Thursday, January 31, 2008

Man of Peace, Man of Vision, Man of Love

October 2, 1869 - January 30, 1948

Cricket Trumps Battle of Beauties

Here's to all those who swore by their mother's names that Maria Sharapova, not Serena Williams, was the reason last year's Australian Open final ratings were so high. Perhaps we'll never know. But this year, the final between Maria and Ana Ivanovic, dubbed the Battle of the Beauties, lost out to cricket.

GUTS tops glamour - at least in the Australian Open tennis women's final television ratings stakes.

An average of 931,000 fans across the five Channel 7 metropolitan markets tuned in to watch circuit beauty Maria Sharapova down her equally striking opponent Ana Ivanovic 7-5, 6-3, in the Grand Slam final last Saturday.

It was a 33.89 per cent drop from last year when 1.24 million viewers hung on every ball between former world No. 1 Serena Williams and Sharapova, with the former easily triumphing in straight sets, 6-1, 6-2.

Insiders suggest tuning in was a way for fans to show their respect for the then unseeded Williams, who whipped Sharapova off the court in little more than an hour.

At the time Williams, who also took home the Melbourne crown in 2003 and 2005, had been sidelined for most of 2006.

It was at the Australian Open where she proved she was back to form, making a phenomenal 28 winners against just 11 unforced errors.

A Seven spokeswoman said the women's final results were down but overall the Grand Slam tournament ratings were up by 11 per cent.

" It's also worth bearing in mind that this (the women's final) was up against the cricket on Nine whereas in 2007 it was not," she said.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

10 Things We Learned From The 2008 Australian Open

Has there been a wackier Slam in recent memory? It all began on Day 1 with a great women's match, the rarest of rarities. A match that deteriorated into a never-ending farce when Tamira Paszek served for the match against Jelena Jankovic. Five times. Wasted three match points before the Serbian backboard outlasted the trembling teen to advance to the second round. Days later, the backboard upset a lethargic and seemingly uninterested defending champion to make her first semifinal Down Under, only to succumb, finally, to a slew of injuries(?) and a relentless onslaught by the eventual champion. Surely, the One-Flew-Over-the Cuckoo's-Nest match set the tone for the fortnight. As I go through Slam withdrawal, a few lessons from Melbourne are making themselves known.

1. Maria Sharapova is streaky. For all of the commentators' opinions that Maria has added to her game and that she's moving better than she ever has, I simply point to the 2006 US Open final. Her demolition of Justine Henin wasn't as close as the 6-4, 6-4 score suggests. Maria defended well, transitioned well, volleyed well and never game Justine a chance to dictate from anywhere on the court. Fastforward to Melbourne 2008, and it's a virtual repeat. (We were reminded that Justine can still be hit off the court. ) As it is, Maria won the third Slam of 2004, the last Slam of 2006, and the first Slam of 2008. If her streakiness continues on schedule, she's set to win the second Slam of 2010. That would be Roland Garros where she would complete the career Slam. And then I woke up.

2. Novak Djokovic is the new Bad Boy of tennis. And he loves it. I suppose I ought to have learned that already, but it became more clear in his round of 16 match against Lleyton Hewitt when he mimicked the Aussie's lawn mower celebrations and even the "C'mon!" with the hand pointed toward the forehead. So much for Lleyton's trademark. Djoke (and his family) feeds off the me-against-the-world mindset. If he can antagonize the crowd, all the better. He relishes mocking them with a scowl after saving a break point. Winning a crucial game. All of it a big FU to those who would cheer for somebody else. How dare they. Add that to his phantom injury timeouts, his bush-league set tanks, his abject narcissism and his overbearing parents and he makes other bad boys look like angels.

3. Serena Williams plays Slam-winning tennis when she's unfit and unprepared. At least in the past three years. Or maybe she just can't stand the pressure of defending a Slam title. In her eight trips to the winner's circle, she's only defended a title once: Wimbledon 2003. But wait, this was an even year. With her Melbourne titles coming in 2003, 2005, and 2007, only a fool woulda thunk she'd take it 2008. Foolish me.

4. The King is dead. If you believe Djoke's big-mouthed mother, that is. But as I said before the event began, change is in the air. The closer Raja gets to Slam 14, the more difficult winning will become. When did he start having so much trouble closing out sets? He failed to serve out a set against Janko Tipsarevic and lost it. Had to go overtime in the fifth. He failed to serve out a set against Djoke and lost the match in straights. Raja didn't use his illness and lack of preparation as an excuse. And after having his way with Fabrice Santoro, many of his fans foresaw another run to the title. I was most surprised by Raja's lack of fight in the face of defeat against an opponent he doesn't like. (Does he like anyone? Really?) It was eerily reminiscent to Serena's lack of fight against another Serb.

