Thursday, February 28, 2008

YouTube Highlights: Schiavone Defeats Henin

Set 1 Highlights

Set 2 Highlights

Francesca Schiavone had never beaten Justine Henin. Henin had never lost a match in Dubai.

All that changed today.

[hat tip to rabbit]

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Indian Davis Cup Players Revolt

All of this helps me appreciate more just how good a captain Patrick McEnroe has been for the American squad.

Indian Davis Cup players have called for the ouster of captain Leander Paes for hurting team morale and confidence, a report said on Sunday.

he Times of India reported that four players -- Prakash Amritraj, Rohan Bopanna, Mahesh Bhupathi and Karan Rastogi -- sent a letter to the All India Tennis Association (AITA) saying they had lost faith in Paes's captaincy.

"We are not prepared to play Davis Cup if Leander is the captain. Sorry it had come to this, but up until now we did not have the courage to say anything and it only has gone from bad to worse," the paper quoted the letter as saying.

The controversy follows Paes's decision not to field Amritraj for the opening singles in the Asia/Oceania Zone Group I first-round tie against Uzbekistan here earlier this month.

Paes questioned Amritraj's fitness and commitment, although the player insisted he was fit to play.

Amritraj, son of legendary former Davis Cup star Vijay, eventually figured in the decisive reverse singles on the final day to script his team's 3-2 victory.

"Playing Davis Cup for India is our greatest joy. We live for these ties, and through the year we prepare ourselves so we can peak for these occasions," the paper quoted Amritraj as saying.

"He (Paes) has basically killed that joy for us."

Read More

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Andy Roddick Knows The Way To San Jose

Andy Roddick
won a title and I didn't get to see it. An American event, no television coverage. Oh well. Today isn't Tuesday so I won't write a tirade.

Today's other champions (minus one):

Michael Llodra, ABN AMRO World Team Tennis Champion

David Nalbandian, Copa Telmex Champion

Maria Sharapova, Qatar Total Open Champion

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Mauresmo Ponders Retirement

I guess she heard me when I said after Melbourne that a new job was in order. BBC Sport reports that two-time Slam champion Amélie Mauresmo is down in the dumps and is considering hanging up her racquet.

France's former world number one has won just eight matches since losing her Wimbledon singles title last July.

The 28-year-old told French sports daily L'Equipe: "I sometimes ask myself what the hell I am doing, (playing) in front of half-empty stands.

"In the back of your mind there's always a little something wondering if it wouldn't be better to stop."

Mauresmo's poor run continued in Doha this week when she lost in the second round of the Qatar Open to Thailand's Tamarine Tanasugarn, 7-6 (9-7) 7-5.

"It's typically the type of situation where you wish you were somewhere else," said the world number 29.

"I came to this tournament wanting to do well, but there's always a grain of sand that gets in the works and clogs things up. It's difficult to take."

She added: "I want to carry on playing, and as long as I'm motivated, I'll continue.

"But at the same time I wonder if I don't talk myself into it, will I still have that desire?"



Tennis. Politics. Politics. Tennis. What to do? I've been choosing politics. It's not like there's tennis on the TV till the weekend anyway.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Photo Of The Day

Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova in her press conference after upsetting Venus Williams in Doha.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Andy Murray: Charmless Man

After winning last week's Open 13 in Marseille, Andy Murray suffered a first-round upset at the hands of homeboy and wildcard Robin Haase in straight sets at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam earlier today.

Is my posting this rant from the Guardian kicking him when he's down?

Can Andy Murray and Jamie Murray really be related? Sure, the two Scotsmen have physical similarities, but look again - Jamie's smile, Andy's scowl; Jamie's rounded, pleasing face; Andy's dolichocephalic (eat your heart out, Will Self) Donald Duck features.

Then there's the way they play. Think of Jamie winning the Wimbledon mixed doubles last year with Jelena Jankovic. If we'd put a speech bubble against him during that final, it would have said:

"I get to do what I love for a living, get a suntan into the bargain, earn a decent whack, and get to hang out with some of the most gorgeous women in sport - Jesus, I'm a lucky bugger."

Compare this to the younger, more successful Andy. He plays with his face frozen into a grimace. He blames everybody for his failings (mother, coach, the Davis Cup) but himself. There's a six-second sequence on YouTube that sums Andy up. He loses a game and sarcastically gives his then coach, Brad Gilbert, a thumbs up while muttering "You twat" at him. He also famously screamed mid-match at Gilbert "You're giving me nothing".

Actually, the Lawn Tennis Association has given him everything, only for him to throw it back in their face. In July 2006, the LTA appointed Gilbert, a world-class coach who masterminded Andre Agassi's great triumphs, to work with Andy - for a gobsmacking £750,000 a year. Andy was then 19 and ranked 36th in the world. Within a month he had beaten Roger Federer, and within nine months he was in the world's top 10. But within 16 months he had ditched Gilbert, swapped him for a "team of experts", stating that the time "has come to move on to the next stage of my career".

Read the Rest

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Another Italian Scapegoat

The ATP really needs to stop. I mean. Really.

Italian player Giorgio Galimberti was found guilty Monday of betting on tennis and was suspended for 100 days and fined $35,000.

The ATP said Galimberti bet on tennis from June 2003 to January 2006 but did not specify if he bet on his own matches.

"Everyone connected to the ATP Tour has a duty to abide by the rules, especially those designed to protect and uphold the integrity of our sport, and the ATP will continue to instigate disciplinary proceedings against anyone found not to be doing so," said Gayle David Bradshaw, the ATP's executive vice president of rules and competition.

Galimberti is ranked No. 1,009, with his highest ranking No. 115 and his career singles record 9-21.

He is the fourth Italian player suspended for betting. Late last year, Potito Starace, Daniele Bracciali and Alessio Di Mauro were found guilty of gambling on matches involving other players.

Yahoo! Sports

Monday, February 18, 2008

Photo Of The Day

Click to Enlarge

The women of the Qatar Total Open, Doha.

