gamesmanship seem so clumsy is actually a testament to Roger's real fairness and good character. Rafa, on the other hand, has never resorted to this kind of thing, and it is difficult to imagine him ever going there.

(For those of you what claim that Rafa's fist pumps and shouts of "Vamos!" are unsportsmanlike, I can only say that I believe them to be the result of emotional exuberance, and are not done to spite his opponents -- there is no malice in them.)

Get ready to jump all over me, but I believe that this personality difference is often observable in their fan bases as well. When I read some of the reader commentary on espn, tennis.com, and msnbc, I feel that a lot (not all!) of the Federer KADs almost hate Rafa, and are so often banging on about how unfair it is that he is always taking too much time between points, how repulsive he is with pulling at the back of his pants, etc, etc.... Some of them have even diagnosed him with obsessive compulsive disorger. They too often accuse others who suggest mitigating circumstances (e.g., the effects of the rain delays at Wimbledon) as "making excuses for Rafa." Many (most?) Rafa KADs, on the other hand, are more than willing to give Roger his due. I often wish that Roger's fans worked on their emotional issues as much as Roger has worked on his.

During the first set of the Wimbledon final, a deep male voice boomed out from the stands, "I love you Rafa!"

He spoke for so many of us.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Picture of the Week

(AFP/Getty Images)

Did these guys just play a Wimbledon final or exchange vows?

Rafa: That cake is beautiful, no?

Raja: It's absolutely perfect. Like I always dreamed. Almost more perfect than my five straight titles. Can you see my beautiful face reflected in the gold ribbons? Ravishing. You cut the first slice.

Rafa: You're the greatest, no? You go first. And feed me.

Raja: As you like it, boy. I mean... daddy. After all, you're hungrier than I. Oh, and a little lower, please. Sir.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Wimbledon 2007: Most Memorable Matches

by MadProfessah

Now that Wimbledon 2007 is history, I want to follow in the footsteps of Mary Carillo and John McEnroe and provide a list of Mad Professah's Most Memorable Moments at Wimbledon 2007 (with apologies to On The Baseline news):

1. R Federer (1) def. R Nadal (2), 7-6(7) 4-6 7-6(3) 2-6 6-2, Final

Regardless of who won this match, history would be made in that something would have been done for the first time since 1980: Either Federer would be the first person since Bjorn Borg to win 5 consecutive Wimbledon titles or Nadal would be the first to win the French Open and Wimbledon double in the
same year.

This match is the most memorable of the tournament for me because of the closeness of the match with the stakes so high. In addition, both Federer and Nadal both played well, with Nadal arguably playing better in the first three sets but unfortunately losing two of the three in tiebreakers, mostly thanks to Federer's more effective serve (24 aces and 38 unreturnables).

It was clear to me (and probably most people who watched the match) that Nadal can win this tournament, that he does have the game which can defeat Federer on just about any surface and that he probably will defeat Federer at a Grand Slam other than Roland Garros, sooner rather than later.

2. V Williams (23) def. M Sharapova (2) , 6-1 6-3, 4th Round

To me this was an even more memorable match than Venus' win over Marion Bartoli in the final for her fourth Wimbledon title a few days later, because just a few days before she had been staring defeat in the face at the hands of Akiko Morigami when the Japanese player served for the match at 5-3 in the third set. By winning the last four games of that match, Venus was able to set up a rematch with the reigning U.S. Open champion and current World No. 2 who had beaten her in a heartbreakingly close match in Miami earlier this year. She made ample use of the opportunity, turning her game around and for the first time in the tournament (and possibly the year) she played a match with more winners than errors (22 to 14). Sharapova for the third time this year had absolutely no chance against a Williams sister. This time she only lost 6-3, 6-1. But by showing that she could easily dispatch Sharapova, Venus sent the signal that other high ranked players, No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova and No. 6 Ana Ivanovic and possibly even No. 1 Justine Henin would have fared no differently.

3. S Williams (7) def. D Hantuchova (10), 6-2 6-7(2) 6-2, 4th Round

The most dramatic moment of the tournament occurred during this unsurprising matchup between the hard-hitting Slovak Daniela Hantuchova and the most powerful female player on the planet after Serena was cruising along at 6-1, 5-5, 15-15 when suddenly she experienced a massive cramp in her left calf muscle which caused her to collapse to the ground.