5. Ana Ivanovic has become Lleyton Hewitt. I know they call her Aussie Ana and all that, but still. Forget about Squeakyshoegate, which came to a head in her semifinal against Daniela Hantuchova. (Yup. That's right. Daniela Hantuchova, Grand Slam semifinalist! Jon Wertheim's out-of-the-box pick finally delivered.) Reflect on the "C'mons!", the fist pumps in her opponents' faces, especially on their errors, and the protracted theatrics after winning the big points. Hell, after winning any point. What's with the Serbs and Lleyton? Speaking of which...

6. Lleyton Hewitt is done. No matter how fit he is, no matter how legendary his coach, Rusty's biggest weapon just doesn't cut it anymore. What is speed without a knock-out punch? Nothing at all. Not in the men's game anyway. I'd like to say he could find more Davis Cup glory, but then I got real and realized he has no team to back him up. Oh well. Perhaps he might want to consider that sports management company he thought about this time last year.

7. Amélie Mauresmo is done. I wish it weren't so. I love her. But it is what it is. There simply is no excuse for a two-time Slam champion to succumb to her nerves the way she did this fortnight. She wasn't defending a title or even a runner-up result. But the Amélie of old has returned to competition and it ain't pretty. If she crashes out of Wimbledon again...

8. Andy Roddick is done. He doesn't have to be, but since he keeps his sharpest knives in the drawer.... Oh, I'll remain a fan. And I'll hope that I'm wrong. That he can still achieve all his career goals and nab a Wimbledon title. If he does, it will be a Goran Ivanisevic-type run, years from now, after he's fallen out of the top 100. He'll get a wildcard, blast his way through the draw, and defeat another player who covets a Wimbledon trophy above all others in a Monday final that goes triple overtime in the fifth. Till then, A-Rod is A-WOL (thanks, Drop-shot) and that's that.

9. France picked the wrong guy. Richard Gasquet was the phenom with the ferocious backhand. He was anointed the Next Big Thing and became the hope of a nation. But Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the unheralded, has more guts. Not to mention a bigger game. A more complete game. Not by much, of course, given how the French learn tennis. But Tsonga became the first Frenchman to make a Slam singles final in seven years, and he beat the anointed one along the way. If Jo-W can remain fit and injury free, I see no reason why he can't win Wimbledon. And the US Open. And the Australian Open. And Roland Garros. Quiet as it's kept, you can blow people away on clay. Just because we haven't seen it in awhile, doesn't mean it can't happen. Speaking of France, with all the focus on Serbia, did anyone notice France also had three players in the finals? Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra lost the men's doubles final, but there they were, losing the men's doubles final. Allez!

10. Martina Navratilova is the best American commentator. By several country miles. Virginia Wade is my favorite, but Martina exhibits the best of Wade: impartiality, insight, and wisdom. When a commentator can focus on the players' tennis, keeping their back-stories on the back burner, a viewer can actually learn something worthwhile. Can actually see why and how a player changed tactics to turnaround a losing effort. Thanks to Tennis Channel's inaugural Australian Open coverage, I got to hear Martina call a complete match for the first time. How refreshing.

Monday, January 28, 2008

TheTruth About The 2008 Australian Open

As many of you know, I often quote TheTruth, a tennis enthusiast who graces a few forums with her eloquent voice. She allows me to repeat her best stuff right here. Without further ado, here is TheTruth's review of this past forthnight:

This Australian Open was the most meaningful Grand Slam on the men's side in recent years. It should live in history for being the year the competition came back. After four years of listening to pundits describe one player as the only one to have game, and there was nothing others could do about it, one player stood up. No, not Rafa, he has always stood in the face of such foolishness and played his game. This time, a mouse entered the den of the lion and said, "I will not surrender without a fight." Thank you, Janko Tipsarevic, for bringing your attitude and willingness to fight on a Grand Slam stage. Thank you for not believing the hype and knowing that tennis is about competing, not about pretty shots. Hats off to you for knowing that all are human and no man is a god. Your presence was felt long after you left.

Thank you Jo-Willie for reminding us what a complete game really is. That serve-and- volley tennis comes in on its terms, and delivers points with deft volleys at the right time. You used everything in your arsenal to produce stellar results, and left us with our mouths gaping wide. This wasn't your time, but it may soon be, if you take advantage of your many gifts.

And Rafa, a young man, who despite your age, was the proud papa who ushered in the entire spirit of competition. Who never cried through your loss, knowing that getting pushed will only make you better, more complete, as has been your wish all along. Smiling, with relief that you no longer had to shoulder the burden of competition all by yourself any more.

Now folks, we have tennis. Not the insidious idolatry of the past, but warriors coming out competing for hardware, eager to have it on their own shelf. Unwilling to allow the voices of the commentators and other competitors to seduce them into giving up before the first ball is struck. This is the way the sport of tennis should be played. Not the sickening fawning of the recent past. Now we should be able to watch a tournament with butterflies in our stomachs, wondering who shall become the victor. Having all of the Grand Slams predicted beforehand was a blight on the sport, but now order has been restored.