Japanese Player Makes History

I've been busy trying to get a presidential candidate a party nomination, so tennis, what little I've been able to see, has been background music this week.

I know Justine Henin, Andy Murray, Nicolas Almagro and Flavia Pennetta won titles this week. Know that Mario Ancic played his first event in months and advanced all the way to the Open 13 final where he lost to Murray. Know that the curse of the No. 1 seed at the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships continued. (Savannah's got all the purty pictures right here.)

But when I saw Nishikori Kei, the 18-year-old Japanese qualifier, save four match points in his semifinal match against Sam Querrey and rally from a set down in the final to take out James Blake and win his first ATP title, I was quite impressed.

Tennis needs new champions. Can't say the gutsy teen who trains at the Bollettieri Academy is going to mature into a champion, but if he is, he's got to start somewhere. Here's some of what the kid said about his victory:

"I still can't believe it that I beat James Blake," the 18-year-old Nishikori told the crowd, which included a dozen Japanese fans chanting "Nippon! Nippon!" high up in the stands. "I've only seen him on TV. This is my best tournament ever."

With the win, the 244th-ranked Nishikori is expected to move to a No. 122 ranking. He is the youngest player to win an ATP title since Lleyton Hewitt won Adelaide as a 16-year-old in 1998.

"Last night I couldn't imagine. I tried to imagine winning the final, but I couldn't do it," said Nishikori, whose parents watched the match on an Internet feed. "I was so nervous in the first set."

Shuzo Matsuoka was the last tournament champion from Japan. He won his lone career title at the Seoul tournament in April 1992.


That's a long time between drinks for fans of Japanese men's tennis. Here's hoping Nishikori can follow this up with more. He's certainly got the game.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Monica Seles

by Savannah

A lot of things happened this week but I want to take a moment and talk about one of my all time favorites, Monica Seles.

As every tennishead knows Monica, 34, officially retired this past week. There had been rumors about a comeback but even those faded as it became clear that Monica had other things on her mind.

We all remember the giggly screeching phenomenon who burst on the scene at the tender age of 15 with a game that revolutionized women's tennis and ushered in the Big Babe era in the women's game.

What was her record? Let me post excerpts from an article by Richard Pagliaro that quotes Jimmy Connors on her talent and heart:

The owner of a 595-122 record, Seles won concluded 1991 and 1992 as World No. 1. In a sensational, sustained span of dominance she won eight of the 11 Grand Slam tournaments she entered from 1989 to 1993. She inspired a legion of top players, including Venus Williams and Serena Williams, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic. In a past interview with Tennis Week, Hall of Famer Jimmy Connors said Seles' fighting spirit, willingness to play even closer to the lines on pivotal points and her aggressive baseline style made her the player that most reminded him of himself.

"Who reminds me of me? Monica Seles is the player I think who played the game the way I tried to play it." Connors told Tennis Week in a past interview. "She always played as hard as she could every single match and left it all on the court. I have tremendous respect for Seles."

A stress fracture in her foot caused Monica to step away from the game five years ago but it was the incident in Germany when she was nineteen that stopped Monica's march to what would have been uncontested greatness in the WTA. Here is a report from the New York Times with details.

Monica spoke about the incident in a radio interview before a recent appearance in California with Steve Hartman, Mychal Thompson and Vic "The Brick" Jacobs on "The Loose Cannons Show". Here are excerpts from that interview that appear in the Richard Pagliaro article.

On being stabbed at a match April 30, 1993 in Hamburg, Germany:
"I was only 19 when I got stabbed. It would never have happened in any other sport. I said to myself, `Why me,’ but I was proud of myself that I was able to move on and to get back to the sport that I loved and adore. That to me was the final triumph after a few bad years."

On the lack of punishment to her attacker:
"I really felt that I could not justify in my own brain someone stabs you in front of 7,000 people, admits that he planned it, and never spends a night in jail. I don’t feel safe playing there (in Germany) again after what happened to me."

On returning to tennis after her stabbing:
"I was lucky. My mom and dad had really strong personalities and supported me. At the end of the day, the love I had for the game I started at 7 years old motivated me to come back. I never imagined I would make a great living and travel throughout the world. I started playing tennis because I loved it. I tell kids, `don’t look at the fame and the money. Play tennis because you love it.’ I missed it."

On not hearing from other players after her stabbing:
"The women's tour is very competitive. There’s a lot of money at stake. It is what it is. It was very unfortunate. It changed my career and it changed Stefi’s (Graf). That’s life. It is a business."

On playing in the 1998 French Open after her dad, Karoly, died:
"My dad passed away a couple days before the French (Open). I thought, `What would my dad want me to do?’ He battled cancer. I thought, `follow your heart,’ and my heart told me to go out and play for my dad. He was a cartoonist. He always saw the lighter side of everything. Part of me said stay home, but I knew that was not what my dad would have wanted."

On her dad’s coaching philosophy:
"He saw the bigger picture of sports, instead of just win or lose. He was human. Sports is a business and cutthroat and people will do anything to win, but I was lucky I had my dad as my coach and he never put pressure on me. Win or lose, the love he gave me was the same. Sadly I see too many cases are the other way now."

On the state of women’s tennis:
"(Justine) Henin has on average dominated the (WTA) tour, but if you look at the championships in Madrid, you see Henin beat (Marion) Bartoli 6-0, 6-0. Those scores shouldn’t happen in the championships. You want to see the top players play each other. That’s the only way the fans will tune in."

On tennis players having shorter careers due to other distractions:
"It’s harder now. You have to be a multi-media athlete. You have to look good, speak well and do all the off the court stuff. In the old days, we did much less. Tennis is a brutal sport. We play 10 and a half months a year. It’s hard to stay injury-free. A lot of the top players struggle with that. Roger (Federer) has a different game. It doesn’t take as much out of him as Serena (Williams). Roger has played every Grand Slam since 1999. That statistic alone is amazing."

