Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ernie's First Final

This isn't a dream, is it? Because this is certainly crazy. It's surreal. Ernests Gulbis into a final? Surely you jest!

But no, it is true - Ernie played an admirable match today, closing out Jarkko Nieminen in two sets. Sure, Nieminen hasn't been especially impressive of late, but then again, neither has Ernie. As noted yesterday, he made his first semi in 2006, and then didn't make another one till last week. Now here he is the very next week, in the final.

Please, please let this not be a fluke.

I've seen very little of Ernie's actual matches, so I couldn't actually tell you what Ernie's changed. Maybe he hasn't changed a thing. Maybe it's just all clicked for him - because he has immense, immense talent. He was just matching that talent with totally stupid numbers of errors. I can't imagine he's winning any matches with the amount of errors I saw him hit in his match in Australia, so presumably that's where he's tightened up. The click.

The real test will be how he follows this win up. Obviously, it would be totally awesome if he would go on and win this, his very first final - but even if he doesn't, this is still a great result for him. What would suck, however, is if he followed up this fortnight of sweetness with another seventeen-odd first round losses. Two weeks of consistency is sweet, but two weeks is not a season.

So there's not much I can say but keep it up, Ernie. Make me proud. Validate me for spending all this time clinging to your bandwagon. Make me look like a not-moron. I know you can do it!

Saturday, February 27, 2010


So here is a truth-fact I did not know - Ernests Gulbis reached his first ATP level semi final at St Petersburg in 2006, and, while 2008 can legitimately be considered his breakout year, what with his run to the quarters of Roland Garros, he did not reach another semi until last week.

Last week.

And where is he this week? Why, monsieur, that would be - wait for it - the semis.

Now there is something to make we few lonely passengers on the Ernie bandwagon very excited indeed. Semis in back-to-back weeks? That is a solid result for just about anyone, but for Ernie, with his struggle to string two matches together last year, this is not just solid, but solid gold. Now if only he can take that one step further...

I would love for Ernie to win the title. I really would. But I think I would be satisfied with a run to the final. If he makes the final, he'll play either Ivo Karlovic or Mardy Fish, who are neither of them slouches, though I believe Ernie is capable of beating them both. But if he could just go that one step further, make that final...

Not that the semis isn't already a very satisfactory result. It totally is. But I really think Ernie has a great shot at beating Jarkko Nieminen, who really hasn't been that impressive for a long time now. Ernie was really quite impressive in his victory over Leonardo Mayer... and I can't help but remember how Kei Nishikori won this tournament out of nowhere a few years back.

Please let Ernie be this year's Kei, okay? O-Kei! Fear my punnage.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Ernie I See Before Me

Is this a Gulbis that I see before me, actually winning stuff?

Why, I do declare that it is. That's right - Ernests Gulbis is in the quarter finals of Delray Beach, not one week after he made a run to the semis in Memphis. Now this, THIS is what I'm talking about, Ernie! I think there might be a few more passengers on your bandwagon now... now that there appears to be something to cheer about. (Winners are grinners. This is a truth fact).

He beat Teimuraz Gabashvili comprehensively today - straight sets, and good ones too. Gabashvili is no slouch - he's had his share of decent winnage in his time - so this is a good result for Ernie. But it's not so much the quarter final appearance that I'm excited about, it's the fact that he's backed up a good performance from last week with a good one this week. This is no first round loss/first round loss double whammy, like we were so used to seeing last year. This is actually consistency.

Okay, so it's only two weeks. I'm getting a little excited over something that is just not that huge. But I have been on this kid's bandwagon for forever, and he's been giving me nothing. This is a whole lot of something by those standards. Has Ernie finally found his mojo?

We must remember that Delray Beach brought us a surprise young winner a few years back in Kei Nishikori. Wouldn't it be awesome if it could finally give some validation to this talented young Latvian? And, much more importantly, validate me for clinging to his bandwagon for so long?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sense and Scheduling

Well, it had to happen sooner or later - Marin Cilic just lost a match he should have won.

Mighty Marin went down to Austrian Jurgen Melzer, who is definitely not a total slouch - I do believe he has an ATP level title to his name - but he's not exactly the man, either. On most given days, Marin would stomp all over him and smash him like a guitar.

But not this time. And why? I didn't see the match, but I can tell you why: scheduling.

It is totally ridiculous, the amount of tennis that Cilic has played this year. I mean, obviously it's good he made the semis in Oz and all, but he has probably spent more man hours on the court than any other dude on the ATP circuit so far this year. By a long way. He's won two tournaments and gone deep in Australia... and I know Australia seems like a long time ago, but the reality is that Cilic has played so, SO much tennis. He needs a break.

