Sunday, January 31, 2010

Roger Federer Savors Sweet 16

Roger Federer of Switzerland kisses the champion's trophy after defeating Britain's Andy Murray in the men's singles final of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 31, 2010.
Reuters

"That was sweet," Roger Federer said to Wayne McEwan, tournament referee, shortly after subduing Andy Murray 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(11) in two hours and 41 minutes on Rod Laver arena last night.

With the victory, Raja wins his fourth Australian Open crown and his 16th Slam title, moving his championship accomplishments into a higher stratosphere.

As peytonallen commented:

What else can you say about Federer? He played great. He missed the Grand Slam last year by a few games. With Rafa on walkabout, and Fed already slaying his French demons its [sic] not unrealistic to follow this story. Especially when his rivals continue to fall.

The man is approaching 29 and he's proving to be in superior shape against everyone else on tour. When was the last time this guy sprained an ankle? To be this age in his tennis career and not really miss any time for injuries is remarkable. I used to doubt his boasts that he could go into his mid-30s, but really he looks just as fresh now as he did at 22.

I think its [sic] impossible to pick a greatest player of all-time, only the greatest of his era, or the greatest 'careers.' Fed is having a career no other male player dared dream. He's 2 slams away from tying [Chris] Evert and Martina [Navratilova]. A player on the ATP could have 18 slams. Laughable. If he gets there by the US Open, wouldn't his attention have to turn to the all-time record, men and women's? Which is, what? 22? I'm being lazy and not looking but he's not stopping.

The Fed storyline in the last year has really come out of a comic book alternative universe plot. After looking mentally broken from the first part of the year after the [Rafael] Nadal defeat his biggest rival, a man some were ready to proclaim as the better player goes down with injury and mental fatigue. The result has been Federer's wonderland.

I wonder if whoever is writing this decides its [sic] time to reintroduce the Nadal character into the storyline? I know many of the book's readers think so.


I love it when someone else does my work.

For me, I hoped the match would go five sets, but I always believed it would be over in three. Thus, the "ass on a silver runner-up platter" prediction. The outcome was just never in doubt. Yes, Murray put up a fight to not go down two breaks of serve in the second set. Yes, Murray played some great tennis to get a break midway though the second set, but it took a string of errors from Raja to even get the chance. Yes, the 24-point tiebreak was dramatic, with the outcome of the set in doubt as the score teetered from set point to championship point.

But the outcome of the match was never in doubt. Even if Murray had won the tiebreak, we knew Raja would win the fourth. Even when Murray served for the third set at 5-3, we knew he wouldn't close.

Roger Federer of Switzerland holds the champion's trophy after defeating Britain's Andy Murray in the men's singles final of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 31, 2010.
Reuters

Why? Because despite all the childish and brotherly mind games the players indulged in before the match, Murray openly admitted that he's not trying to win Slams for himself. Despite my belief that he simply doesn't possess the requisite weaponry to win a Slam, there's simply no way the mindset expressed in this exchange is going to produce a champion.

Q. Is there any extra motivation for you to know that you could be the one to break a long Grand Slam drought for Britain?

ANDY MURRAY: Yeah, I mean, I'd obviously love to do it. It's not really the only reason, you know, that I want to win a slam. I want to win it, you know, obviously for the people that I work with, for my parents and stuff, who obviously helped me when I was growing up, then doing it for British tennis and British sport would be excellent, as well.

But, you know, the pressure that I feel doesn't come from the people that are around me. They obviously are happy with anything that I do. But, you know, I want to win for them first.

It's one thing to read this exchange, it was quite another to witness it on television. Murray's body language and countenance betrayed a sense of resignation. I suppose living your life for other people and not (yet?) being able to find the desire to live for yourself can produce the demeanor he displayed during this exchange.

If Murray is to prove me wrong and mature to a point where he can actually play for himself, develop some weapons, and win a Slam, he's going to need to extract himself from the mental war he's allowed Raja to draw him into. He's going to need to do what Mats Wilander hoped and not "give a shit about Britian."

As for Raja. Having claimed his first major as a father, I suspect he'll win many more. One of his new stated goals is to hoist a trophy when his twin girls are old enough to appreciate their father's triumph. We have no reason to believe he won't stay healthy long enough to achieve it. And we know if Andre Agassi was still winning major titles into his thirties, Raja will also be motivated to improve upon that by winning more.

For now, it's up to Juan Martín del Potro and Rafael Nadal to stop him.

Switzerland's Roger Federer lifts the championship's trophy beside Andy Murray of Britain after winning their men's singles final match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 31, 2010.
Reuters

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 31:  (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been converted to black and white.
Getty

Quote For The Day

“[Serena Williams] could have been the greatest ever (record wise) and I still think that when she plays her best, that she is the best ever. She's smarter, and has the power and the speed. But what I really appreciate is how much she's grown up. She's so much better now at recognizing the other players now. There's life after tennis and you want to be well adjusted when you retire.” --Billie Jean King

Australian Open 2010 Men's Final Open Thread



My preview is here; Mad Professah's, here. How about a 5-setter to go with the ladies' 3-setter?

I'll be staying up all night once again.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Federer vs. Murray: Two And A Half Men


Getty

Whenever Roger Federer and Andy Murray talk about each other, I can't help but think of that American sitcom starring Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer who portray two brothers with a comic relationship characterized by competition and resentment.

I get the feeling that if they weren't sporting rivals not all that fond of one another, they'd be playing tricks on the other, trying to score the prettiest woman in the room. As it is, they try to psyche each other out in interviews, seeking the upper hand in the mind games before scoring victory on the court.

As Barry Flatman writes:

As Murray prepares for the biggest match of his tennis life in today’s Australian Open final, with the opportunity to become Britain’s first male Grand Slam champion since 1936, he may reflect on the pre-match posturing of opponent Roger Federer. Some would regard the Swiss’ comments that things are much easier for him because Murray is burdened with the expectations of a nation that has had to wait 150,000 years for a Grand Slam winner as relaxed, confident and comical.

Others would regard them as snide and insensitive to a nation yearning, desperately, for another champion after such a long drought.

But while the unforgiving press reminds the fang-flashing, primal-screaming Scot how important the first set will be, given Raja's record of winning 47 of 48 matches Down Under after taking the first set, Murray gets in a sting of his own:

Well, I mean, against Del Potro at the US Open last year, he was up a set and serving for the set, and Del Potro came back. You know, guys have come back against him in the past.

Obviously, it would be nice to start well, but I don't think it's the end of the match if the start doesn't go my way. Five‑set matches, so much can happen. A lot can change in just a few points, like my match the other night against Cilic. It's not the end of the world if the start doesn't go to plan.

And then there's this:

In the past few years he’s also lost a lot of close matches in five sets, including slam finals.

You hear that, Raja? Murray won't be withering like a wind-burnt pea pod just because you get a lead. So don't let up or you'll be trying to improve upon your relatively mediocre five-set record in another Grand Slam final.

But Raja isn't one to let others do his bidding. No way, no how. He's quite capable of tooting his own horn and dismissing his rivals with a serving of cattiness wrapped in Leonine charm with a side of delusion. The recipe of many a great champion.

