Justine Henin 
Dinara Safina 
Marion Bartoli 
Serena Williams 
Jelena Jankovic 
Sybille Bammer 
Venus Williams 
Ana Ivanovic 
If these were the last eight women remaining in the draw at any WTA event, it would be a tournament director's dream.
But these are the remaining eight women in the top half of the women's draw at the US Open. Three multiple Slam champions with a combined total of 20 titles, 5 of them right here in Flushing Meadows. Two slam finalists. The No. 1 and No. 3 player in the world. The old guard versus the future of women's tennis. It doesn't get any better than this.
Seven of the top eight seeds on this side advanced to the round of 16. The only interloper is Mother Bammer of Austria who beat former finalist and No. 12 seed Elena Dementieva like she hurt her child.
Every single match could be a final at any event. Two of them could be finals at a Slam.
There hasn't been any major drama on the women's side, but if these matchups deliver, that will all change starting Sunday at the latest.
I refuse to predict the winners. What say you?
Friday, August 31, 2007
Justine Henin 
Tim Henman played the last Slam match of his 14-year career before adoring fans in New York, falling to Muhammad Ali...ahem...Jo-Wilfired Tsonga in four sets. It's been an entertaining career for the man they call Tiger who for years had his own hill at Wimbledon.
Not always treated with respect by the British Press, Tim handled well the weight of expecation and hope of a nation desperate for a champion every time he took the court on the sport's most hallowed lawns.
It's not hyperbole to say that no tennis player, male or female, in recent history has faced more pressure to win Wimbledon than Timmy. His exquisite serve-and-volley game got him close, but it wasn't meant to be. Ironic that his career ends without a single title on grass.
But he's proud of his 495-274 match record, a Top 10 finish in five of his professional years, and his 11 titles, including a Masters shield and six Slam semifinals.
We'll miss you. May the road rise up to meet you....
Tim Henman's career in pictures
I'm a few days late and a coupla dollars short, but I just had to post this picture, because well...
Ever since her gypsy-basketball-soccer outfit against Venus Williams at Wimbledon a few years back, Bethanie Mattek has become that player that everyone wants to see not because of her tennis, but because of her outfits. In this incarnation, it's because of her, well...
(photo via corned beef hash marks)
Here's to athletes with big... um... titles.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
While this employee was climbing the walls, I was playing in the sand. I went to the beach today for the first time in five years. And I didn't watch a lick of tennis till 5:30 PM EDT. And even then, I was surprisingly uninterested.
Happy Birthday, Andy Roddick! (We have a goat who was born last year on this day, too. She's soooooo cute.) Welcome to the quarter century club, young man. Guess you got a bit of a present with that retirement from Jose Acasuso. But he wasn't going to beat you anyway.
Richard Gasquet, you gave Donald Young a walkover because you had a fever? Um. Okay. Everyone deals with viruses differently, but this is the US Open. Apparently, you had the strength to give an interview. Take some aspirin and take the court, Richie Red Shoes. You're playing a young American upstart who just might have his own issues. Serena Williams won a Slam earlier this year and had a fever through at least two matches. If you can't play, then retire. But take the court and see what happens.
Who was that robust woman on the court today in black? In the middle of the day? I saw it while fast-forwarding through the videotape but I didn't stop to find out. Somebody lemme know.
If there were any upsets today, I missed them. (Hyung-Taik Lee over Guillermo Canas in New York isn't an upset. Unless, of course, you picked Canas in a suicide pool or racquet bracket somewhere....)
Actually, there was an upset. So to speak. As it were. If you will. It happened around 8:10 PM EDT. Something to do with the scoreline of the featured women's night match. This is a Slam. If you only lose two games through two rounds, I'm upset by the lack of competition you face. Nobody on the bottom half of the women's draw is that good. And I mean nobody.
I believe we had our first fifth-set tiebreak today. Spain d. Russia. Up next: Spain vs. USA for the right to face The Name. (Do we really think John Isner has a chance? No, we don't. If we're wrong, somebody buy me a bottle of expensive champagne. Thank you.)
Right now, James Blake is a set apiece against Fabrice "The Magician" Santoro. Though I'm a bit drained by the sun, I may watch the rest of this one. It could get interesting.
UPDATED: Friday, August 31, 2007 AT 12:30 AM EDT
Well. That was exhausting. Santoro's new nickname is Cockroach. Entertaining match all the way around. I thought Blake was toast when he stopped moving his feet in the fifth set, but he weathered the Frenchman's antics, his magic, his never-say-die fight and slayed his own demons to win the first five-set match of his career.
Guess it really meant something to him, no?
Now I'm really going to bed.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Walking bass line intro. Tight harmony joins in.
Boo bop, boo bop.
Boo bop, boo bop.
Boo bop, boo bop.
Boooo baaah, boooo baaah...
Way down south, in Birmingham,
I mean south, in Alabam,
there's a place
where people go
to dance the night away....