And you know what? I'm glad he went down to Melzer today. He wouldn't have a chance in hell in Indian Wells or Miami without a bit more rest under his belt. I think Marin is awesome and I want him to stay that way. No burn outs, Marin. Say it with me: sensible scheduling. Sometimes less is more.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Can You Hear The Drums, Fernandos?

I don't know if you ever see the division of dirtballers from other tennis players any place more than right now, in the gap between the Australian Open and Indian Wells. The next Slam may be the French, but the real focus is very much still on the hard courts right now in the lead up to the massive Indian Wells/Miami double header...

...unless you're playing on the South and Central American swing, where it's all dirtball, all the way.

This little claycourt season isn't anywhere near as superfluous as the one after Wimbledon, which serves absolutely no purpose. But still, I'm not sure why there's so much clay play when Roland Garros is this far off. Actually, to be more specific, I'm not sure why there's so much clay play when there's a grand total of four weeks of grass play in the year. Why does clay get six months odd and why does grass get so little?

Anyway. What I was trying to say is that a lot of the guys playing on clay this week - dudes like Fernando Verdasco and Fernando Gonzalez and all those others (I'm just going to call them the Fernandos) who really should be training for Indian Wells and Miami are playing in Acapulco, and they really shouldn't be.

I mean, it's February. It's a little early to be training for Roland Garros, and I can see no other reason for these guys to be playing on clay. For the real dedicated dirtballers, who really don't have any other way, I guess I get it, but players like the Fernandos have decent chances in the hard court double header and should be playing like it. I'm not sure I understand the rationale behind their decisions to play this tournament.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Disappointments in Dubai

I think I wrote a few weeks ago about how Feliciano Lopez has one really good tournament in him in a year. He won a tournament a few weeks ago... and the theory is holding true, because he lost first round in Dubai to Stefan Koubek. Now, Koubeck isn't the uber-suck - he is Federer's hitting partner of choice, as we all know - but really, Feli? Really?

Another dude is definitely hanging out in Club Disappointment this week is Simone Bolelli. Now, I have watched Bolelli play a few times and I like his game. He's played Hopman Cup before, and that really endears me to a player. He's talented and really pretty and he has some serious game.

So why has he lost fourteen matches in a row? Riddle me that one.

I can't talk about that too much more, because I legitimately have no answer. I don't know if there is any excuse for an ATP player of that calibre to lose that many times in a row. That's just crazy talk. So fix something, Simone. You're a mess right now.

Someone I am not disappointed in, however, is Marcos Baghdatis. Gilles Simon may just be back from injury, but he is ranked up high. This was a great win for Marcos, and I hope he can go further!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Andy Roddick's Bridesmaids

You know who I haven't been that impressed with lately? Sam Querrey. You know who I have been impressed with? John Isner. So you can imagine my surprise when the Memphis final turned out the way it is.

Since James Blake slid down the rankings like melting butter, the search has been on for the next American wunderkind. Mardy Fish was a little old for the job, and Sam Querrey seemed to be the prime candidate. He had a few seriously quality months last year where he scored some awesome wins. And then he sat on that glass coffee table and things started not going so well.

Enter Isner. He'd been around for a while, but then he started, you know, being all good. I think his real big break probably came in the US Open last year when he beat Andy Roddick in the third round, but Big John had been coming hard for a while. Both he and Querrey play Karlovician tennis - however, I would argue, that John is more Ivo than Ivo. Ivo may be taller, but John at the net...

I think the reason I am so surprised at this result coming out of Memphis is that Querrey and Isner have similar games - the Dr Ivo style of tennis, based around a monstrous serve. However, Querrey seemed to me to be declining and Isner to be rising, and not just because Querrey fell through that coffee table. It seems to me - and, despite this result, it still does - that Isner and Querrey play the same style, only Isner is better at it.

It happens, I suppose. And Isner did have the match on his racquet in that second set tiebreak. There was some real mental toughness involved in this match - as there always is, I suppose, when you have a match that is centred around tiebreakers. I was still surprised, however... and I'll be interested to see how this rivalry plays out in the future. Because it seems to me that Isner, not Querrey, is going to be Andy Roddick's bridesmaid in the long term.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bandy Voodoo

Okay, so Gulbis didn't win his semi final - he got outclubbed by Sam Querrey - but this is still a very positive result for him in Memphis. Much more positive than anything he's done in the last eighteen months or so, at any rate. Hopefully it was not a big-arse fluke, because I really do not want to return to the kingdom of the eternal first round loss again, no sirree. It's been lonely on the Ernie bandwagon on all my onesies, and I do not wish for the train to turn back into the tunnel now I think I have seen the light at the end of it.