As Doug Perry, a Federer aficionado, freely admits:

Federer has shown over the years an unfortunate propensity for flippant remarks about his rivals. He shelved the Muhammad Ali-like self-huzzahs when his quest for the all-time major record bogged down amid Rafael Nadal's endless crunching forehands, but now they're back.

That might be a bit of an understatement. Check this out:

He’s in his second grand-slam final now and I think the first one’s always a bit tougher than the second one. Now that he didn’t win the first one, I think it doesn’t help for the second one around. Plus he’s playing, you know, me, who’s won many grand-slams and has been able to win here three times, so I know what it takes and how to do it, which is definitely an advantage.

I don’t feel the pressure’s really on me having to do it again because I did it before. I think he really needs it more than I do, so the pressure’s bigger on him. We’ll see how he’s going to handle it. It’s not going to be easy for him, that’s for sure.

Without taking anything away from him, I think a few times he played me I wasn’t at my very, very best. I played him on a couple of occasions — Dubai comes to mind — when I had just come back from resting, after my mono [mononucleosis, the illness]. I know some don’t like to hear it and some still don’t believe me for some reason.

We had some close matches on many occasions where I thought I was in control and I ended up giving the match away by making errors of my own. That was definitely because of his play and the way he plays. That’s why I don’t really care too much about how the head-to-head stands [6-4 in Murray’s favour]. Every match is played differently.”

Ah, yes. The reintroduction of the mono excuse explanation, giving new meaning to Raja's Mr. Monogram nickname.

The reason some fans raise an eyebrow about your claims of mononucleosis, Mr. Mono-gram, is because, well, you never even missed an event because of it, unlike, say, Mario Ancic who can't seem to overcome his own bout with the energy sapping illness after more than two years.

But I digress.

Murray is having none of it.

But to me that stuff he said is irrelevant. I have always been pretty respectful about his game. He’s probably the greatest player that’s ever played. But if every time he loses to me he thinks it’s because he hasn’t played his best, well, every time I have lost against him I don’t think I have played my best either.


Don't they sound like brothers?

Both men claim to enjoy the match up. Both men claim to have the other's number. Both men insist the outcome of the match is on their racquet.

So who will be this year's Wizard of Oz?

In tonight's rematch of the 2008 US Open final, I've got a sneaking suspicion the world No. 1 is going to hand the world No. 5 his ass on a silver runner-up platter.

I, for one, would be perfectly happy with back-to-back-to-back five-set Slam finals, but I'm not holding my breath.

May the best brother man win.

::

Cross posted to The Huffington Post


Serena Williams Australian Open Trophy Photo Shoot



(Thanks, On the Baseline)

Serena Williams Wins Lengendary No. 12

Serena Williams of the U.S. poses with the champion's trophy after defeating Belgium's Justine Henin in the women's singles final at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 30, 2010.
Reuters

It wasn't always pretty, but Serena Williams rained on Justine Henin's fairytale comeback parade to take her fifth Australian Open crown, an Open Era record.

Fighting through nerves, sticky feet, and legs heavy as wet hay, the world No. 1 picked apart Henin's game at the most crucial moments of the match for a gritty 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 victory on Rod Laver Arena last night.

It's the first time the American defended a Slam since Wimbledon 2003. The first to defend a title Down Under since Jennifer Capriati in 2002. And she finally broke the even-year jinx, winning a title in the first year of the decade to go with crowns in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009.

Serena has now won a Slam in three different decades, beginning with her maiden US Open title in 1999 at age seventeen.

With the victory, she claimed her 12th major title, equaling her idol Billie Jean King for sixth place on the all-time list. Serena now trails only Margaret Smith Court (24), Steffi Graf (22), Helen Wills Moody (19), Martina Navratilova (19) and Chris Evert (18).

With her five Australian Opens, she surpasses Smith Court, Graf, Monica Seles, and Evonne Goolagong for the most won in the Open Era. And she improves her overall winning percentage in Grand Slam finals to 12-3 (.800) the best among active players, woman or man.

Henin, who retired in a cloud of questions 20 months ago, was trying to repeat Kim Clijsters' comeback success by winning her first major entered, and to become the second unranked woman to win a Slam in the Open Era. (Bet I know who Clijsters was rooting for last night.) Despite Henin's run to the finals, she'll remain unranked on Monday. The WTA rankings system requires three events on the computer before spitting out a number before your name.

The Little Backhand That (Almost) Could played brilliantly in stretches and fought like she always fights, but it wasn't enough to overcome a determined defending champion. Despite being mummified with tape on her right thigh and left calf, and playing every day of the event for the last week and a half, including defending her doubles title with her big sister the day before, Serena had two practice sessions earlier in the day to get her feet moving and prepare for Henin's low slices.

In the first few games of the match, you would've never known. Serena had to serve 29 times, fight through two break points and five deuces just to hold her opening service game. She broke Henin's serve to lead 3-1 but faced another 15-40 deficit. She saved the first break point with a 119 MPH service winner.

On the second, a controversial line call denied the Belgian a break back. Henin played a great point to win the game but it had to be replayed because the linesperson called Henin's short volley out, corrected herself, but Serena chased the ball down and got her racquet on it. The crowd booed. When Serena struck another service winner to save break point, Henin cursed behind the baseline, and the crowd booed again. From thereon, it was firmly in Henin's corner.

Serena dropped the next three games to level the set and 4-4, but composed herself and broke Henin again in the ninth game to take the first set.

40 for 40 in wins Down Under after taking the first set, Serena was poised to run away with the match. Leading 3-2 in set two, she earned a break point on Henin's serve, but hit a forehand into Melbourne. After a few more deuces, Henin held on.

At 3-3, 30-0, Serena tossed in a wild double fault that landed halfway between the service line and the baseline. I gagged. So did Serena. She won a single point the rest of the set. Her feet froze, her mind wandered, and Henin took full advantage, striking line-cleaning winners off both wings from all over the court to win the set 6-3 and level the match.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 30:  Justine Henin of Belgium celebrates winning a point in her women's final match against Serena Williams of the United States of America during day thirteen of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 30, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia.
Getty

Surely the match was now Henin's to lose, right? After all, she had the advantage of opening the third set on her serve.

After both players took an extended bathroom break, Serena returned to the court composed and ready to take names. After the match, she told Mary Jo Fernandez she might not ever get another chance and had to "man up", dig in and go for it. But that's not exactly what she did.

The intensity when these two play is unrivaled and I wasn't sure who would raise her game, hold it together, and seize control of the match. Was this see-saw affair headed to 12-10 in the third?

Momentum still on her side, Henin opened the set with a strong hold at love. Serena once again had to save 15-40 on her serve to level the match. After trading three nervy breaks, Serena finally consolidated one to lead 4-2. The finish line in view, the defending champ switched tactics, adding more topspin and less pace to her shots, spreading the court with angles instead of depth. Henin had trouble creating her own pace on the higher bouncing shots and finally capitulated another break to a fiercely focused Serena who was not to be denied.