And even Novak, of whom I am not a fan, but can say that I respect his game. Kudos to you for joining the short list of competitors who have enough respect for themselves and their game to believe you have a shot. Who together with Rafa, Tsonga, Canas, Nalbandian, Volandri, and Tipsarevic have vowed to come on court with everything you've got and give Roger a run for his money, rather than a waltz to an unheard of twenty Slams.

Yes, this Australian Open has been the best of them yet. It brought the game back to tennis enthusiasts worldwide!

Related Article: Savannah's Review

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Djokovic Wins Australian Open

Novak Djokovic defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(2) to win his first major title. At 20, he becomes the youngest men's singles champion Down Under and only the 50th man in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam singles title.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

MadProfessah's Men's Final Preview

(Craig's note: Seems Mad didn't take the day off afterall. Enjoy...)

After youngsters Novak Djokovic (20) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (22) each had the biggest wins of their careers, they are competing against each other in the Australian Open Men's final Sunday night in Melbourne. Djokovic defeated world No. 1 and 12-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in straight sets in the second semifinal while Tsonga demolished world No. 2 and 3-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal in the first semifinal. In the final we will see what happens when an unstoppable force faces an immovable object.

I'd like to think that although a Grand Slam title means more to Tsonga, there will actually be more pressure on Djokovic, because he is the world No. 3 (Tsonga is unseeded!) and the heir apparent to Federer. The two have never face each other before, so this is a again a "case of first impression." If Tsonga can play as well as he played against Nadal, he should win the first set easily while Djokovic tries to figure out how to handle his game and Tsonga is still far away enough from the actual win to become nervous.

Once Djokovic does start playing his best it will be interesting to see if Tsonga can maintain his brilliant serving and jaw-dropping volleying. If so, Tsonga can make history as the first Black male Grand Slam champion since Arthur Ashe in 1975.

PREDICTION: Tsonga, in 4 sets.

2008 Australian Open: Men's Final Preview

(3) Novak Djokovic (SRB) versus Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA)
A show of hands. Who saw this final coming at the beginning of the event? That's what I thought. But here we are, and this match could be a classic.

Since MadProfessah seems to be taking a well-deserved day off, I'll put up my two cents about the men's final.

And since my jinx powers this week have been quite sharp, I'm going to bore you all and not analyze the matchup, not post a prediction.

All I'll say is this: Having dispatched of the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world in the semifinals in straight sets, both players are riding waves of confidence into this final. I read somewhere that Tsonga "owned" Djoke in the juniors. Will that translate into a mental advantage in their first ever professional meeting? In a Slam final, no less?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

But Tsonga is as level-headed as a wise man.

Q. You try not to think about all the media and the different things that people want from you now that you've reached the final?

JO‑WILFRIED TSONGA: No, no, I don't think about it. It's normal. You have to write on me, and I know my life so I don't have to read it in the paper.

Q. What do you have to do to win tomorrow night?

JO‑WILFRIED TSONGA: Just play ‑‑ just do my best, and that's it. I will see what's happened on the court, but I will do my best. If I win, that's unbelievable. And if I lose, I did my best, so no problem.

Tsonga's Pre-Final Interview

Who do you think will win? Vote on the sidebar. Comment below.

The Shrieking One Takes Title Down Under

Maria Sharapova - AFP/Getty Images

Maria Sharapova, 2008 Australian Open Champion.

Friday, January 25, 2008

AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2008: Women's Final Preview

by Mad Professah

Maria SharapovaAna Ivanovic
Maria Sharapova RUS (5) versus Ana Ivanovic SRB (4).

After being humiliated by Serena Williams at the 2007 Australian Open women's final and failing to win more than a single title all year (Acura Classic) Maria Sharapova clearly showed up in Melbourne with a mission to win her first Australian Open title. Despite having a relatively difficult draw (dangerous floater Lindsay Davenport in round 2, No. 11 seed Elena Dementieva, No. 3 seed Jelena Jankovic and No. 1 seed Justine Henin) Sharapova has reached the final for the second consecutive year without losing a set.

Ana Ivanovic confirmed her status as the (higher ranked and) superior of the "Serbian sisters" by achieving her second Grand Slam final before her compatriot Jankovic has been in a single one. Even in their interesting quarterfinal match-ups of the Williams sisters versus Serbia, Ivanovic won her match more convincingly over much stiffer resistance. And then came Ivanovic's disastrous start of her semifinal match against Daniela Hantuchova where she lost the first 8 games in 45 minutes but somehow managed to reverse the momentum and win the match 0-6 6-3 6-4.

However, Ivanovic will need to not only be better than Jankovic, she will need to be playing at the level to beat a Williams sister in order to deny Maria Sharapova's her 3rd major title. It's unlikely, but not unthinkable that this coulld happen, but at least it would make for some delightful tennis to watch, which is what I really expect to see happen.