I can't help but hear the melody of the Manhattan Transfer song "Tuxedo Junction" in my head when looking at The Name in his all black with the satin stripes on the shorts. The big black shiny purse he walked on court with was too much. I did like the shirt alot, though.
Giant John Isner makes great use of his wildcard. He'll dance the night away with The Name next.
Marat Safin beat back Frank Dancevic, the Canadian qualifier who had a hot summer. Safin claims he can win the USO again.
Venus Williams sports a new outfit from her line EleVen. She beat her opponent, too.
Rafa Nadal running in reflection. Love the photo. Hope his knees hold up.
Robby Ginepri might redeem his year in a place where he's been as far as the semifinals. He won't have to play Gonzo next either.
Serena Williams overcame a feisty Italian opponent in Maria Elena Camerin.
Rolle on! (I stole that from our own helen w). Ahsha Rolle backed up her upset of Tatiana Golovin in the first round by rallying from behind to win in three sets over Italy's Karin Knapp and make her first USO third round.
Mardy Fish showed no signs of a sore shoulder or knees in his convincing win over Mexican qualifier Bruno Echagaray, the first Mexican in a USO main draw since 1995.
Fernando Gonzalez's woes continue. He fell to unheralded Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia in the first round.
Fan favorite Jelena Jankovic basks in the glow.
Justine Henin has her share in New York as well.
But the day belonged to Tiger Tim. Henman will retire later this year. He finally beat nemesis Dmitry Tursunov in a Slam. His last US Open. Thumbs up, indeed.
Enjoy your New York fans one last time, Timmy.
There are certain players I’ve disliked ever since I became a serious tennis head. Lleyton Hewitt and Martina Hingis have always been on that list. James Blake has been added to it mostly because of the JBlock.
So imagine my reaction when I checked the schedule of play for my first day out at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Who was playing on Ashe where I had paid beaucoup bucks for seats in the lower loge? Lleyton Hewitt. Martina Hingis and James Blake. Such is life.
I had to go on Tuesday instead of Wednesday because it is my family tradition for my daughter and I to go together the first day. She has classes on Wednesday, all day Wednesday, so our only chance to see some early rounds was Tuesday. I have to say we made the best of it.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Tom Perrotta has penned a provocative article about Andy Roddick in last week's New York Sun entitled Roddick Searches For the Connors Magic. It's a fair analysis of Roddick's game even if I don't agree with every sentence. But the following paragraph stands out:
Yet in 2007, his first full season under Connors, Roddick has had one of the worst years of his career as a returner. This year, he has won only 17% of his return games, 5% less than last year. In the four return categories tracked by the men's tour — return games won, points won off first serves, points won off second serves, and break points won — Roddick ranks among the worst in the game. He doesn't break the top 50 in a single category and is ranked 60 or below in three of them.
I have to say that it's about time that someone in the print media put Andy's terrible return game in its proper perspective. His refusal to be aggressive has become a pattern that exposes his biggest weaknesses. He used to be a player whose heart and fight compensated for those weaknesses, but even that is no longer the case. Whoever said Andy might not have ever recovered from his Melbourne thrashing may have a point. He choked away a lead in a winnable match in the first round of Roland Garros (Andreev is a better claycourter to be sure, but he was flat and listless till Andy let him into the match after being up a set and a break), and there is no excuse whatsoever for allowing a demoralized player back into a match up two sets and a break and serving at 4-3 in one of your favorite tournaments.
What his return stats show but don't tell is how passively he plays breakpoints he earns on his opponents' serve when he gets them. He dinks, and loops, and slices, and waits for his opponents to miss instead of taking it to them. It's as though he feels the pressure is on him and not them. Perhaps it is. It's the most frustrating thing to watch because he does it every single time.
If he committed himself to his return of serve and played his return games with aggression, he might actually get back to a Slam final, a place he's been for four consecutive years. Only Federer can claim that. But Federer will stop that run (if no one else does first) in a few weeks.
Andy appears to be uncoachable. He's stubborn as dried blood on cotton and now he appears to be getting sick of losing the big matches. Well, only he can change his results, not his coaches. He began 2006 saying he was going to play aggressive tennis match in and match out but those were empty words. The proof is the pudding. Andy is a counterpuncher with a big serve, and even that hasn't been as well-placed as it used to be. His forehand is gone and his fight and heart are fading. Not a combination for big stage success.
Let's see what he brings to the Open. For the first time in a long time, Andy isn't expected to do anything in New York. With all the focus on The Rivarly and the Next Best Thing, little buzz and lower expectations might just be the pressure release he needs. He insists that if he thought that Rafa and Raja were too good and couldn't be beaten there'd be no point in him even playing. Good attitude. But let's see what he brings.
Roddick hopes to reclaim Grand Slam magic in New York
Monday, August 27, 2007
Althea Gibson, who won the US Nationals in 1957, becoming the first Black person with what became the US Open, gets her just due in a moving tribute on Arthur Ashe Stadium tonight. We got on Wimbledon for not giving Althea her due this year, but she actually won Roland Garros in 1956 to become the first Black person to win a Slam and her anniversary last year was overlooked by all. Still, better late than never.