Serena Williams of the U.S. celebrates after defeating Justine Henin of Belgium in the women's final match of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 30, 2010.
Reuters

With a strong service game, including the fastest ace of the match at 123 MPH, Serena closed out the tug of war in two hours and seven minutes. Falling on her back in victory, relief broke over her face like surf. When she finally got up to approach the net, she could hardly walk, a fortnight of fatigue on full display. Almost thought she was going to fall down again before reaching the stands and sharing celebratory hugs with her mother and sister.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 30:  Serena Williams of the United States of America is congratulated by her sister Venus Williams after the women's final match against Justine Henin of Belgium during day thirteen of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 30, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia.
Getty

A double duty champion Down Under two years running and fifth overall, Serena the Great put out an extraordinary effort. Now that she's reached her goal of equaling King's Slam victories, she may be more relaxed on the crushed brick of Paris and finally win another crown there.

Henin surely will have something to say about that.

Serena Williams of the U.S. winks during the awarding ceremony after winning her women's singles final match against Belgium's Justine Henin (L) at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 30, 2010.
Reuters

Serena Williams of the U.S. holds the champion's trophy after winning her women's singles final match against Belgium's Justine Henin (R) at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 30, 2010.
Reuters

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 30:  Serena Williams of the United States of America poses with the Daphne Akhurst Trophy in Garden Square after her women's final match win against Justine Henin of Belgium during day thirteen of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 30, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia.
Getty

::

Cross posted to The Huffington Post

Brother Love

Bob Bryan (L) and brother Mike Bryan of the U.S. kiss the champion's trophy after defeating Daniel Nestor of Canada and Serbia's Nenad Zimonjic in the men's doubles final at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 30, 2010.
Reuters

Bob Bryan and brother Mike Bryan of the U.S. kiss the champion's trophy after defeating Daniel Nestor of Canada and Serbia's Nenad Zimonjic 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3 in the men's doubles final at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 30, 2010.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Australian Open 2010: Men's Final Preview

Andy Murray GBR (5) v. Roger Federer SUI (1)

The men's final between 15-time champion Roger Federer of Switzerland and Andy Murray of Great Britain is a reprise of the 2008 US Open Final which Federer won relatively easily to claim his 13th major title. This final will be the 22nd major final of his career (a record) with 15 wins (and 6 losses, 5 of which have come to Rafael Nadal, who Murray dismissed in a quarterfinal encounter earlier in the tournament).

Surprisingly, even though Murray sports a 6-4 advantage against Federer overall, Federer has won their 1(!) meeting in a major 5-set match (which was the 2008 final won by Federer in straight sets) and by some quirk, all their matches have been played on hard courts, although both players possess all-court games.

Murray has looked the sharpest of all the top players all tournament long and has only dropped a single set. Federer has been up and down but he was scintillating in his straight-set elimination of Tsonga in the semifinal. There's no question in my mind if Federer plays his best tennis, he will win the match. It's not clear at 28 years old, facing younger opponents like his arch-rival Nadal, the 21-year-old 6'6" phenom J uan Martín del Potro (who took Federer out in a 5th set US Open final last year) and the 22-year olds Djokovic and Murray how much longer it will be true that when Federer plays his best no one can beat him. I suspect we will find out this year if Federer can even still play his best tennis.

After correctly predicting the result of every single men's match of the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds except for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's surprising 5-set dispatch of 2008 Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, I find this match surprisingly difficult to predict. However, using a similar technique I deployed in predicting the result of the women's final, I will endeavor to approximate a probability of the winner of tonight's match.

There are 6 possibilities: Federer in 3 sets, Federer in 4 sets, Federer in 5 sets, Murray in 3 sets, Murray in 4 sets, Murray in 5 sets. If the match is 3 sets long, I think there is a 76% chance the winner is Federer (24% chance it is Murray). If the match is 4 sets long, there is a 55% chance of Federer winning (a 45% chance for Murray). If the match is 5 sets long, there is a 40% chance of Federer winning (a 60% chance for Murray). Crunching the numbers this corresponds to a 57% probability that Federer will win the match. [One key assumption of this method is that 3 set, 4 set and 5 set matches are equally likely. This is probably not true, if someone has the data on what percentage of Grand Slam matches are 3-set, 4-set or 5-set contests, that would greatly help me improve this technique. In the meantime the assumption of equal likelihood does massively impact the results.]

MadProfessah's pick: Federer in straight sets (Murray in 4 or 5 sets).

Australian Open 2010 Women's Final Open Thread



Highlights from Miami 2008, their last match.

My preview is here. Mad's preview, here. Put our predictions together, I'd say Serena Williams in straight sets or flip a coin if it goes the distance.

What say you?

Australian Open 2010: Women's Final Preview

Justine Henin BEL v. Serena Williams USA (1)

One of the most exciting major tournaments in recent tennis history, and the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the new decade, is hurtling to a conclusion with a mouthwatering final where the competitors have a combined 18 Grand Slam titles between them, which is far more than we have seen since the legendary Steffi Graf was still competing in finals more than a decade ago.

Craig Hickman has done his typically excellent job of summarizing the background as well as the liabilities and strengths of both Serena Williams and Justine Henin coming into tonight's final (which will be on at 12:30am PST, 3:30am EST Saturday).

Briefly, Serena leads their overall head-to-head 7-6, (4-1 on hard courts) but trails 2-4 in major tournaments, the majority of which came in a string of 3 losses to the Belgian in 3 consecutive grand slam quarterfinals in 2007. Their last meeting was a devastating 6-2 6-0 demolition of Henin by Serena in Miami in March the following year; 6 weeks later Henin announced her retirement from competitive tennis.

Despite winning the doubles title with her sister for the second consecutive year, Serena's physical frailty is apparent. In her tense semi-final win over Li Na, Serena at times was barely moving. Her serve has kept her in the tournament and has been impeccable. Henin has been serving atrociously but her overall game is still as impressive as it was before her hiatus; she possesses every shot in tennis, combined with surprising power and superior movement. She has displayed mental frailty like in her Brisbane loss to Clijsters and in her win against Elena Dementieva, but she has the support of her coach Carlos Rodriguez to draw upon.

Serena has the sharpest competitive spirit of any player on tour, and particularly in Australia Serena has often played some of her best tennis on her way to winning four Australian Open titles (in 2003 over Venus in what some commentators call the most competitive match between the sisters; in 2005 over Lindsay Davenport after trailing a set and a break she won 9 games in a row to win the title--this after saving two match points against Maria Sharapova the round before; and in 2007 over Sharapova she displayed her most impressive level of play, ever only allowing her opponent a mere 3 games).

Although I have correctly predicted the outcomes of 3 of the last 6 matches in the tournament, I want to change my method for prognostication and try and use probabilities (I am a math professor after all!) There are four possible occurrences: Serena in 2 sets, Serena in 3 sets, Henin in 3 sets and Henin in 2 sets). I evaluate the probabilities of these events at 54%, 40%, 60% and46%, respectively. (Of course these probabilities are simply estimates, with the 2-set probability coming directly from their overall head-to-head record and the 3-set probability coming from my assessment of Serena's stamina). Crunching the numbers that gives Henin an overall 53% chance of winning, which is significantly better than a coin toss.

MadProfessah's pick: Henin (Williams in 2 sets, Henin in 3 sets).