On becoming a U.S. citizen in 1994:
"It was the happiest day of my life. Playing in the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 and representing our country was the biggest honor I’ve ever had. It surpasses all the tournaments I played in."

I was a novice tennis fan when Monica burst on the scene. I had been used to watching Chrissie and Martina, Gabriella and remember wondering who this kid was. I'm sure many younger fans can only imagine how intense the rivalry was between Monica and Steffi and how you were a fan of one or the other woman.

How high passions ran are symbolized by what happened in Germany. When you go to a major to watch the current crop of players and see all the security when a player enters or leaves the court you have to remember that this guy just walked up to Monica and stabbed her in the back. Conversations on fan boards get heated these days and maybe that's a good thing. We can virtually pummel each other and the players we don't like instead of trying to attack someone physically. If you get to a major and hang on the practice courts when a major star is around you see the security as well. Fans pushing and shoving to see their fave when he or she comes off the court may seem harmless to many fans. Unfortunately the player's security has to be taken into consideration first.

We are fortunate that someone of Monica's talent came along when she did. I don't think the image meisters of tennis would have allowed her to get the endorsements and publicity. She wasn't a babe, she wasn't rail thin, and her hair had a mind of it's own. It was all about the tennis.

In my opinion Monica was the greatest of her time because her effect on the game has lasted and made it impossible to go back to the genteel days of women's tennis. There were top players who did not play big babe tennis, Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis come to mind, but to me they were transitional greats. Their style of tennis won't get you past a first round in a Tier IV these days.

I hope Monica hangs around and decides to play an exho or two or three. I mean if Pete Sampras can still make millions playing exho's I don't see why Monica can't as well. I don't want to dictate to her what to do but it would be nice to see her on a court again.

Thank you Monica for all you gave this fan, and all of tennis.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Monica Seles Retires

ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA (TICKER) -- Monica Seles on Thursday announced her official retirement from professional tennis, ending one of the most storied careers in the sport.

Seles, 34, won 53 singles and six doubles tournaments, earning nine Grand Slam titles along the way. She first became No. 1 in the world in March 1991 and held the top ranking for 178 weeks over the next two years - the youngest No. 1 ever at the time.

"Monica Seles is one of the great champions in the history of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, and an inspiration and role model for millions of fans throughout the world," CEO of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Larry Scott said.

"No one will ever forget the fierce determination and will to win that Monica brought to the court, nor the caring and warm person that she has always been off the court."

Tragedy struck Seles in April 1993, when she was stabbed in the back during a match in Hamburg, Germany. She was not able to play again for more than two years.

When she did return, she posted a stirring comeback win at the Canadian Open, then reached the U.S. Open final the following month. Remarkably, she then won her ninth Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January 1996.

"Tennis has been and will always be a huge part of my life," said Seles in a statement. "I have for some time considered a return to professional play, but I have now decided not to pursue that."

In the spring of 2003, Seles sustained a foot injury that sidelined her from the WTA tour. In February 2005, she lost two exhibition matches in New Zealand against Martina Navratilova.

In December, Seles said that Lindsay Davenport's successful return to the tour after pregnancy inspired her to consider her own limited comeback to play Grand Slam tournaments and the major warm-up events for those tournaments.

"I will continue to play exhibitions, participate in charity events, promote the sport, but will no longer plan my schedule around the tour," Seles said. "I look forward to pursuing other opportunities with the same passion and energy that fueled my dedication to tennis and to devote more time to two of my passions - children and animals.

"I especially want to thank all my wonderful, loyal fans for all of their support for me over the years. They have inspired me throughout my career in the good times and comforted me in the bad times. I will miss them all as much as I will miss competing in the game of tennis."


Not a big surprise, really. But I always admired her fight. And her phenomenal comeback. She'll be missed. Has been missed.

Related Articles
Monica Seles: Take Charge Of Your Life

Happy Love Day

If you have any Valentines to deliver to your favorite players, please tell us in the comments.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bryan Brothers Still On Top

In a photo provided by Stanford Financial Group, top-ranked ATP doubles champions and twin brothers Bob and Mike Bryan hold a trophy presented to them by Stanford Financial Group in honor of their ranking at the International Tennis Championships in Delray Beach, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2008. It is the third year in a row they have been ranked No. 1. (AP Photo/Stanford Financial Group, Hans Deryk)



Tuesday, February 12, 2008

French Superstar?

Look at Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, will you? Swarmed by the media at his press conference in Marseille where he'll contest the Open 13 this week. I hope Ali can withstand the pressure that comes with all the attention.

Good buddy Richard Gasquet is also in the draw. They are seeded to meet in the quarterfinals.

Related Post
Black History Month: Honoring Yannick Noah

Tuesday Tirade: Davis Cup Disgrace

Novak Djokovic is a disgrace to the sport. He goes from champion to quitter over the course of two weeks. But given the character, or lack thereof, contained in the player in question, this ought to come as no surprise to anyone with open eyes.

Simply put, in the fourth rubber of the tie between Serbia and Russia, Djoke walked off the court after choking away a two set and two break lead to Nikolay Davydenko. Apparently, his fragile and entitled ego couldn't take it. Couldn't stand that he would actually have to fight to keep his country in the tie. Couldn't pull any of his other shenanigans in front of the Russian fans who most likely would've had none of it. So he quit. Left his belongings and walked right out of the stadium in the midst of security as though he were some heavyweight champion boxer.

Afterwards, his captain called him a hero just for taking the court. You see, the entitled one had been battling flu-like symptons all week and pulled out of his opening singles rubber against Mikhail Youzhny at the eleventh hour. But he returned to action in the doubles rubber on Saturday and played well enough with Nenad Zimonjic to keep Serbia in the tie.

Djoke looked perfectly fine on Saturday. He looked perfectly fine on Sunday. He played the first two-and-a-half sets like a man on a mission. Like the man who'd just lifted his first Slam trophy weeks earlier.

