I arrived in the Netherlands just in time to see Fabrice Santoro do it again. For the second time in as many weeks, The Magician upended a Top 5 player. This time his victim was Novak Djokovic who didn't stand a chance as the Frenchman Santoroed him 6-3, 6-2.
Before a screaming home crowd, the Frenchman came armed on All Hallow's Eve with a full bag of tricks. Even with a heavy wrapping on his left leg from thigh to shin (a costume, perhaps?), the fabulous Fabrice sliced and diced and diced and sliced, bamboozling the Djoke who didn't know what hit him. One of the commentators called for Djoke to receive a warning similar to the one Nikolay Davydenko received in St. Petersburg for lack of effort, but no such intervention came.
We've seen Fabrice do this to many a higher-ranked opponent. Marat Safin can't stand playing the Frenchman. Andy Roddick had about enough of his tricks after the first set of his first-round match in Lyon last week. But the American managed to win the second before dropping serve early in the third and cussing his way out of the match.
Djoke had no such luck and performed no such theatrics. He simply looked like a deer in headlights from first point to last. Many of his fans suggested this was a tank in order to save himself for Shanghai. Perhaps. Perhaps not. From where I sit, he simply had no idea how to counter Fabrice's game, no will to fight it.
On the bright side, he can cash his $500K bonus check for playing both Madrid and Paris and can rest himself up for Shanghai.
For a spot in the quarterfinals, Santoro will face junkball broker Andy Murray who's trying to salvage an injury-plagued year by qualifying for Shanghai.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
I'm hopping a plane to Holland later today to visit the in-laws for a week. Not sure how much tennis I'll be following or if and when I'll get a chance to blog, but I'm sure I'll find a moment.
Enjoy the rest of the Paris Masters and the beginning of the WTA championships in Madrid.
Posted by Craig Hickman at 2:10 PM
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Just when we thought the sisters would make their marks at the Season Ending Championships in Madrid, Wimbledon champion Venus Williams has announced her withdrawal due to fatigue.
Her announcement means that Maria Sharapova won't need any favors from the WTA to qualify outright for the championships. Daniela Hantuchova tied Maria's race total with her victory in Linz today and theoretically ousted Maria by playing more tour events this season. Still, the WTA could've chosen Maria over Dani based upon the rule that states "at their sole discretion and taking into account extraordinary circumstances, the WTA Tour may select the 8th player for participation in the singles draw."
But no such shenanigans were necessary. Venus underwent tests after both the US Open and her Asian campaign and her doctors have advised her to rest.
"This year has been a great one for many reasons," said Venus. "I am pleased that I finished the year in the top eight and in recent weeks I have remained optimistic about participating in the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships. Nevertheless, the accumulation of matches has taken its toll and I have received several medical opinions to delay my return to competitive tennis. As a result, I will miss the Sony Ericsson Championships. I look forward to playing in the New Year for what will hopefully be an even better 2008."
I've never understood Venus' playing schedule. Perhaps some of her fans could shed some light. I know she loves playing in Asia, but had she played one Tier 1 event and advanced to the quarterfinals she'd have earned as many race points as she did by winning Seoul. That would've meant less effort and more rest. As my mother would say, that would've also been too much like right.
And we spectators can only assume that Venus' desire to play in Bangkok the week after injuring her right hip in the Tokyo final had everything to do with her wanting to qualify for Madrid. In Bangkok her right calf was taped from ankle to knee.
Again, it seems, the calendar is to blame. Players on the qualification bubble wear themselves out at the end of the year to qualify for the Big Event and often can't play or compete well if and when they get there because they're entirely fried.
Here's hoping rest is all Venus needs in order to get healthy and prepare for 2008.
No-shows hurting WTA
Sebastien Grosjean defeated compatriot Marc Gicquel 7-6(5), 6-4 in front of screaming French fans at the Grand Prix de Tennis de Lyon. After Fabrico Santoro, whom he defeated in the second round, Grosjean is the elder statesman of men's tennis in France, even though he lives in Florida.
It's been a long time between drinks for Sebastien, who won the last of his four career titles five years ago in St. Petersburg. Ranked No. 81, Grosjean is the lowest rank titlist in Lyon's history. Last year, he lost to Gicquel in the quarterfinals, while Gicquel advanced to the finals to lose to Richard Gasquet.
"I'm very happy with my level of play today," said Grosjean. "This season wasn't a very good one for me and it's great to finally win a title and enjoy myself on court again. I also want to thank my coach Bernard Fritz. He was there for me when it didn't go well this summer and it's great to win this title with him in my box. We've known each others for a long time and he's almost like a second father for me."
"Emotionally this win is more important than St. Petersburg and also than Nottingham. Of course my biggest title is still Bercy where I qualified for the Masters by winning the title in 2001. It's great to win in France, as several French players did here in Lyon before."
Grosjean becomes the sixth Frenchman to win in Lyon alongside Yannick Noah (1987), Fabrice Santoro (1997), Arnaud Clement (2000), Paul-Henri Mathieu (2002) and Gasquet (2006).
Grosjean went out after the singles final with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who he dispatched in the semfinals, and won the doubles title as well. Not a bad week for the veteran.
Roger Federer defeated Jarkko Nieminen 6-4, 6-3 in the Davidoff Swiss Indoors in his hometown of Basel. By defending the title, Federer clenched the year-end No. 1 ranking for the fourth consecutive year.
Fans are speculating that he will now withdraw from the BNP Paribas Masters which began play today. I'm going to go against the trend and say he'll still play in Paris in order to add some ranking points, since he'll be defending a slew of points in Shanghai and Melbourne. With the gap between he and Nadal closing little by little, he'll want to extend his lead in the rankings to have a cushion should he falter in Shanghai or Melbourne.
Another fan speculated that if he withdraws from Paris, he'll be a coward. Facing arguably his toughest draw on paper of any big event this year, he'll play the winner of St. Petersburg finalist Fernando Verdasco (pictured below) and Ivo Karlovic in his first match, and possibly Madrid champion David Nalbandian in the round of 16. His quarterfinal would likely be against No. 12 seed Tomas Berdych, with No. 3 seed Novak Djokovic or No. 15 seed Andy Murray, who just won the St. Petersburg Open (below), awaiting in the semifinal.