Rafa Out Four Weeks

Rafael Nadal of Spain receives medical treatment as he plays Andy Murray of Britain during their quarter-final match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 26, 2010.
Reuters

(AP) MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal will miss up to four weeks of competition with a knee injury that forced him to quit in the third set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Andy Murray.

The second-ranked Nadal had his right knee assessed in Spain and was advised to get rest and treatment for four weeks before returning to tournament play.

Nadal said it was not the recurrence of the tendinitis that sidelined the six-time Grand Slam singles champion for periods of 2009.

He was unable to defend his Wimbledon title last year because of the tendinitis and has not reached another Grand Slam final since his five-set win over Roger Federer at last year's Australian Open.

MRI and ultrasound tests showed a small tear at the back part of Nadal's right knee, which can be treated with physiotherapy and anti-inflammatory treatment, Dr. Angel Ruiz-Cotorro said in the statement.

Nadal expects to miss the ATP tournament starting Feb. 8 at Rotterdam, where he lost the final to Murray last year.

"After two weeks and depending on the results of the different tests and controls, he will steadily resume his sporting activity with a total recovery time to resume competition in fours weeks," Ruiz-Cotorro was quoted as saying.

Nadal said he was happy the latest injury setback was not lingering tendinitis.

"I feel good and I am only thinking now of recovering well," the 23-year-old Spaniard said. "My main goal right now is to get ready again and fit to play the upcoming events once I am able to compete."

(Thanks, Beth)

Rivalry Renewed


Getty

The Australian Open organizers couldn't have written a better script. In the first Slam final of the new decade, 11-time Slam champion Serena Williams, world No. 1 and defending champion, will face off against 7-time champ Justine Henin, the 2004 champion playing in only her second event since abruptly and mysteriously retiring from the tour as world No. 1 -- the only player in history to do so -- 20 months ago.

Serena is gunning for Slam title No. 12, which will tie her with the legendary Billie Jean King on the all-time list. Henin is going for Slam No. 8 which will tie her with Monica Seles on the all-time list and move her past Venus Williams into second place among active players behind Serena.

There's mutual respect and a few vials of bad blood. Henin will never be able to live down her infamous hand shenanigans in the Roland Garros semifinal, which ultimately cost Serena the match and a chance to defend her first Roland Garros title. And after a string of successive defeats in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open in 2007, Serena virtually ran Justine off the tour with a 6-2, 6-0 beatdown in the quarterfinals of Key Biscayne in 2008.

A few weeks ago, when the Sydney draw came out, Serena and Henin were to face off in a potential second-round encounter. But Henin withdrew citing injury. She had just completed a grueling three-set final against her Belgian rival Kim Clijsters in the Brisbane final, so the tennis world would have to wait to see these mulitple Slam champions go at it.

Didn't have to wait too long. Some are calling it a dream final, others a cat fight. Based upon the player's current form, the encounter could be over in an hour. Serena's serve and return are the key. As much as Henin fights, her serve hasn't held up well throughout the fortnight. But her opponents haven't been able to fend off her aggressive return game to hold their own serves.

Serena went through four rounds without dropping serve and it wasn't until nerves overcame her at the outset of her quarterfinal encounter against Victoria Azarenka that she finally surrendered a service game. Several of them. But if she's comfortably holding serve -- she's served the most aces (53) and clocked the fastest serve (126.7 MPH) through 6 rounds -- and breaking serve at will, Henin won't win a set.

But Serena is trying to defend a Slam title for the first time since Wimbledon 2003. And while she asserted in a presser that she doesn't enter events to defend titles but to win them, I can't imagine some nervous pressure won't leaden her feet in the first few games of the match.

Henin, who recently admitted being afraid of playing Serena, could play with nothing to lose or as anxiously as she did against Elena Dementieva in the second round. Either way, her second serve is a wasteland and her penchant for double faulting at the crucial junctures of a match could be her undoing. However, if she's cracking forehand winners with that shorter backswing and earlier contact and wearing Serena down with dropshots, she could take Serena the distance.

Serena leads their career head-to-head 7-6. The American is 4-1 on hardcourts, the Belgian, 4-2 in Slams. They're tied at 2 wins apiece in event finals. Amazingly, this will be their first match in a Slam final and their first match in Melbourne.

Even though Serena has never lost a final Down Under, she's never won the title in an even year. Henin's only Australian Open title came in an even year.

ESPN will air the finals live at 3:30AM eastern standard time. Take your naps, set your alarms, prepare the popcorn and get ready for the fireworks.

::

Cross posted to Huffington Post

Breaking Out

If you act fast, click here, and check the featured posts on the left sidebar.

Huffington Post has added a new sports section to its community blogging and based upon this little blog here, the sports editor invited yours truly to participate. There's even a welcome banner for me at the top of the page.

Humbled.







Sister Love

Serena Williams of the United States, right, and her sister Venus Williams celebrate during the awarding ceremony,  after beating  Cara Black of Zimbabwe and Liezel Huber of the United States to win  the final of the Women's Doubles at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday Jan. 29, 2010.
AP

Serena Williams of the United States, right, and her sister Venus Williams celebrate during the awarding ceremony, after beating Cara Black of Zimbabwe and Liezel Huber of the United States to win the final of the Women's Doubles at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday Jan. 29, 2010. The sisters won 6-3, 6-4.

::

Men's Singles Semifinals
Roger Federer (1) def. Jo-Wilfried Tsona (10) 62 63 62

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Australian Open 2010 Day 12 Open Thread

My least favorite day of the Australian Open. It's not a final, but there's only one singles match scheduled on the day.

In my men's preview after the draw came out, I only got one semifinalist correct. He plays the world No. 1 tonight.

I'm going with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in five sets.

Order of Play For Friday, 29 January 2010

Rod Laver Arena 15:00 Start Time

Not Before:19:30

3. Men's Singles - Semifinals
Roger Federer (SUI)[1] v. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA)[10]

Faces Of The Day

Croatia's Marin Cilic wipes his face during his semi-final match against Andy Murray of Britain at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 28, 2010.
Reuters

Men's Singles - Semifinals
[5] A Murray (GBR) d [14] M Cilic (CRO) 36 64 64 62

Men's Doubles - Semifinals
[1] B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA) d M Kohlmann (GER) / J Nieminen (FIN) 61 64
[2] D Nestor (CAN) / N Zimonjic (SRB) d I Karlovic (CRO) / D Vemic (SRB) 64 64

China's Zheng Jie reacts during her semi-final loss to Justine Henin of Belgium at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 28, 2010.
Reuters

Women's Singles - Semifinals
(1) Serena Williams (USA) d. (16) Li Na (CHN) 76(4) 76(1)
(WC) Justine Henin (BEL) d. Zheng Jie (CHN) 61 60

Women's Doubles - Semifinals

(1) Black/Huber (ZIM/USA) d. (15) Kirilenko/A.Radwanska (RUS/POL) 61 16 63
(2) Williams/Williams (USA/USA) d. (6) Raymond/Stubbs (USA/AUS) 63 76(6)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Australian Open 2010 Day 11 Open Thread

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 27:  Andy Murray of Great Britain signs autographs for fans after a practice session during day ten of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 27, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia.
Getty

Andy Murray
of Great Britain signs autographs for fans after a practice session during day ten of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 27, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia.

