Friday, April 29, 2011

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Face Of The Day

Portugal's Frederico Gil reacts to winning a point  against Spain's  Fernando Verdasco during the Estoril Tennis Open in Lisbon April 28,  2011.
Reuters

Portugal's Frederico Gil reacts to winning a point against Spain's Fernando Verdasco during the Estoril Tennis Open in Lisbon April 28, 2011.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Julia, Start Your Engine

by Craig Hickman

Julia Goerges of Germany poses in front of her new Porsche Carrera  GTS which she won after defeating Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark at their  final match of the Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart April 24, 2011. Rank  outsider Goerges stunned world number one Wozniacki 7-6 6-3 on Sunday to  win her first title of the year in front of an ecstatic home crowd.
Reuters

Julia Goerges beat Caroline Wozniacki, the current world No. 1, to take the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, the first premier title of her young career. The score was 7-6(3), 6-3.

Two shocking things happened in this match. The first set went by without a break of serve and the world No. 1 never broke her opponent's serve for the entire match. That's right. Julia won the final without dropping her serve, saving all five break points. On clay.

For much of the match, the commentators compared the hard-hitting, No. 32-ranked German to former Roland Garros champion Mary Pierce. But everytime Julia would run around a backhand to take a forehand inside in and down the line, I was reminded of Steffi Graf. The young woman was simply fearless on all the big points and the younger woman who's made a career out of pushing forehands and running all day until her opponents run out of patience simply ran out of luck. Wozniacki had no answer for the barrage of forehands Goerges fired her way. 38 winners in all to just 9 for the computer's No. 1.

"I had goosebumps at match point. It was an unbelievable feeling playing the final with so many people watching," Goerges told the press in Stuttgart after the match. "Everything was going so well but you can never be sure against Caroline. She has turned lots of matches around when nobody expected her to. She is only beaten when the last point is over. Now I'm looking forward to my niece's baptism on Monday and being able to sleep in my own bed again after three months traveling the tour!"

::

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 24:  Rafael Nadal of Spain bites the  trophy after beating David Ferrer during the final match on day seven of  the ATP 500 World Tour Barcelona Open Banco Sabadell 2011 tennis  tournament at the Real Club de Tenis on April 24, 2011 in Barcelona,  Spain. Nadal won the match in two sets , 6-2, 6-4.
Getty

Elsewhere, Rafael Nadal won another title over David Ferrer. I feel asleep after the first set.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Homegirl

Germany's Julia Goerges celebrates after defeating Australia's  Samantha Stosur during their semi final match of the Porsche Grand Prix  in Stuttgart, Germany, on Saturday, April 23, 2011. Goerges won the  match with 6-4, 3-6 and 7-5.
AP

It's busy at Annabessacook Farm and I haven't been able to watch much tennis. But I managed to turn on the Tennis Channel after serving breakfast today to see a full house applauding enthusiastically during a WTA match. Julia Goerges was playing Samantha Stosur in Stuttgart. The German upset the Australian. The German fans were all in. Homegirl delivered. It was electric.

The surprise finalist will face Caroline Wozniacki tomorrow. I'm going to watch, even if I can't find the time. There's nothing like a big crowd watching one of its own play for a title.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fed Cup Redux

Courtney's got one. Savannah, too. I wasn't able to watch a single point of a single tie.

Lucky No. 7

by Craig Hickman

MONACO - APRIL 17:  Rafael Nadal of Spain bites the trophy as he  celebrates defeating David Ferrer of Spain in the final during Day Eight  of the ATP Masters Series Tennis at the Monte Carlo Country Club on  April 17, 2011 in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Getty

Am I suggesting that Rafael Nadal is lucky for winning his historic seventh consecutive title in the French Riviera today? Given the way David Ferrer tossed away an opportunity to at least push the match to a third set, then sure, why not.

Mostly, though, Nadal is lucky to be winning anything at all without being able to rely on his serve. All year, it's been a problem. Only once, when facing triple break point early in the third against Tomas Berdych in Miami, did his serve save ultimately save the day. But in the finals of the three consecutive Masters 1000 events he's contested in 2011, his serve has been woeful. Novak Djokovic got the best of him in the first two, though it took three sets both times, on a surface where having a woeful serve can keep you from winning.

But on this day, on this surface, against this player, Nadal showed once again why clay is his very best friend. Even with a faltering serve and his tentative approach to the match -- there was a Shot Spot graphic that showed him striking his shots from behind the baseline 90% of the time -- he knows the nuances of the clay better than any other, can exploit all the angles with nary a thought. At once impressive and boring. This is nothing new. I wrote about it years ago already.

While it's good to see the world No. 1 finally get a victory under his belt -- he hasn't won a title since Tokyo last October -- I was hoping for a new champion here this year. I remain hopeful that the Red Brick Wall won't run the table on clay this season.

Who's going to stop him?

Monte-Carlo 2011 Final Open Thread

Rafael Nadal of Spain (bottom) and his compatriot David Ferrer play  in the final of the Monte Carlo Masters tennis tournament at the Monte  Carlo country club in Monaco April 17, 2011.
Reuters

Rafael Nadal of Spain (bottom) and his compatriot David Ferrer play in the final of the Monte-Carlo Masters tennis tournament at the Monte-Carlo Country Club in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France, April 17, 2011.

::

Overslept, no coffee yet. Need oatmeal. Kitchen's a mess. The men can't hold serve today. Talk it out. I'm back and forth.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Monte-Carlo 2011 Semifinals Open Thread

PICTURE TAKEN WITH TILT AND SHIFT LENS Spain's Rafael Nadal hits a  return to his opponent Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia during the Monte-Carlo  ATP Masters Series Tournament tennis match, on April 15, 2011 in Monaco.  Nadal won 6-1, 6-3.
Getty

Spain's Rafael Nadal hits a return to his opponent Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia during the Monte-Carlo ATP Masters Series Tournament tennis match, on April 15, 2011 in Monaco.

::

Are we getting ready for an all-Spanish final?

I think not. Some of you know I'm a terrible predictor of such things, but I'm stepping way out of school and telling you that not only won't there be an all-Spanish final at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters this year, but there won't be a Spaniard in the final at all.

Now I'm going to run and duck for cover. I need coffee.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Common Sense Journalist

Three writers brought to my attention the following exchanges that appear in two recent Jon Wertheim Mailbags.