Daniela Hantuchova defeated Patty Schnyder 6-4, 6-2 to take the Generali Ladies Linz title, her first title outside of Indian Wells and only her third career title.
The victory ties her with Maria Sharapova for second place in the Race to the Championships. If Pova withdraws, she'll get directly in. If not, it's up to the discretion of the tournmanet organizers who will play. I'll go out on a limb and say they'll pick Pova if she's ready to face the music in Madrid.
Either way, it's a great end to the season for Dani and she'll be hoping to take this ride into next year.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Today at the Grand Prix de Tennis de Lyon, Olivier Rochus of Belgium defeated American Mardy Fish in three grueling tiebreak sets, 6-7(5), 7-6(6), 7-6(15). I followed the battle royale on the scoreboard. It wasn't even featured in the Internet live feed on channelsurfing.
The combatants had only played once and that was way back in 2002 at the now defunct Long Island tournament. Fish won that encounter 6-4, 1-6, 6-3. Today would go three sets, but it was a whole nother ball game.
Fish held a matchpoint on the Belgian's serve in the second set, But Rochus saved it with one of the two aces he fired in the match. Fish fired 43, which must be a record for aces in a best-of-three match. If not, it ought to be. Five of those aces came in the third set, 32-point tiebreak down match point. All in all, Fish fought off 8 matchpoints before the diminutive one closed out the match on Fish's serve to advance to the quarterfinals in just over three hours.
Who knows how much Rochus will have left for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who dispatched of defending champ and No. 4 seed Richard Gasquet in straights.
This was a match I did see. And while the live stream buffered itself into oblivion, Muhammed Ali with a tennis racquet played as though he wanted to prove to France that he is the best Frenchman on the tour. Richie Red Shoes, trying to construct points from 15 feet behind the baseline, was outclassed from everywhere on the court.
Ali threatens to make himself the frontrunner for Outstanding Newcomer with a title run in Lyon. With the way he played today, and with Andy Roddick out, this is certainly not out of the question.
But I must ask: in this late season indoor swing that almost feels as though it's not happening, why couldn't I see the battle royale?
As you know, there are three ATP indoor events and one WTA event in Europe this week. If you'd like to watch live feed of the ATP events go to http://channelsurfing.net/ and scroll down the page. TLM is airing Grand Prix de Tennis de Lyon, Eurosport is airing Davidoff Swiss Indooors, and an unknown channel is showing the St. Petersburg Open. Sometimes only a marquee matchup is shown so depending upon what time you tune in, there may not be any tennis.
There's no link for coverage in Linz, but there is the ITF event in Bratislava is being shown on Infonet.
Monday, October 22, 2007
I used to say pretty much whatever I wanted when I wanted on tennis boards. What did it matter? I was hiding behind a screen name so no wild-eyed fan of a particular player was going to show up at my door and try to bash my head in with a Babolat racquet or send hate mail. I was anonymous.
When I started blogging my attitude changed somewhat. Not that I use my real name but I look at what I do here as a form of journalism. I report to no one but myself but I do feel that a reader coming to these posts should find an objective discussion on the sport of tennis. I have opinions and I state them but I try not to call players low life bottom feeding point whores and try to put their decisions about where and when they play in perspective so that when I discuss how they play no one can say she's ripping Player A a new one because she hates his/her guts. I have one player that I reach fangirl levels on and I'm upfront with that. It's why I tend to do reviews of WTA events and rankings since my objectivity about the men can fly right out of the window.
So it was with interest and then surprise that I read about an Open Letter to Marat Safin written by James Martin, editor in chief of Tennis magazine. As most tennis heads know Chris Evert wrote an Open Letter to Serena Williams asking her to cut the crap and play tennis. I remember thinking that Chris, as a former player, a former champion, had every right to address what she sees as Serena's shortcomings. Whether she should have done it so publicly is another matter. Billie Jean King talks to both Venus and Serena all the time but I haven't seen any Billie Jean King Open letters gracing tennis magazines.
The issues I have with Mr. Martin's letter are that one, he is the editor of a widely read tennis magazine and two, he got personal. When you drag someone's mother into your argument comparing her to the old Soviet political regime I think you've stepped over the line.
The letter has not had the publicity that Chris's Open Letter got and you have to wonder why when Mr. Martin states the following:
What's with the ’tude, dude? You’re like a teenager who’s way too self-absorbed for his own good. When you were recently asked about the gambling investigation in men’s tennis, which strikes at the very core of the sport’s integrity and deserves an informed response from all of the top players, your response was weaker than an Elena Dementieva second serve. “To be honest,” you said, “I don’t really care. Whatever people do and whatever they want to do, I don’t care. If the world collapses, I don’t really care. I have enough problems myself. I can’t worry about other people’s problems.”
...it shows a lack of respect for the sport that made you a millionaire in the first place. Even John McEnroe, Mr. Ego himself, cares (or at least pretends to care) about tennis.
Look, Marat, I know you’re hard on yourself—self-criticism is in your blood, ingrained over many formative childhood years by your mother and the severe Soviet system. Positive reinforcement? It didn’t exist in your universe. You’ve even said, “I didn’t care to play tennis, didn’t really like it.”
...We’re talking only slightly better than Marcelo Rios here.
Don’t laugh. He won 18 career titles; you’re at 15. Granted, you’ve got 2 majors, while Rios never won a Slam. But you both share that absurd, petulant attitude, which undermines everything you do on court.
Hey, man, it’s your career. But you’re 27, and if you can get healthy you might want to dig in for a year or two before your body, or mind, or both, totally conk out. No regrets, right? Otherwise, spare your fans the heartache and join Yevgeny at the poker table.
The webmaster of Marat's site posted the following:
Recently an article was published on the Internet by the editor of tennis.com under his "Viewpoint" which was trying to put a smear on Marat's situation plus making recommendations re things he should do for the future. This "article" was written by someone who pretends to be a fan of Marat Safin.