PREDICTION: Sharapova, in 3 sets.

The King Is Dead! Long Live The King!

by MadProfessah

Novak Djokovic ended Roger Federer's winning streak in Melbourne last night by defeating the 12-time Grand Slam champion 7-5, 6-3, 7-6(5) in the semifinal, meaning that MadProfessah's predictions in both Men's semifinals were incorrect, and that the World #3 from Serbia has realized his potential as the new heir apparent to the soon-to-be-named Greatest Of All Time. He will now be in his second consecutive Grand Slam final, starting his streak, and ended Federer's streak of consecutive major finals at a record 10 (eight of which he won). The twenty-year-old, (6 foot 2 inch, 176 pounds) Djokovic is now the youngest player ever to reach all four grand slam semifinals in a career, something the current Greatest Ever (14-time Grand Slam champ) Pete Sampras never achieved (see correction in the comments) also achieved. It's probably only a matter of time before Djokovic reaches the finals of all four majors, which is something Sampras never did achieve and that Federer accomplished in a calendar year twice, in 2007 and 2006.

Djokovic will face French-Congolese wunderkind Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the men's final on Sunday night. Hat tip to Towleroad who has posted shirtless pictures of both Tsonga and many more of Djokovic on the premium blog for gay men.

It will be interesting to see how this development will complicate Roger Federer's quest to exceed Sampras record of 14 major titles. Mad Professah has already predicted that it will not occur until Wimbledon 2009. I also think Federer will win the French Open before he retires.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Black History

Wow. Just wow. MadProfessah beat me to it because I couldn't stay up last night to watch it live, but I just finished the tape and I'm simply stunned.

First of all, for those who love to criticize Rafael Nadal for his hardcourt performances at Slams, there was simply nothing that he could do. Or anybody else for that matter.

I've never seen such power, precision, speed, finesse, agility, grace, technique, creativity, genius, variety, and composure in a single tennis player.


Performance of the tournament.

A star is born.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Tsonga Tsunami Sweeps Nadal

Despite MadProfessah's predictions yesterday, Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated world No. 2 Rafael Nadal easily to reach his first Australian Open final. The score was 6-2 6-3 6-2 but the match was not even that close. Tsonga did not even face a break point until the third set and Nadal went 0 for 3 for the match while J-W was 5 for 7 in that category including a break of Rafa's very first service game(!) followed by a love hold by the Frenchman. Tsonga had 49 (+22) winners to Nadal's 13 (+1) including 27 aces (one of which was nearly 138 miles per hour).

Tsonga is projected to rise from his current 38 to (atleast) #27 on the new world rankings on Monday. He becomes the first Black man to be in a Grand Slam final since MaliVai Washington lost to Richard Krajicek in the 1996 Wimbledon final.

He becomes the first player to reach his first ATP final at a Grand Slam event since Gustavo Kuerten did at the French Open in 1997, and we all know what happened after that. (Kuerten went on to win at Roland Garros three times.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2008: Men's semifinals

by MadProfessah

I previewed the 2008 Australian Open Men's quarterfinals a few days ago. Here are my thoughts on the semifinals.

Roger Federer SUI (1) versus Novak Djokovic SRB (3). This mouthwatering match is a reprise of the 2007 U.S. Open final which somehow Federer won in straight sets despite being outplayed by the Serbian youngster for the first two. I predicted that David Ferrer would continue his scintillating play from the end of last year and stop Djokovic, whose personality and demeanor I'm not a fan of, but whose games never fails to impress. Instead, Djokovic stuffed a pastele in the mouth of Ferrer and dispatched him in straight sets 6-0, 6-3, 7-5. Much has been made of Federer's near-death experience with a far less heralded Serbian player Janko Tipsarevic who, on a Federer off-night, took Federer to 5 sets and nearly sent him packing from the tournament in the 3rd round. However, Federer is well aware that Djokovic is his heir apparent and looks forward to the task of demonstrating that "he's not dead, yet." After a comfortable evening workout of excellent tennis against his personal manservant James Blake where the Swiss World #1 improved his career lifetime record over the American to 8-0 and insured he would reach his record 15th conscutive Grand Slam semifinal and 209th consecutive week at No. 1. It's true that the only time Federer has lost in Melbourne in the last 5 years was in the 2005 semifinals to Marat Safin--and he was up match point and lost in 5 sets. I suspect Federer will want to send a distinct message to Novak and the rest of the young guns and raise his intensity a notch. Djokovic has not lost a set in his path to the semifinals and if he can find another gear he may be able to show Federer that youth is always served, in the end. PREDICTION: Federer, in four sets.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga FRA vs. Rafael Nadal ESP (2). Tsonga is the great story of the 2008 Australian Open. He is an unseeded player who has made it as far as the final 4 players and is within one match of a historic Grand Slam final. Just by being in the semi-final, Tsonga makes history as the first Black male player to be in the semi-final of a major since American MaliVai Washington did it at Wimbledon in 1996.
Tsonga dispatched the very hot (in multiple senses of the word) Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets in the quarterfinals while Nadal took out fellow leftie Jarkko Nieminen pretty easily. The two have played each other only once (fairly recently) in the 3rd round of the 2007 US Open, and Nadal won fairly easily 7-6(3) 6-2 6-1. Since Tsonga was not overwhelmed by making his first Grand Slam quarterfinal somehow I don't think he'll be overwhelmed by his first major semi and so the match may be decided by what happens on court instead of what's happening inside smoeone's head. This is a good thing. Does Tsonga have the game to defeat Nadal? Definitely. Will he? It's doubtful. All the intangibles go the Spaniard's way. Nadal usually has a problem with people who hit very flat, very hard, limited spin strokes on both wings, like a Blake, a Youzhny or last year's finalist Fernando Gonzalez. PREDICTION: Nadal, in five sets.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2008: Women's Semifinals