There has been much debate on Twitter among tennis journalists whether or not bloggers should be credentialed for tournaments. I use the term blogger generally because there are some tennis journalists who do write blogs. Also there are some journalists who use information from blogs to write their stories. Where do you stand on this issue? (I don't know whether you should use my real name or not as I might get stoned by both journalists and bloggers.)
-Anonymous, New York/New Jersey

• I don't envy the credentialing gatekeepers on this issue. Tennis in particular -- as we'd expect from a scattered, global sport -- has a huge online presence and following. Excluding bloggers and even full-time tweeters would be a fool's errand. Yet if everyone with a blog were granted a credential, media rooms would need to be the size of the Palace of Versailles. A blanket policy won't work. You simply need to assess on a case-by-case basis. The saving grace: it's pretty easy to discern which bloggers are legit and have a critical mass of followers -- and which don't. Source

Continuing last week's discussion, where do you stand on bloggers? Are you, too, in the "fans with typewriters" camp?
- John P., New York

Since Key Biscayne, I've gotten bits and pieces about a "Twitter battle" and an "alias feud" and a lot of other weird allegations of subterfuge that I don't entirely understand. I'm not sure I ever got the blogger-journalist dichotomy. There are some bloggers who are knowledgeable and diligent and creative and belong in a press room. There are some bloggers who probably don't warrant credentials. As far as I'm concerned, bloggers are a welcome addition to the media caravan. As the mainstream media dwindles, as budgets are cut, as tennis loses currency in the U.S. and goes ever more global, bloggers serve an increasingly important role. If I'm following from afar, give me a passionate tennis lover who might write clunkily or express her fandom too blatantly over the hockey writer for the local newspaper who's covering the tennis against his will. Source

Jon's a cool cat with a fair and open mind. He's also right.

And with that, we'll put this baby to bed.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Monte-Carlo Day 5 Open Thread

Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia returns the ball to Tomas Berdych of the  Czech Republic during the Monte Carlo Masters tennis tournament in  Monaco April 14, 2011.
Reuters

Ivan Ljubicic
of Croatia returns the ball to Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic during the Monte Carlo Masters tennis tournament in Monaco April 14, 2011.

::

Baldy and David Ferrer have already advanced in straight sets. Right now, Rafael Nadal is having his way with Richard Gasquet.

I'm not yet ready to be on European time.

ORDER OF PLAY - THURSDAY, 14 APRIL, 2011

COURT CENTRAL start 10:30 am

M Raonic (CAN) vs [4] D Ferrer (ESP)

Not Before 11:30 AM
[1] R Nadal (ESP) vs [13] R Gasquet (FRA)

Not Before 1:30 PM
[15] M Cilic (CRO) vs [2] R Federer (SUI)
[3] [WC] A Murray (GBR) vs [16] G Simon (FRA)
L Dlouhy (CZE) / J Tipsarevic (SRB) or G Monfils (FRA) / J Tsonga (FRA) vs [5] M Fyrstenberg (POL) / M Matkowski (POL) - Time and Court To Be Arranged

COURT DES PRINCES start 10:30 am

I Ljubicic (CRO) vs [5] [WC] T Berdych (CZE)
T Robredo (ESP) vs [11] V Troicki (SRB)
[Q] F Gil (POR) vs [8] G Monfils (FRA)
[7] J Melzer (AUT) vs [9] N Almagro (ESP)

COURT 2 start 12:00 noon

[6] R Bopanna (IND) / A Qureshi (PAK) vs E Butorac (USA) / J Rojer (AHO)

Not Before 2:00 PM
[1] B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA) or E Gulbis (LAT) / V Troicki (SRB) vs M Granollers (ESP) / T Robredo (ESP) - After Suitable Rest

COURT 9 start 12:00 noon

J Chela (ARG) / B Soares (BRA) vs S Stakhovsky (UKR) / M Youzhny (RUS)

Results - Wednesday, 13 April, 2011

Singles - Second Round
[1] R Nadal (ESP) d J Nieminen (FIN) 62 62
[3] [WC] A Murray (GBR) d [WC] R Stepanek (CZE) 61 64
[4] D Ferrer (ESP) d F Lopez (ESP) 62 60
T Robredo (ESP) d [6] F Verdasco (ESP) 64 63
[7] J Melzer (AUT) d R Haase (NED) 36 61 62
[8] G Monfils (FRA) d D Gimeno-Traver (ESP) 75 62
[9] N Almagro (ESP) d [Q] M Gonzalez (ARG) 67(6) 75 76(10) - saved 4 M.P.
[11] V Troicki (SRB) d F Fognini (ITA) 63 46 64
[13] R Gasquet (FRA) d G Garcia-Lopez (ESP) 62 61
[15] M Cilic (CRO) d [Q] P Riba (ESP) 52 ret. (right knee)
[16] G Simon (FRA) d A Montanes (ESP) 63 64
[Q] F Gil (POR) d F Mayer (GER) 75 61

Doubles - Second Round
[1] B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA) d E Gulbis (LAT) / V Troicki (SRB) 63 61
[2] M Mirnyi (BLR) / D Nestor (CAN) d R Gasquet (FRA) / I Ljubicic (CRO) 62 75
[4] L Kubot (POL) / O Marach (AUT) d [WC] J Benneteau (FRA) / J Chardy (FRA) 76(5) 46 12-10
J Chela (ARG) / B Soares (BRA) d [8] R Lindstedt (SWE) / H Tecau (ROU) 62 64

Doubles - First Round
G Monfils (FRA) / J Tsonga (FRA) d L Dlouhy (CZE) / J Tipsarevic (SRB) 64 75
E Butorac (USA) / J Rojer (AHO) d G Garcia-Lopez (ESP) / A Montanes (ESP) 46 64 10-8

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Monte-Carlo 2011 Day 4 Open Thread

MONACO - APRIL 12:  Roger Federer of Switzerland plays a backhand  in his match against Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany during Day Three  of the ATP Masters Series Tennis at the Monte Carlo Country Club on  April 12, 2011 in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Getty

Roger Federer of Switzerland plays a backhand in his match against Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany during Day Three of the ATP Masters Series Tennis at the Monte Carlo Country Club on April 12, 2011 in Monte Carlo, Monaco.