Yeah. That's right. I rock that train metaphor.

There have been other players playing this week apart from Ernie, though my blog would seem to belie it. One such of these was David Nalbandian. Yes, I know I am a few days behind here, but I have to ask the question -who exactly is it that has the Bandy voodoo doll? Because this level of injury is SO not normal.

I never really was Bandy's biggest fan, but you have to feel sorry for the guy. He has more injury problems than Rafael Nadal's knees. And he totally never used to be like this either - I can't remember any major, major injuries in his career before this whole year-off debacle. Maybe there was a wrist thing or something one time, but I never had him up there on my Captain Injury Prone list, if you know what I mean.

But now it's all gone wrong for him.

That said, he did have some positive results. He managed to get a win or two before the person with the voodoo doll realised and struck him down again. Hopefully he can keep it coming - though I have to say that if you're on the injury comeback trail, clay is probably not the surface you want to be on. Not even that's gone right for him, poor dude.

Get better, Bandy. And get someone to find that voodoo doll and deactivate it. Or whatever.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Definite Shimmer

There is a tunnel. There is light at the end of it. And I can see that light.

Oh yes. Ernests Gulbis won another match. He's in the semis of Memphis. He beat another seeded player.

What's that I see? Why, would that be another few passengers on this otherwise deserted Gulbis train which just might be heading towards the light?

Okay, so that is overstating it a bit. But this is far and away the best result that Gulbis has had in at least eighteen months - probably since RG '08, to tell the truth. I think there was only one or two occasions last year where he won two consecutive matches, let alone three. And he's beaten some really high-quality players in this tournament - first Stepanek, now Berdych. That would be men's tennis of the Czech republic (aka last year's Davis Cup runner up) taken out by Gulbis.

I know I'm getting pretty excited over something which really isn't that huge... but damn it, I've been clinging to this bandwagon for, like, ever. I need to celebrate when I have the chance.

Gulbis only barely scraped through against Berdych today - it was a third set breaker. However, considering he was down a set, I think this shows some nerve, which is something he has definitely been lacking. He won the second and steeled his way to the breaker. I didn't look closely at the stats, but he had a pretty reasonable first serve percentage as well - that's something else that has been killing him. I only saw a set of his first round in Australia, and he served, like, 37012830182 double faults. I think he served 5 against Berdych today, which is still a lot, but it's definitely getting better.

We're still a long way off reaching that light at the end of the tunnel. But I'm beginning to feel a glimmer, a shimmer of hope that the Ernests Gulbis train is heading in the right direction.

Friday, February 19, 2010


So, I'm a little late, but whatever. Ernests Gulbis totally won two matches in a row! And he beat a seeded player!

Let's all take a moment to process that.

It was very popular to tout Gulbis as the Next Big Thing a few years ago - 2008 was a good year for him. He reached the quarter finals of Roland Garros and generally was awesome. Then he opened 2009 with a win over Djokovic... and did pretty much nothing from then on out. And then 2010 didn't exactly open with a bang, considering he lost to Juan Monaco in the first round of Australia, spraying some number of errors so huge I can't even remember what it was.

Suffice to say, the once-packed Gulbis bandwagon is now rattling along pretty emptily. But I'm still on it.

I couldn't really tell you why. It's not like the last year or so has given me any glimmers of hope. But there's something about Gulbis's game that I really dig, and even though he's spraying a ton more than he did in '08, I think the bare bones are still there. He probably qualifies as a late bloomer now (provided he, you know, blooms) but I still believe that Gulbis can be awesome. This victory over Stepanek doesn't suddenly herald a huge resurrection or anything, but I'm really hoping that this is the glimmer of hope I've been waiting for.

What does Gulbis need to do? Well, stop making so many errors, for a start. As far as I know, he's still working with Niki Pilic - it might be time to break the bonds and fly free. What I would really like to see is Gulbis working with wondercoach Larry Stefanki, but I don't know if Roddick will give him up so easily. But a change in coach and the ensuant breath of fresh air would be good for Ernie, I think. It's time to change something up, because what he's doing now clearly isn't working so well.

I used to say that Ernie would be top ten for sure. I still think he can get there, but 'sure' is a strong word. However, what I really want to see is a tournament win. Don't care which tournament. Any will do. Just give me something, Ernie. It's lonely up here on your bandwagon all on my lonesome.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Serial Sportsman

The results of the ATP awards are out for another year, and once again, my man Roger Federer has cleaned up. Not only is he Player of the Year (which we knew, because, hello, rankings) but he was also voted Fan Favourite and won the award for sportsmanship as well. That award is named after Stefan Edberg because he won it five times in eight years, or something similar.