Despite what Serena haters have been saying ("She faked the injury!" "She was over-dramatic! She used gamesmanship!") there's no question in my mind Serena was in extreme pain. It took incredible guts to play on despite very limited mobility and force a tiebreaker until the rains came down and granted a 2-hour reprieve which she could use to regroup. In the third set, despite injuring herself again (which no-one saw!) she was still able to overpower a rather good grasscourt opponent.

4. N Djokovic (4) def. M Baghdatis (10), 7-6(4) 7-6(9) 6-7(3) 4-6 7-5, Quarterfinal

To me this was the best men's match of the fortnight. A five-hour classic of high quality tennis from two extremely talented and emotive combatants. The 20-year-old Serbian phenom, the heir apparent to Federer and Nadal who is currently the third best player in the world versus the flashy Cypriot shotmaker who is two years older and has already been two Grand Slam semifinals and a Grand Slam final and is attempting to return to the top of the game after the emotional rollercoaster such early heady success landed him on.n In the end Baghdatis had more winners 74 to 58 but also more errors, 60 to 50, than Djokovic who had 17 breakpoints to Baghdatis' 8 but they both converted just 5 times. At 4-4 in the final set, the total number of points won was tied, but the Serbian ended up winning 7 more, and thus the match.

5. M Bartoli (18) def. J Henin (1), 1-6 7-5 6-1, Semifinal

The upset of the year, and possibly the decade. The completely unheralded French player, who is shunned by the French Tennis Federation and managed and coached by her father in a completely unorthodox manner, knocked out the World's No. 1 player, after previously beating the World's No. 3 player two rounds before--both times coming back from a set and break down! Bartoli plays with two hands on both sides and takes the ball early. She's also a tenacious fighter which compensates for her less than stellar fitness, although she is faster around the court than she looks thanks to heightened "ball awareness." Henin had been even-odds or better to win her first grass court championship, especially after the defending champion Mauresmo was dismissed in the 4th round, but Bartoli was a 100-to-1 shot. Absolutely no one thought that after Henin had won the first set easily at 6-1, and come back in the second set to lead 4-3 that she would lose the match but Bartoli won 10 of the last twelve games from that point. An incredible win and a devastating loss for the Belgian.
Honorable Mentions
Gasquet d. Roddick, 4-6, 4-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(3), 8-6
Ivanovic d. Vaidisova, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5
Nadal d. Soderling, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(9), 4-6, 7-5
Ferrero d. Blake, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(4)

Serena Out of Fed Cup Semifinal Against Russia

by HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Tennis Writer

Serena Williams is pulling out of the United States' Fed Cup semifinal against Russia at Stowe, Vt., this weekend because she injured herself during Wimbledon, The Associated Press learned Wednesday.

The eight-time Grand Slam singles champion will be replaced on the U.S. roster by Meilen Tu, who flew to Vermont on Wednesday to join the rest of the squad, a person at the U.S. Tennis Association told the AP.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Williams' withdrawal and replacement by Tu were not going to be announced formally until Thursday. The draw for the best-of-five semifinal is Friday, with matches Saturday and Sunday.

The matchup already lost some luster when two-time major champion Maria Sharapova, who is No. 2 in the rankings, withdrew from Russia's roster because of a right shoulder injury that's bothered her for months. Russian media reported that 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova would pull out, too.

There was, however, some lingering intrigue: As of Wednesday, Russian captain Shamil Tarpishchev was still waiting to get a visa to be able to travel to the United States, and Russia's Foreign Ministry posted a statement on its Web site saying, "We consider this slowness to be incomprehensible and unwarranted."

The USTA said it would help Tarpishchev in any way it could.

Williams and her older sister Venus were part of the four-player team announced June 27 by U.S. captain Zina Garrison, along with doubles specialist Lisa Raymond and teenager Vania King. But five days later, Serena Williams strained her left calf and hurt her left wrist and thumb during her fourth-round victory at Wimbledon.

Particularly hampered by the wrist and thumb -- she had to hit backhands with one hand instead of two -- she lost to Justine Henin in the quarterfinals at the All England Club. On Tuesday, Williams pulled out of next week's WTA tournament in Mason, Ohio.