::

ORDER OF PLAY - WEDNESDAY, 13 APRIL, 2011 REVISED

COURT CENTRAL start 10:30 am


G Garcia-Lopez (ESP) vs [13] R Gasquet (FRA)

Not Before 11:30AM
D Gimeno-Traver (ESP) vs [8] G Monfils (FRA)

Not Before 1:30 PM
[1] R Nadal (ESP) vs J Nieminen (FIN)
[3] [WC] A Murray (GBR) vs [WC] R Stepanek (CZE)
L Dlouhy (CZE) / J Tipsarevic (SRB) vs G Monfils (FRA) / J Tsonga (FRA)

COURT DES PRINCES start 10:30 am

F Lopez (ESP) vs [4] D Ferrer (ESP)

Not Before 11:30 AM
A Montanes (ESP) vs [16] G Simon (FRA)
[6] F Verdasco (ESP) vs T Robredo (ESP)
[7] J Melzer (AUT) vs R Haase (NED)

COURT 2 start 11:00am

F Fognini (ITA) vs [11] V Troicki (SRB)

Not Before 12:30 PM
[15] M Cilic (CRO) vs [Q] P Riba (ESP) or P Starace (ITA) - Possible Court Change
R Gasquet (FRA) / I Ljubicic (CRO) vs [2] M Mirnyi (BLR) / D Nestor (CAN)
[1] B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA) vs E Gulbis (LAT) / V Troicki (SRB)

COURT 9 start 11:00am

F Mayer (GER) vs [Q] F Gil (POR)

Not Before 12:30 PM
[Q] M Gonzalez (ARG) vs [9] N Almagro (ESP) - Possible Court Change
[4] L Kubot (POL) / O Marach (AUT) vs [WC] J Benneteau (FRA) / J Chardy (FRA)

COURT 11 start 1:00 pm

[8] R Lindstedt (SWE) / H Tecau (ROU) vs J Chela (ARG) / B Soares (BRA)

Not Before 3:00 PM
E Butorac (USA) / J Rojer (AHO) vs G Garcia-Lopez (ESP) / A Montanes (ESP)

::

RESULTS - TUESDAY, 13 APRIL, 2011

Singles - Second Round
[2] R Federer (SUI) d P Kohlschreiber (GER) 62 61
[5] [WC] T Berdych (CZE) d [Q] O Rochus (BEL) 62 63
I Ljubicic (CRO) d [12] J Tsonga (FRA) 76(2) 64
M Raonic (CAN) d E Gulbis (LAT) 64 75

Singles - First Round
[16] G Simon (FRA) d T Bellucci (BRA) 63 62
G Garcia-Lopez (ESP) d [Q] V Millot (FRA) 62 64
A Montanes (ESP) d X Malisse (BEL) 64 62
F Fognini (ITA) d K Anderson (RSA) 36 62 62
F Lopez (ESP) d J Tipsarevic (SRB) 46 63 76(4)
[Q] M Gonzalez (ARG) d V Hanescu (ROU) 36 75 61
[Q] P Riba (ESP) d P Starace (ITA) 46 63 63

Doubles - Second Round
S Stakhovsky (UKR) / M Youzhny (RUS) d [3] J Melzer (AUT) / P Petzschner (GER) 61 76(6)
M Granollers (ESP) / T Robredo (ESP) d [7] M Llodra (FRA) / N Zimonjic (SRB) 62 61

Doubles - First Round
[WC] J Benneteau (FRA) / J Chardy (FRA) d M Lopez (ESP) / J Monaco (ARG) 63 67(1) 12-10
J Chela (ARG) / B Soares (BRA) d M Mertinak (SVK) / D Norman (BEL) 62 36 10-7

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

All About Passion: My Miami Postscript

by Craig Hickman

It never dawned on me that on my first experience as credentialed media to cover the first week of the Sony Ericsson Open, an event I've wanted to cover almost more than any other, I would be part of a reporting team that broke a substantial story in the English-language tennis press.

We were just doing what Karen, the editor of Tennis Panorama News, told us to do. "Bring fans along on your journey. And remember none of the first week in Miami will be televised, so you'll have a big audience if you can keep them entertained."

Color me surprised, then, that the media center was virtually empty for most of the first week. I had imagined it a bustling place, packed with writers trying to tell a set of stories with words and pictures to a global fan base annoyed by the lack of television coverage.

What an opportunity to grab some fans and hold them. Not knowing exactly how, I worked the event as if I did, fueled by curiosity and instinct. So, during the March 22 WTA All-Access hour with 8 of the Top 10, I left a micro-recorder in front of one player, videotaped an interview with another player, all the while JD, my other half, photographed everybody and listened to whatever caught his fancy. No surprise that he was all over Kim Clijsters. He's always had a soft spot for her. When Kim finished her roundtable in English, three members of the Belgian media sat down for an intimate session. My other half, who's originally from the Netherlands, sat down as well. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw this and figured Kim might get a different set of questions in Flemish so why not tape the interview. She might also be more candid speaking in her mother tongue. With so much laughter coming from all around the table, I'd want to know exactly what was so funny. I understand Dutch a bit, Flemish a bit less, but I got a feeling Kim was telling some story about radiation and Indian Wells. After JD, who's also a physical therapist, asked her the final question about her shoulder, I moved on to Victoria Azarenka, a player whose temperament I've criticized openly, who, ironically, seemed so calm that morning, I sensed she might re-ignite some good tennis and go deep in the draw. She had won here before.

(Random: Kim likes sushi most; Vika, salmon, any which way. Miss Vera is all about Thai cuisine, Francesca can't get enough pasta, and Caroline is down with chicken. Sam and Jelena agree with Kim.)

Later, when we were courtside on the Grandstand watching a rather erratic and uninspired Sorana Cirstea blowing big leads against Zheng Jie, as I was trying out the new Twitter application we downloaded for JD's mobile device, he whispered into my ear, "Oh. I forgot to tell you. I have some news. Kim said in Flemish that she wasn't going to play any tournaments in Asia this year because of radiation fears."

I didn't sit through Kim's entire interview in English. I whispered back, "Surely she said the same thing in English, right?"

"Nope. She talked about Japan and was worried for players from the country, but she didn't talk about her panic at all. Her interview was mostly about her shoulder and her game and what it's like to not have the Williams sisters around an event they've dominated -- and, oh, yeah, she said Serena is the best player ever -- and what it's like to be a mother and all that kinda stuff."

Wow. Eager, naive me, fueled by curiosity and instinct, just thought I'd tweet that little scoop on GVTennisNews, the Twitter account for Tennis Panorama News. It was, after all, the outlet that applied for our credentials.