::

Some call her the Fierce Stomping Diva. I call her Serena the Great. Whatever you call her, there's no question that she's the queen of comebacks Down Under. Last night, when ESPN flashed a graphic listing all of Serena's great come-from-behind wins at the Australian Open, I saw in one shot why I fell for the never-say-die champion.

After falling behind a set and 4-0 to Victoria Azarenka, I didn't believe she had another one in her. But she clicked in, Azarenka blinked, and that was all she wrote.

One of Serena's most irrational Internet critics once called Serena pure evil. He holds an interesting theory that she plans such comebacks on purpose in order to crush the spirit of the opponent and to maintain a mental advantage over said opponent moving forward.

Even I don't give Serena that much credit. I mean, really. If Serena is that calculating, if she has that much confidence in her abilities to execute such a calculation, then she's a badder bitch than I could have ever imagined falling for.

Here's hoping she won't need to pull off any more great escapes at this event. Once advancing past the quarterfinals in Melbourne, she has always won the event. I'm picking her over Li Na in straight sets.

As much as I'm happy to see two Chinese players in the final four of a Slam for the first time, and at the Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific, no less, I'm going to give Zheng Jie a 10% chance to overcome the cheating Justine Henin, who'll blast returns by Zheng and advance in straight sets.

As for the men, I'm thinking Marin Cilic is finally going to make Andy Murray play more than three sets Down Under. And I think the cerebral giant is going to win and advance to his first Grand Slam final.

Mad Professah's picks are here and here.

Who you got?

Order Of Play For Thursday, 28 January 2010

Rod Laver Arena 11:00 Start Time

1. Men's Doubles - Semifinals
Ivo Karlovic(CRO)/Dusan Vemic(SRB) v. Daniel Nestor(CAN)[2]/Nenad Zimonjic(SRB)[2]


Not Before:13:30*

2. Women's Singles - Semifinals
Serena Williams (USA)[1] v. Na Li (CHN)[16]
3. Women's Singles - Semifinals
Justine Henin (BEL) v. Jie Zheng (CHN)

Rod Laver Arena 19:30 Start Time

1. Men's Singles - Semifinals
Marin Cilic (CRO)[14] v. Andy Murray (GBR)[5]


::

*(Before folks go off on the order of the women's semifinals, Serena has a doubles match to play later in the day, so she has to play first. Even with the shorter turnaround, it's the right schedule.)

Australian Open 2010: Men's Semifinals Preview

by Mad Professah

I predicted the results of 3 of the 4 the men's quarterfinals correctly but only 1 of 4 of the women's quarterfinals correctly. I have already written my women's semifinals preview. Here is my preview of the men's semfinals in the 2010 Australian Open:

Roger Federer SUI (1) vs. Novak Djokovic SRB (3) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga FRA (10). For the twenty-third consecutive time, Roger Federer is in a major grand slam semifinal. Let me say that again. 23 times in a row. That is nearly 6 years of every slam. The next closest total is Ivan Lendl with 10. Federer has also been in the last 17 of 18 major finals (winning 11); his only slip-up was two years ago here in Melbourne, to Novak Djokovic, who ended up winning the tournament against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the 2008 final. Tsonga got his revenge last night by beating the Serbian , a result which I welcome but did not expect or predict. "Jo-Willie" really seems to enjoy the big lights and enthusiastic crowd down in Australia and they bring out the best tennis in the charismatic, hard-hitting Frenchman. Just to get to this point, Tsonga has had to win two tough 5-set matches (his first ever!), most particularly the 4th Round thriller against Nicolas Almagro where he had to recover from "being two sets to none up" (as Mary Carillo quipped earlier this week) and ended up winning the match 6-3 6-4 4-6 6-7(6) 9-7. Against Djokovic, the Frenchman played two very close sets and only ended up winning one of them and then went "on walkabout" during the third set before Djokovic's physical ailments seem to weigh down the Serb's game more and more until it finally collapsed completely in a 7-6(8) 6-7(5) 1-6 6-3 6-1 loss.

The match-up between Federer and Tsonga is an interesting (and exciting) one. They have only played twice (in the last two years), both times on hard courts and the score is tied 1-1. I well remember their meeting at the ATP Masters Series during the Montreal massacre last year because Tsonga lost 10 games in a row and was down 5-1 in the third set before coming back to win in a decisive tie-breaker. Federer showed with his tight 2-6 6-3 6-0 7-5 dismissal of a more energized Nikolay Davydenko for the 13th time in 15 matches that he does not like to lose to the same person in consecutive matches. I personally will be happy with whomever wins this match, there's no one left in the tournament that would annoy me if they claimed the title.
MadProfessah's pick: Federer in 4 sets OR Tsonga in 5 sets.


Marin Cilic CRO (14) vs. Andy Murray GBR (5).This is Andy Murray's year. Unless it's not. On paper, the Scotsman sports head-to-head advantages over all of the remaining semifinalists (6-4 against Federer, 2-1 against Tsonga and 3-1 against his semifinal opponent, Marin Cilic) and should be the favorite for the 2010 Australian Open men's title. He was in the process of imposing his will on the defending champion Rafael Nadal before the Spaniard said ¡No Más! trailing 6-3 7-6(2) 3-0. Murray is yet to drop a set in the tournament, the only player on either side of the draw to do so. Cilic on the other hand last beat Murray the last time they played, in New York, handily 7-5 6-2 6-2. However, here in Melbourne Cilic has played three 5 set matches and a 4-set match to reach his first major semifinal, but the quality of his opponents has been substantially higher than Murray's: 2009 defending US Open champion Juan Martín del Potro, 2009 Wimbledon finalist Andy Roddick and the always wily Fabrice Santoro in the first round. That being said, I think that Murray has both the game and the will to win this match and one more. MadProfessah's pick: Murray in 4 sets.

Australian Open 2010: Women's Semifinals Preview

by Mad Professah

Previously, I predicted the results of 3 of the 4 the men's quarterfinals correctly but only 1 of 4 of the women's quarterfinals correctly. Here is my women's semifinals preview:

Serena Williams USA (1) vs. Na Li CHN (16) Venus Williams USA (6). Yesterday was a pretty rough day for fans of the Williams sisters. Older sister Venus somehow managed to lose a match despite being up a set and a break. She served for the match (in the sun) at 6-2, 5-4! In the deciding third set there were 9 breaks of serve through 12 games. I mildly disagree with people who are saying it is destined to be "the ugliest match of the year" although it must be said it was hard to watch. It was doubly disappointing because if Venus had won the match she could have been ranked as high as World #3 on Monday. Anyway, congratulations to Li Na for winning her first major quarterfinal 2-6, 7-6(4) 7-5. The Chinese player has now beaten the 7-time major champion twice on huge stages (the first victory was at the Beijing Olympics). After the drama of Venus' loss it was doubly distressing to see Serena down 4-6, 0-4 before she finally started serving properly. The World #1 player had not been broken in 4 matches in Melbourne and was broken 5 times in her 5th. Her comeback to win this match was a truly remarkable achievement because Serena made her opponent absolutely irrelevant. After winning 5 games in a row it was crystal clear that the winner of the match would be decided by what Serena Williams did with her racket, not what Azarenka did. Serena started serving well and in response to the Belorussian's increasingly piercing shrieks quietly pulverized the ball into the corners of the court to seal a 4-6, 7-6(4) 6-2 win. I set up my preview of the women's semifinal with a review of what the two combatants experienced the round before in order to place this semifinal in context. It will be contested between two players who have stared defeat in the face and come through with a victory. This should free up both players to play their best tennis, but if Serena plays her best tennis, there's no one who is going to beat her, even if her mobility is limited. She desperately wants to defend her Australian title and match the Grand Slam singles total of one her idols, Billie Jean King, at twelve. This match will take her one step closer to that goal.
MadProfessah's pick: Serena in 2 sets.