Neither Marat nor his website has ever in the past made a point of commenting on things that appear in the media because throughout his career Marat has always maintained a great relationship with all channels of the media - be it written, TV or radio - always been available when asked for interviews etc, respected their work and treated them with dignity.
Now for the first time an article is written on a "respected" website and this article was full of hate - really patronizing and vicious in its comments and aimed at hurting Marat, his reputation, his past contribution and achievements in the field of tennis.
Marat himself was very insulted by this article that was brought to his attention for the very reasons stated above.
The hullabaloo over Chris's Open Letter still hasn't died down. I wonder if this letter will cause the same stir. Marat is second only to Guga in fan popularity and I think once this gets around his fans will raise the same sort of fuss Serena's fans did. Marat had knee surgery he just seems to be getting over mentally (those of you who have had knee surgery know what I'm talking about), and he has a wrist injury.
Chris Evert's Open Letter was an Op-Ed piece. This Open Letter is more of an editorial. Should tennis players be called on their shit? Absolutely. I'm waiting to see Open Letters to Maria Sharapova for her gamesmanship and Justine Henin for Carlos Rodriguez antics during her matches. I don't think those are forthcoming though.
There is a good editorial in this article. Everyone can't pull off sarcasm and/or humor. Every culture has its definiton of what those two words represent. I just hope that this Open Letter, like Chris's, gets wide circulation and discussion.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
He came into the event with a 19-17 record. He leaves it as a champion. A champion who made an historic run as the first unseeded player ever to defeat the top three players in the world to win a title, only the third man in history to climb such a mountain. And to make it more amazing, it is his first regular-season TMS shield and only his sixth career title.
David Nalbandian's new coach and training regimen paid dividends at the Madrid Masters this week. His play in the final two sets of his 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over defending champion Roger Federer was nothing short of stellar.
Before the final, Federer didn't drop serve. In the final two sets, Nalbandian broke him three times, including in match game, which is almost unheard of in Raja's reign.
Of course, I'm biased. For the first time in a long time, a player I wanted to win a title won a title. Alex has accused me of being anti-Federer. While I wouldn't put it quite that way and I certainly wouldn't consider it virulent (Federer hasn't done anything to harm me personally, after all), it's a fair accusation. I don't like Federer. But I dislike his domination even more. Which means I often root against him. I've never been anything but up front about that.
But today was different. I rooted for Nalbandian because I've always liked his game, always considered him one of the best ball strikers on the tour, always like the way he competed. But his mental flameouts on big stages made me bang my head against a wall. So much talent. So little belief.
Federer played well. This isn't the first final he's lost where he started out strong, only to be outperformed in the final two sets. The Dubai final of 2006 immediately springs to mind. And that loss was also to a player in Rafael Nadal who knows how to defeat Federer and has no fear of him.
Nalbandian withstood a great first set from the world No. 1 as well as some great shots throughout sets two and three. But when Nalbandian refused to go away, allow The Name to run away with it, unforced errors crept into Raja's game as he pressed to end points too soon.
For David's part, his backhand, as well as his improved serve, were the keys to his victory. But let's talk about his backhand for a moment.
You can't read it.
David has a big shoulder turn, so he can hit it crosscourt or down the line with the same wind up. Most two handers who can hit in both directions give away the down the line shot because of how they step into the ball. They have to open their left shoulder earlier in order to hit it late. Sometimes you can also see it coming from their stance.
But David hits a closed-stance backhand and rotates his entire trunk, not just his shoulders, to hit the shot. It's a thing of beauty. And he used his down-the-line backhand flawlessly in the final set to disallow Raja from controlling play from the ad side of the court as he prefers.
"I'm extremely contented to beat the world No. 1. Roger and I have a long history and I think that influenced the match," said Nalbandian.
"Things came out fine. Today I played incredible."
"It's a great way to finish the season and to go into the next one. To beat such great players as I did this week makes it important."
Who knows where Nalbandian will go from here. But the way he overcame the first set -- a set in which it seemed everything (shotspot, let cords) was going Raja's way -- dug in, upped his game, and shored up his devastating backhand to dominate the last two sets is a hopeful sign for men's tennis. I'm over the Federer-Nadal rivalry, over the Djokovic hype. If Nalbandian can remain injury free, there's no reason why he can't be a force in 2008 and get back in the top 10, perhaps putting an end to the cacophony of premature declarations about where tennis is headed and who will take it there.
Lisa Raymond on Women’s Tennis in the United States
Lisa has written a thought provoking article about why the United States isn’t producing female players able to compete at the highest levels in her sport. I think that between us, Craig and I have talked about every issue she raises. It’s just nice to see your opinion validated by someone on the “inside”. The article is excerpted below.
Trouble on the home front
Where are all the young American women prospects?
So what's going on? Why is it that the biggest, most powerful, most affluent country of them all can't seem to produce the champions that these other smaller, much poorer countries can? Russia, Serbia and the Czech Republic are just a few of the countries producing young players at a rapid rate.
Sure, we could sit back and point fingers at the decision-makers at the USTA and the hierarchy of tennis in America. We could toss around questions such as, are they hiring the right people? The right coaches? Is it a sound structure? Is their system the blueprint for success or more along the lines of disaster? Maybe they can be held accountable to a degree. But where this issue begins is with the young player and the environment in which she is brought up.
Junior players in Russia or Serbia are willing to sacrifice everything in order to taste success, to get out and find a better life for themselves and their families. They don't know any differently. American juniors lose a match or have a bad practice and they can jump into their BMWs and head home to finish playing Halo 3 on their brand-new Xbox 360.
So what's the solution? Can hunger and desire be something that is taught? From my experience, the answer is no. Sure, everyone wants to be the next Justine Henin, but are you really willing to do the work, make the sacrifices and give up some of life's guilty pleasures in order to achieve such greatness?
When I posted about two very young up and coming American girls from the Florida area a few months back one of the mothers commented on the BMW approach to American tennis and how she had to fight to make sure her daughter understood that she belonged in that environment whether her parents drove a C class or a Honda.