Kim Note

Minutes later, Karen calls to tell me that Matt Cronin tweeted her for a direct quote. I told her it was in Flemish, but if necessary we could transcribe it later. "Soon as you can," she said firmly. I got the sense from her tone, from Cronin's direct quote request, that this was more meat than morsel. "Just tweet her quote in English."

Thank goodness I'd put my digital recorder down in front of Kim. I knew JD wouldn't make up something like that, but without a direct quote, my morsel turned meat would remain hearsay. We left the Cirstea match after the first set, grabbed some lunch -- he, a burger, Thai shrimp crepe for me -- and headed back to the media center to get working on a translation and transcription. I do as told and post the following tweets:

Kim Quotes

Later, after JD transcribed the whole passage, I posted Of War and Radiation: Kim Clijsters Speaks here and there.

Now, you would think that as fast as this meat cooked, outside of the re-tweets, which by their nature include a source, outlets who ran the story would at least attribute us. Because, well, that's what's supposed to happen, right?

Karen, who scours tennis sites meticulously, noticed that our meat was served up all over the place without attribution, even on tennis.com's ticker, which, at the time, read as follows:


World No. 2 Kim Clijsters tells press in Miami that her fear of getting radiation poisoning as a result of leaks in a couple of Japan's nuclear reactors will keep her from playing any tournaments in Asia this fall. "I won't go [to Japan], Clijsters said. "And I won't go to Beijing either."

Chris Chase over at Busted Racquet went above and beyond to link and include the context of the entire quote back to this blog. Super nice of him, wouldn't you say? He'd probably just say he was doing what was necessary.

In all, if memory serves, his was the only outlets that included a link to the extended post, Who knew that common sense ethics had evaporated from tennis journalism? I sure didn't. JD was most perplexed. "I did all that work to make sure...Karen said...I could be taking photos....who is it that needs the quote?.... Who? .... Are they even, like, here?.... He needed a direct quote and then doesn't even acknowledge us? What the....?"

JD's not one to get perturbed by such things. Not that he's ever been involved in such a thing before, mind you, but generally speaking, he's more forgiving than most.

We moved on. "Please be sure to get photos and videos of Federer's practice session," I said to him.

"But you don't care much for him."

"We're covering an event, not a set of players. I'm sure Fed's got a lot of fans who'd like to see him practicing."

The tennis.com ticker was sort of fixed a week or so later (sort of because the copy still doesn't provide an actual link to the tweets or the longer post), too late for anyone except someone looking for it to actually notice. Perhaps it was merely an oversight just to get the story out as quickly as possible. I didn't get a response from Cronin before I published this post, but when I do, I'll post an update. Till then, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Surely, he's a man of integrity who would know that journalism ethics require that he attribute his sources. Even a gossip monger provides provenance. It must have been an oversight. Journalists have been fired for stuff like this.

Whatever the case, here's what I know: tennis.com tickered a story from a lesser-known tennis site who used an even lesser-known tennis blogger to transmit a meaty little scoop. Search "Clijsters won't play Japan" and see that tennis.com is the go-to link provided in almost every story. If you didn't know any better, you'd think tennis.com had someone at the roundtable who could understand Flemish and translate it into English. In no time flat, the Clijsters story was all the buzz, popping up on forums and wires and blogs and feeds all over the globe.

The next day, the WTA released a statement from Kim:

"Most importantly, my thoughts and sympathies are with the people in Japan. It's heart-wrenching to see what they're going through right now. Of course the health and safety of anyone traveling to a potentially impacted area is my top priority as well as the WTA's, and I know that the WTA will continue to monitor the situation."
With that statement, Clijsters officially withdrew from the Pan Pacific Open.

A meaty little scoop for which tennis.com took all the credit. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and others were asked about their intentions of playing in Asia. They all diplomatically said they hadn't thought about it or would assess the situation when all the facts came in.

When Neil Harman, who, despite what's coming down the page, remains one of my favorite tennis writers, showed up in the media center and sat right across from my station, I introduced myself and let him know I felt he was one of the more creative writers in the industry and that I usually enjoyed his articles. He was accessible and nice and engaging. We spoke briefly about Clijsters. "We still need to get it verified, since no one in the English press heard the story, but I've heard about the news of Clijsters not playing Japan."

Well, not quite "no one." Credentialed media, no matter who or where from, are members of the press. I speak English. I told him we broke the story, and if he could understand Flemish, he could listen to the recorder that sat right on my work station a few feet away and get all the verification we needed.

The next day the story appeared in the Belgian press.

"She didn't say that," JD said upon reading one of write ups.

"What do you mean?"

"She never said she put any of those iodine foods in Jada's yogurt. I think they made that part up."

Say it isn't so. Journalists don't make up quotes, do they?

According to Sloane Stephens, sometimes they do. Right before the transcribed part of our one-on-one interview began in the main interview room -- which was right after she qualified for the main draw and found herself in an empty room with one interested writer (never mind that later in the evening, a few journalists were speculating in the media center about whether or not she was the highest-ranked African American on the WTA and I thought, Why weren't you there to ask her? -- the WTA representative who escorted her to our interview said that another journalist had also requested her. "Who was that?" Stephens asked. The rep told her about the man from a Florida paper, to which she replied, "Oh, him. He completely misquoted something I said the last time he wrote about me."

IMG_0577
JD Blom

(Random: I was the only writer who showed up for Maria Sharapova's first interview as well. I mentioned that here. (Read the comments to this post. Notice the exchange I have with Arthurlevine2, a commenter who showed up for the first time on my blog here. We'll come back to Arthur a bit further down the page.) I was one of only two English-language writers who showed up at Juan Martin del Potro's news conference after his first-round victory. The two of us didn't take up much of his time for he looked exhausted. When we finished, members of Spanish-language media swarmed around him like bees. Why couldn't they give him some space and ask question from their seats? It was quite a sight.)

Delpo 23
JD Blom

::

"Does anybody do any work around here," JD said to me on our third day in the media center. By then, more writers had arrived, but with the exception of a handful, many just hung around the media center talking with each other about top ATP players in not so complimentary ways and discussing several story lines with WTA and ATP media relations staff who are set up in the center to field interview requests, among other things. As far as JD was concerned, there was too much gossiping and not enough working. "It's beautiful outside. You'd think they'd want to get to the courts and take in some actual tennis."

"Maybe they are. It's not like we're sitting here monitoring them all day."

"True. But I haven't seen many of them anywhere but in here."