Justine Henin BEL vs. Jie Zheng CHN. Two semifinalists at the same Grand Slam from one country is a significant achievement for any nation and the fact that the Williams family has achieved it so many times (8, at my count) should be acknowledged. However, today the future of tennis is here with two Chinese players in the semifinals of a major. Sadly, they are on opposite sides of the draw so it is not a certainty that a Chinese player will compete for tennis's highest prize, in fact it is highly improbable. The 7-time major champion from Belgium will dismiss the 2-time major semifinalist from China without much drama or complications, setting up a mouthwatering final tennis fans have been waiting five years to see: Justine Henin versus Serena Williams playing well at the same time in a Grand Slam final. MadProfessah's pick: Henin in 2 sets.

Comment Of The Week

PeytonAllen said...

Hey guys, been lurking thus far, seems like comments are at an all-time high. Good to see.

Regarding, Roddick. I went to bed when he lost the second. Maybe before. I didn't think he'd put up much of a fight, but I was happy to see him take it to five. When I turned off the set, Andy had just started to flatten out his shots. I haven't seen a replay, am I to believe he did the same for the rest of the match?

If Andy leveled the match playing with aggression, I bet Craig was throwing up in his mouth. We've discussed several times, haven't we Craig, what losing the 2004 Wimby title did to Roddick. In his mind, in his disbelief that he didn't win and was losing ground to Fed, he thought he had to change. And that's largely why he only has one slam. In today's game when nearly everyone in the top 10 has a big game off the baseline I remain stunned he really doesn't just live and let fly with that forehand more often. Maybe in his mind he's convinced he's a grinder with a big serve.

I don't think Andy's done. He still is movingly very well, his volleys at the net have improved, and Larry is good for him. I love his backhand slice and I thought he came really close to having his first set and half strategy pay off. That said, any time I see Andy redline it's bittersweet. That said, I think he's got one or two big runs left in majors before he's done.

Murray was outstanding. Like Fed he has all-court, multiple option game and an ego to match. Andy thinks of himself as a Slam winner already. A legend in his own mind. Much like Fed did. Fed won his first and history is still being written. I think once Andy takes his first major, the train will be impossible to move off tracks. But, he has to prove he's capable of not losing big matches, and by losing I mean falling in love with his wheels and excuse the following, but dicking around on court. It was disgraceful to see him blow 3 of his 4 Slam exits last year. Just giving up control as if the glory of it all was a burden. Roddick actually beat him in London, but the others Murray imploded.

What to make of Rafa? He slept walked through his return last summer, but thus far this year he's come on with mental aggression and was getting close to his top form. As well as Murray played, obviously Rafa lost it with his poor break conversion and in the 2nd set when he played a low energy game after breaking. When Murray broke back, Rafa was done.

I think Nadal's exit last year and his injury yesterday was/is half physical half mental. I think he's going through a version of burn out. As we saw last night the one part of his game that was lacking was the laser mental focus, the "I'll take you to hell and back before losing."

How bad was his knee? I dunno. I think he more or less tapped out. When he was thinking of pulling the rip-cord (thanks BG) but found his way to a break point, you could see him look to his box and smirk after a Murray ace as if to say "why get reinvested when he's seeing the ball this big."

We'll see how long Rafa's out. But, he'll keep losing against the top until he gets that focus back and it may not come until he's back on the salt of the earth.

I like Fed to win. The man was a few GAMES away from the Grand Slam last year. We keep thinking the run has to end, that a deep breath is in order, but the man lives to dress well and kick ass on court. Neither changes here.

(i apologize for any typos I've written a lot and just have had dinner shoved in my lap. Mmmm.)



Posted In: Quote For The Day

::

Let this be your Open Thread for tonight's men's semifinals.

Rod Laver Arena 19:30 Start Time

3. Men's Singles - Quarterfinals
Roger Federer (SUI)[1] v. Nikolay Davydenko (RUS)[6]

1. Men's Singles - Quarterfinals
Novak Djokovic (SRB)[3] v. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA)[10]

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Australian Open 2010 Day 10 Open Thread

Spectators wear sombreros while watching the match between Andy Roddick of the U.S. and Croatia's Marin Cilic during their quarter-final match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 26, 2010.
Reuters

The final four quarterfinals are on the board for today.

I'm going with Venus Williams in straights, Serena Williams in straights, Roger Federer in straights, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in five.

Who you got?

Order Of Play For Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Rod Laver Arena 11:00 Start Time

1. Women's Singles - Quarterfinals
Na Li (CHN)[16] v. Venus Williams (USA)[6]
2. Women's Singles - Quarterfinals
Serena Williams (USA)[1] v. Victoria Azarenka (BLR)[7]
3. Men's Singles - Quarterfinals
Roger Federer (SUI)[1] v. Nikolay Davydenko (RUS)[6]

Rod Laver Arena 19:30 Start Time

1. Men's Singles - Quarterfinals
Novak Djokovic (SRB)[3] v. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA)[10]

Quotes For The Day

“I've known Rafa since I was 13 or 14 and he is somebody I have always looked up to. He is my favourite player to watch because of his energy and I am gutted for him.”--Andy Murray

“For Andy, I think he deserves to win his first Grand Slam. And I think he’s going to do it There’s a very good chance for him. First thing, he’s playing very well. Second thing, he’s already in the semifinals. He’s only two matches away.”--Rafael Nadal

Day 9: Wounded

Rafael Nadal of Spain receives medical treatment as he plays Andy Murray of Britain during their quarter-final match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 26, 2010.
Reuters

Rafael Nadal of Spain receives medical treatment as he plays Andy Murray of Britain during their quarter-final match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 26, 2010.

Russia's Maria Kirilenko is tended to by a trainer during her quarter-final match against Zheng Jie of China at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 26, 2010.
Reuters

Russia's Maria Kirilenko is tended to by a trainer during her quarterfinal match against Zheng Jie of China at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 26, 2010.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 26:  Andy Roddick of the United States of America recieves medical attention between games in his quarterfinal match against Marin Cilic of Croatia during day nine of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 26, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia.
Reuters

Andy Roddick of the United States of America recieves medical attention between games in his quarterfinal match against Marin Cilic of Croatia during day nine of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 26, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia.