But Davis Cup is funny. Playing for your country can make the best players as nervous as one making his Slam debut. And Djoke started gagging at 3-0 with a two-break lead in the final set. He squandered leads in his final two service games; Kolya closed out the set by winning the last four games.

And Djoke walked off the court.

Let's see, now. James Blake had flu-like symptons in Austria. He chose to spend two days in the sauna to try to sweat the bug out so he could play for his country. He gave away a 5-3 lead in the first set against Stefan Koubek and found himself down a set and a break pretty early in the second set. But he hung tough, fought back, won the rubber in four sets, and gave the USA a 2-0 lead. On clay. Away from home.

In Sweden last fall, the entire US team battled flu-like symptoms in another tie away from home. Blake was murdered in he second rubber by Thomas Johansson, but the American didn't walk off the court, feigning illness.

In the same semifinal tie, Joachim Johansson hadn't played a match in months due to a sore shoulder. But when called upon by the Swedish captain to play for his country, he showed up, gave Andy Roddick all he could handle, and woke up so sore the next day he had to pull out of his next events. He has since retired from the sport because that troublesome shoulder never healed.

One of the match commentators compared Djoke to Pete Sampras. The point? Both Pete and Djoke could look completely out of it between points, he said, but once the ball was in play, you'd never know anything was troubling either one of them. Ah. So now Novak gets the Pete comparison. But, well, you see, Pete didn't quit. No matter what. And when Djoke walked off the court up two sets to one, the commentators gagged on their own feet.

Davis Cup is one of my favorite sporting events and ranks right up there with Slams in prestige. In my book, anyway. It's when selfishness has to go by the wayside. When ego must defer to comaraderie. It is not the place for low-brow, bush league theatrics. And quitting in the middle of a match when both of your legs and arms and hands and feet can still function makes a mockery of the competition.

If Djoke is a hero, then I don't want any part of the universe where leaving your country in the lurch because your victory didn't come easy is considered heroic.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Perfect Record

Anna Chakvetadze has never lost a Sony Ericsson WTA tour final. Today, she dismissed Agnes Szavay 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 to win the Open Gaz de France, commonly called the Paris Indoors.

Seven championships. Seven trophies. I wonder where she will rank this trophy, the actual tangible thing you see her holding in her hands above. What is that thing anyway?

In the Pattaya Women's Open championship, Agnieszka Radwanska beat American Jill Craybas 6-2, 1-6, 7-6(4).

For a summary of the Davis Cup, read Savannah. I may have something to say about what I saw today in my next Tuesday Tirade. We'll see.

Davis Cup Scoreboard

RUSSIA defeats SERBIA 3-2
Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) d Nenad Zimonjic (SRB) 26 63 62 64
Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) d Viktor Troicki (SRB) 61 16 63 16 62
Novak Djokovic/Nenad Zimonjic (SRB) d Mikhail Youzhny/Dmitry Tursunov (RUS) 63 76(6) 76(5)
Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) d Novak Djokovic (SRB) 46 36 64 ret. (illness)
Viktor Troicki (SRB) d Dmitry Tursunov (RUS) 76(7) 46 63

Tomas Berdych (CZE) d Kristof Vliegen (BEL) 63 61 64
Radek Stepanek (CZE) d Steve Darcis (BEL) 64 76(4) 76(5)
Tomas Berdych/Radek Stepanek (CZE) d Kristof Vliegen/Olivier Rochus (BEL) 67(2) 76(6) 75 57 64
Steve Darcis (BEL) d Lukas Dlouhy (CZE) 76(1) 64
Ruben Bemelmans (BEL) d Pavel Vizner (CZE) 67(4) 75 22 ret.

David Nalbandian (ARG) d Jamie Baker (GBR) 61 63 63
Agustin Calleri (ARG) d Alex Bogdanovic (GBR) 63 61 61
Jose Acasuso/David Nalbandian (ARG) d Ross Hutchins/Jamie Murray (GBR) 62 76(11) 60
Jose Acasuso (ARG) v Alex Bogdanovic (GBR) 75 75
Jamie Baker (GBR) d Agustin Calleri (ARG) 76(4) 64

SWEDEN defeats ISRAEL 3-2
Dudi Sela (ISR) d Jonas Bjorkman (SWE) 76(8) 63 61
Thomas Johansson (SWE) d Harel Levy (ISR) 61 61 63
Jonathan Erlich/Andy Ram (ISR) d Simon Aspelin/Robert Lindstedt (SWE) 63 76(3) 75
Thomas Johansson (SWE) d Dudi Sela (ISR) 76(6) 61 75
Jonas Bjorkman (SWE) d Harel Levy (ISR) 06 64 63 76(6)

GERMANY defeats KOREA 3-2
Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) d Jae-Sung An (KOR) 62 62 62
Hyung-Taik Lee (KOR) d Florian Mayer (GER) 75 63 16 76(7) 63
Philipp Kohlschreiber/Philipp Petzschner (GER) d Woong-Sun Jun/Jae-Sung An (KOR) 61 63 63
Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) d Hyung-Taik Lee (KOR) 60 46 61 76(1)
Woong-Sun Jun (KOR) d Michael Berrer (GER) 61 36 64

SPAIN defeats PERU 5-0
Nicolas Almagro (ESP) d Matias Silva (PER) 63 75 60
Tommy Robredo (ESP) d Ivan Miranda (PER) 62 63 63
Feliciano Lopez/Fernando Verdasco (ESP) d Luis Horna/Ivan Miranda (PER) 63 64 76(4)
Tommy Robredo (ESP) d Mauricio Echazu (PER) 64 61
Nicolas Almagro (ESP) d Ivan Miranda (PER) 62 63

FRANCE defeats ROMANIA 5-0
Richard Gasquet (FRA) d Victor Hanescu (ROM) 76(5) 64 75
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) d Andrei Pavel (ROM) 67(2) 64 64 64
Arnaud Clement/Michael Llodra (FRA) d Florin Mergea/Horia Tecau (ROM) 63 64 67(6) 36 62 Michael Llodra (FRA) d Andrei Pavel (ROM) 76(5) 76(7)
Arnaud Clement (FRA) d Horia Tecau (ROM) 76(3) 26 64

Andy Roddick (USA) d Jurgen Melzer (AUT) 64 46 63 67(4) 63
James Blake (USA) d Stefan Koubek (AUT) 57 75 62 62
Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan (USA) d Julian Knowle/Jurgen Melzer (AUT) 61 64 62
Stefan Koubek (AUT) v Mike Bryan (USA) 75 10 ret.
Bob Bryan (USA) d Werner Eschauer (AUT) 60 36 76(3)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

USA Advances To Davis Cup Quarterfinals

Bob and Mike Bryan have clenched a quartefinal birth for the defending champions with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 rout over Austria's Julian Knowle and Jurgen Melzer.