Roger's now won it six times in a row.

I read an article the other day about a guy who said that he didn't love Roger, even though he recognised the awesomeness of Federer tennis, because he basically regarded Roger as a serial gamesman. He cited examples like the whole Britain not winning a Slam in 150,000 years comment as evidence of the fact that Roger engaged in gamesmanship and was somehow allowed a free pass because his tennis was so awesome. (And then - slightly off the point, but still - went on to say that Roger was OMGarrogant because he remarked that he was a 'talented' player. Roger admitted he was talented? OHNOTHEGO! Spew.)

To refute that, the notion that Federer is a gamesman who gets wins by messing with his opponents and playing dirty, I think you have to look no further than this award. It isn't people on the outside voting for this one - it's Roger's peers, the guys he sees day in, day out... you know, the guys that would get really, really pissed off if he was some kind of serial gamesman. But no. Six times in a row.

Ain't no one can claim that Roger Federer is a bad sport or some kind of bad example. Not in my book.

For me, that sportsmanship award is the most telling when it comes to statesmanship, but I don't think you can overlook the Fan Favourite award as well. People don't necessarily vote for Roger in this award because he is the best player in the world, even though he is. They vote for him because he is Roger, good example, good player, good guy. Tennis could not have a worthier king.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Clinging to the Bandwagon

Haha! I knew I wasn't feeling Nando Verdasco for a reason. First round loss in Memphis to Jeremy Chardy - what up? I mean, I know Chardy is a serious talent, but Nando is top ten, or practically top ten, and he won a tournament last week. He shouldn't be losing the next week first round, no matter how tired he is. So yeah, you've got a ways to go to become Nadal-challenger of '09 Nando again.

There were a few interesting results in Memphis, actually - not least of which was Ernests Gulbis actually scoring a win. Like, a whole one.

Yes, I know it's not fashionable to be on the Gulbis bandwagon any more, but I just can't quit this kid from Latvia has got something. I still believe that he can be top ten, once that certain something clicks - whatever that certain something might be. I'm not quite sure. But once that switch goes, I reckon he can still be great. Even if he is moving into late bloomer territory.

It was Robbie Kendrick who he beat, who is probably best known for nearly beating Rafa at Wimbledon one time (Gulbis nearly did the same thing one time. There you go.) Kendrick isn't exactly Mr Tennis, but this is still a pretty solid win. But damn it, Ernie - go deep. Please.

I also thought Evgeny Korolev had a great result, overcoming Philipp Kohlschreiber in straights. I like Korolev's heavy metal style of tennis - he's got some big shots but he's got some mad skillz also, which is also a fun combo. I'll be interested to see how he follows up this win.

Oh! Oh! And David Nalbandian came back on the clay in Buenos Aires! And he had a win over Potito Starace. Touch wood... but... is Bandy back?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mosquito Man

Wow. So Juan Carlos Ferrero is 30 now. Who knew? How time flies.

When we talk about people not fulfilling their potential, it's typically Safin we talk about (if we're talking tennis in the noughties, anyway). Only two Slams, all that talent. Early retirement. Scatty. Sketchy. Inconsistent. Flawed genius. And yes, Safin is all those things. But he's been such a dominant non-fulfiller that I think we forget JCF a bit.

To preface this - I don't necessarily think JCF is an underachiever. But his numbers are pretty similar to Safin's. One of the leaders of the New Balls generation. Slam winner. And for a brief period in the early noughties, damn near unbeatable.

It seems so long ago - and so laughable now - that JCF was thought unbeatable. His nickname is 'Mosquito' and it's for a reason - he plays annoying tennis, the kind of tennis that unsettles his opponents, rather than relying on big weapons. In that respect, he's quite similar to Hewitt, an overachiever - though I suppose you could say that Hewitt had speed as a weapon. When you look at the top ten now, there is no room for a mosquito.

But if you look at the early noughties, mosquito tennis was what was winning. Mosquitoes were at the top of the game. And the antidote to it at that time was Safin and Safinesque playing.

And then Federer happened and the whole game changed, but that's not really what I'm talking about today. If things had gone a little differently, then JCF could be one of those players that we talk about as the greats of the decade. However, it is not to be. The mosquito got swatted eventually when people figured out the key.

I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this - I certainly didn't intend to end up in a comparison of counterpunching and, um, 'punching' tennis - but the fact remains that once, Juan Carlos Ferrero was the most awesome dude in the game. And now he's definitely not, and he hasn't been for a while, but he keeps going, and keeps playing, and he still, on occasion, wins some stuff. Even if the numbers say he's an underachiever who never went on from a sparkling start to his career.