Read More

Monday, July 09, 2007

Tuesday Tirade: A Forgotten Pioneer

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Back to Maine after a 20-hour drive and my entry is way late. I was going to pen my own rant about the AELTC's refusal, for lack of a better word, to give Althea Gibson her just due on the 50th anniversary of her first Wimbledon title, but then I stumbled upon Jemelle Hill's piece and realized there wasn't anything I could have said any better than she. Unfortunately, ESPN.com is only providing this wonderful piece in the ESPN insider, which requires a subscription to their magazine, which is only distrubted in the United States and Canada.

As my mother is wont to say, I'd rather ask for forgiveness than permission, so I'm going to go ahead and post Hill's column here. Perhaps ESPN will see fit to sue me, in which case I'd be guilty as charged. But given the subject at hand, it would be well worth it. Perhaps they'll simply send me an email and require that I delete this entry. But by then, I hope, many more eyes around the world will have read Hill's words, and in the spirit of the author who asks that we remember Althea with her, this can only be a good thing.

Althea Gibson was as important as Jackie Robinson

by Jemelle Hill
July 6, 2007

There's been a tribute missing at this year's Wimbledon.

We know all about these sports pioneers and barrier breakers: Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, Tiger Woods.

But one name doesn't come up nearly enough. And if there ever was a year for us to remember her, it's this year. So remember her along with me …

Althea Gibson.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Gibson's historic singles win at the All-England Club, when she became the first black to bring home tennis' most prestigious title.

But this week, of all weeks, and today of all days, why is the Wimbledon brass not honoring Gibson? A perfect storm appears to be gathering. Venus Williams remains strongly in the mix to win her fourth Wimbledon. This is the first year the men's and women's champions will earn equal prize money.

Know how much money Gibson earned for winning Wimbledon in 1957? Zilch. Know what Venus will bank if she wins win? $1.4 million. Now that's progress.

But let's not forget the Wimbledon elite found time to be outraged about 19-year-old Tatiana Golovin's red underpants. And the hot-button issue this week has been whether Wimbledon should be moved to avoid the drab weather. Glad to know the priorities are intact.

"Some people think Arthur Ashe was the first one to make inroads, but it was Althea Gibson," said Yanick Lamb, a journalism teacher at Howard who co-wrote the book, Born to Win: The Authorized Biography of Althea Gibson. "He always gave her credit for that."

The sad part is, Gibson, who died in 2003, was used to being ignored.

But could you imagine MLB overlooking the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's major league debut? Several players wore the number No. 42 that day earlier this season to honor Robinson. Can't tennis do something to honor Gibson?

There are plans to honor Gibson at the U.S. Open, but why wait until then? Doesn't it make more sense to honor Gibson in the same place where she made history?

This isn't a battle of barrier breakers, but it can be argued that Gibson's place in sports history -- American history, really -- is just as important as Robinson's. After all, Gibson broke not just one color barrier, but two. Not only was she the first African-American to integrate tennis, she also was the first black woman on the LPGA Tour.

Unlike Robinson, Gibson was one of the best players in the world when she integrated tennis. She'd won 10 national championships in the American Tennis Association, the governing body for black tournaments. Gibson didn't have a Branch Rickey to ease her transition into the all-white world of tennis. And she faced incredible discrimination, because she carried the dual burden of race and gender.

According to Lamb's book, tournaments were sometimes canceled if Gibson entered them. During the first match she played in the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association -- which predated open tennis and the WTA -- people in the crowd yelled "Beat the nigger!" Gibson commonly heard outbursts like that when she played.

But racism didn't stop Gibson -- the daughter of South Carolina sharecroppers -- from being a two-time Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year. Or from winning 11 Grand Slam titles, including two U.S. Opens and three consecutive doubles titles at the French Open.

"She's an amazing, amazing person," said Traci Green, who took over the Harvard women's tennis program this month -- making her the first African-American female head coach ever at the university. "I feel like I'm a part of her legacy."

Because a pro tennis tour was nonexistent back then, Gibson eventually turned to professional golf. She was nowhere near as dominant in golf as she was in tennis, but when she joined the LPGA another door was opened.

The latter stages of Gibson's life were also full of hardship -- another important aspect of her story. She nearly went bankrupt before some close friends, including tennis legend Billie Jean King and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, began raising money on her behalf. Her health deteriorated rapidly. She had a stroke and a heart attack before eventually dying of respiratory failure in 2003 at age 76.