The win sets up a mouth-watering, blockbuster home tie against France in April in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Team USA won their quarterfinal against Spain in Winston-Salem last spring.

If everyone is healthy, I expect France to field the same team they beat Romania with: Australian Open runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet, and reigning Wimbledon doubles champs Arnaud Clement and Micheal Llodra.

I'll be there.

Go, USA!

Random Stats

Andy Roddick's win yesterday gives him 27 singles victories in Davis Cup, moving him into third place on the all-time American list. He is now tied with the great Arthur Ashe.

The Bryans, with their fourteenth victory, are now tied for first place with John McEnroe and Peter Fleming.


Tomas Berdych/Radek Stepanek (CZE) d Kristof Vliegen/Olivier Rochus (BEL) 67(2) 76(6) 75 57 64

Jose Acasuso/David Nalbandian (ARG) d Ross Hutchins/Jamie Murray (GBR)
62 76(11) 60

SPAIN defeats 3-0
Feliciano Lopez/Fernando Verdasco (ESP) d Luis Horna/Ivan Miranda (PER) 63 64

FRANCE defeats ROMANIA 3-0
Arnaud Clement/Michael Llodra (FRA) d Florin Mergea/Horia Tecau (ROM) 63 64 67(6) 36 62

Novak Djokovic/Nenad Zimonjic (SRB) d Mikhail Youzhny/Dmitry Tursunov (RUS) 63 76(6) 76(5)

Jonathan Erlich/Andy Ram (ISR) d Simon Aspelin/Robert Lindstedt (SWE) 63 76(3) 75

Philipp Kohlschreiber/Philipp Petzschner (GER) d Woong-Sun Jun/Jae-Sung An (KOR) 61 63 63

Friday, February 08, 2008

USA Leads Austria 2-0

At this juncutre in his career, Andy Roddick's game can be summarized quite succinctly: Andy inside the baseline, champion. Andy behind the baseline, a solid Top 10 player prone to upset by almost anybody in the Top 50, give or take.

His opening rubber against the pesky lefty Jurgen Melzer, ranked No. 57 in the world, could be seen as a microcosm of Andy's entire career to date. Roddick the champion, who won his first two titles on clay and who'd never dropped a set to Melzer in 6 meetings, recovered from a slow start to take the first set.

But the more the champion drifted behind the baseline on the sand the Austrians dumped on top of whatever they dumped it on top of, the easier Melzer was able to dictate play with net approaches and drop shots that flustered the American. So he lost the second set, won the third, and lost the fourth in a tiebreak, thanks to that sandy court that sent balls bouncing overhead and a few home-friendly net cords.

But Andy the champion changed his tactics in the final set, stepped inside the court on returns, approached the net, and hit his groundstrokes with more weight and depth. Even though he fell behind an early break, he reeled of four straight games to take a 4-1 lead, held his advantage and sealed the rubber 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3 to put the USA on the board first.

History tells us that when Andy wins the first set of a tie, the USA has gone 5-0 since 2004. When he loses the first rubber, our record is 2-2.

James Blake apparently got that memo and defeated Stefan Koubek 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2. Even after falling apart and dropping the last 4 games of the first set, he didn't away. Despite behind down a break with points to go down a double break in the second set, he took advantage of a lapse from Koubek and won seven straight games (he got some crucial net cords to go his way as well) to level the rubber and take a two-break lead in the third. Too good to be true, he dropped one of the breaks, but got it back to win the match comfortably in the end.

Overall, he played with patience and poise. Sure he overhit here and there, made a poor shot selection now and then, but he constructed points as though he knew the geometry of the entire sandbox. I'm sure many spectators were surprised but no one more than Koubek. The Austrian, despite support from his fans, simply had no answers for the questions James asked.

So, Blake wins his first five-set match at the US Open last summer, wins a crucial rubber in the Davis Cup final, comes back from two sets down for the first time in his career at the Australian Open where he made the quarterfinals for the first time and played Roger Federer almost as though he believed he could actually beat him, and won his first live rubber in Davis Cup on clay away from home.

And the last of these after battling flu-like symptoms at the beginning of the week.

Who does he think he is? If he's not careful, people are going to start mistaking him for a mentally tough warrior. If I'd been able to attend the tie, I'd have been cheering loudly with the NetHeads, too.

Go, USA!