And that's pretty cool. Kudos, Mosquito.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Mikhail Youzhny One Good Match Theory

So I picked two finals, lost one. Not a bad ratio. Two thirds. Go me. Yay.

In Rotterdam, we had the Yoker defeating Mikhail 'sometimes I hit my head so hard it bleeds' Youzhny. This was not surprising, though the ending was a bit disappointing. Retirement in a final is always disappointing, even when it's totally understandable.

I have this theory that Mikhail Youzhny has one really, really good match in him in a tournament, and if he uses it up early, then he's screwed. Think US Open, a few years back - he beat Rafa in the quarters and was mediocre in the semi. First round in Australia - he was great when he came back against Gasquet, then lame for the rest, all the way up to the retirement. Today, he literally ran out of steam and got hit by injury after his excellent semi against Djokovic.

And so Soderling got the bacon. I'm still not 100% sure he's back on track, but I'm getting there.

And then Kubot lost to Juan Carlos Ferrero. As if that wouldn't happen. Puh-lease.

The match I was wrong about was Verdasco/Roddick. Roddick won the first but then Verdasco came back to win. However, I am still not convinced about this whole Nando thing. I didn't see the match, so who am I to talk? But he just hasn't reached those heights he achieved in Australia last year. He's still poor man's Rafa.

...and Roddick is injured. We know this, yeah?

Oh, I don't know. I just have this feeling. Roddick is going to get better again and start winning some stuff, and Nando has some work to do. Even though this match turned out this way. Good on Nando for winning, but I'm still not feeling you, dude.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Babies and Impossibilities

So guess who has a new friend in the collective tennis creche? Why yes, that would be Myla and Charlene Federer, who now have another Swiss tot to hang with. Stanislas Wawrinka's wife Ilham Vuilloud gave birth to a baby girl a few days ago. Welcome to the world, Alexia Wawrinka!

Please let these three girls grow up to be tennis players. Switzerland could totally OWN the WTA in a few years. Now if Chiudinelli would just have a daughter, we could see some awesome all-Swiss doubles.

But I don't want to devote all of this post to future tennis players when there are some, you know, current ones doing stuff. I talked about the Soderling/Youzhny final yesterday, so let's talk the other two finals today. We have Roddick and Verdasco in San Jose. Normally I would be all over that and be talking up what a great match it is, but I'm so not feeling Nando right now. He is not the dude he was this time last year. I mean, I know he almost pulled off an awesome comeback against Davydenko in Australia, but that was more because of a Kolya fold than some Nando awesome. Didn't he hit something like 20 doubles in that match?

Beside the point. The point being that I'm not impressed with Nando right now, and he's got some work to do before I readmit him to the ranks of 'worth even really discussing the possiblity of his winning'. If Roddick isn't injured, he should own him. You heard it here.

The other final - Brazil - we have le veteran de Juan Carlos Ferrero (yes, I realise that is inappropriate Franglais, but whatevs) against Lukasz Kubot, who appears to be trying to prove that his run to the round of sixteen in Australia was not a fluke. Despite the fact that it pretty much was a fluke (beating two virtual nobodies and scoring a walkover does not an awesome run make). This one has JC written all over it.

Wow. Sense my optimism.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Going Nuts

So when Robin Soderling comes back from not-winning-an-ATP-match-all-year-no-not-even-at-the-Australian-Open, he does it in style. He is into the final in Rotterdam after beating Nikolay Davydenko, he who has been talked about more this year already than probably any other year in his career.

Not having seen the match, I don't know if this is a case of Soderling stepping up his game or Davydenko falling off his a bit - Kolya is still obviously a form player, but I think it's going to take us a while to tell how that quarter final loss in Australia after being in such a commanding position is going to treat him. It's not often that you dominate a match like he dominated that match against Federer only for it to turn around in the blink of an eye and for you to find yourself totally crushed instead. But Kolya is a tough nut. I think he'll be OK - even if this round in Rotterdam went to Soderling.

Djokovic, on the other hand, is not exactly what I would call a tough nut. He's more an almond, or a pine nut, or some other really soft nut. He obviously hasn't always been like this in his career, but it's really been a while since Novak seriously looked like winning... which is a problem, considering he is the #2 player in the world in one of the strongest eras of all time. He got edged by Mikhail Youzhny in two tiebreakers today. Youzhny will now go on to play Soderling in the final.

Best of three tennis is difficult in that, yes, you can lose two tiebreakers and find yourself out of the tournament without having done that much wrong. But while a few of these two-breaker upsets do exist, they're not an epidemic. Players like Federer, Nadal, Murray - Roddick is another one you definitely see this with - do end up in breakers, sure, but for them to lose both of them? Two in a row? Not something you see too often.