by Mad Professah

The 2008 Australian Open Women's semifinals are now set. Unfortunately, Mad Professah incorrectly predicted 3 of the 4 women's quarterfinal match results. This was mainly due to two shockingly disappointing performances by Venus and Serena Williams. The following post serves as both a women's quarterfinal review and women's semifinals preview.

Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova RUS (5) vs. Jelena Jankovic SRB (3) Serena Williams USA (7). Although I did not predict this result I am not disappointed to see it. You can put me in the "Anybody but Henin" crowd. However, I hope that Jankovic doesn't think that it was defending champion Serena Williams that she beat in the quarterfinal on Tuesday. The imposter who called herself Serena couldn't get her serve over 100 mph for most of the match, was clearly limping and not reacting to the ball's location or movement. Regardless, Jankovic did well to win the match and possesses formidable skills of her own. Sharapova's dismantling of the current world No. 1 player in the world, which included a bagel stuffed down the throat of the powerful, diminutive Belgian was a delight to behold. Only an in-form Williams Sister could have handled and probably overcome that onslaught, but sadly neither is left in the tournament, and it's doubtful either showed up to play in Melbourne this year. Interestingly, Sharapova and Jankovic have only played four times in their career, but only once in 2007, which is the only match of the four that Jankovic has won, a close 3-setter on grass. Instead of the fourth consecutive grudgefest at a major tournament between Justine Henin and Serena Williams that I predicted would occur, this top half of the draw produces a sparkling opportunity for an excellent match-up between power and finesse. Typically, in such a match-up I tend to go with power (which is why I am a fan of and predict wins for, the Williams Sisters). However, Jankovic is a great mover and thinker on the court; she will not be overwhelmed by her second major Grand Slam semifinal. Jankovic has the game and the weapons to make it close, but if the Sharapova who beat Henin shows up to play then the results will not be in Jelena's hands. PREDICTION: Sharapova in 3 sets.

Venus Williams USA (12) Ana Ivanovic SRB (4) vs. Daniela Hantuchova SVK (9). The bottom half of the draw was left tantalizingly wide-open with the early exit of the mentally fragile Svetlana Kuznetsova. Ana IvanovicEspecially since she was playing someone who she had never lost to in her quartfinal, Venus Williams looked like a shoo-in to her second Australian Open final. Unfortunately, the Ana Ivanovic she met was not the same player Venus beat in two consecutive Grand Slam tournaments last year. This Ivanovic had no fear of the net, was blasting winners from every part of the court, deep into the corner and with extreme pace. And she demonstrated excellent defensive retrieving skills. There was really not much Venus could have done, even if she had been playing at 100%, which she clearly wasn't. Hantuchova easily dispatched Aggie Radwanska and will be playing in her first Grand Slam semifinal. Last year Hantuchova and Ivanovic played 3 times last year on 3 different surfaces, with the Slovak winning on grass, while the Serbian won the next two matches on carpet and indoor hardcourts. Ivanovic has clearly now reached the top of women's tennis and is comfortable with her position.

Hantuchova on the other hand took 5 years to win her second WTA Tour title after winning her first as a precocious teenager over Hingis in 2002. She is well-known as an excellent ball-striker and part of the vanguard of "Big Babe" tennis so famously coined by ESPN commentator Mary Carillo. Although, it's really hard to describe Hantuchova as "big" she's mostly lanky. She is also known as an extremely emotional, nervous player. It is very likely she will be overwhelmed by the occasion of finally reaching her first major semifinal and if the new Ana Ivanovic is here to stay, then there will be at least one Serbian in the Australian Open final on Saturday. PREDICTION: Ivanovic in 2 sets.