World Group Scoreboard

Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) d Nenad Zimonjic (SRB) 26 63 62 64
Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) d Viktor Troicki (SRB) 61 16 63 16 62

Tomas Berdych (CZE) d Kristof Vliegen (BEL) 63 61 64
Radek Stepanek (CZE) d Steve Darcis (BEL) 64 76(4) 76(5)

David Nalbandian (ARG) d Jamie Baker (GBR) 61 63 63
Agustin Calleri (ARG) d Alex Bogdanovic (GBR) 63 61 61

ISRAEL tied with SWEDEN 1-1
Dudi Sela (ISR) d Jonas Bjorkman (SWE) 76(8) 63 61
Thomas Johansson (SWE) d Harel Levy (ISR) 61 61 63

Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) d Jae-Sung An (KOR) 62 62 62
Hyung-Taik Lee (KOR) d Florian Mayer (GER) 75 63 16 76(7) 63

SPAIN 2 leads PERU 2-0
Nicolas Almagro (ESP) d Matias Silva (PER) 63 75 60
Tommy Robredo (ESP) d Ivan Miranda (PER) 62 63 63

Richard Gasquet (FRA) d Victor Hanescu (ROM) 76(5) 64 75
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) d Andrei Pavel (ROM) 67(2) 64 64 64

Davis Cup Day 1 Doldrums

Serbia was supposed to be competitive with Russia. But Serbia's top two players, Novak Djokovic and Janko Tipsarevic, pulled out of Day 1 action with flu-like symptons. Djoke pulled out 45 minutes before he was scheduled to start play looking pale and tired. Apparently, he was fine at his press conference. Doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic subbed for Djoke and lost the first rubber in four sets to Mikhail Youhzny. As I write this, Victor Troicki is about to make his Davis Cup debut against Nikolay Davydenko. So much for a competitive tie.

Things that make you go, "Hmmmm...."

And then there are the things that make you spit bullets. The defending Davis Cup champions are playing in Austria and there is no live television coverage in the States. Versus will air the rubbers each day at noon EST on tape delay, TC will repeat them at 8:00pm. Andy Roddick takes on Jurgen Melzer, followed by James Blake against Stefan Koubek.

Alas, I'll wait till noon because scoreboard watching just isn't how I want to watch the defending champs play their first tie since bringing the cup back to the USA.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

All About Race

Yes, it's Black History Month, but the issues Savannah writes about with clarity and insight in her latest Heard Around aren't contained to one month of the calendar. Here's but one example:

A widely read American tennis blogger Peter Bodo posted a column comparing what is characterized as the calm cool demeanor and play of Northern European Roger Federer to what he classifies as the thoughtless, animalistic play of Rafael Nadal. Nadal is described as not using too much strategy when on court while Federer is described as a clinician, someone who is always thinking. Guess this guy doesn’t know much about clay court play where Nadal is a genius at constructing points, something American players seem to not be able to do too well. Someone who has made two Wimbledon finals, the latest after a three peat at the clay majors leading up to it, made the semi’s of Australia and won Indian Wells last year is simply an instinctual player according to this blogger.


When a respected blogger posts about a players “animalistic” demeanor on court isn’t he responsible for an alleged tennis fan posting that said player is a “wild animal”?

Read the rest and have your say.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

American Hero

(AP Photo)

I apologize for being a day late and a dollar short. But you can blame the rain in southern California for delaying the second day of Fed Cup action between USA and Germany until yesterday. By the time the matches ended, I had to be en route to Boston, where I now sit and throw together this scattered post.

Here's to Ashley Harkleroad, who came into her own once more and led the USA to a 4-1 victory in her Fed Cup debut. I said all I can say about her game and poise and composure in my last post, and it was nice to see her fight through her nerves and close out the tie on serve on her first attempt. Especially against the hot-ticket-of-the-moment in Sabine Lisicki.

For a woman so young, she is a tennis veteran of sorts. What with a marriage a divorce a broken engagement (I'm typing from memory here so if I'm wrong about these personal matters, someone correct me), a retirement from tennis because she couldn't handle the pressure of being America's Next Big Thing on women's side, and her comeback to the tour through challengers as the game seemed to have passed her by and we've got a gritty fighter who showed all that and more in for her team and her country.

Lindsay Davenport bounced back, as expected, and put a 46-minute beatdown on Julia Georges, a last minute substitution of Tatjana Malek who showed she could not handle the stress of Fed Cup. After the final singles rubber, Lindsay and veteran Lisa Raymond but on a brief doubles clinic against Anna-Lena Groenefeld (what the hell ever happened to her?) and Goerges, losing just two game.

(AFP/Getty Images)

Next up for the USA is a trip to Moscow to face Russia who overcame all of Israel in a 4-1 victory.

I watched the reverse singles of the Russia-Isreal tie and the Israeli crowd was back in full force trying to do whatever it could to get their players a victory. But Maria Sharapova and Anna Chakvetadze were having none of it.

For her part, AnnaC went practically bonkers out there. But that was her way of telling the crowd to go screw itself.

Vlad corrected my match facts. I hate when I get a fact from a match wrong, because there's really no excuse for that, but I stand by everything else I wrote. In particular, I've seen worse from crowds. That is my perception. I said I wouldn't go there, but I've changed my mind. Consider this a Tuesday Tirade if you must (you hear me, helen w?).

Agree or not, but I consider it worse when your home fans turn on you, boo you, and shout racist slurs at you in the finals of a Tier 1 event virtually in your own backyard as they did against Serena Williams at Indian Wells in 2001. I consider it worse when the French fans act like a lynch mob simply because you are trying to defend your title by beating a desperate and cheating woman in the 2003 Roland Garros semifinal. And lest you think I feel this way only because I'm a fan of Serena, I will point out that the Madrid fans were worse to Tomas Berdych, whom I no fan of, simply because he was beating homeboy Rafael Nadal at the Madrid Masters in 2006. Tomas had to serve through jeers and hit his groundstrokes through boos. And this was before his infamous finger shush to the crowd after the match, much like the one Sharapova gestured to the Israeli crowd after the first day of the tie in question. Tomas was chastised by fans; Maria, applauded. And who can forget the way the Flushing Meadows fans booed and hissed at a cramping Marcos Baghdatis in the the second round on the 2007 US Open simply because it was Andre Agassi's last Slam event? There's more, but I'll stop. You get my point.