::

Singles - Quarterfinals
[5] A Murray (GBR) d [2] R Nadal (ESP) 63 76(2) 30 ret. (right knee)
[14] M Cilic (CRO) d [7] A Roddick (USA) 76(4) 63 36 26 63

Doubles - Quarter-finals
[1] B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA) d E Butorac (USA) / R Ram (USA) 75 46 76(2)
M Kohlmann (GER) / J Nieminen (FIN) d F Gonzalez (CHI) / I Ljubicic (CRO) 46 61 20 ret. (Ljubicic - right thigh)

Doubles - Third Round
I Karlovic (CRO) / D Vemic (SRB) d [5] L Kubot (POL) / O Marach (AUT) 26 76(11) 76(4)

Women's Singles - Quarterfinals
(WC) Justine Henin (BEL) d. (19) Nadia Petrova (RUS) 76(3) 75
Zheng Jie (CHN) d. Maria Kirilenko (RUS) 61 63

Doubles - Quarterfinals
(2) Williams/Williams (USA/USA) d. (8) Mattek-Sands/Yan (USA/CHN) 64 46 64
(6) Raymond/Stubbs (USA/AUS) d. (13) Dulko/Pennetta (ARG/ITA) 46 62 62

Doubles - Third Round
(1) Black/Huber (ZIM/USA) d. Azarenka/Kuznetsova (BLR/RUS) 63 63

Monday, January 25, 2010

Australian Open 2010 Day 9 Open Thread

http://blog.piajanebijkerk.com/WordPress/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/australia-day1.jpg
Source

It's Australia Day, the day Aussies celebrate the landing of the First Fleet with Captain Phillip and the convicts.

::

We have arrived at the quarterfinals. MadProfessah's picks are here and here.

For today's bottom half matchups, I'm going with Rafael Nadal in four, Marin Cilic in four, Justine Henin in three, and Zheng Jie in three.

For Roddick to avoid the upset, he's going to have to block out his knee pain and hope that his experience can carry him through if Cilic tightens up at the end of sets as he did against Juan Martin del Potro.

If Murray is to have a chance of dismissing a man determined to defend his title.... Scratch that. He has no chance. Oh, he'll make it interesting and give Rafa's fans a few strokes, but he has no chance.

Miss Nadia will have to win in straights -- which I believe she can, here's hoping she does, too -- and MariaK's going to have to believe she belongs in the final four of a Slam.

Who you got?

Order Of Play For Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Rod Laver Arena 11:00 Start Time

1. Women's Singles - Quarterfinals
Justine Henin (BEL) v. Nadia Petrova (RUS)[19]
2. Women's Singles - Quarterfinals
Jie Zheng (CHN) v. Maria Kirilenko (RUS)
3. Men's Singles - Quarterfinals
Andy Roddick (USA)[7] v. Marin Cilic (CRO)[14]

Rod Laver Arena 19:30 Start Time
1. Men's Singles - Quarterfinals
Andy Murray (GBR)[5] v. Rafael Nadal (ESP)[2]

Australian Open 2010: Men's Quarterfinals Preview

by Mad Professah

Here are my predictions for the men's quarterfinals at the Australian Open this year, which is one of the strongest fields in recent memory, with 6 of the top8 seeds making it to the final eight.

Roger Federer SUI (1) vs. Nikolay Davydenko RUS (6). Haven't we seen this movie before? Roger Federer, the Greatest Of All Time, playing late in a major tournament against Kolya the Obsure Russian. Yes, we have, but since the last major was played Davydenko has won not one but two tournaments where he beat both Rafael Nadal and Federer. That still gives him the uninspiring record of 2 wins 12 losses against The Mighty Fed, including 0-4 in majors. In fact, in 2006 Davydenko lost in this very same round to Federer in four relatively tight sets. Of course neither player is the same player they were four years ago. One would really have to say that it is Davydenko who has improved more in that time, rather than Federer. I suspect this match will be closer than most people expect, but that Federer will pull through, bringing his already incredible streak of 22 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals to a ridiculous 23. PREDICTION: Federer in 5 sets.

Novak Djokovic SRB (3) vs Robin Soderling SWE (8) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga FRA (10). You know things are good when a reprise of the 2008 men's final is not even the best match-up of this round. It's interesting that Robin Soderling was seeded to have this position, because I always expected "Jo-Willie" to be right here from the beginning of the tournament. Unfortunately for him, I don't think the result will be any different from the last time the charismatic Frenchman played the talented Serb on the big stage in Melbourne. Djokovic is playing devastating tennis and is anxious to remain in the conversation when talk turns to the Nadal-Federer monopoly on major titles. Unless Tsonga is playing the tennis that had him dismiss Nadal in that magical semifinal in 2008, he will probably not even win a set. Then again one never knows what could happen because last year the defending champion bizarrely threw in the towel against Andy Roddick at this stage of the tournament. However, I am pretty sure he is eager to erase memories of that result from the tennis-watching public's mind. PREDICTION: Djokovic in 4 sets.


Andy Roddick USA (7) vs. Juan Martin Del Potro ARG (4). Marin Cilic CRO (14). I really never expected to see Juan Martín del Potro make it this far in the tournament and he really never looked very comfortable in any of his matches in Melbourne. Cilic was impressive in maintaining his composure as he blew breakpoint after breakpoint against the reigning US Open champion and beat his once and future rival for the first time at a major. A lot of people (including myself) have favorably re-assessed the play of Andy Roddick after the incredible competitive spirit he showed in the best match of last year, the 2009 Wimbledon men's final. However, Marin Cilic is undefeated in 2010 and he is absolutely not satisfied with only being a quarterfinalist. I'm sure he truly believes that if Juan Martin can win a major (over Federer no less!) than he can as well. If so, he'll have to get through at least three more excellent players to get there, as well as have some good luck. Fortune favors the brave. PREDICTION: Cilic in 5 sets.

Andy Murray GBR (5) vs. Rafael Nadal ESP (2). This is the match-up of the tournament (so far). The one player who is playing even sharper tennis than Djokovic is Andy Murray, who hears the clamor of "best player not to have won a major" getting louder and louder every single day. Although Nadal sports a 7-2 career head-to-head lead, Murray's two wins have occurred on hard courts. However, Nadal did beat Murray in a 5-set match in Melbourne in 2007. However, the Andy Murray of today is not the same player Nadal dispatched then. Also, Nadal has not really been that impressive in getting this far in the tournament, although maybe that is because he has not been seriously tested. That will end in this match. Either way, the defending champion will not go out without a tremendous fight. This should be the best match of the four and a great one overall. PREDICTION: Murray in 5 sets.

Australian Open 2010: Women's Quarterfinals Preview

by Mad Professah

Here are my predictions for the women's quarterfinals at the Australian Open this year.