The telecast opened with Serena and Venus Williams in giving props to Althea. A Black hero. A woman's hero. A tennis idol. Goosebumps.
Billie Jean King, who received her own tribute last year whe the USTA Tennis Center was renamed in her honor, holds a plaque honoring Althea in the opening night ceremony. Althea was officially inducted into the US Open Court of Champions. She died broke in 2003. Too bad she wasn't around to experience all of this. Better late than never.
Aretha Franklin holds her arms aloft after putting down "Respect" for the rapt audience.
Rachel Robinson, widow of Jackie Robinson who integrated major league baseball, looks on.
Janet Jackson takes it all in from the Williams family box.
Jackie Joyner Kersey, back-to-back Olympic Gold Medalist in the heptathlon, and Carol Moseley Braun, first Black woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate (Illinois), hold court as pioneering Black women in their professions. Other women honored include Dr. Mae Jemison, first Black woman to travel into space; Dr. Debi Thomas, 1988 Olympic silver medalist in figure skating; Sharon Pratt, first Black woman elected major of a major U.S. city; Yolanda Adams, Grammy winning gospel singer; Vonetta Flowers, Olympic Gold Medalist, 2002 U.S. bobsledding team; Ella Bully-Cummings, first Black female chief of police, Detroit; Sheila Crump Johnson, co-founder Black Entertaiment Television (BET), owner of 3 professional sports franchises and sole owner of PGA Tour golf courses; Traci Green, first Black female tennis head coach at Harvard; Nikki Giovanni, award winning poet and activist; Loretta Claiborne, first Special Olympics athlete to win the ESPY and the first Black woman to win the Arthur Ashe Courage Award; Susan L. Taylor of Essence, winner of Henry Johnson Fisher Award, the highest award in magazine publishing; Lynette Woodard, first female member of Harlem Globetrotters; Cynthia Cooper, two-time WNBA most valuable player; Roberta Flack, first artist ever to win back-to-back Grammy's for Record of the Year; and Zina Garrison, first Black player to win Olympic tennis Gold Medal. Phylicia Rashad, the first Black woman to win a Tony for lead actress in a drama, gave a speech about Althea near the beginning of the tribute and introduced the other pioneers.
Oracene Price, mother of multiple Slam champions Serena and Venus, is ravishing with gold hair.
Donald Young wins his first Slam match, coming from a set down to defeat Chris Guccione of Australia 6-7(2), 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.
Venus reacts to setting a new serve record for women. 129mph. Ouch. She also won her first-round match over Hungarian qualifier Kira Nagy 6-2, 6-1.
Miami native Ahsha Rolle musta felt the love. She upset No. 17 seed and 2006 quarterfinalist Tatiana Golovin of France 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 for her first win in Flushing Meadows.
Qualifier Scoville Jenkins isn't so lucky. He falls to The Name 3-6, 2-6, 4-6 in his first round, bringing his US Open record to 1-3. Apparently, he was out of the game for a while with a wrist injury that forced him to wear a cast. He has enough talent to be a decent professional player but I still feel that before his injury he got too little help from the USTA. Perhaps his name and his cornrows aren't helping his cause. Just sayin.
Serena closes out the night, shaking off some rust, and subdues hard hitting lefty Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-3, 7-5. Serena gives the thumbs up after the match. She hit her backhand well. Great sign moving forward.
Yesterday, I finally made it to Tennis Center for a full day. I got there at around 10:30am and left at about 5pm which was plenty of time to get a little sunburn and get really tired. First things first. I took LIRR to Flushing (for some reason it didn't stop at Shea Stadium) and then took subway 7 from flushing to Shea, which was just 1 stop and takes about 3 minutes. I would not recommend driving there as Shea has some construction and I am sure parking lots will be packed on Monday, so take public transportation.
First I headed to Louis Armstrong/Grandstand which is my favorite hang out place during tennis and or practice. On Armstrong Serena and Venus were practicing with Richard on the side. Well, they both looked little rusty, Serena looked sleepy as well, first 5 minutes I was watching, she was tossing the ball to serve but it was all over the place. Few minutes later we saw her first serve that landed just before the baseline. LOL. I did not see their entire practice session but what I saw was Serena serving, Venus returning and if Venus got ball back in play then they played out a point. Serena's backhand was visibly shaky (but at least she was hitting it, so that's a good sign for her after thumb injury), forehand she hit well. Her serve was kinda off. Thumb wasn't wrapped and if I had to guess, she is more or less ready to play. I took 20 or so pics of them and went to nearby Grandstand where Anna Chaks was practicing with Tati. They were hitting ball well and Tati was wearing very short pants. Another 15 minutes or so there and I ran off to practice courts. When I got there, I saw Olie Rochus at nearby P5 court hitting with Vliegen and Richie and Robby Ginepri were walking onto court P4, which is right next to it, but because of fence it wasn't easy to seem them. I couldn't really see who else was there at P1, P2 and P3, but no one looked familiar. I decided to stick around there for half hour.. took some pics and short video.