I think Lisa lets the USTA off the hook here. She does talk in the article about the USTA programs in the inner cities and how much it costs to play the sport of tennis but what she doesn’t talk about are the unique problems faced by a player not to the manor born. Donald Young was pushed into playing on the pro level way before he was ready mentally because of financial reasons. He’s backtracked and seems to be doing just fine on the Challenger level building up ranking points and skill. It just makes me appreciate what Richard Williams and Oracene Price did with their daughters keeping them off the pro circuit despite whatever hardships they faced for as long as they could.
But the problem is not just racial; it is, as Lisa says, class more than anything else in the States. When Sam Querrey can state on the record that he loves driving his mother’s Porsche more than anything I think he makes Lisa’s argument for her. He is talented. He could be a hope for American tennis. But hey, lose, and I drive Mom’s Porsche and have fun. No big deal.
But the “manor” attitude is not limited to the players. It’s part of the mindset of the USTA. And that is where the problem really is. When you read about how the decision was made to make the United States a hard court nation simply to stop the progress of players from South America you have to wonder what other decisions are made based on class/ethnic/racial bias. These are not easy issues to discuss but they need to be raised in a public forum like Sports Illustrated.
Some tennis heads talked about this situation at least three years ago but no one wanted to hear it and called us “racists” for raising it. With Lisa Raymond talking about a five to ten year drought before another American woman will be able to make a big splash the pressure will be on juniors like Asia Muhammad and Madison Brengle both of whom seem 3-4 years away.
Lisa Raymond on Tennis
Ion Tiriac and the Fifth Slam
Why a Fifth Slam?
(We’ll forget for now that the term “Grand Slam” refers to a home run hit when the bases are full in baseball and gives the home run hitter's team four runs.)
To argue why Madrid could host a Grand Slam, the Romanian, 68, lists three points.
The first is that tennis should allow free competition.
"What I am still not satisfied about is the fact that they do not let tournaments compete. I want to compete. Tomorrow I go and ask how much are prizes at Roland Garros. Fifteen million? I go and put down 15 million, but I want to be at the points level of Roland Garros, not at the level of a '1,000.' Let me compete! But the Grand Slams will not let me compete. And neither will the ATP."
The second point of this former tennis player, former coach, former manager, former Romanian Olympic Committee chairman, businessman and banker is that Grand Slam tournaments have reached their limits.
"Unfortunately I don't think that (French President Nicolas) Sarkozy is going to let them build in the Bois de Boulogne to expand, because they already took a lot from the woods. And also they no longer have the (Olympic) Games, that the English took," Tiriac describes the challenges for Roland Garros.
London too faces obstacles.
"You cannot allow that, when you have 200 countries watching on television, the explanation is 'this is London when it rains.' Sport is no longer what is was, it is different from 20 years ago."
And Madrid is the city that according to Tiriac, incarnates more than any other this "new sport," the city that can go beyond the limits of Paris and London. The Magic Box, the fantastic tennis complex that French architect Dominique Perrault designed in the Spanish capital, is his third point.
"Madrid has a very great future, and it is going to have facilities like no other tournament. There is no other which can close three courts in five minutes and keep playing despite the rain," Tiriac stresses.
He notes he has ruled out the Asian option that he contemplated a couple of years ago.
A Fifth Slam?
Wimbledon is the Crown Jewel of tennis isn’t it? How dare Tiriac suggest that any other city, especially Madrid, supplant it? Please note that my tongue is very much in my cheek right now. After the fiasco that was Wimbledon 2007 I’m glad someone has decided to challenge the Grand Poobah’s in London. Not much may come of it but Tiriac has tons of money. Let’s see what happens.
Donald Young will face Robert Kendrick in the Final at Calabasas in the United States Sunday.
Guillermo Coria is rumored to be taking a wild card into Belo Horizonte in Brazil. Gasto Gaudio withdrew.
Not enough players to have a qualifying round in the Rimouski, Canada Challenger. John Isner will be the top seed.
Madrid Masters Television
Good coverage all week except for doubles. It can be expensive to purchase the season pass but it is possible to buy day passes. A day pass might be what a fan would want once you hit the quarters semi's and final for any TMS event. The best on line subscription is still provided by Wimbledon though.
A lot of sports fans will be watching the Formula 1 event in Brazil today where Louis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso's year long soap opera will play it's final act. No lesser racing legend than Jackie Steward commented on it this week. Rafa has commented on it. It's a shame these two greats couldn't find some middle ground. Alonso is said to be going back to Renault next year while Hamilton stays with McLaren.
Pictures of the Week
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Before yesterday, all we could do was imagine what the matchup would look like. How would one of the tour's best tacticians, armed with clean ball striking, fare against the tour's toughest warrior with the strongest will?
It was no contest. David Nalbandian beat Rafael Nadal 6-1, 6-2 in just over an hour to a crowd so stunned, it hissed at the Argentine during the match for playing so well. Nalbandian struck me as a man who had the game to cause Rafa all sorts of trouble, but the scoreline was a surprise, as was David's mental fortitude through the completion of the match.
"I took advantage of all of Rafa's bad shots," David said. "I think Rafa never felt comfortable out there."
Rafa, back in action after a layoff to allow his knees to heal was seen limping after his tough match against Andy Murray the night before. But the Spaniard didn't blame his knees for his poor play.
"I don't want to come up with an excuse," Rafa said. "When you lose, you lose. I think the result reflects enough. It wasn't my day. I never felt good at any point."
That's a wrap.
In the semifinals, Nalbandian will play Novak Djokovic who dismissed Mario Ancic 7-6(3), 6-4. David will try to avenge the straight-set drubbing he received at the hands of the Serb in Montreal this summer.
In a more competitive encounter, Nicolas Kiefer positioned himself for the ATP Comeback Player of the Year award with a 7-6(5), 6-2 victory of a tiring Fernando Gonzalez.
Kiwi, as some of his fans call him, came back this year after a long absence due to a career-threatening left wrist injury. One of the bad boys of tennis, the break from action and his work with sick children mellowed the German, turning him into a player I can actually see myself rooting for.