Again, I didn't actually see the match, so I can't make any profound comment on how well Youzhny played or what went on with Djokovic. But it just worries me that Novak really hasn't looked like a real contender in a while - even in Australia, where he made the quarters. He didn't play a seeded player till the quarters, where he lost. Sure, Jo-W Tsonga has his number and it went five sets, but I would argue that Djokovic probably wouldn't even have got that far if he hadn't had such a total cakewalk draw.

So there's one to keep an eye on. Soderling/Youzhny is not the final most people would have wanted in Rotterdam, but I think it will be a good match nonetheless. These two, if nothing else, are tough nuts.

ETA: Welcome to the world, Alexia Wawrinka! Congrats to Stan and Ilham. And Myla and Charlene... I bet you'll have a new friend in the tournament creche soon enough!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Au Revoir, Amelie

Hey guys! Slightly more lucid today, so I might actually have something worth saying! Or something vaguely readable, anyway. Of course, this is highly dependent on today's tennis news, which is not that exciting.

Probably the biggest thing that happened was not actually tennis, but the formal farewelling of Amelie Mauresmo. I confess I was never a massive Momo fan - I wasn't an antifan either, I was just sort of ambivalent - but it was still sad to see her go. She has definitely been one of the dominant forces in women's tennis in the noughties - not necessarily in Slams won, but in influence? Momo was huge.

I was never a massive fan of Momo's game - not that there was anything wrong with it, but it just wasn't my style - but I don't think anyone will ever forget 2006, when Momo was definitely one of the, if not the, dominant forces in women's tennis. That Australian Open final was not one of the great matches ever, with Juju retiring - understandable, since she had a stomach ulcer, but not so great for Momo, who I'm sure would have preferred to have that match point - but I think Amelie definitely threw down at Wimbledon that year. That was such a brilliant win for her. There may have been 'controversy' around the AO win, but that Wimbledon win...? No. 2006 - that was Momo's tennis legacy.

But I think that Momo's real legacy was not on court, but off court. She was a wonderful ambassador for the game - one of the best in women's tennis, I think. And I really don't think it can be understated what kind of influence Momo had as far as LGBTQ sportspeople go. There are not a lot of openly homosexual sportspeople in the world, and for Momo to be the role model that she was, well - that was something truly special. I might write more about this at a later date, but seriously, Momo... I may not have been the biggest fan of your game, but as an ambassador of tennis, you were made of pure awesome.

We will miss you.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hollywood Tennisland

So it looks like the trendy thing to do for tennis players nowadays is to become actors. We have Novak Djokovic playing a Serbian king in a miniseries (is this still going ahead?) and now Paradorn Srichaphan looks set to become a action superhero in the manner of Tony Jaa. What's next? Federer as James Bond?

Actually, Federer could totally do James Bond. And Mirka could be Miss Moneypenny.

Tommy Haas has obviously got an in with the acting world as well, what with his relationship with Sara Foster. And I'm sure a few tennis players would be totally awesome in the acting world. I mean, if Richard Gasquet can pull off 'Pamela' in front of a doping trial then anything's possible, right? (I mean, I'm not saying it's not true. But as far as plausibility goes, it does not rate high, that story.)

I could see Nando Verdasco in some kind of edgy Almodovar flick, easy. And Rafa Nadal would be great in something like 'The Other Side of the Bed'. Possibly co-starring Tommy Robredo. And there is totally a Bollywood epic in the feud between Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi.

I'm on some pretty heady painkillers at the moment, as might be evidenced by this post. (Wisdom teeth - they get you when you least expect them). But it's an interesting idea. I think there is an element of performance in tennis for sure, and that acting is an important skill, both for the benefit of player and opponent. As far as I see it, players come in two breeds.

There is the 'poker face' player - the Federer, the Cilic, the Nadal, the guys who very, very rarely seem bothered by anything. Of course, the odd thing slips through - a 'c'mon', for example - but on the whole, their opponents rarely know how they are feeling. This is a distinct advantage, because when your opponent knows you're rattled, well, then they're just going to get more motivated.

On the other hand, it can mean you're bottling up a whole lot of frustrating, which is not necessarily the best thing in the world. And sometimes it leads to explosions... like, $92,000 worth of explosion. This is why the second breed of players exist - the showboaters. Think Safin. Think Gonzalez. Think racquets smashed so hard the tremors are felt on Mars. Think Roddick with the verbalising and the mouthing off to the umpire. It's a way of venting, sure, but I think it's also a form of intimidation...