"I think she softened a bit, but she did have points where she was bitter," Lamb said. "Part of it was the times, and what the country was evolving to. She didn't get the endorsements people got, or the opportunity to be a teaching pro. She was too early."

Lamb said Gibson took great pride in the Williams sisters' accomplishments. Any bitterness Gibson felt wasn't directed at the generation of minority players she helped spawn. Gibson could do anything she wanted on the court -- just not off of it.

The least we can do is make sure no one forgets her.


Related Article
Larry Schwartz - Althea Gibson broke barriers
From Gibson to Williams

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Wimbledon 2007: A Postscript

by Savannah

It's over. The Grand Slam considered the most prestigious and hallowed of them all has crowned its 2007 King and Queen. Tonight Roger Federer will dance with Venus Williams at the post event ball along with all the men and women, boys and girls who are part of their court.

After all the controversy about schedules and the weather I’m sure the AELTC will congratulate itself for staging both the Women’s and Men’s finals on their appointed days. Already you hear the glossing over of the protests from both players and fans as the hype machine goes into overdrive to convince the critics of this year's event that their protests were just tempests in a teapot, that in the end the tradition was upheld and all is right with the world.

So what is this bad taste in my mouth? Why do I feel that the real winner of this year's Wimbledon Men’s final says he’s on his way to Stuttgart for a clay court event while, dare I say it, the preordained winner will dance and drink champagne tonight? I say preordained for a reason. Even the most faithful apologists for the random draw admit that Rafael Nadal came into this final despite all the pitfalls and snares laid in his way. Due to the weather, which of course is an act of the Deity and therefore unable to be changed, Rafa played a total of seven days straight. He had to start and stop several times before putting away his third round opponent. Was there rest in between? No. To his credit he walked onto Centre Court seemingly ready to take the championship that has so far eluded him. Last year he was obviously not ready despite making the Final. This year he was ready and match tough.

But not even an athlete of Rafa’s abilities can withstand back to back to back to back to back to back to back play. The human body needs to rest. With the build up of toxins in his body the mind may have been willing but the flesh had become weak. An old injury flared up, patellar tendonitis, and while in his post-match interview he says that he had his chances but failed, the bitter disappointment showed on his face. Would one day of rest, playing the Final on Monday, have made a difference? That’s a moot question now isn’t it?

I said in an earlier post that the winner of this Wimbledon will have an asterisk next to his name. I didn’t mean the one about five straight. I mean the one where an exception should be noted about the how of the win. So many have said that Roger is a great ambassador for the sport of tennis. He does wonderful charitable work in his mother’s native South Africa. I don’t begrudge him that part of his life. But then he made the following statement:

Q. What do you make of the level of criticism that the club has taken from some other players about scheduling, not playing Sunday?

ROGER FEDERER: Well, you know, I hear a lot about it. I read it.

I don't think it's really the right way to go after the tournament. You know, I mean, it rains a lot here sometimes, so we do have that problem. But Wimbledon is doing so many great things next to it.

They've risen prize money. They're building a new roof over Centre Court. They built the millennium building in 2000. Then we're not upset when they do those things.

When it rains once, we have a scheduling problem, I don't think we should start going after the club right away. I disagree with the players, what they said.

Federer Post Match Interview

If he, like Richard Gasquet, his semifinal opponent, had played a five-set match and then been set to play at noon the next day I wonder if he would’ve been singing the same song.

My criticism is not only aimed at Roger Federer and the AELTC. The women had similar, if sometimes more subtle, problems on their side.

The last person many people wanted to see on Centre Court on Saturday was anyone with the surname of Williams. That there was a chance that both of those women could appear on that sacred grass was something to be prevented at all costs. Richard Williams had already predicted that his daughter Venus would win the Ladies Championship. Fool they called him behind his back.

Meanwhile Serena Williams seemed to be blazing her own path to Championship Saturday until she was felled by injury. Forget the images showing the muscle of her calf in a knot. That she managed to get up and not only finish but win her match against her Slovakian opponent put her on the front pages of sports sections around the country. But Daniela Hantuchova, her opponent, said during her presser after the match that in her eyes nothing was wrong in the third set, that Serena was moving fine in her opinion. The next time she’s scheduled to play Serena comes on court with a heavily bandaged calf, one tightly bandaged ankle, and a wrist taped almost motionless. Yet some, picking up on Hantuchova’s jealous words, said she was play acting. That she lost to Justine Henin by one break of serve in the third set made the haters more upset it seems. All of a sudden there were stage whispers about her not being injured at all. Richard said it was a slight tear and that his daughter should go home or at least not play but what does that old man know they implied. Yes they played the video of her falling over and over and I for one didn’t mind them doing so. The whispers had gotten so loud visual evidence had to be supplied to show that there were obviously other issues and agenda's behind their talk.