I'll certainly be rooting for him in the semifinals against Roger Federer who beat a deflated Feliciano Lopez 7-6(4), 6-4 in a match that never seemed as close as the score suggests. After a marathon eighth game in the first set that went to deuce more times than I remember with Lopez finally holding serve, the Spaniard threw the tiebreak away with more forehands over the baselines than I remember. Raja was never pressured on his serve throughout the match and moved a step closer to defending his title in Madrid.
Kiwi usually plays Raja tough. In the third round of Wimbledon 2005, he served for a fifth set against defending champion, only to lose his way and lose in four tough sets. If he doesn't expect much from himself and plays with nothing to lose, he'll hope to win at least another set off the man he hasn't defeated since 2002.
Friday, October 19, 2007
For the fifth consecutive year, Andy Roddick has qualified for the Tennis Masters Cup to be held in Shanghai. His position in the elite eight was certainly solidified by the draw drain in Madrid earlier this week. Andy withdrew from Madrid before the draw ceremony citing a knee injury.
Roddick started the year strong with a run to the Australian Open semifinals, then fell off a bit before rebounding just before Wimbledon where he won Queen's for the fourth time. He took some tough defeats in his summer hardcourt campaign, but managed to win Washington for the third time to bring his career title count to 23. Two other Slam quarterfinals and runs to at least the quarters of every other event he played outside of clay this year are the kind of consistent results that have characterized his entire career and will guarantee him a Top 10 year-end finish for the sixth straight year.
Andy has advanced to two Masters Cup semifinals in three appearances, losing to Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt in the first two. In 2005, Roddick gave up his spot to David Nalbandian due to injury and Nalbandian went on to win the title. Last year, Andy held two match points over Federer in round robin play, threatening to end Raja's perfect record in round robin competition, but choked them away and, ironically, flamed out in the very next match to the very man he helped take the Cup the year before.
Andy will now have his head sculpted and placed atop one of the remaining five Terracotta Warriors by artist Laury Dizengremel. Nikolay Davydenko's likeness is already drying.
(Click to Enlarge)
Thursday, October 18, 2007
No, he hasn't won the tournament. But in his effort against Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal delivered a regal performance in his 7-5, 6-4 victory. In the best (televised) match since the US Open, Rafa and Andy the Younger covered more real estate than a broker and came up with shot after shot of scintillating madness.
After a career-threatening wrist injury, Murray seems to be back to his retrieving best and pushed Nadal to the limit. When the Scot fought his way to a 4-2 lead in the second set, the match seemed sure to go the distance. But Rafa would have none of it. He battled back to regain the break and reeled off the last four games of the set to seal the match on his second match point.
Afterwards, Feliciano Lopez advanced to his second quarterfinal in Madrid when he withstood the angled attack of Stefan Koubek 7-6(9), 6-4. It's not often we get to see two lefties craft their way through match at the same time, but the artistry on display today was topnotch. Koubek is a throwback player. No, he doesn't serve and volley, but he can run down just about every shot and send it back at such an acute angle you have to blink to make sure you saw it correctly.
Rafa's win means that we will finally get to see him play David Nalbandian, who toughed out a tight win over compatriot Juan Martin del Potro. Lopez will face Roger Federer, who was in full Ninja mode when he cut up Guillermo Cañas, exacting a bit of revenge on the Argentinean for sending him packing in two back-to-back Masters events this past spring.
Mario Ancic and Nicolas Kiefer, both recently back from illness and injury, dispatched of Paul Henri Mathieu and Ivo Karlovic, respectively. The Croat, who suffered from mono, will play Novak Djokovic, who tanked yet another set against Juan Carlos Ferrero. I can't keep from finding Djoke's tactics bush league. Kiefer, who seems to have fully recovered from a wrist injury (and mellowed in the process) will face a resurgent Fernando González , who fought off an inspired Juan Monaco in two tight sets.
The event has awakened. What a difference a day makes.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
After a long day of tennis, thanks in large part to the Novak Djokovic - Fernando Verdasco match, which didn't seem like it would ever end, no less than eight seeds were upset in Madrid today. James Blake, David Ferrer, Tommy Robredo, Tomas Berdych, Richard Gasquet, Ivan Ljubicic, Carlos Moya, and Mikhail Youzhny were all unceremoniously dumped by lower ranked opponents in today's action.
All the losers are chasing Shanghai and their hopes took a big hit. No. 5 seed Fernando González, currently No. 7 in the race, fought off an inspired Nicolás Almagro 7-6(11), 6-4 to advance to the third round and bolster his chances of makiing the Masters Cup.
The energy at this event is about as lugubrious as a funeral dirge. Call it late-season fatigue, but most of the matches featured disinterested, lethargic and listless play from both sides of the net. This is the price the players and the fans pay for such a long season.
No. 13 seed Guillermo Cañas also survived the day of upsets. The Argentine overcame compatriot and qualifier Agustin Calleri 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 to book a date with Roger Federer in the next round. Something tells me Raja gets revenge for one of the two losses he took at Willy's hands earlier this spring. No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal and No. 3 seed Djokovic also advanced.
Performance of the day goes to wildcard Juan Martin del Potro who took out homeboy Robredo in three sets. I'm not a big fan of all del Potro's retirements when losing, but today he gutted out a great win with attacking play, soft hands, and a great midcourt between-the-legs lob winner on the deadrun that stunned the crowd. One of the commentators called it the shot of the year.
In Zürich, the upset theme continued. Nicole Vaidisova ousted No. 3 seed Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 6-3; No. 8 seed Amélie Mauresmo fell to Alona Bondarenko 2-6, 6-4, 6-1; and Tatiana Golovin continued her great indoor play, seeing of No. 4 seed Ana Ivanovic 6-3, 6-1.
I definitely considered myself a favorite to reach the semifinals, the final and even to win," Ivanovic said after the match. "I was looking ahead instead of focusing on each game, each point. It was a tough lesson for me today."