Serena Williams USA (1) vs. Victoria Azarenka BLR (7). Serena is playing like a woman on a mission. Her performance against 13 seed Samantha Stosur in the round before was, in a word, scary. Pam Shriver called it the best serving she had seen by a female player, ever. Although at the start of the tournament I did not predict Serena to win this title, mostly because she has only defended a title once in ten attempts and I was also entranced by the odd-year symmetry of her wins down under, after seeing what she did to the Aussie's No. 1 player, I think the rest of the field should be afraid, very afraid. Interestingly, one of the few players who is not afraid of playing Serena is the feisty No. 7 seed from Belarus, who almost derailed Serena here last year, leading by a set and a break before she was overwhelmed by the heat and retired ignominiously. Azarenka did get her revenge by dispatching a clearly injured Serena in straight sets to win the "fifth major" in Miami later that year so I am confident that Serena will take this match very seriously. Azarenka finished off her last match by inflicting a bagel on Vera Zvonareva in the third set, a not uncommon occurrence. What is an uncommon occurrence in this tournament is Serena in trouble on her serve. She is the only player, male or female, who has not had her service broken, and eliminated the three breakpoints she faced yesterday with three aces. An incredible performance indeed. The only question for Serena is whether she is peaking too early, or whether she is going to continue to play at this high-level for the rest of the tournament. If the latter is indeed, true, then Serena Williams be the 2010 Australian Open women singles champion, regardless of what happens in the rest of the draw. PREDICTION: Serena in 3 sets.

Na Li CHN (16) vs Venus Williams USA (6). I really like the play of the veteran Chinese player (so much so I named my dog after her!) and except for the hiccup against Francesca Schiavone in the previous round, Venus has been playing pretty good, if not overwhelmingly aggressive, tennis. With her natural power and athletic ability that is enough to get the older Williams sister through most matches by simply overwhelming most opponents and the relatively diminutive Li Na will most likely be no exception. PREDICTION: Venus in 2 sets.

Elena Dementieva RUS (5) Justine Henin BEL vs. Kim Clijsters BEL (15). Nadia Petrova RUS (19). I really expected to see Elena Dementieva and/or Kim Clijsters in this quarter of the draw, but it looks like the hard-hitting and extremely talented Petrova may have finally quieted the doubting voices in her head and is simply letting her tennis do the speaking for her. She has the game to beat just about anyone when she is playing her best and is one of the prototypical "big babes." Henin is playing in her first major tournament in two years, and is trying to repeat (or overshadow) her Belgian compatriot Clijsters who was able to win a grand slam within a few weeks of her return to the tour from retirement. Henin has looked to be about 80-90% as effective as she was before she left, and I have no doubt that she will be a threat to win any major she enters this year, and a lock in Paris. However, her wins have become increasingly labored with every successive round. This match is the hardest of the four to predict the result (and most likely will be the hardest to watch, as well). PREDICTION: Petrova in 2 sets or Henin in 3.


Jelena Jankovic SRB (8) Jie Zheng CHN vs. Maria Sharapova RUS (14) Maria Kirilenko RUS. The surprise quarterfinalists! I definitely expected a different Maria from Russia to be occupying this quarterfinal berth, but good job for "the Other Maria" to finally break out of the shadow of her best friend on the tour and not only eliminate Sharapova in the first round but continue all the way to the final eight. The second Chinese player in the quarterfinal represents the first time two Chinese players have made it this far simultaneously in a major tournament, with Zheng also having played in the 2008 Wimbledon ladies semifinal. I believe this match will be determined by who wants it more, not by the tennis of the two players. In that case, I prefer to go with the person who has not been here before. Either way, I have serious doubts the person from this quarter will be making it to the final. PREDICTION: Kirilenko in 3 sets.

Quote For The Day

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 25:  Serena Williams of the United States of America serves in her fourth round match against Samantha Stosur of Australia during day eight of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 25, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia.
Getty

“It's important when you're playing a local girl to not let the crowd get too involved or else they'll kill you. That was the plan: to not let them get involved. I knew she was capable. She beat me last time and anything can happen. So she's a really, really good player and so dangerous. I was like, you have to be focused when you're playing Sam[antha Stosur], for sure.”--Serena Williams

And focused she was. Like a laser.

It was a serving display like none I've seen from anyone before, woman or man. 10 aces. 1 double fault. Three breakpoints saved with aces. Seven points total lost on serve, only two in the first set. She remains the only player left in the draw, woman or man, to not have her serve broken.

Breathtaking.

Notice served.

With the victory, Serena will remain world No. 1 no matter what happens this weekend.

Women's Singles Fourth Round
(1) Serena Williams (USA) d. (13) Samantha Stosur (AUS) 64 62
(16) Li Na (CHN) d. (4) Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) 64 63
(6) Venus Williams (USA) d. (17) Francesca Schiavone (ITA) 36 62 61
(7) Victoria Azarenka (BLR) d. (9) Vera Zvonareva (RUS) 46 64 60

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France (R) and Spain's Nicolas Almagro shakes hands at the conclusion of their match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 25, 2010.
Reuters

Nicolas Almagro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga played this year's surprise epic. After the first two sets, it appeared to be a routine beatdown. But Tsonga started doing what Tsonga does, while Almagro became a player I hardly recognized.

Men's Singles Fourth Round
[1] R Federer (AUS) d [22] L Hewitt (AUS) 62 63 64
[3] N Djokovic (SRB) d L Kubot (POL) 61 62 75
[6] N Davydenko (RUS) d [9] F Verdasco (ESP) 62 75 46 67(5) 63
[10] J Tsonga (FRA) d [26] N Almagro (ESP) 63 64 46 67(6) 97

Men's Doubles - Third Round
[3] L Dlouhy (CZE) / L Paes (IND) d J Isner (USA) / S Querrey (USA) 63 75
F Gonzalez (CHI) / I Ljubicic (CRO) d [11] S Aspelin (SWE) / P Hanley (AUS) 64 63
M Kohlmann (GER) / J Nieminen (FIN) d S Bolelli (ITA) / A Seppi (ITA) 46 76(3) 76(6)

Women's Doubles - Third Round
(15) Kirilenko/A.Radwanska (RUS/POL) d. (3) Llagostera Vives/Martínez Sánchez (ESP/ESP) 61 62
(6) Raymond/Stubbs (USA/AUS) d. Chan/Niculescu (TPE/ROU) 75 63
(8) Mattek-Sands/Yan (USA/CHN) d. (9) Vesnina/Zheng (RUS/CHN) 64 64

Mixed Doubles - Second Round
(1) Cara Black (ZIM) /Leander Paes (IND) d. Akgul Amanmuradova (UZB)/Rik De Voest (RSA) 64 62
Ekaterina Makarova (RUS)/Jaroslav Levinsky (CZE) d. (2) Daniela Hantuchova (SVK)/Daniel Nestor (CAN) w/o
Chuang Chia-Jung (TPE)/Filip Polasek (SVK) d (3) Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Bob Bryan (USA) 75 76(4)
Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE)/Oliver Marach (AUT) d. (6) Alisa Kleybanova (RUS)/Max Mirnyi (BLR) 36 63 10-7
(8) Elena Vesnina (RUS)/Andy Ram (ISR) d. Anna-Lena Gronefeld/Christopher Kas (GER) 36 75 10-6
Flavia Pennetta (ITA)/Marcelo Melo (BRA) d. (WC) Jarmila Groth/Samuel Groth (AUS) 62 63

Mixed Doubles - First Round
Raquel Kops-Jones (USA)/Dick Norman (BEL) d. (5) Maria Kirilenko (RUS)/Nenad Zimonjic (SRB) 63 36 11-9