The woman across the net from Venus on Saturday, Marion Bartoli, deserves a little bit of a shout out. Her father, a doctor, has not trained her in the way France or any traditional tennis academies do. Mary Carillo jokingly recounted some of his training techniques making her peers laugh. But Maid Marion as she has been called for over a year on TAT delivered a beat down to Justine Henin and walked onto Centre Court carrying a bouquet along with Venus Williams. Neither woman is a media darling and while there had always been the outside chance that Venus would make it Marion, the “big girl” with the heart of a lioness was definitely never seen as a Wimbledon finalist. Venus survived the jinx court twice, low seeding, and back to back to back play in order to walk onto Centre Court with Marion. All of the Williams family was there to support Venus. Dr. Walter Bartoli sat alone, his wife at home too nervous to watch her daughter play.

When it was over the most touching event of the tournament took place. Richard Williams and Walter Bartoli exchanged high fives and talked for a few minutes after exchanging a hug. Then Dr. Bartoli broke down in tears finally letting all the pressure and emotion out. His consoler was Richard Williams. How ironic that these two men who have bucked the system in their respective countries should share that moment.

That is the lasting memory I take from this tournament. The sportsmanship shown between Marion and Venus during and after the awards presentation is what sport is all about. Of course Marion was disappointed. She’s an athlete and she plays to win not come in second. Rafa in his post Final press conference refused to be suckered into bitterness and rancor by the reporters. He said he will be fine.

And so will tennis. The Hard Road to New York as Kirkus founder
of Talk About Tennis has named it - The US Open Series as it is officially called has begun. There are serious questions for American tennis that need to be aired and discussed openly and that won't be solved by trying to stack the deck against the European players who dominate at this time. Does Andy Roddick have another slam in him or has his time passed? After Venus and Serena retire who will carry the torch for American women in the WTA?

Is it time to review the basic premise of American tennis - hit it hard and if that doesn't work hit it harder - and find a solution that allows for many different approaches that will allow our young up and comers a chance to compete on the international stage? Is it also time to stop undermining our best players because they don't fit a particular mold?

I said the issues need to be aired, not solved over the remaining months of this year. I'm an outsider, a fan of over twenty years, looking in at this sport I love. Do I have all the answers? Not by any means. As I said I'm on the outside looking in.

But when the behind the scenes machinations get so bad the victims of it start to publicly protest something is very rotten in Denmark as the Bard once wrote. Yes Wimbledon is over. But the issues raised over this fortnight will not be swept under the rug.

Thanking His Lucky Stars: Roger Wins Five

I can't remember the last match Raja came out hitting the ball so hard. Even his serve is booming. Perhaps the first set of the Dubai final against Rafa in 2006? Funny, even as I type this I feel as though I typed the same thing somewhere more recently than that. Perhaps it was last year's Wimbledon final as well.

Anyway, how did Rafa manage to drop his opening service from 40-0? Nervy start from him, great start from Raja and the first set is likely over.

Wow. This is high-level action.

I remain surprised by how many players don't recognize Raja's tendency to serve flat out wide in the ad court on big points.

Tiebreaks are crapshoots. All about mental pressure. Nadal made too many mental errors in that breaker and still almost won it.

He'll need a superhuman effort to pull out this victory now.

The second set proceeds comfortably on serve until the the 8th game when Rafa earned two break points at 15-40. Raja served three flat aces, all to Rafa's forehand side (there goes two more flat aces out wide on big points).

But serving to stay in the set at 4-5, Raja cracks and Rafa makaes him pay.

Superhuman effort? Rafa strikes a backhand passing shot winner sitting down in a game that ends with the critical break that steals the second set.

Just beneath the surface, Raja is reeling. The third set becomes a necessity for Raja to take. His five-set record isn't great and with Rafa all up in his kitchen, it would take a superhuman mental effort for him to win the decider. With Rafa serving first in the third, Raja is reeling just beneath the surface.