You'd think by now Ana would've learned that lesson. Having already won a couple of Tier 1 titles, she's not exactly a tour ingenue. Had another player said such things, I've little doubt cries of ungracious and classless would reverberate across the globe. One of my Internet buddies actually thought Ana's statement signified future greatness. I find her remarks neither ungracious (though, surely Tati's play had something to do with the result, no?) nor prophetic. I find them insipid. But I digress.
No. 9 seed Marion Bartoli survived the upsets with a 6-4, 6-1 win over wildcard Michaella Krajicek and will face Golovin in the quarterfinals. Unfortunately, TTC won't air the Zurich Open till the semifinals. I'd pay to seed Maid Marion and Tati go at it, especially after their catty remarks about each other regarding Fed Cup participation post-Wimbledon. For those of you who can watch, pop the popcorn and publish the tell-all.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
A week after losing to Tommy Haas in straight sets in Stockholm, Juan Monaco exacted revenge and ousted the No. 11 seed 6-4, 7-5 at the Mutua Madrileña Masters Madrid. Haas had break advantages in both sets before the Argentine fought back to secure the victory. He'll play the winner of Nicolás Almagro and Fernando González , on the schedule for tomorrow.
Top seed Roger Federer showed little rust in his defeat of American Robby Ginepri 7-6(2), 6-4. It was the world No. 1's first tour match since winning the US Open. He played in the Davis Cup World Group qualifying tie against the Czech Republic last month.
Kremlin Cup champion Nikolay Davydenko pulled out of the event today before his first scheduled match tomorrow with an elbow injury. His title in Moscow secured his place at the Masters Cup in Shanghai, so he will likely rest up for his title defense at Bercy in a few weeks. He was replaced in the draw by lucky loser Oscar Hernandez of Spain.
No, this hasn't beocme a Serena Williams fansite. But when Serena plays three events three weeks in a row after an injury plagued summer, and qualifies for the Season Ending Championships in Madrid on the strength of her European indoor performances, not to mention her Australian Open and Miami crowns, as well as her run to the quarterfinals of the other Slams, well, she's bound to get a lot of ink on any tennis site this time of year.
I promise that coverage of the Madrid Masters on the ATP, which I'm happy to be watching on TTC from my home television, is forthcoming - forgive me for not being able to do a preview while I was in Pittsburgh at a conference - as is my take on the terracotta warriors sculptures of those men who qualify for The Masters Cup in Shanghai, the top three of which were on already on display this week in Madrid already.
But back to my girl. Here's what she had to say upon receiving the news that she'd qualified:
"I'm delighted and surprised to have made it to the Sony Ericsson Championships. When I started the year, I honestly never thought I would be in the position I am in now with a Grand Slam title under my belt and getting closer to playing some great tennis. I thought I missed my chance by not playing this summer but I have been really excited to be playing in Europe the last few weeks and I made it sooner than I thought. I am dying to visit Madrid, a city I have never been to before, and making the Sony Ericsson Championships is a double bonus for me. It's going to be great!"
Not too shabby for a player playing with almost no confidence right now. (And here comes my Tuesday Tirade, after all...)
In her final against Elena Dementieva, Serena was as bad as ElenaD was good. Seems to me those three straight losses in the quarterfinals of Slams to her nemesis/archrival have more than knocked the wind out of Serena. And as fans of this sport, I can't see how anyone would overlook the impact of those losses, whether you love, hate, or are ambivalent about Serena.
And surrounding and in the midst of those losses, she has been dealing with some very unlucky injuries. Injuries that killed the momentum gathering in her year after Melbourne and Miami. We know how important momentum is in a sport such as tennis. Any sport, really.
A context that hasn't even been mentioned.
And yet, within this context, Serena advanced to her first final since Miami, at a Tier 1 event which she hadn't played since her tour debut 10 years ago, no less, defeating some solid players to get there, and she's being raked over the coals by fans and commentators alike (Corina Morariu needs not ever commentate a Serena match again - she was nothing short of nasty) for being heavy and unfit and for not being able to win the title over a player many seem to admire a whole lot more? After which she even had the gall to say that ElenaD played a fantastic match?
Serena is doing exactly what her staunchest critics have almost demanded: she's taking tennis seriously, playing week in and week out, even with heavy strapping on her right thigh, and she'll be back at the championships for her first appearance since 2004 when an abdominal strain kept her from hoisting her second YEC trophy.
It will be interesting to see what, if anything, the her naysayers have to say about this come Madrid if Serena remains healthy enough to compete well there.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
by Mad Professah
Elena Dementieva defeated Serena Williams for the first time in 4 career meetings by coming back to win 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 and claim her first Moscow Kremlin Cup title before her hometown crowd despite losing in the final two times before. Dementieva, who turns 26 years old on Monday, won her eighth career title and returned to the World Top 10 after an absence of over 6 months.
It was a disappointing loss for Serena who in the semifinal round had obtained revenge for last week's loss in Stuttgart against world No. 2 Svetlana Kuznetsova by defeating the Russian 7-6(2), 6-1.
Dementieva, who has long struggled with her serve but throughout her career has possessed some of the most muscular strokes on both wings, simply played better than the 8-time Grand Slam champion who gave her opponent (some) credit for the win:
"She just played really unbelievable, she should play like that more often.Dementieva, on the other hand, said:
"I'm not going to make excuses for myself. I played terrible. I had a feeling that almost every shot I hit, it was out."
"It was very special playing in front of this crowd.
"They were behind me the whole week and especially today in the final. Serena is such a great champion and I felt like this was really my chance to play well against her, in front of my home crowd, too. It was very, very important for me to do that today."
Serena, girl, are those comments really necessary? I mean, I know for all intents and purposes you had just gotten bageled (She broke Dementieva in the first game of the third set and then lost 6 consecutive games to lose the match) but, really "She should [try to] play like that more often"? That's just plain rude.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Yeah, I stole that title from the WTA site, but it was my first reaction to the scoreboard when I saw the result earlier today, so I stuck with it.
Nice to see Serena Williams, even with her right leg heavily taped, exact revenge on Svetlana Kuznetsova with her straight-set semifinal victory at the Kremlin Cup earlier today.