Heath Ledger (1979 - 2008)

The Australian actor has made his transition. Rest in peace.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Serbia Rising

Ana Ivanovic joined compatriot Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals with a 7-6(2), 6-4 victory over Venus Williams.

Not since the 2004 Roland Garros quarterfinals have Serena and Venus been eliminated from a Slam in the same round. In Paris, it was on the same day. Serena lost to Jennifer Capriati; Venus, to Anastasia Myskina, the eventual champion.

This year, Serbia defeated the United States. And if history repeats itself, Ana will be hoisting her first Slam trophy on Saturday afternoon.

In the semifinal, Ana will play Slovak Daniela Hantuchova, who dismantled Agnieszka Radwanska in the day's other quarterfinal.

Well, well, well, mtl. An all eastern-European Slam on the women's side henceforth. MMT, we were saying? I think this could be history as well. Bud Collins, you got an answer for us?

Over The Moon

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga brutalized Mikhail Youzhny 7-6, 6-0, 7-6(6) to advance to his first Slam semifinal.

What happened? Well, it was quite easy to describe, actually. Jo-Wilfried beat the living daylights out of Mikhail with all-court power tennis and the kind of composure that could make him a champion. It was almost frightening.

If my memory is correct, he becomes the first Black man to contest a Slam semifinal since MaliVai Washington at Wimbledon in 1996. Can James Blake make it two? And does anyone know the last time two Black men made the final 8 of a Slam?

Tsonga is definitely the first Frenchman into the semifinals Down Under since Arnaud Clement and Sebastien Grosjean duked it out in 2001. Clement outlasted Grosjean and lost to Andre Agassi in the finals.

In the semis, the Frenchman will face Rafael Nadal, who ended Jarkko Nieminen's run in straight sets earlier in the day. Will Jo-Wilfried be this year's surprise finalist?

Stay tuned.

Streak Snapped

It only took 32 matches, but Maria Sharapova was the someone who was finally able to exploit the weaknesses in Justine Henin's game. The resurgent Russian sent the world No. 1 packing 6-4, 6-0.

Another Australian Open match. Another bagel.

Maria was in shock after the match, but she ought not to have been. She did everything right except fail to serve out the first set. But she attacked Justine's terrible serve, hit hard, flat and deep in the corners, and came into the forecourt to put away all of Justine's defensive backhand slices. She also moved better than she usually does, and outlasted Justine in the long rallies.

If it sounds anything like the Wimbledon semifinal, the last time Justine suffered a loss on any stage, it was.

I've said it before and I mean it again: on a medium-fast to fast surface, power trumps variety when power is both patient and precise. Which is precisely why I only included the following women in the poll.

Maria will play fellow Bolliteri Academy alumna Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals.

Monday, January 21, 2008

AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2008: Men's Quarterfinals Preview

by Mad Professah

The 2008 Australian Open Men's Quarterfinals have now been set.

Roger Federer SUI (1) vs James Blake USA (12).

Both Roger Federer and James Blake have had near-death experiences in earlier 5-set matches during this tournament. Of course, that is a more unusual experience for the world No. 1 than the previously slumping American. In the third round, Federer won one of the best matches of the tournament (and probably the year) against unseeded Serbian Janko Tipsarevic 6-7(5) 7-6(1) 5-7 6-1 10-8, with both players hitting more winners than errors (96 to 64 for Federer, 52 to 47 for Tipsaveric) and the Swiss player hitting the most aces he has ever had in an ATP match: 39 (to Tipsarevic's 14). A few hours before the Federer fireworks Blake improved his horrendous lifetime 5-set record to 2 and 10 after coming back from 2 sets down (and 1-4 in the 4th set tiebreak) to defeat veteran Frenchman Sebastian Grosjean 4-6, 2-6, 6-0, 7-6(5), 6-2. They both easily won their next round matches. Federer and Blake have played 22 sets of tennis against each other and Federer has won 21 (the one set Blake won, at the 2006 US Open quarterfinals, was a 13-11 3rd set tiebreaker). I do believe that Blake's comeback signals a newfound toughness in the American. He, like Tipsarevic, has the game to beat the Greatest Of All Time 12-time Grand Slam champion on a hard court, but unlike the Serbian, Blake doesn't really believe deep inside that he can win this match, and he won't.
Mad Professah's Pick: Federer in 4 sets.

Novak Djokovic SRB (3) vs David Ferrer ESP (5).

Spaniard David Ferrer made a believer (and admirer) out of me when he had his breakthrough at the season-ending ATP Masters Cup in Shanghai last year, losing to the final against Federer after defeating world No. 3 Novak Djokovic, World No. 2 Rafael Nadal (twice!) and Richard Gasquet. Ferrer is now the world No. 5 but Djokovic has been firmly ensconced in the No. 3 position for nearly a year after his break-out hardcourt season in early 2007 during Federer's post-Australian Open lapse. Although Ferrer leads the Serbian head-to-head 3-2, the two have never really played a very close (or high quality) match. Ferrer did not play up to his potential in their last Grand Slam meeting, at the 2007 U.S. Open semifinals (Ferrer's first major semifinal) which was played after he had outlasted his compatriot Nadal two nights before. Djokovic hasn't really been tested at this year's Australian Open championship and I suspect that Ferrer may be a tad hungrier, plus I'm just not a fan of the Djokester. Mad Professah's pick: Ferrer in 5 sets.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga FRA vs Mikhail Youzhny RUS (14).