None of the events above were venues where any such fan behavior was expected (well...) or ought to have been tolerated. Davis Cup and Fed Cup remain the only tennis competitions where such roudy and rude fan behavior is part of the attraction of the event. All players know what they're getting into. Know that they have to beat their opponents and the fans. No player expects to be coddled by the opposing team's fans because of what he or she might have gone through off the court during the off-season. This references a fan who suggested the crowd should be ashamed of itself if it knew that AnnaC's family home had been robbed at gunpoint in December. But AnnaC didn't back down from her attackers then. With her life on the line. That experience, which she emerged from physically unscathed, makes what she had to deal with on a tennis court a stroll in the park. Take a look:

Ultimately, how a visiting team deals with hostility can ultimately decide the outcome of a tie. Maria and AnnaC were defiant and antagonistic and it worked for them. Both admitted that the atmosphere motivated them even more to win their matches. Weaker-minded players may have cowered. But not these women. Oh, no. They held their ground, stood strong, and prevailed anyway.

So who, exactly, was harmed by the crowd's behavior?

And lest we also forget, the officials in Davis Cup and Fed Cup have the discretion to give the visiting team points or even games if the crowd's behavior crosses whatever line it needs to cross for the point and game penalties to be given. How often did they use that discretion during this tie?

Mob behavior is just that. If the tie officials don't do their jobs, well, then....

Monday, February 04, 2008

Serena Graces Monarch Magazine

Just in time for Black History Month. Great article. Great photos. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Who Cares About Fed Cup?

Lindsay Davenport does. Which is why her listless and erratic performance against Sabine Lisicki in the first rubber of the USA v. Germany tie today, a match she was certainly favored to win, was difficult to watch.

But that's Fed Cup. Where anything can happen and anything did. Lindsay lost 1-6, 5-7.

For her part, the 18-year-old German making her Fed Cup debut played a great match. She followed up her third-round outing at the Australian Open, complete with an upset over Dinara Safina in the first round, with a great performance on American soil. Her first serve was tough to read, her groundstrokes precise, her attitude on full display. One fan called her a cheerleader. I called her a drill team sergeant. She had Lindsay, who'd never played her before, miffed and on her back foot throughout the entire match.

The teen's biggest weakness was her second serve. She offered up 11 double faults, 4 in the fifth game of the second set when she gave up her only break of the match. But like a drill team sergeant with attitude, she rebounded to win the last five games of the match and leave the veteran American with a bit of egg on her face as she lost her first Fed Cup match in, well... forever.

Ashley Harkleroad cares about Fed Cup, too. After captain Zina Garrison emailed her to tell her she was on the team, she was honored and called her parents right away to tell them of her good fortune.

And she carried herself on-court as if she had no care in the world. In her own Fed Cup debut, she was fearless, poised, composed and precise, picking apart the awkward game of Tatjana Malek with a 6-1, 6-3 rout.

Pebbles, a nickname given her from her Flintstone, Georgia roots, moves so well that even against power players (not that Malek is a power player) she gives herself a chance. But she doesn't just rely on defense. She knows how to construct points and end them. Even at the net if called for. What she lacks in power she makes up for in craft. I've always liked her. And I was reminded today of her few great performances on big stages before her retirement in 2004. Indian Wells was the first place she made her mark, and that tournament rapidly approaches.

But till then, she can remind tennis enthusiasts who she is if she can compete well tomorrow in reverse singles and make Lisicki feel the pressure that Lindsay, almost shockingly, could not.

Maria Sharapova cares about Fed Cup as well. I think. She's never managed to bring herself to play it before, but with the Olympics just around the corner...

Tennis Channel, which is where I was able to watch the USA tie, also aired the Israel vs. Russia tie live in the wee hours of the morning. I never saw anything quite like it.

The tennis itself was unbearable. Against Dinara Safina, Shahar Pe'er lost the first 6 games of the first rubber and won the last 6. Maria Sharapova routed Tzipi Obziler 6-0, 6-4.

But the crowd provided all the drama. Really. They were roudy and clapped and whistled and cheered and booed at all the wrong times. On first serve faults and even while the ball was in play. And they went after Maria like she had robbed their mothers.

But I must say, the Australian Open champion brought it on herself. Yup. She pulled a Justine Henin, circa Australian Open 2004. If you remember the final in which she made an out call on a break point deep in the decisive set against Kim Clijsters and Sandra de Jenken gave her the call on an overall. If you don't remember, well... here it is.

Yes. Maria had her Justine moment. In the second set, fully in control of the match, but beginning to crack a bit as the finish line approached, Maria faced her first break point. After an extended rally, a Sharapova forehand clipped the net cord and landed short in the court. Obziler chased it down and bunted a forehand volley that clipped the back of the line. The Israeli pumped her fist. The crowd erupted.

But Maria made an appeal, index finger up, just like Justine, to the chair umpire, the infamous Mariana Alves of the Serena Williams US Open 2004 quarterfinal debacle. True to form, the disgraceful umpire overruled the call in the midst of all the noise. Deuce. When the crowd figured out what happened, it took a minute, it booed for several more. During the next three points, every time Maria struck a groundstroke, the crowd, in unison, shrieked right along with Maria.

I'd never seen anything like it. And I couldn't stop laughing. Not even after the Isreali captain took the umpire's microphone and told them to cut it out. I mean really. To hear Maria's shriek amplified by the crowd's chorus was one of those unexpected moments I'll never forget.

Some say the crowd was wrong. Perhaps. But it's Fed Cup, so it's to be expected. I've seen worse behavior from crowds in Flushing Meadows and Madrid, but that's a whole other story and we aren't going there right now.

In this situation, I think the crowd wasn't going to give Maria a pass for what it obviously perceived as cheating. Whether it was or not is beside the point. The crowd seemed to think it was and they went after Maria for it.

But Maria didn't care. Don't let the blond hair and blue eyes and femme glamor fool you. She's as butch as a lumberjack and she will cut you. Even eat your babies. Pick and suck her teeth afterwards right to your face. On this day, she pumped her fists, yelled her "C'mons!", never stopped her shrieking and won the match in spite of her "tactics" and the disdain of the fans.

People who make their beds know how to lie in them. Comfortably.

Tomorrow's rubbers ought to be interesting.