Back from a match on an outer court, I found a one-page biography of Milos Raonic on our workstation. Neither one of us had requested any information on the young man, but there it was anyway. Safe to say, Milos, who reminds many pundits of Pete Sampras, is being promoted as the next big thing. When he lost his first-round match against Somdev Devarrman a few days later, there was nary a peep from anyone about the talented Canadian with the big serve. A bit more on him later.

::

A professional tournament, especially the $4.5 million Sony Ericsson Open, is a gargantuan production with too many things that can go awry. It's easy to take it all for granted. The staff works hard, is well-organized, and makes the players, volunteers, media, but most of all the fans, feel right at home. If I could hand out awards, I'd give them to the entire media center cafeteria staff. Whenever I walked through those doors, they made me feel like I was the most important person there. The food was good, too. You could get mango smoothies and sushi maki in grab-and-go containers feast on a buffet featuring two proteins with several delicisous sides, as well as a vegetarian pasta and salad bar, for eating in. No surprise, then, that the official event credo reads as follows:

DSCF3861

I was impressed to find out on the initial tour of the grounds that the facilities manager, the person responsible for constructing the entire facility was a woman.

Speaking of which, where are all the women photographers? Sure, there were some. I sat next to a great freelance photographer at Novak Djokovic's Friends for Japan Benefit dinner. Too bad I didn't think to ask her where she thought all the women behind cameras were, but it seemed that most of the photographers courtside, on the red carpet at the charity events and players party, behind the video and film cameras were men.

Just saying.

::

Shortly after returning home to Maine, I was surprised to read about a Twitter "battle" between established writers who call themselves journalists and bloggers who call themselves bloggers. Even more surprised by those waging the battle. Apparently, there were too many fan bloggers in the media center and a few journalists took issue. C Note, over at Forty Deuce, recounted the entire melodrama quite well in her post Please. Don't Let the Facts Get In The Way of Your Journalisming.

Spend a little time with this write up. And get knee-deep in the comments. Please. You will find a thou-doth-protest-too-much journalist (Arthurlevine2 from above, exposbabe and TennisFanUSA elsewhere and one can only guess what other identities this Internet Sybil uses) who seems to suggest in her own comments that she's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, who takes for fools intelligent people with access to IP addresses. If she's so secure in her profession, why does she find the need to troll bloggers and mislead and protest so much? You will also find this:

earlgrey said...

I wonder if the motivation for 'real journalists' to speak out about this is because they are feeling threatened? As a tennis fan and one mainly of the WTA there was a real paucity of coverage for me to tap in to. So imagine how excited I was to find this site where not only could I read about my favs but I could also interact. It filled a gap in what was being provided for me, an ordinary yet enthusiastic fan who was thirsty for more than just match reports that focused on the ATP.


Tennis is a fun diversion for me and the majority of bloggers respond to the 'fun' side of the sport. I believe there is a place for the business of the sport, reporting matches and speculating on who is doing what to try and improve. But that's not why I follow tennis to be honest. I started watching tennis as a child and was fasinated with how the women moved, what they wore along with what they could achieve and I still like that. And being able to share my disappointment when my fav goes down (I'm looking at you JJ!), to share the happiness when they finally do what you think they should (I'm still waiting on that one) or to just laugh out loud at their silliness is what brings tennis to life for me.


And laugh out loud is what I do frequently and often when I visit this site and what brings me back pretty much daily. And I sincerely hope that tournament directors continue to grant all access passes to bloggers such as yourself - they, like me, realise that you provide a service that journalists don't at present. You make it fun and for that as a fan I thank you.


I was already back in Maine tweeting updates on a televised match when the Battle of Twitterville began. Writers quickly took sides. Journalists rallied around journalists, bloggers rallied around bloggers, with the occasional blogger kissing up to the journalists in an effort to, oh, I don't know, boost their credibility perhaps. Reminded me of high school. I tweeted that I'd chime in the matter when the event was over.

Here we are.

From where I sit, all writers given credentials to professional tennis tournaments are legitimate. This common-sense concept was shared way before the latest installment in the battle between journalists and bloggers by two journalists who write for an established print and online media outlet. A big one. Thankfully, not all journalists feel the need to underscore divisions in the cavalry of writers writing about tennis these days.

Others seem almost proud to do so. "Fans with typewriters," as Harman calls bloggers in his Twitter tirade, is an interesting construction for a few reasons. First, anyone who writes about tennis, whether they've been doing it for 40 years or 4 months, is a fan. Who on earth would cover a sport of which they weren't a fan? Second, who uses a typewriter anymore? To be fair, Harman did tweet this was something they "used to" call the lowly fan who likely spent a ton of money to cover an event merely to "gawk" at players. Because Facebook and Twitter are the "necessary evils", as one freelancer put it, that we must accept in this ever-connected social networking universe, I would imagine that old-school media is finding it needs to adapt to new "indie media" outlets, as some bloggers are wont to call them, or lose readers and subscribers and a base of fans eager to buy what it's selling.

What passes for tennis journalism has been under incessant critique by tennis fans for at least as long as this blog has existed at the end of 2006. Fans have become annoyed with sloppy reporting (some fan forums have entire threads dedicated to bad tennis journalism) and all the hype -- the propaganda -- that the sport promotes through its tools in Big Media. Not all journalists are tools, mind you, but when Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated (no, I wouldn't consider him a tool) uses an investment metaphor to explain what to do about Federer and Djokovic, the mindset driving many of the stories carried by the mainstream outlets remains clear as silver striking crystal.

Before I arrived in Miami, I'd taken note of Raonic. He's already made Canadian tennis history by winning his first ATP title in San Jose earlier this year. I knew he was articulate and thoughtful and intelligent with a great sense of perspective about his tennis and the game, and has been working to keep his terrible temper under control. Quite frankly, he doesn't need any more hype. Didn't need to have his one-page bio spread around the media center like a press release. Or a mutual fund prospectus. I rolled my eyes when I saw it on our work station. I like him just fine but why waste the paper and the toner to tell me he exists? And as I said, when he lost to an Indian player few journalists are writing anything about at all, all I heard was crickets. When he actually wins something of import, he'll deserve more attention. Till then, it's probably best to let him be exactly who he is: a young player with a big game and a lot of promise.