There were done in about 30 min and then Marat and Dmitry T. took their P4. My space on the bench got crowded as I was getting bumped left and right by some kids running around me trying to get better view of Marat and shirtless Dmitry. Meanwhile Olie on nearby court changed his partner and now was hitting with Gicquel. Another 20 min gone by and Olie now with Gicquel on same side of court were hitting with somebody I didn't know.
This kid sitting next to me told me that Rafa was practicing at Armstrong about an hour ago, so I decided to head there. When I got there, it was Marcos about to finish off his hit with someone. Too bad I missed Rafa, was really looking forward to see him. At Grandstand, there was Canas and Nalbandian going at it, but I decided to take a break and head to food courts. Here comes my tip for US Open visitors. DO NOT BUY ALL BEEF FRANKFURTER. That thing is nasty. After grabbing another cup of Heineken, I went to see what going on in qualies. Scoville Jenkins was playing Qureshi but I only saw a few games toward first set tiebreak which he lost (it was very close). Back to the practice courts I saw Rochus was still there (he never leaves tennis courts), this time hitting with Andy Murray. Well, Gilbert wasn't too happy as Murray looked a little hopeless there. During changeovers Gilbert picked up the Murray's racquet and was getting schooled by Rochus. After about 10 minutes, Gilbert hit his first and only winner and Olie started laughing hysterically. Brad was laughing too. Perhaps because Murray couldn't hit one..
Back to Armstrong and Grandstand. On Luis I saw Ferrero and Youzhny, followed by Gonzo (he also stayed for his next practice set with Roddick) - Murray. On Grandstand Ljube was getting blown off court by Berdych. Juan Carlos looked pretty good as did Berdych. Misha was little off I thought.
Roddick - Gonzo on Armstrong was next. It was fun to watch these two. Andy actually played very well, different fromm his matches as he was attacking second serves of Gonzo with backhand and was coming in behind them. He only served at about 3/4 his usual pace but well placed, no aces but easy knock out volleys and short forehands. I think if he actually plays his matches same way, he would have more success. He was also having fun with crowds and they loved it. Stayed there for about 15-20 min, went to Grandstand to see Gasquet - Grosjean. They only ended up playing 4 games (Richard won those easily) and then Sebs quit. I wish I could see some more but that didn't happen. During rest I asked Richard how was his hand that he had blister on, he said it's getting better. Well, I hope so.
Last session was Federer - Henman on Luis Armstrong. By that time I was already half cooked in the sun, half falling asleep from being tired after running around the place. All box seats were taken when I got there, so i had to watch from normal seats and all I remember was a few nice passing shots by Roger and couple mishits that went up about 300 feet in the air. He has some of the most incredible mishits. In the end, it was little too much for me as it was already 5:40pm and it would be about 8 by the time I get back home, so I decided to call it a day.
I like to attend these practice even more than during a normal day watching tennis matches. You have less people, you see more players and there are no lines to the restrooms.
You can see all picture I took yesterday here. (Under US Open folder on the left)
Serena Williams begins her US Open campaign tonight after a well-deserved tribute to Althea Gibson who became the first Black person to win the title 50 years ago.
Last week, New York Times reporter Susan Dominus wrote a comprehensive article (thanks, Prescilla) about Serena that fans of hers and of tennis will surely enjoy. I only took issue with her title, so I changed it for this introduction.
After nearly winning, but ultimately losing, in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, sabotaged by a sprained thumb, Serena Williams took the long way back to Los Angeles. First she stuck around a few days to watch her sister win the tournament on Saturday. (Venus's Wimbledon victories: four. Serena's: two.) The next day she flew to New York, where she had a long layover and got a manicure, and then went on to North Carolina to see one of three specialists she would end up consulting about her thumb. Finally, late Monday, she and her boyfriend, the actor Jackie Long, arrived in Los Angeles, only to find that their luggage had gone astray. Exhausted, they went home to Serena's condo (decorated by Venus), where they relaxed until the phone rang with the news that their bags had arrived. They could have waited for the luggage to be delivered, but instead, jet-lagged and sleepy, they got in the car and headed back to the airport.
"I didn't want to take a chance," said Williams, sitting in a booth at Houston's, a chain restaurant at the Century City Mall in Los Angeles that she had chosen for lunch. "I had some great dresses I bought in London." Williams smiled, then laughed at herself, slouching back into the booth. "I got them at Harvey Nichols. I could not afford to lose those bags!" When Williams talked about tennis, she looked a little older than her 25 years; she looked the way competent people do when discussing an intractable work problem, focused and a little bit grave. When Williams talked about fashion, she became dreamy and giddy; she looked, when discussing those dresses, like she was in love.