She broke her quarterfinal jinx, having lost 5 in a row, against Nicole Vaidisova yesterday, and I was all too pleased. If her tournament results from 2007 go to form, i.e. win the title or lose in the quarterfinal, then she'll beat Elena Dementieva for the umpteenth time in the final tomorrow.
Ivan Ljubicic and James Blake are no longer undefeated in Vienna and Stockholm, respectively. Ljube Job lost in the quarterfinals to Andreas Seppi (what the fugh?) and James lost his second match in a row to Thomas Johannson in the semifinals.
Andy Roddick has withrdrawn from Madrid Masters citing a knee injury. Uh huh. Me thinks he's putting all his eggs in the Davis Cup basket. Can't say as I blame him, so long as he has some match play going into that final. But he's wise enough to realize it will be all about him in singles unless his buddy James can surprise.
And Venus Williams lost to Flavia Pennetta in the semifinals in Bangkok. Can't say I'm that surprised. This is Venus' third tournament in a row, and Fava Flavia is enjoying a late-season resurgence in a game that has always been able to cause problems for top players so long as she could keep her head. Seems she's keeping her head and Venus is keeping up her double faults.
Back to the conference. (Karen, I'll tell you more about it later. Thanks for asking.)
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
As I prepare for a presentation at an adoption conference in Pittsburgh over the weekend, it's too much to follow and cover.
This is what I've gathered from headlines and scoreboards so far:
Venus Williams is playing Bangkok with a leg injury and a Nina Simone updo, which I must say is fabulous; Jelena Jankovic couldn't stand the heat so she got the fugh out the kitchen; Amélie Mauresmo's woes continue as she loses to Vera Zvonareva for the first time in 8 matches; Maria Sharapova is the only Russian woman to lose her singles match today (after holding not one, not two, not three, but six set points in the first set, mind you) 7-6(9), 6-2 to Viktoria Azarenka from Belarus; Serena Williams has yet to take the court at the venue where she made her professional debut; James Blake has yet to lose a match in Stockholm; Ivan Ljubicic has yet to lose a match in Vienna; Fernando Gonzalez and Juan Carlos Ferrero are looking to salvage what's left of their lackluster seasons with a title run in Austria; Max Mirnyi can't find his singles game with a microscope, which is surprising because his big game that just keeps coming usually works well indoors; Novak Djokovic can barely hold serve but he can beat the headcase we know as Robby Ginepri in straight sets; and Dmitry Tursunov and Marat Safin are practicing their doubles game in Moscow in preparation for the Davis Cup final in Portland, Oregon.
Did I miss anything?
Serena has adorable little dogs.
Monday, October 08, 2007
From Tuesday Tirade: Where's the (Asian) Tennis?
As an asian (Indian), I have to say I strongly disagree with injecting unqualified players into tournaments because of their race.
That being said, I have been very disappointed in the rise of Asian players in the ATP and WTA. I'll speak about India, because I don't know about other asian countries. When Sania started winning some matches circa 2005, the media was also gushing about the other upcoming stars: Rohan Boppana, Prakash (and Stephen) Amritraj and Shikha Uberoi. None of them has panned out or has even come close to making a significant run in the singles circuit. Sania is the lone player carrying the banner for India. I wish her the best, but her attitude of not caring about consistency is rather worrying.
Popular Indian support for tennis is also limited for some reason. Sania Mirza is on the face of many billboards and TV advertisements. But I feel her popularity has less to do with tennis than the fact that she is on international TV. There are many sports-knowledgeable fans in India, but most are concerned with cricket and, to a lesser extent, football (or soccer). What really shocked me recently was a report from a cousin of mine in Kolkata about the Sunfeast Open. Just so you know, Calcuttans are supposed to be rabid sports fans. There is no better way to start a conversation with a Bengali than to utter the word "Ronaldinho". Many of my relatives in Kolkata are big tennis fans. In any case, I thought that given the population in Kolkata and the general sports-knowledge level of people, the Sunfeast Open would be packed. According to my cousin, though, it was so empty that you could walk up to the first row! Hell, in Kolkata, even the grocery store is elbow-room only! Supposedly after Sania decided to bow out, the mostly Russian players who remained failed to attract the attention of many people.
I realize that tennis is an expensive sport and requires a lot of capital. But, there's a large number of people in India who can afford to set up sports centers to encourage tennis play and financially support aspiring players. With a billion people, surely we can churn out 3 good players :) Recently, there's been an initiative by the Indian tennis federation to create a grand slam winner by the year 2020. That looks a dream far from being realizable now...
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Mr. Etienne de Villiers has let us all in on the reasons behind his changing the ATP tour into the WWE. I keep expecting Vince McMahon to step out from behind the curtain.
We should all work just for one person and he's a 45-year-old living in Bedfordshire called John Smith.
He is our tennis fan and he is the only person we should be working for. Ultimately, that informs the decisions of all of us who work in entertainment.
"You have to decide which market you're in. If it's a tennis market you do certain things. If you're in the entertainment business you have to compete for discretionary time and income. We clearly are in the latter. Tennis over the past 15 years has not really done anything to change how it is presented or marketed to the general public."
Well since John in Bedfordshire, England is the typical tennis fan I guess the rest of us – Asian, African, South American and maybe even Southern European – had better get out of the way. I think a person of average intelligence has no problem following the tennis calendar as it exists now. With a little more work the average person can decipher rankings of players and tournaments, and with a little more work will know that the tour comes to a place near them at some point in time. The tournament can be what we now call Tier I, II, II or IV. It can be a Challenger. A future. The local playground courts. A Grand Slam. But tennis is played world wide.