...yeah, I'll elaborate on that one time when I'm more lucid.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Awesome Andrey

Oh man, my boy Andrey Golubev was SO CLOSE to pulling a big upset in Rotterdam and knocking out sixth seed Mikhail Youzhny. He cantered away with a breadstick in the first but then lost the next two sets in tiebreaks. Clearly he has still got his awesome game going on and it wasn't just an Australian fluke - but he's got to close out these matches instead of coming OMGSOCLOSE. Because I firmly believe that he can skyrocket - and I mean skyrocket - up those rankings. If he keeps playing the way I saw him play in Perth...

...I can't get over how awesome he is and how low his ranking is by comparison. Though he did improve it by about thirty places over the Australian summer - and when you consider that he totally only played the Australian Open, as the Hopman Cup (where he was arguably at his awesomest) has no ranking points attached, that is totally awesome.

If he can only win matches like this one against Youzhny instead of coming agonisingly close, then we will really be cooking with gas. But watch this kid, guys. Andrey Golubev is going places.

Another result from Rotterdam I thought was interesting was Marsel Ilhan's win over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Garcia-Lopez can really ball on the red stuff, so this was a good win. But what I want to know is - where did Ilhan come from? I could swear I had never heard of him before the beginning of this year... or maybe late last year. Point is, he popped up so suddenly. Suddenly Turkey is all about tennis. I noticed the same OMGlookatme! appearance of Horacio Zeballos as well - I'd never seen him before and suddenly he was everywhere.

Goes to show you can write about tennis every day and still things surprise you.

One thing that does not surprise me, however, is Alize Cornet losing in Paris. Seriously, when was the last time she actually won a match? Did losing that match to Safina at AO '09 really do this much damage?

The World Keeps Turning

So we've managed to have three other whole men's tournaments since the Australian Open final where R-Fed made Muzz look like a schoolboy... it seems simultaneously like yesterday and like ten years ago. Not because the tennis was particularly interesting or anything, but...

...well, anyway. Weekend winners.

I've covered this a few times already in the last few days, but someone needs to tuck Marin Cilic up in bed with a nice cup of tea and a hot water bottle and let him snooze for quite some time. Perhaps he could have a bad TV marathon. (I'm laid up at home with painful wisdom teeth at the moment, and How I Met Your Mother has saved my freaking life). Because Mighty Marin Cilic needs to hang up his racquet and rest for a few weeks. I doubt he planned to have such an intense few weeks - I mean, you don't normally bank on making the semis of a major unless you're Roger Federer - but three solid weeks of tennis? Plus that week in Chennai? That's intense, man.

But kudos to him for winning Zagreb. Two titles already and it's only just February. If he keeps up this rate, he'll be near the top of the rankings in no time.

Feliciano Lopez was another weekend winner - seriously, five years between titles? That is Safinesque... if Safin had managed to win a title after AO '05, which he didn't, so I guess maybe it's not so Safinesque after all. I didn't see any of this tournament, but Feli is always fun to watch and it's always nice seeing a smoking hot hunk of manflesh like 'Deliciano' (thanks for that one, Judy Murray) holding up a trophy. I'm pulling for a nice deep run at Wimbledon for Feli... and I'd love to see him do well at Queen's or Halle or Nottingham or someone. I love his game on grass.

And then the third weekend winner was Thomaz Bellucci. No one much talks about Thomaz, but I think he's a bit of all right. On clay, anyway, he is a machine. Watch out for this kid at Roland Garros. If he gets a kind draw... he's going deep. You heard it here first!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Bad Luck for Lady J

So if I were Jelena Jankovic, I would be in a massive snit right now.

I've been pretty critical of JJ in the past, but she really brought it all to the table in Fed Cup at the weekend. She played some stellar matches to beat first Alisa Kleybanova and then, more tellingly, Svetlana Kuznetsova. And, if we are to believe her website, she came within a hair's breadth of pulling out injured and yet she played and won anyway. Quality work for Lady J.

Ana Ivanovic, on the other hand, has no such excuse. She isn't exactly match tired, given as she managed to win a grand total of a set at this year's Australian Open. She isn't injured, as far as anyone's aware. All she seems to do is lope around on golf courses with Adam Scott, though I presume, she, like, trains and stuff. And she contributed absolutely nothing to the Serbian team on the weekend. She got steamrolled by both Kuznetsova and Kleybanova before dragging Jankovic down with her in the doubles. Who else is on the Serbian team? Couldn't Jankovic have played with a different partner?

It is such a shame, because the Serbian Fed Cup team should be, by all rights, awesome. How did the Ana who won Roland Garros in 2008 and reached the final year before turn into this pale shadow of what she was? What exactly went wrong?

Sigh. Alas for them.