The unseeded Frenchman is finally living up to his tremendous potential by reaching his first Grand Slam quarterfinal. The Russian Youzhny has been playing excellent tennis recently and has already won a title (d. Nadal) this year. They both had to get through emotionally meaningful matches by defeating higher ranked countrymen to reach this point in the tournament. Tsonga defeated Gasquet and Youzhny defeated World No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko. Interestingly, these two have never played against each other before, so this is what is called in legal circles, "a case of first impression." I would really just like to say that this match is a toss-up, but since that really is a wimpy prognostication, I will go with the more experienced player to make his second career Grand Slam semifinal. Mad Professah's pick: Youzhny in 4 sets.

Jarkko Nieminen FIN (24) vs Rafael Nadal ESP (2).

One would think that since left-handers often have extreme difficulty playing against each other the wily, veteran Finnish left-hander would give the muscular, young Spanish left-hander more difficulty but the results do not support this belief. Their three previous matches have been all one-sided affairs with Nadal prevailing relatively easily. I suspect this match may be a bit closer than people expect, since Nadal is clearly not at his physical best in this tournament. Nieminen really should have lost his 4th round match against Roddick-killer Phillip Kohschreiber and he often does find a way to win matches he should lose. The two have not played since Nadal beat Nieminen in the 2006 Wimbledon Quarterfinals so there's a (slight) possibility of an upset. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal in 3 sets.

One Quarter Serena

The insanity of the 2008 Australian Open continues. For the fourth consecutive Slam, Serena Williams has exited in the quarterfinals. If you saw the match, you know something was wrong with Serena. Jelena Jankovic, for her part, took advantage of yet another gift during this fortnight and toughed it out 6-3, 6-4.

I have no idea what was wrong with Serena but she couldn't serve consistently hard and she couldn't move well to her backhand. Some of her first serves were 87mph; her second, 50mph. She also had zero footwoork. Was it physical? Mental? Both? She was treated for a blister on her toe when Jelena took a timeout to receive treatment on her left thigh, but would a blister cause such a comprehensively lethargic performance? When she broke serve to say in the match, she didn't even show emotion. Whatever it was, it's timing for the defending champion was piss poor.

If it wasn't for bad luck, no luck at all.

‘Please, Sir. May I Have Some More?’

(AFP/Getty Images)

I couldn't resist. And from the looks on both their faces, one doesn't know whose asking the question, do one?

American History King

Day 8: Snoozefest

Tangerine was right. The Australian Open has returned to its mundaneness. In the only match that promised some drama, Lleyton Hewitt understandably had nothing left for Novak Djokovic, and despite leading a break in the first two sets, the Aussie's weaponless game couldn't hold up and he bowed out meekly to the No. 3 seed in straight sets. We'll never forget Superduper Saturday, but we'll have to wait till the quarterfinals before the volume increases again.

Flag Bearer

Congratulations to James Blake, the last American man standing, for making his first Slam quarterfinal outside of the States in his career. Here's hoping he calls Janko Tipsarevic and simply listens.


Tomas Berdych, Nadia Petrova, and Maria Kirilenko showed once again why they never have and likely never will win anything of import.

Berdych couldn't convert three set points against Roger Federer, even though he had three shortballs on the forehand that he refused to hit into the court. Someone suggested that Tomas and Tamira Paszek should go party together. I said they would miss the party.

Nadia was up 5-4 in the second set agasint Russian killer Agnieszka Radwanska before a total collapse of the brain, losing the last 9 games of the match.

MariaK was up a 6-1, 3-1, 30-0 against Daniela Hantuchova before she started to double fault and hit balls out just because. And here I thought the fire in her eyes and the spunk in her wlak meant she might finally do something in women's tennis.

All of them need to find new jobs. It's an absolute disgrace for professionals who've been in the game as long as they have to continue such nonsense on the court.

Daily Discovery

Poland's Marta Domachowska played Venus Williams as though her life depending on it. The 22-year-old who was rising in the ranks a few years ago was sidetracked by personal crises. But the qualifier powered through 6 matches to get her moment in the sun against Venus in the round of 16 and she surely made the most of it.

Celebrity Sighting

Australian actress Nicole Kidman shares a laugh with her husband, singer Keith Urban, during the Hewitt match on Rod Laver Arena last night.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2008: Women's Quarterfinals Preview

by Mad Professah

The 2008 Australian Open Women's Quarterfinals are now set. While I missed most of the first two rounds due to my trip to Northern Italy I have seen many of the important matches since.