For now, Rafa is better off the ground (literally) and Raja's big serve, which he only wields when necessary (it's necessary) is about the only shot keeping him in the set. He might do well to play in the forecourt more, as I suggested in my preview, but Rafa's passing shots are so hard and accurate, Raja, more often than not, looks a bit frightened up there.

Panic is a bitch. Makes your feet heavy. All of a sudden (or maybe not) Rafa is scurrying about the court better than Raja.

In the seventh game, Raja steps it up and begins bashing the ball as he did to open the match. But Rafa is in his rhythm now, absorbing the pace and creating quite a bit of his own, even from way outside the doubles alley.

Serving to stay in the set at 4-5, Raja races out to a 40-0 lead, but a fight back from Rafa levels the game at deuce. Raja knifes a high backhand volley off a Rafa lob on the adcourt sideline, turns his back and barks. A must-win set for Raja. Two eye-popping stretch volleys later (even one of Rafa's uncles, the Beast of Mallorca they call him, stood and applauded, even as he gestured disappointment that Rafa didn't choose crosscourt on his forehand pass) the set was dead even.

At 5-6 on Raja's serve, Rafa stepped it up with brilliant slices and passing shots, but also netted a crucial forehand at 15-30. Two-set-point opportunity gone a-begging. Raja blasts two more big serves and the second tiebreak ensues.

Raja takes a 3-0 lead with a forehand winner that smokes the titanium on the outside of the line and an approach shot that Rafa can't handle. Rafa earns back the minibreak with a crosscourt forehand return winner of a second serve, but hands it right back with a forehand just beyond the baseline. 3-2, Federer. There goes that flat ace out wide in the ad court again. Players change ends at 4-2, Federer. Another huge flat serve outside in the deuce court puts Raja two points from a two set to one lead. 5-2, Federer. Raja's mishit forehand that loops short, short, short in the deuce court draws Rafa in and he overcooks a backhand down the line. 6-2, Federer. Rafa's saves one set point when Raja's backhand finds the net. 6-3, Federer. Raja changes it up this time, but misses up the middle in the adcourt. No matter. Rafa's flying forehand gives Raja the third set and he pumps his fist like he's choking a small rodent, a la Tim Henman.

What did I say about a superhuman effort earlier? Apparently, Rafa can't take this to five sets if he doesn't win the fourth set by at least one break of serve. His play in both tiebreaks was mentally shaky. Here, I'll return to what he's had to endure this week so far. It can take more of a mental toll than a physical one and that revealed itself in both of the crapshoots in this match. I guess you could say Raja is more mentally tough so far in this match. You'll get no argument from me. But he's also the mentally fresher of the two and that's a huge advantage on this day with so much on the line for both players.

Raja starts the fourth set on serve and leads 30-0 before Rafa wins five points in a row (two shanked shots from Raja certainly helped) to break serve throwing Raja's serve-first advantage right out the stadium. How often does it happen that a player, even at this level, wins an intense tiebreak and drops serve immediately in the next set? I wish I had the stats. Rafa consolidates easily.

"Can we switch it off," Raja pleads as a Hawk-Eye overrule gives Rafa another break point. The chair ump politely declines. For a man who doesn't like Hawk-Eye, he certainly uses it when needed. But when it goes against him in perhaps the biggest match of his life, he has the audacity (read: desperation) to ask that it be turned off? Interesting.

Rafa gets the insurance break to take a 3-0 lead. Now, Raja is fuming. And he can't hide it. He has another conversation with Carlos Ramos on the changeover. "I can't believe that ball was in," he mutters. Hawk-Eye says it was. Raja saunters back onto the court, head spinning like a dryer on high heat.

Meanwhile, Rafa holds and 15 and leads 4-0.

I guess Andy Roddick is in the final, because Raja continues a dialogue with no one in particular, asking after a Rafa shot misses just over the baseline, "How was that one? Was that in?"

An unraveling that has silenced the entire stadium. The fans can barely applaud any of the points won or lost. Raja fights off a deuce after a double fault, and yet another flat serve ace out wide gets him on the scoreboard in the fourth set. Fans, still stunned, applaud tepidly.

On the changeover, Rafa has his right knee attended by the ATP trainer. Perhaps the physical toll of all those back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back days of play have finally caught up to him. An official injury timeout is taken. Momentum shattered. Worry creeps across the faces of mother and father like the late-afternoon shadows on the court. Heavy tape is applied to Rafa's knee. A flare up of the tendonitis from late 2005-early 2006?