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The biggest faux pas we made -- yeah, there was bound to be a significant muff up in a tennis reporter's Miami debut -- was posting video footage online of entire player interviews from the first week. Why was this a problem, especially since seeing and hearing a player versus simply reading a transcript of his or her words can bring an entirely different picture to an interview? Because the rules as stated in the media regulations said so. Basically, you can only upload up to 90 seconds per day any on-site, non-competition video or film from practice sessions or interviews. The exception to the rule? You must provide running editorial over the footage. Then, I suppose, although it's not clearly stated, you can publish as much as you like. So, if I tell you what to think and feel about a a player's interview, fine, you can see and hear the whole thing, but if I allow the player to speak for himself (show, don't tell) you can only get snippets? I actually thought the advisory said 90 minutes, which made more sense. You could easily post 90 minutes of several players' practice sessions and a few on-the-record interviews for fans to watch of their favorite players each day without ever compromising the image of a player or cutting into whatever profits the sponsors intend to make by waiting till the first weekend to sell the rights for anybody to televise anything at all. But that's not the way it is. So when the tournament's media director finally got around to asking me, the day before we departed -- he really did have bigger fish to fry -- to edit down to 90 seconds my published footage of Roddick and Djokovic and Federer interviews, I simply pulled them down. There was no single 90-second segment of any of their interviews that would stand alone. And I edit video about as well as I play tennis. Why produce a commercial-length snippet when fans might get more out of seeing the whole thing?

"We've got to keep our sponsors happy," said the media director.

This seems to be the crux of it. Corporatism summed up succinctly. How random or related was the Twitter battle waged by journalists to the largely unattributed scoop this lowly fan blogger stumbled upon on his debut in Miami? Is it at all possible Big Media outlets would be reluctant to show their readers they were sourcing news from "fans with typewriters"? Would their readers even care?

Maybe. As one fan tweeted, "I prefer to read a blogger to a journo. Real talk."

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Tennis fans are savvy. And relentless. We'll go all over the Internet to find a live stream for a match some network will later air on tape delay, even if it risks Trojan viruses and other high-tech nuisances. We want to see tennis as it happens, for heaven's sake, we want to see tennis players off the court, we want to get a feel for the behind the scenes in ways that are accessible and creative.

Why aren't official event websites providing live-streaming to player-party red-carpets? I can't imagine it would be all that hard to set up. And if not that, why not put a photographer with some mobile device on the carpet to tweet photos of players as they arrive? We did it. ("Don't even bother trying to tweet descriptions. Just take a photo and tweet that," ordered the other half. Simple. Brilliant.) And what we did kept one respected journalist at one mainstream paper at his desk for another few hours before going home. He just wanted to "be there" for the "live action."

Yes. Make no mistake. All tennis writers are "fans with typewriters." For real, though. Journalists need to stop tripping.

As a friend of mine in Boston confided, "I've always loved tennis. But I follow it more now because your passion for tennis comes through so clearly on your blog. And quite frankly, I don't find that in a lot of other places."

I don't earn a living from writing about tennis. I'm an organic farmer. Small business owner. Author. Chef. So when I take the time away from my livelihood to sit down and write about something for which I'm not getting paid, you better believe I'm going to make it worth my while.

And yours.

None of us are going anywhere. Not the journalists, and certainly not the bloggers. The sooner the better Big Media realizes that to partner with some of the indie bloggers could bring their readers a more well-rounded and exciting fan experience. Better coverage, too. Isn't that the goal or would that, as my mother would say, be too much like right?

In the meanwhile, I hope that the media relations directors who hand out credentials to writers and photographers from all stripes continue to do exactly what they're doing. Because if you want to grow your market, you've got to bring the sport to the people. Twitter, Facebook and live streams facilitate that. In real time, no tape delay allowed.

Passion is contagious. It takes a global army of passionate writers, whether they get paid or not, to cover practice courts and feature rank-and-file players alongside the sport's elite stars and those hyped for future greatness; to tweet red-carpet photos and fans putting on red Speedos in the half-empty stands of an outer court; to bring the atmosphere of a player party/benefit/product promotion to the screens of electronic devices, large and small.

While professional matches may still be contested at country clubs around the world, tennis is no longer a country club sport. Old-school reporting led by excellent writers, some of whom look down their noses at "fans with typewriters"; some of whom won't dare put in newsprint what they say about players in their media-center gossip sessions; some of whom bemoan the presence of bloggers in Miami even as they tweet from their homes half a continent away; some of whom troll blogs with several aliases to post sarcasm, snark and other such foolishness; some of whom don't often give credit where credit is due -- that mess simply won't cut it. Anyone who claims otherwise is simply trying to protect a turf that needs no protecting.

Don't take it personally. It's not about you. It's about the fans. And if we really want to attract and engage more fans, we must continue to meet them exactly where they are.

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Miami Outtakes

If you blink, you'll miss me. I'm right at the beginning of this video, and twice near the end before and after Tomas Berdych and Lucie Safarova. Was fun to see that broadcast on the big screen above Stadium Court one afternoon.

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ESPN Djoke2

Working the Friends of Japan benefit. (Source)

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JD Blom

Working the Cliff Drysdale benefit.

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JD Blom

Working the WTA All-Access hour.

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The Andreas Seppi fan who stripped naked in the half-empty stands and put on his red Speedos.

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Interviewing Donald Young after he beat Arnaud Clement.

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Courtside during Christina McHale and Jelena Dokic. Patrick McEnroe served as Christina's coach for on-court coaching purposes.

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JD working a match.

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JD Blom

In the media center.

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Video: Around The Grounds At Crandon Park

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Drive By

I'm working on a few big things. Planting for one. A postcript on Miami for two. Both projects are working me.

Ryan Sweeting won his first ATP title in Houston, Caroline Wozniacki won her first Family Circle Cup in Charleston. Wasn't there another event going on somewhere? Nice to see Sweeting dispense with his 70s-porn-video mustache.

Stay tuned.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Made My Day

by Craig Hickman

The 2011 Sony Ericsson Open is now history. Before play was officially underway, Kim Clijsters, Andy Roddick, Caroline Wozniacki and Ryan Harrison supported the Greater Miami Tennis and Education Foundation as part of Cliff Drysdale's fundraiser at the Ritz-Carlton of Key Biscayne inside the tennis center that bears his name.

Last year, Clijsters and Roddick considered the same event their good luck charms as both went on to win the Sony Ericsson Open. I guess it's true, then, that lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place. But the defending champions had a great time. Seeing tennis players doing what they love to do without the stress of a match was a beautiful thing.