Justine Henin BEL (1) vs. Maria Sharapova RUS (5). This marquee quarter-final match-up is a reprise of the final match of the WTA Tour last year, which I regarded as one of the best women's tennis matches of 2007. That the last two U.S. Open champions and Australian Open finalists are meeting in a quarter-final is a testament to the depth of the field in the women's game at the first grand slam of the year. Henin has won seven major titles to Sharapova's two and leads their lifetime head-to-head rivalry 6-2. But, Sharapova hates to lose and will not go down without a fight. Henin has every shot in the book and better mobility. Hopefully this match-up will live up to the hype none of the much heralded Grand Slam showdowns between Serena Williams and Henin failed to do on three separate occasions last year. Frankly, I don't like either of these players but I would like to see someone start beating Henin with regularity. Unfortunately, I think I'll have to keep on waiting. PREDICTION: Henin in 3 sets.

Jelena Jankovic SRB (3) vs. Serena Williams USA (7). Surprisingly, Serena and Jelena have only played each other four times in the past four years and they have a split score of 2 wins each. However, last year Serena was able to beat the Serbian player when the American was still playing her way into her best tennis and Jankovic was higher ranked and playing better tennis than she has shown so far in 2008. With the American's ranking now back in the top 10 and Jankovic's falling, Serena will have no problem booking her semifinal berth against her nemesis, Justine Henin. PREDICTION: S. Williams in 2 sets.

Venus Williams USA (8) vs. Ana Ivanovic SRB (4). This matchup is a repeat of the 2007 U.S. Open quarterfinal where Venus played her best tennis of the event and demolished the 2007 French open finalist and brand new #3 player in the world in two short, scintillating sets. It is doubtful that Ivanovic will be dominated so easily again but the fact remains that Venus has never lost to the pulchritudinous heir apparent to Sharapova's "It Girl" tiara in four meetings and it is doubtful that trend will be reversed in Melbourne this year. However, the fifth time may be the charm for Ivanovic to get her first win over the reigning Wimbledon champion. PREDICTION: V. Williams in 3 sets.

Daniela Hantuchova SVK (9) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova RUS (2) Agnieszka Radwanska POL (29).
For the second slam in a row, Polish youngster Aggie Radwanska knocked out the #2 seed in the third round (Sharapova at the 2007 US Open, Kuznetsova at the 2008 Australian Open). This was always the weakest quarter of the draw and it was a dream path for Sveta to make her first big splash in Melbourne. Unfortunately for her, she made a huge splash crashing out to the wily counterpuncher in straight sets. Taking advantage of her opportunity is the hard-hitting Slovak waif who is now a tour veteran at age 24. Hantuchova has been to three Grand Slam quarter-finals about five years ago but never won any. Radwanska's never been remotely this far in a slam. Although widely considered mentally fragile, it is very likely Hntuchova will be the one more mentally prepared to take advantage of Kuznetsova's early exit to earn a major semifinal slot. PREDICTION: Hantuchova in 2 sets.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Day 7: Festival Of Chokes

I don't know that any of us expected another day of the scintillating drama that Day 6 offered up. Likely that will go down as the best day of tennis in the Open Era. I was far too tired to stay up all night for the night matches, and to be blunt, neither match interested me in the least.

But the few matches of the day I did see featured more chokes than I saw in the first 6 days. I hate choking. Everyone does it, but I still hate it. After you do it a few times, there's just no excuse for it. The mind is a terrible, terrible thing to involve in a tennis match.

So, in protest of all the choking, I'm posting no photos, no "heavy lifting" as Savannah calls it.

Besides, I'm still hungover from all of yesterday's great stuff.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Say It Again!

"You have to believe that you're going to beat Roger Federer when you go on court, as stupid as it might sound.

"If you go out there thinking I'm going to play a good match, make him sweat for his money or something like that, it's not going to work. Because then when the chances are given to you, and even Roger Federer is giving chances, you're not going to use them because you're going to be too afraid for victory. So I went on court with the idea that I can win. I was close."

--Janko Tipsaveric, aka The Man

It doesn't sound stupid at all, Mr. Man. I've been saying it forever. It's nice to see a you believe it, show it, and almost make it happen. Thumbs up indeed.

Day 6: Epilogue

Marathon men. That's what they are. More than four-and-a-half hours. Two titanic chokes. An ankle injury. Five match points. Unruly fans. Weary ball kids. Blind linespeople. Delirious commentators. Dozing-in-and-out-in-front-of-the-TV-all-night fans. An Australian Open five-set winning streak broken. Great sportsmanship. The latest-ending Slam match in the Open Era. 4:35AM. The hometown hopeful prevailed. The vanquished wept.


How do they do it?

How will he go on?