ISRAEL level with RUSSIA 1-1
Venue: Canada Stadium, Ramat Hasharon, Israel (hard - outdoors)

Shahar Peer (ISR) d. Dinara Safina (RUS) 06 62 62
Maria Sharapova (RUS) d. Tzipi Obziler (ISR) 60 64
Shahar Peer (ISR) v Maria Sharapova (RUS)
Tzipi Obziler (ISR) v Dinara Safina (RUS)
Tzipi Obziler/Shahar Peer (ISR) v Anna Chakvetadze/Elena Vesnina (RUS)

USA level with GERMANY 1-1
Venue: La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, La Jolla, CA, USA (hard - outdoors)

Sabine Lisicki (GER) d. Lindsay Davenport (USA) 61 75
Ashley Harkleroad (USA) d. Tatjana Malek (GER) 61 63
Lindsay Davenport (USA) v Tatjana Malek (GER)
Ashley Harkleroad (USA) v Sabine Lisicki (GER)
Lisa Raymond/Lindsay Davenport (USA) v Anna-Lena Groenefeld/Julia Georges (GER)

CHINA, P.R. leads FRANCE 2-0
Venue: Beijing International Tennis Centre, Beijing, China, P.R. (hard – indoors)

Na Li (CHN) d. Alize Cornet (FRA) 63 61
Shuai Peng (CHN) d. Virginie Razzano (FRA) 46 63 64
Na Li (CHN) v Virginie Razzano (FRA)
Shuai Peng (CHN) v Alize Cornet (FRA)
Zi Yan/Jie Zheng (CHN) v Nathalie Dechy/Virginie Razzano (FRA)

SPAIN leads ITALY 2-0
Venue: PalaVesuvio, Naples, Italy (hard - indoors)

Nuria Llagostera Vives (ESP) d. Francesca Schiavone (ITA) 76(4) 36 62
Anabel Medina Garrigues (ESP) d. Flavia Pennetta (ITA) 62 63
Francesca Schiavone (ITA) v Anabel Medina Garrigues (ESP)
Flavia Pennetta (ITA) v Nuria Llagostera Vives (ESP)
Sara Errani/Tathiana Garbin (ITA) v Lourdes Dominguez-Lino/Carla Suarez-Navarro (ESP)


UKRAINE level with BELGIUM 1-1
Venue: Palace of Sports "Lokomotiv", Kharkov, Ukraine (clay - indoors)

Alona Bondarenko (UKR) d. Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) 61 62
Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) d. Katerina Bondarenko (UKR) 76(5) 61
Alona Bondarenko (UKR) v Yanina Wickmayer (BEL)
Katerina Bondarenko (UKR) v Kirsten Flipkens (BEL)
Mariya Koryttseva/Tetyana Perebiynis (UKR) v Tamaryn Hendler/Caroline Maes (BEL)

JAPAN level with CROATIA 1-1
Venue: Beans Dome, Mikishi, Japan (hard - indoors)

Akiko Morigami (JPN) d. Nika Ozegovic (CRO) 26 75 61
Jelena Kostanic Tosic (CRO) d. Aiko Nakamura (JPN) 63 36 63
Akiko Morigami (JPN) v Jelena Kostanic Tosic (CRO)
Aiko Nakamura (JPN) v Nika Ozegovic (CRO)
Rika Fujiwara/Ayumi Morita (JPN) v Jelena Kostanic Tosic/Ana Vrljic (CRO)

Venue: Brno Exhibition Centre, Brno, Czech Republic (carpet - indoors)

Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) d. Petra Cetkovska (CZE) 75 63
Nicole Vaidisova (CZE) d. Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK) 75 64
Nicole Vaidisova (CZE) v Dominika Cibulkova (SVK)
Petra Cetkovska (CZE) v Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK)
Iveta Benesova/Kveta Peschke (CZE) v Dominika Cibulkova/Janette Husarova (SVK)

ARGENTINA level with AUSTRIA 1-1
Venue: Estadio Parque Roca, Buenos Aires, Argentina (clay - outdoors)

Jorgelina Cravero (ARG) d. Yvonne Meusberger (AUT) 76(4) 63
Melanie Klaffner (AUT) d. Maria Emilia Salerni (ARG) 26 63 75
Maria Emilia Salerni (ARG) v Yvonne Meusberger (AUT)
Jorgelina Cravero (ARG) v Melanie Klaffner (AUT)
Maria Irigoyen/Betina Jozami (ARG) v Patricia Mayr/Barbara Schwartz (AUT)

For full coverage, go to the Fed Cup official website.

Ready For His Closeup

Feliciano Lopez makes his small screen debut on a popular Spanish soap opera.

"It was a really fun experience," Lopez told the ATP. "Everything is so different from what you see on TV. The actors put me at ease right away and we laughed a lot during the entire shooting session. I was a bit tense at the beginning but it went away really quickly. I'm hoping to get to do this again."

Friday, February 01, 2008

Sampras Has Exhibition Fever

2000 Tennis Masters Cup - Lisbon, Portugal

The Great One has agreed to take on the Mercurial One in an exhibition match at the SAP Open on February 18 in San Jose, California.

Apparently Pete Sampras misses competitive tennis more than he's letting on. And while all the talk has been of the recent and upcoming exos between him and the man chasing his history, it was the Marat Safin-Sampras rivalry that threatened to become one of the greatest rivalries in men's tennis at the dawn of the 21st century.

They played seven times between 1998 and 2002. Pete won the first meeting; Marat the last. If you throw out their "meaningless" World Team Cup match on clay which Marat won, their head-to-head stood at 3 wins apiece when Pete retired. And all those matches were at Slams or Masters events.

Big Tennis.

Speaking of which, former top 10 player Joachim Johansson has decided to call it quits at the ripe old age of 25. It seems his blown-out shoulder hasn't healed after several surgeries and every specialist he's consulted told him there was no hope. His huge serve turned against him.Tough stuff for the young Swede. Tough stuff indeed.