Williams was thinking she might want to wear one of those dresses down the red carpet at the ESPYs, the ESPN awards show, for which she had returned to Los Angeles. She had already spent much of the day in hair and makeup for a photo shoot for a small fashion magazine. That evening she would spend another two to three hours having her hair done for a pre-ESPYs party she wasn't even sure she would attend. On Wednesday, she would appear at a Nike event, shoot a Hewlett-Packard Web site promo, get another manicure and spend more time in hair and makeup in preparation for the ESPYs. On Thursday, she would voluntarily submit herself to two more hours of beauty assistance for yet another shoot (for this very article). Reviewing her schedule — the planes, the appearances, the hair appointments — Williams acknowledged it was a lot. Her life, she said, "is like a rock star's." The jet lag was starting to catch up with her, and she yawned, overcome by the pace. "I don't know about everybody else, but my life is like this every day, all day."
This is not what fans of Serena Williams's game want to hear. They want to hear that every day, all day, she is perfecting the toss of her 120-mile-per-hour serve, that she is punching up her volley, that she is running sprints and pounding weights to make her game the best it can be.
For Williams, however, thinking of herself as a rock star isn't necessarily antithetical to thinking of herself as a tennis champion. When asked after losing in the 2004 Wimbledon finals what advice, as a tennis superstar, she would give to the victor, Maria Sharapova, Williams famously shot back, "I'm not a tennis superstar — I'm a superstar." She immediately laughed it off as a joke — "I'm just kidding" — but the quote (often cited without the caveat) made the rounds, in part because it seemed to confirm to her critics something that they had been suspecting: that Williams believed she had transcended tennis and that, in indulging her ego, she had let her game suffer.
In 2003, Williams completed what she calls the Serena Slam, winning four consecutive Grand Slam tournaments and displaying such power and athleticism that she looked as if she might give women's tennis the same kind of jolt that the men's game would get from Roger Federer. That moment never arrived. The conventional critique evolved that Williams — who, in addition to tennis, enjoys modeling, fashion design and acting — had wasted her potential. Without an obvious rival other than her sister — a loaded dynamic that has often produced listless matches — she seemed to lose motivation, dropping in the rankings, gaining weight and pulling out of match after match, citing any number of injuries. She continued to play, and sometimes even won, but not with anything close to the same consistency. She confused fans by showing up occasionally as an actress on TV, and in 2006 she took a six-month break from competing altogether.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
by Mad Professah
1 Federer, Roger (SUI). The World No. 1 has won two out of the three major championships played this year and been in nine consecutive Grand Slam finals (every major final since Wimbledon 2005!), winning seven of them. Who would bet against him? According to sportbet.com, odds on Federer winning his 4th consecutive US Open title are so great, that if you bet $250, they will only pay you $100! Although some commenters are more than a little suspicious of Federer's draw which protects him from having to play anyone ranked in the Top 100 until the third round at best, most pundits, including Mad Professah believe that he will continue his inexorable march to Greatest Of All Time status by winning the 2007 US Open. He has a rendezvous with 2006 finalist Andy Roddick in this year's quarterfinals according to the draw and has had some surprising losses earlier this year (Canas, twice) as well as some unsurprising losses (Nadal at the French, Djokovic in Montreal) but always brings his best stuff to the biggest stages. And there's none bigger than the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center. Champion.
2 Nadal, Rafael (ESP). The Spanish wunderkind plays so much tennis during the early clay court section of the tennis season that towards the end of the year even the young, supple body of the longtime No. 2 best player in the World starts to break down. He has shown that he can play well on hardcourts by winning the Pacific Life Open earlier in the year, however he has been humbled by players on this surface recently (Djokovic, Youzhny, Berdych). Semifinalist or earlier.
3 Djokovic, Novak (SRB). The New Kid On The Block anounced himself earlier in the year by making two consecitive Masters Series on hard courts and has won two of them this year (Miami and Montreal) beating higher ranked players both times, no mean feat when you are currently No. 3 in the World. When Djokovic beat No. 3 Roddick, No. 2 Nadal and No. 1 Federer two weeks ago in Montreal the world took notice. And he looks pretty good with his shirt off. The Kid has made two consecutive major championship semi-finals, I predict he'll go even further in New York. Finalist.
4 Davydenko, Nikolay (RUS). The perennial Top 5 player never makes much of a splash at the Slams and now has a controversy over betting on his matches over his head. The draw predicts a quarterfinal match with James Blake, who I predict will go further in this tournament than the Russian. Quarterfinalist or earlier.