The Ritz-Carlton of Key Biscayne is more like a palace than a hotel. I couldn't help but thinking we were approaching royalty as we drove into the gated grounds. Perfectly designed and manicured landscaping all around, we finally found the tennis center valet. Once on the courts, I was able to see what Serena Williams once said about green clay being slower and grittier than the crushed red brick used in Europe and South America. It almost looks like gravel. On one of the outside courts, I recognized former Miami runner-up Guillermo Cañas playing a double's match with other members.



The staff at the Ritz-Carlton gave customer service new meaning. Attentive, genuinely nice, they made us feel at home. Perfect weather, live musicians, an open bar, passed hors d'oeuvres, and the chance to test-drive Cadillac's new models would have attracted anyone who wanted to support a worthy cause.

Even with the great atmosphere and fun tennis exhibition, the event highlight came at the end when I approached Drysdale, who'd kept the proceedings efficient and light-hearted with his infectious personality and wit. He's practically a stand up comedian.

"Just in case I never have another opportunity to say this to you, I just wanted to let you know that you are the voice of tennis for me. Didn't matter where I was in the house, if I heard your voice on the television, I knew tennis was on. I enjoy your commentary, your humor, and the personality you bring in the booth is always a perfect foil for your colleagues."

His face lit up more than it naturally does. "Wow. Thank you so much for telling me that. You have made my day," he replied with an outstretched hand. Next thing I knew, he touched the side of my face as though I were his son. He made my day, too.

Michelle, the media relations director who invited us to cover the event, insisted that I pose with Drysdale for a photo. As we posed, I told him of my sister's home in South Africa and JD, who's originally from the Netherlands, asked him if he spoke any Afrikaans, the Dutch dialect spoken by the Nederlanders who settled there centuries ago. Personal connections make every experience more memorable.

The entire event benefited the Greater Miami Tennis and Education Foundation and like last year, kids from the foundation attended the event as ball boys and girls. They earned that privilege based on their report cards, attendance, leadership and other factors. The $13,000 raised will benefit these socially and economically challenged Miami children, will help them learn tennis and valuable life skills by participating in free, affordable GMTEF tennis and education programs throughout the school year, as well as during the summer.

Next year's event promises to be even better.

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Video Highlights













Sunday, April 03, 2011

Best In Show

KEY BISCAYNE, FL - APRIL 03:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates with the trophy after he defeated Rafael Nadal of Spain during the men's singles championship at the Sony Ericsson Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on April 3, 2011 in Key Biscayne, Florida.
Getty

Not sure how he's doing it, but he's doing it mighty mighty well. Novak Djokovic won his 26th straight match in 2011 defeating Rafael Nadal in the Miami final 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4). It was only fitting for such a match to end in a tiebreak, but as soon as it got there, it was Djoke's to lose.

Confidence is funny that way.

Djoke has it, Rafa doesn't. I forget how difficult it is to remember how to win when returning to competitive play from even a short injury absence. Rafa's serve and return of serve didn't allow him to control many of the rallies and, by the end of this dramatic match, he found himself doubled over gasping for oxygen in the smothering Miami heat.

If winning is habit forming, Djoke's an addict. His defense continues to elicit gasps. There was a point when Rafa struck a backhand so hard and flat into the corner, you just didn't figure Djoke would get a racquet on it, and even if he did, the reply would be something upon which Rafa could pounce. Not so. Djoke simply flicked the ball right of the baseline, effortlessly, it seemed, changing its direction to down the line, and Rafa had to scrambled to the other side of the court just to get his own racquet on the return shot. Djoke ultimately won the point, a microcosm of the match.

Funny how hype works. Back when the Serbian was hyped as the Next Big Thing before he had the results to back it up, I was flummoxed. Now, while some would suggest Djoke is the true ATP world No. 1, there's another emerging group of fans, some of whom also call themselves "journalists", who are suggesting that Djoke will never reach the heights of Nadal and Roger Federer and that his rivalry with Nadal will never transcend tennis the way Fedal has.

Tennis fans are strange that way.

Like him or not, Djokovic's 26-0 start in 2011 is historic. As he alluded to in his pre-tournament interview, he has come through some personal, emotional issues and feels he's now free to produce his best tennis on the court. He's always maturing into a true ambassador or the sport. While I don't believe he deserves to be called the "real No. 1" by anyone, that ranking my come, it may not, he's certainly cemented his place at No. 2. As for his rivalry with Nadal, I'm going to quote Brad Gilbert, who gets it right in this tweet during the match:

I know they don't want to admit it out loud, but this is the new rivalry, definitely best in show.

I wonder who the "they" are in this quote. His fellow pundits in the commentary booth? The "journalists" who promote the sport to the detriment of real reporting? Whoever he means, I find it most interesting that he knows that they don't want to say so out loud.

Ultimately it doesn't really matter. The proof is in the witnessing. The fans who were chanting both players' names yesterday afternoon weren't trying to pull a listless player getting his ass handed to him into the match so they might actually see a match, as they did in the Fedal semifinal. These fans were jacked up because their players, both of them, were putting out. Best in show indeed.

Bring on the clay.

RafaNole, Part XXV

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The most competitive rivalry in men's tennis. Overshadowed by Fedal (for good reasons), Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic is the most competitive rivalry in men's tennis. They've played the other more times than any two active players, and I suspect if both remain healthy throughout the year, they'll face each other in many more finals. While they've so far only contested one Slam final at last year's US Open, which Rafa won in four sets to complete the Career Slam, many of their encounters have been brutal battles, despite some of the straight-set scorelines, the ultimate winner in question till the bitter end. Who can forget that spectacular 2009 Madrid semifinal that Rafa won 7-6(9) in the third? Djoke held 4 match points, if memory serves, and Rafa denied them all. That was easily the best best-of-three match that year. Shortly thereafter, Rafa left the tour to heal his knees and Djoke's tennis teetered between brilliant and woeful, losing early in Paris as well as his next two finals.

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A fortnight ago, against Rafa in the Indian Wells final, Djoke rallied from a set down to earn his second Masters shield in the desert and keep his 2011 record unblemished. Today, the rematch is on. Djoke knows how to win here; he took the title in 2007. If Rafa has turned his first serve around, as he did when facing 0-40 early in the final set of his quarterfinal against Tomas Berdych, I suspect he'll put a stop to the Serbian steamroller. The World No. 2's form has dipped over his last few matches while Rafa's has risen. The World No. 1 has never won in Miami so I believe he'll be extra motivated to finally get to the winner's circle, even if it takes three sets.