I wonder how John from Bedfordshire reacted to his national tennis organization, which spent millions of pounds over the last year recruiting top coaches having to suspend some of what he’s been told are the best and brightest of the Lawn Tennis Association. With Tim Henman’s retirement and Andy Murray struggling with injuries I wonder who John from Bedfordshire is going to root for? An American maybe? Let’s see. After Andy Roddick and James Blake (by golly that guy has British blood in his veins, doesn’t he?) there’s…who exactly? John Isner? Still adapting to the rigors of the pro game. Mardy Fish? Uh-huh. Well maybe John likes the women’s game. Venus and Serena Williams? Not if the powers that be in the USA have their say. Wouldn’t John rather root for Maria Sharapova the stereotypical blond American bombshell…Oh, wait she’s Russian. She just likes the Yankee dollar (well maybe she’s asking to be paid in Euro’s now but that metaphor doesn’t work well does it?) I mean those pesky Williams sisters may have the best records of American women in recent memory but they’re well, you know, they pull out of tournaments at the last minute. They beat up poor Maria and her now-it-is-now-it-isn't bad shoulder. They’re just not what tennis is all about. Fan support? Well if Maria’s shoulder wasn’t bothering her (and there hadn’t been those incidents where she turned her back on an injured opponent or took advantage of a player everyone knows has a psyche as fragile as fine crystal, the potty breaks)…uh, enough of that. The fans really like Maria. So what if they boo her or if she only wins when she’s got a draw made in heaven by the random angels and ducks out twenty minutes before a semifinal match against an opponent who beat her to a pulp earlier in the year? She’s the Golden One, the future of tennis. John from Bedfordshire will rally around her for sure.
The French? We’re talking John from Bedfordshire here. Brits root for the French? Seen any pigs take flight lately? Spaniards? Italians? Argentines? Asians? Indians and Pakistani’s? Surely you jest. John from Bedfordshire wants hard court tennis. He doesn’t want to watch two guys, or gals, play long rallies requiring both physical and mental endurance. He wants slam, bang tennis. 150 mile per hour serves. Not too much thinking. Just react. That’s what John wants right? And what John wants he gets hand delivered on a silver platter. That bloke from Switzerland, the one who rarely shows emotion on court anymore with the pleasingly plump girl friend? That’s what John wants. No one shouting “vamos” or “allez”. A nice fist pump every now and then is all right with John. Like him, the people in Switzerland still use their own money not that Euro thing. John from Bedfordshire is giving a gentlemanly fist pump.
More ATP News
The ATP announced the tournaments that will have “500” status under the Brave New World plan. The lucky tournaments are as follows.
Each player will have to commit to playing four per year including one after the US Open. Funny but there is a lot of tennis being played right now no? Vienna, Moscow and Stockholm are on for the men this week. The women are playing in Moscow and Bangkok. A joint event just finished in Tokyo. Oh, my bad. There is no tennis after the US Open is there? For more on this here is the link.
Brave New World The 500
Just keep in mind these are the same marketing geniuses who change the Men’s championship playoff from the Tennis Masters Cup to something that, when you reduce it to an acronym becomes WTF. Enjoy yourselves with that one tennisheads.
More ATP Brave New World
Just in case you don’t know what the current ranking system is a fan over on MTF posted it and compared it with the new one going into effect in 2009.
*The current ranking point allocation
Grand Slam winner = 1000 points
Masters Series winner = 500 points (50% of Slam winner)
International Series Gold winner = 250/300 points (25-30% of Slam winner, 50-60% of MS winner)
International Series winner = 175/200/225/250 points (17,5-25% of Slam winner, 35-50% of MS winner, 60-100% of IS Gold winner)
*The 2009 ranking point allocation
GS winner = 2000 points
Masters 1000 winner = 1000 points (50% of Slam winner)
"500" winner = 500 points (25% of Slam winner, 50% of Masters winner)
"250" winner = 250 points (12.5% of Slam winner, 25% of Masters winner, 50% of "500" winner)
for example, in 2009 winning Queen's will give 250 points while winning Wimbledon gives 2000 points
winning Moscow will give 250 points, winning Paris gives 1000 points
Yep those point whores will be rushing to those 250 events. No wonder Queens locked Rafael Nadal in with huge appearance fees for the next few years.
Yes they have a women’s tour quiet as it’s kept. Someone named Justine Henin keeps winning every time she plays which is not that often since her health is delicate. Without her faithful coach what would she do?
There is speculation that Venus Williams, who lost out to Marion Jones in 2000 as Female Athlete of the Year, may now get that award. That would be great for tennis and recognition of the break out year Venus had back then when she was truly tennis' Golden Girl…oh, wait.
Tennisheads are asking why, when there is a Tier I event on Moscow for the women there is also a Tier III in Bangkok. The ATP has a Masters Series tournament in Madrid next week and there is no other game in town for the main tour. Just asking you know? Oh, and you get exactly one guess as to who the top seed is in Bangkok. If you need more than one guess here's a hint. She's Serbian. Dark hair. Exotic looks. Under six feet tall. What, you need a road map? Okay here she is.
We love you, girl. We want you in the YEC. But not at the expense of your health. You've got some obvious injury issues. You remember what happened the last time you played with that groin problem? Your fans do. A week off may be just what you need.
Idle Chit Chat
In lighter news former tennis golden girl Anna Kournikova was photographed with long time beau Enrique Iglesias. The pics squash any rumors Anna has a bun in the oven but she appears to now be eating two lettuce leaves a day, up from one. She was also photographed with a beverage in her hand. Product placement for the former endorsement queen?
There was also a pic of Dominika Cibulkova which was obviously intended to announce to the world that she's of age. Of age for what is my question. And if this isn't a promo for CSI why is she in a bathtub?
Here is a pic of Ms Cibulkova sans the plaster and paint. You decide.
No I'm not talking about the female or male kind. I'm talking about tennis trophies. There's been a trend lately of giving paintings by some local artist as trophies. A real trophy can be put in a trophy case. A picture will just sit in your attic and gather dust. Unless you are a member of the local culture these paintings mean nothing.
Then there are the trophies that have come to be known as Alien Baby Trophies. Metz, which Tommy Robredo won this past weekend, has the penultimate Alien Child as it's trophy.
Now that'll work.
Note: By calling the Metz trophy an Alien Baby no offense was meant to the millions of aliens living among us. We know you all have different ways of reproducing. Handing your spawn over to tennis players is not one of your child rearing practices. Next thing you know Paris Hilton will be traveling to your planet to adopt one of your children.