5 Roddick, Andy (USA). Ahh, the hard court season when American tennis comes alive. Roddick had a decent US Open Series season this year, placing third behind Federer and Blake and just ahead of Djokovic by winning Washington's Legg Mason classic. However, since the rest of his season has not gone as well he finds his ranking down to 5 and in the unenviable position of having to play a quarterfinal against Federer, who he has not defeated in over 10 tries. Although his loss to Richard Gasquet in the Wimbledon quarterfinals was one of the best matches of that tournament (and probably the year) I'm sure it was a mentally devastating loss for Roddick, who was looking forward to his 4th meeting at Wimbledon against Federer. His take-away from that loss should be to play his potential quarterfinal match against Federer as if it were a final, and maybe, just maybe this time he'll come out victorious. Yeah, I don't believe it either. Quarterfinalist or earlier.
6 Blake, James (USA). Interestingly, the other Great American Hope for U.S. Tennis has had an even better US Open Series season, winning Pilot Pen again and getting to the finals of both the Los Angeles' Countrywide Classic and Cincinnati ATP Masters Series final. If it weren't for just a few breakpoints saved by Radek Stepanek, Blake would be in the running for the $1 million bonus in New York as the US Open Series winner. Blake actually has a pretty challenging draw (fellow American journeyman Michael Russell followed by the always wily Fabrice Santoro with dangerous Sam Querrey and Tommy Haas lurking) on his way to meet Nikolay Davydenko in the quarterfinals whom he is 6-0 against head-to-head. So, this really is a moment where Blake has to live up to his book sales and decide whether he will make a breakthrough or a whimper in New York. I'm suspecting it will be the former. Semifinalist or early round loss.
7 Gonzalez, Fernando (CHI). Oh, where oh where has Mr. 2007 Australian Open finalist been all year long? He's in Nadal's quarter of the draw and it's doubtful he'll even make it that far. Quarterfinalist or earlier.
8 Robredo, Tommy (ESP). The best-looking member of the Top 10 is in Djokovic's section of tyhe draw and it's doubtful he'll make it that far. Early Round Loss.
9 Berdych, Tomas (CZE). When Berdych is on, he can defeat anyone in the Top 10, but his curiously flat performance against Nadal in the Wimbledon quarterfinals this year have led me to question whether the Czech player will really ever live up to his potential, despite his hard-hitting ground strokes and go-for-broke style he shares with his girlfriend Lucie Safarova. He does have the possibility of complicating Andy Roddick's move through the draw to meet Federer in the quarters but somehow neither I nor Tomas really believe that will happen. Fourth Round.
10 Haas, Tommy (GER). Ahh, one of the few players in the draw who really believes he is a better tennis player than Roger Federer. Unfortunately for him, he has a possible 4th Round showdown with the new and improved James Blake. If the German player gets through that match (which is unlikely) then he could complicate life for Federer in the semi-finals. At least 4th Round.
by Mad Professah
1 J. HENIN. The World No. 1 was a finalist at every Grand Slam last year, winning only on her beloved red clay in Paris. The Belgian's half of the draw contains both Serbian players Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic, as well as both Williams sisters, as well as other hard hitters like Tatiana Golovin, Marion Bartoli, Lucia Safarova and Dinara Safina. For the third time in a row, Serena and Justine are slated to meet in a quarterfinal showdown at a Grand Slam. The first two were won by Justine. I don't think that Serena should even be playing this tournament, since she has only played one match since injuring her left thumb against Daniela Hantuchova at Wimbledon, where she lost to Justine. However, I really can't believe that Justine can make it through this draw to get to the final again.
2 M. SHARAPOVA. The "Golden Girl" of the WTA has a gift-wrapped draw in which in her half is lacking almost all of the hard-hitting seeds. In Sharapova's half she has coming-back-from-illness Nicole Vaidisova, solid but streaky Anna Chakvetadze and always sneaky Martina Hingis in addition to 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. None of these players should really prevent her from getting to her second consecutive U.S. Open final. Finalist or Champion.
3 J. JANKOVIC. The hard-hitting Serb is starting to get eclipsed by her younger countrywoman, particularly at the Slams. Jankovic lost the WTA Tier 1 Rogers Cup final to Justine Henin, the seventh time she has lost to the Belgian in seven times. Quarterfinalist or Champion.
4 S. KUZNETSOVA. The mentally fragile Russian is one of the few hard-hitting players in the current defending champion's half who can outhit Sharapova and she has won this title before. However, her focus seems to have slipped recently as her fitness level has noticeably decreased. Semifinalist.
5 A. IVANOVIC. Last year's winner of the US Open Series wasn't able to defend her title this summer but she did win a title and has already proven that she is worthy of her Top 5 status. Mad Professah is a big fan of the Serbian sisters but I'm hoping that it's the older sister that makes her big breakthrough in New York, although I wouldn't be surprised if the pretty younger sister slips through instead to take the whole enchilada.
Quarterfinalist or Semifinalist.
6 A. CHAKVETADZE. Anna started the hard court season as the hottest player on the tour by winning two tournaments in a row (Cincinnati and Stanford). Quarterfinalist.
7 A. MAURESMO. The former World No. 1 pulled out of the last Grand Slam of the year a few weeks ago with an injury.
8 N. PETROVA. Set to tussle with Daniela Hantuchova in the Round of 16. Has the game to do well on hard courts but not the mental fortitude to do well among all the glitz and attention of New York. Fourth Round of Quarterfinalist.