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Watch the Sony Ericsson Open men's final live on CBS at 1:oo EDT

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Car Wreck

KEY BISCAYNE, FL - APRIL 02:  Victoria Azarenka of Belarus  celebrates with the trophy after she won her match against Maria  Sharapova of Russia during the women's singles championship at the Sony  Ericsson Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on April 2, 2011 in Key  Biscayne, Florida.
Getty

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Thank goodness for Marion Bartoli. She actually gave us a big event final to watch in the Californian desert two weeks ago tomorrow against the reigning World No. 1. I found myself wishing the Indian Wells runner up was on the court across the net from Victoria Azarenka in today's championship match in Miami. Instead, I chose to put up with Maria Sharapova spraying balls like a garden hose in a drought. I didn't have to, mind you. But the match had the lure of a car wreck. I simply couldn't look away.

The WTA has to (well, maybe it doesn't have to, but the hero campaign is banal and outdated) update its marketing campaigns for the remainder of 2011 against the backdrop of this fact: The runner up at the calendar's "fifth Slam" held her serve exactly once in a 6-1, 6-4 drubbing at the hands of a player who's never even contested a Slam semifinal, neither of whom participated in what might have been the most dramatic women's match of the tournament, which wasn't televised anywhere on the planet.

I'm going to say that again: The runner up at the calendar's "fifth Slam" held her serve exactly once in a 6-1, 6-4 drubbing at the hands of a player who's never even contested a Slam semifinal, neither of whom participated in what might have been the most dramatic women's match of the tournament, which wasn't televised anywhere on the planet.

That's all.

Masharenka In Miami

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Back in 2009 when Victoria Azarenka defeated a one-legged Serena Williams in the Sony Ericsson Open final, the Belarusian was hailed as the next Maria Sharapova. The 3-time Slam champion and former World No. 1 was struggling with injury and ennui and the WTA seemed to want another ball-bashing, blue-eyed blonde to rule the day.

Didn't quite work out. Azarenka didn't follow her Miami crown with any title of import (despite their premier designation, Stanford and Moscow only have 28 players in the draw so they don't count as big titles in my eyes), never even contesting a Slam semifinal. She's got weapons off the ground, to be sure, but has seemed frail on the biggest stages. Now, she's back in the finals of the fifth Slam and if she takes the title, she'll be back on track, at least in the minds of her fans, to do great things.

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But she's got to get through the woman she was supposed to replace. Sharapova is fighting to return to the form that made her a force. Her Australian Open victory in 2008 remains one of the most dominating Slam performances I've ever witnessed from start to finish. Unfortunately, it was the last time we saw Maria at her best. Now, while her fight remains, her serve causes heartburn. She told me in Miami that her shoulder wasn't completely healed, but stable. Stable enough to return here for the first time in three years, and if she can win the fifth Slam, a title she's never won before, her long and arduous comeback will be fully realized.

While both women can struggle on serve, their returns are world-class. Azarenka moves better, Masha's tougher. I suspect there will be a ton of breaks so holds of serve will prove decisive. It will be most interesting to see whom the crowd gets behind, the former champion or the Floridian?

Who's going to take it?

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Watch the final in the United States on CBS at 12:30 EDT.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Circle Closed

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JD Blom

Roger Federer talks to the press at the Sony Ericsson Open on March 23, 2011 in Miami, Florida.

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He looked a bit like Kim Clijsters during and after her loss to Victoria Azarenka the other night: detached. Like parents who realize their children are more important than the thrasing they just endured between the lines.

Or perhaps, in Federer's case, he simply was demoralized. It was a bit sad to witness. Rafael Nadal made it seem far too easy. Same way he did 7 years ago.

If Rafa is indeed in Raja's head, it had to have happened instantly. I remember there were murmurings that Raja was sick that calm, humid night in Miami 7 years ago. I don't remember where those murmurings came from as I was posting about on tennis forums all over the place, but they seemed there to comfort those who needed to believe the outcome of the match would have been different had Raja been 100% healthy. A year later, the next time they played, Rafa took the first two sets from Raja in the Miami final, though he ultimately lost the match.

And so it was this storied rivalry began with Rafa winning the first four sets. Talk about setting a tone.

Tonight, safe to say, the circle closed.

Will they ever play another important match? Will Federer settle for third or fourth best? Will he win another Slam? Who can see the future?

Savannah said that 2011 would be all about Roger Federer.

I'm beginning to see her point.

A Rarity: Rafa Vs. Raja In America

by Craig Hickman

The first time they ever played a professional match, Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer in straight sets right here in Miami. It was 2004, back when the Sony Ericsson Open was called the Nasdaq 100 Open (which goes directly to the point Randy made earlier: corporate sponsors come and go, place names remain the same). Second time they played a professional match? The very next year, right here in Miami, in the final, when it was still best of five. After racing out to a two-set lead, Rafa wearied (yes, there was a time when the youngster got tired on the court), choked as well (he still does that), and lost the final in five sets.

For the first time since 2005, Rafa and Raja will play a match in the United States, in the only venue where they've played a match in the United States. Rafa leads four sets to two. And while his first serve has looked shaky over the last two events (though it got him out of trouble in the opening game of the third set last night), he's clearly a better player now than he was back then. Raja, not so much. Which means Rafa is supposed to win easily right? Well, Raja got a virtual walkover yesterday afternoon when Gilles Simon retired after 3 games citing a stiff neck. Rafa was on court later in the evening and night battling Tomas Berdych to a 3-set victory. Somewhere during that match, he needed his right shoulder tended. Some might say that for Raja to defeat Rafa these days, he'll need a lot of luck. Well....

I, for one, am actually more interested in the first semifinal between Novak Djokovic and Mardy Fish. Yes, Djoke has literally been unbeatable in 2011. But he's got to lose sooner or later. And while Fish has never been able to beat the Serb in five tries, outside of the US Open, Fish has won a set in each of their three meetings in the United States, all on hard courts, one in the finals of Indian Wells three years ago. As Jim Courier always says, if you can win one set you can win two. As the last American standing in both draws, Fish will be the overwhelming crowd favorite. The daytime conditions will keep his big serve moving through the court. He'll have to play a near perfect match, though, because Djoke is playing with house money. The only player to participate in the charity soccer event for Japan relief still in the draw, he's looking more like a machine than a tennis player. Frankly, I'm becoming bored by his dominance. It would be just like Fish to end his streak, especially since so few believe he can.

Ultimately, I believe we'll have a repeat of the Indian Wells final two weeks ago. Here's hoping the way there is exciting, dramatic, and full of great tennis.