Hey, quantum, who's lucky now?

Raja, who has used the timeout to calm himself down, tests Rafa's mobility with a dropshot. Rafa passes that test, but he's visibly limping when walking, glancing up at his family. He can't push off that knee on serve. His first offering is slow. His intensity gone. He continues to limp. His father motions with his right hand across the underneath of his chin. Is he suggesting Rafa throw in the towel? Can't be. These warriors from Mallorca don't quit. Rafa will have to pull a Serena now and play first strike, high-risk tennis just to get into a fifth set. From there, it's anybody's ballgame.

Oh, the drama.

Raja smells blood. Rafa is moving gingerly, despite John McEnroes assertions to the contrary. Whatever you might have seen, Rafa serves out the set anyway.

For the first time in all of Raja's Wimbledon title runs, he'll have to win a fifth set. History.

Luckily (there's a version of that word again) for him, he opens the deciding set on serve. In all the great matches of this event that I've had the pleasure of watching, no player who served second in the deciding set was able to win the match. And in all those matches, the losing player dropped serve to end the match. Advantage, Federer.

Patellar tendonitis it is. All those consecutive days of play, in and out of the cold, damp weather, all that stopping and starting, sometiems at 15-20 minute intervals, all that overuse (and if you challenge me for making excuses, that's your prerogative; I'm just stating facts here) have caused an old injury to flare up. If you can't properly rest your body, no matter how fit you are, toxins build up. Advantage, Federer.

Super-duper-human effort now required for Mallorca.

Rafa earns two break points in the third game. He misses a backhand return on the first. On the second, he cracks an inside out forehand with a groan that Raja races to send back right to where Rafa is standing, and Rafa yanks a forehand down the line just wide. Why didn't he go inside out again as Raja raced back to the open court? The exact same point (to the T) that Rafa missed when up in the second set tiebreak in last year's final. He lost that set and eventually the match. Raja holds for a 2-1 lead. Will history repeat itself?

Raja seems dialed in again, hitting the ball crisply, chasing down everything and making Rafa hit another shot. But he can't get a whiff on Rafa's serve, who hasn't been broken since the opening game of the match (years ago it seems), hasn't even faced a break point.

At 2-2, Raja faces another two consecutive breakpoints at 15-40. Again, Rafa misses a backhand return on the first. This time, Raja wisely hits a 127 mph service winner up the T instead of outwide. Rafa's backhand lets him down in a rally once more as he misses just long to give Raja a game point. He escapes once more. 3-2, Federer.

Rafa faces triple breakpoint. (I bet he's thinking about those missed returns right about now.) A service winner saves the first. After a rally where both strike line after line, Roger's vicious angled backhand slice sets up an easy forehand and his short forehand winner puts him two games away.

A renewed Raja serves three more aces, bringing his total to 24, and close out the game at love. 5-2, Federer. A game away.

How quickly things change.

Rafa fights off a match point after holding at least one game point (my attention lapsed), but faces another when a sluggish forehand finds the tape.

It's all over. Raja does a Borg (again) dropping to his knees. His tears flow. He has made history yet again. He changes his costume in preparation of the trophy ceremony.

On his chair, Rafa hangs his head in bitter defeat, his stringy hair obscuring the pain on his face.

This final featured a stellar display of tennis by both players, to be sure. The best Wimbledon final since 2004. But even better in all around quality than the last five-setter in 2001 when Goran Ivanesivic achieved his lifelong dream with a dramatic win over Patrick Rafter, who was denied his own.

But if Andy Roddick was "gifted" the 2003 US Open because of suspect scheduling, as so many people have argued, then Raja was handed this piece of history on a gold platter. You just can't have it both ways.

He better thank his lucky stars. And to his credit, that's exactly what he does. "I'm very lucky," says Raja, echoing his acceptance speech from three years ago.

Rafa wasn't supposed to make this final. But he defied all the odds and made a fool out of the prognosticators. And despite all the obstacles erected in his path, look what he was able to do when he got here. Superman, indeed.

Though both players showed heart and fight to go along with their incredible shotmaking, this match says more about Rafa than Raja. I'm sure many of you will take issue with me. Let her rip.

But that's my story and I'm sticking to it.