9 S. WILLIAMS. Serena shouldn't even be playing in this tournament. She hasn't played a tour match since losing to Henin at Wimbledon. A Melbourne Miracle will not be repeated. Early Round Loss.
10 D. HANTUCHOVA. The svelt Slovak is in the Golden Girl's lower half but is likely to meet another -ova in the fourh round, Nadia Petrova in the Round of 16. I believe she will get past that round, but not the next round against another Russian in the quarters. Quarterfinalist.
Bright lights. Big City. The tennis world has ramped up the hype machine as the final Slam of the year, the United States Open, is about to begin. Every tennis player who can walk and hold a racquet is in New York or playing their off Broadway tune up in New Haven. The banners are up on West 57th street. New York Magazine has printed it's guide to the US Open, the hottest ticket in town for the next two weeks and listed the hotels where many of the players will be staying. Venus, Serena, Roger, Rafa and Maria all look out from the sides of buses roaming up and down Fifth, Madison and Lenox Avenues. It's an exciting time to be a tennis fan in New York. For a party summary please go to corned beef hash marks
But despite the glitz and excitement the usual doings of tennis continue. Some good. Some bad. And some bizarre.
Bitch Slap of the Week
Serena Williams on Mary Carillo's less-than-complimentary remark that the Williams sisters should have dominated women's tennis more than they have but have not lived up to their potential.
"I think I've had a little more effect on tennis history than she has," said Williams. "I'm pretty excited about that." SMACK!!!
I've been watching tennis long enough to remember Pam Shriver when her claim to fame was as Martina Navratilova's doubles partner. When she started doing commentary I wondered what she'd ever done to qualify for that job. I've also teased her mercilessly over the last few years giving her the nick name Pammy-poo.
I've changed my mind. Pam has become Mistress of the Snark, the one person on ESPN who manages to get the news out to tennisheads who care to listen closely. Just last evening, before Mardy Fish and James Blake took the court for the Pilot Pen final which James won for the second time, Pam asked Mardy about a practice game they play called "Butt's Up" and asked if that was how the upcoming match would be played. Mardy mumbled something that ended up meaning "no" and life went on. She has also managed to comment unceasingly on the terribly lopsided women's draw at the US Open. Her comments would fly right by you if you're not really paying attention. My favorite exchange came between Pam and Mary Jo when they, as wives, were talking about Patty Schnyder's husband working with Sania Mirza who beat her. "Wouldn't happen in my house" Pammy said. Mary Jo jumped right in a agreed with Pam's comments. Was there a jar of vaseline on the table?
I guess that's why they keep her out of the booth and away from the talent. I think maturity and motherhood have lowered her bullshit tolerance. At least there is someone on ESPN who can, and does, manage to ask the tough questions and raise the equally tough issues, goofy hats and all.
The Draw Thing
There is no other story right now. With the McElroy blog having pulled back the curtain Toto style on the great and wonderful Oz that is the draw process fans of tennis have to ask themselves some hard questions, none of which have nice answers.
What has been interesting is how fans of the players who received the largesse of the ITF have reacted.
I've always found Federer fans not of the KAD (Kool Aid Drinker) variety to be a thoughtful group. They know their favorite very well and if you ever have to read a live recap of one of his matches that is not aired in your area you will see they look for certain things from him and discuss them honestly. That type of Federer fan has generally taken the position that the draw is an insult to his greatness, that he doesn't need that kind of assist from the Grand Poobah's to secure his legacy as GOAT. That I can accept even in the face of the Wimbledon walkabout. Throw everyone at him this line of reasoning goes. He can beat them with one hand tied behind his back. Spoken like true fans of the man and of tennis.
The PovaNuts have taken a different tack. They are doing one of two things: ignoring the entire controversy or saying it's not her fault that the winners of the three previous Slams and everyone else who has beaten her this year is in the top half of the draw leaving her the infirm and the headcases. I haven't read anything by a Pova fan that said she doesn't need the assist she's being given. The quote below was posted on the ESPN board by a Maria fan:
When a Federer or Nadal, or a Sharapova is so much better than the rest, as they clearly are, you tend to look at the opponents down their side of the draw and think, "Wow, that's an easy match." This is what happens to these insane VeeReeKuzzyMoMoNutz. Their fave players are so much less than the three I mentioned, it's a natural reaction to say that the superior players got the cake draws.
I guess if the poster repeats often enough that Maria deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Roger Federer s/he will make it a reality.
I wonder what Justine Henin thinks about all of this. She is the one who has been thrown under a bus in this situation. Never been a fan of Justine's but I do respect her game and feel that right now she is ranked where she should be. How come the men's No. 1 seed got a cakewalk from the people in the back room and she got Murderer's Row?
By the way McElroy does not indicate in her report the the draw done in the back room the night before was done by computer. Some fans have seemingly decided that it was, probably in a last gasp attempt at damage control. PMac and crew have often hinted at the "lobbying" that is done before the draw is set. I think that if the back room draw was computerized someone official would have stepped up and said something by now. They haven't. Until they do those who want to believe that some part of this was indeed above board have nothing to cling to but a wish and a prayer.
Enough of the doom and gloom. The US Open, flawed draws and all, starts tomorrow. It's a great day to be out at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing. There are some great matches to be seen on the outer courts for the price of a grounds pass. If you can make it it will be worth your while.
To end the Heard Around-US Open series on a lighter note heres a look at Wimbledon, behind the scenes.
Svetlana Kuznetsova, Pilot Pen Tennis Women's Champ
James Blake, Pilot Pen Tennis Men's Champ
Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer
2007 US Open Series Lever 2000 Challenge Winners
Complete Final Standings
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Okay, people. Here you go. Spin this any which way you want, but something is amiss in The Jungle. Thanks to Kathleen McElroy, we get a glimpse of just how "out in the open" the draw is conducted.
August 22, 2007, 3:45 pm
Live From the 71st Floor, It’s Tennis!
By Kathleen McElroy
Of course, there were no jokes about the high drama of the United States Open draw even though the United States Tennis Association held it in a small conference room of the 71st floor of the Empire State Building. A view of the Statue of Liberty was framed by oversized photographs of Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe.
But today’s draw, which started at about 11 a.m. and was over about an hour later, was a relatively tame, polite affair because only 30 seeded players — not the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds and the other 96 — are drawn out of an Open trophy. Placed near the door were two already printed draw sheets for the men and the women, with those selections having been made the night before with representatives of the International Tennis Association and the men’s and women’s tours.
Before the draw began, Davis Cup captain and tennis commentator Patrick McEnroe, looking quite spiffy in a pinstriped suit, was already speculating about a potential matchup between 6-foot-9-inch John Isner and 6-foot-10 Ivo Karlovic. Now that would be taking tennis to new heights.
Alas, we later learned that Karlovic will face the significantly shorter Arnaud Clement in the first round, but he is in top-seeded Roger Federer’s quarter of the draw. Before the ceremony, Federer’s drawsheet read like this:
1. Federer, Roger (1)
7. WC: Isner, John
When Novak Djokovic was drawn to No. 2 Rafael Nadal’s side, Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated said under his breath, “Federer just went back to sleep.” The No. 8 spot was filled with Jarkko Nieminen, the 26th-seeded Finn.
Deitsch was also sitting next to The Times’ Liz Robbins, and the two traded comments and quips about the men’s draw as it continued. The question is, of course, who ends up on whose side? The draw works like this: No. 3 and No. 4 are chosen for one side or the other. Then 5-8 are decided, next 9-12, followed by 13-16. The last seeded players to be positioned are 17-24, ending with 25-32. So instead of facing Nieminen in the third round, Federer could have faced Marat Safin, seeded 25th, a former Open champion.
Everyone was buzzing after Andy Roddick was put in Federer’s quarter. If they both get that far, it’s a safe bet that USA Network will ensure that match will never see the light of day (wink).
So. Unless I'm missing something, Raja didn't draw five qualifiers "randomly." The ITF and the ATP put together the drawsheet the night before the 30 seeds were drawn before the audience. One would think that if the ITF and ATP were interested in a balanced draw, those five qualifiers after Raja's name would've been redistributed. But they weren't.
So. If anyone wants to claim that a draw can't possibly be fixed or rigged or whatever word you want to use, then tell it to someone who can't see, can't hear, and can't read.
James Blake overcame a second set lapse and two squandered match points in the third to overcome Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2) and advance to his second Pilot Pen final in New Haven. He'll face his good friend and sometimes doubles partner Mardy Fish, who outreturned Ivo Karlovic 7-6(3), 6-4 to make his first final of 2007.
Fish, both knees tigthly wrapped for tendonitis, received treatment on his right arm a few times in the semfinal. Karlovic was often doubled over with back pain. It looked more like an infirmary on court than a tennis match, but Fish gutted it out to reach the final.
In the night match, J-Block was in subdued form. It was likely the first match all week where the drunk and raucous fans costumed in matching powder-blue T-shirts didn't taunt Blake's opponent. I'm all for enthusiastic fans, but it seems they become a hindrance to fair play and something ought to be done to quell their antics. I've always considered them Blake's hitmen. They do what Blake, gentleman that he presents as, won't bring himself to do. It will interesting to see how they behave in the final later this evening since Mardy is such a close friend of James.
In the women's final, Svetlana Kuznetsova, who advanced when Elena Dementieva retired in the third set with nausea, will face teen qualifier Agnes Szavay (pictured) of Hungary who outlasted Eleni Daniilidou to reach her second WTA final. She won Palermo last month. Sveta will be looking for her first title of 2007, having lost four previous finals this season.