You know who I was impressed with, though? (Apart from Lady J, obviously?) Yanina Wickmayer. Belgium could be such a force in Fed Cup this year if they get Kim and Justine back in the side - or even just one of them, because Yanina is seriously awesome. I really like her chances of breaking into the top ten this year. She has some moves. That match she played against Agnesizka Radwanska has to be the match of the weekend. And Kirsten Flipkens definitely did not disappoint either. Imagine Kim, Justine, Yanina and Flipper making up a Fed Cup team. Now that would be sweet.

Something else that could also be sweet is the Russia/USA match up in the next round. What we should be seeing is some combination of Safina/Dementieva/Kuznetsova/Zvonareva/Sharapova taking on the Williams sisters. What I suspect we'll see is Melanie Oudin vs Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, but I can hope...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Not So Bad At All

You know, considering the amount of time I spend whinging about Australian tennis (which is very little compared to the Australian media, who seem to view our lack of awesome tennis players as some kind of national tragedy) it often comes as a surprise to me that our Fed Cup team is not so bad.

Think about it. We have Sam Stosur, who, while she has her sketchy days, has one of the best serves on the women's tour, an all-round great gam as well as stellar doubles credentials. Rennae Stubbs, ditto on the doubles credentials. We have Casey Dellacqua, who is not sub-par herself, and Alicia Molik, who is not bad, and Jelena Dokic, she of the sketchy brilliance. And then we have players like Olivia Rogwoska and Shannon Golds and Jess Moore and Monika Wejnert coming up... we are really okay when it comes to the ladies.

The Australian girls are currently one-all against the Spaniards, after Sam Stosur won her singles rubber but Casey Dellacqua lost hers. Apparently David Taylor agonised over who to put in as the second singles player, but I think Dellacqua was as good a choice as any, considering she was the second best performer of the Aussie girls at the Open. She's still not back to where she was but she did okay...

...but I digress. Stosur and Stubbs are looking the goods to take out the doubles and if Stosur can win her singles tomorrow then Australia will take out the tie. The Spanish women aren't exactly the powerhouse that the Spanish men are, but they're tough, and if the Aussie girls can get 'em that will be a real victory.

I know this doesn't say a lot, this here post, but really, I think we spend enough time bitching about the state of Australian tennis. There is my equivalent of fluff and celebration. This is my 'Australian tennis is not so bad' feel good post. Smiley face.

...and the Australians just totally won. Made of awesome!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Other Fed in Tennis

I really wish Fed Cup was more awesome. I also wish Davis Cup was more awesome, but it's not struggling with quite the same level of not-awesome as Fed Cup is. It's not that the tennis is any less good (within the normal ATP/WTA parameters anyway, considering that men's tennis is in a golden age and women's tennis is not) but hardly any of the top players seem to have a desire to play Fed Cup, and that is not good.

The Davis Cup is one of those accessories that players like to have, a good trophy to have on the shelf. It's not a Slam or anything, but it is a rare opportunity for players to represent their nations and play as a team, not an individual. Even Federer, a pathological non-player of Davis Cup, has said he would like to win it one day... though this may be because it is the only trophy his decorated mantlepiece is missing. It's played at stupid times and is not well organised, but Davis Cup has prestige.

Whereas Fed Cup... not so much.

Look at Russia, powerhouse of women's tennis. They have Safina, Sharapova, Dementieva, Kuznetsova, Zvonareva... a virtually inexhaustible stream of top women. Yet who is playing? Sveta, sure, after she declared herself available at the last minute, and Alisa Kleybanova, who, while not crappy, is not exactly top ten. They're playing Serbia, who do have two former #1s in Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, but with the form of these two players at the moment, Russia should be crushing them. Instead, it's one-all.

And Belgium! Clijsters and Henin, hello? But no, it's Wickmayer and Flipkens stepping up to the plate. USA? Should be Williams and Williams. But no, it's Oudin and Mattek-Sands. The top women just don't play Fed Cup.

But you know the very first step to making Fed Cup more appetising for these top players? Do not schedule it the week after a Slam. This is not rocket science. Davis Cup is also guilty of this. If you want your top players in there, you have to schedule it at a time wherein they haven't, say, played seven five set matches in a row.

This is not a new rant. But that does not make it any less true. If Davis and Fed Cups are going to become truly awesome, then they need to schedule it better.

Friday, February 5, 2010

And Cilic Makes Six

So, is Marin Cilic some kind of otherwordly being or what? Is he possibly a zombie? Because only someone with a brain soaked in formaldehyde would play a tournament the week after a Slam wherein they played six best-of-five matches, including three that went the distance. And only someone with a body powered by something supernatural would be able to do it.

Mighty Marin is through to the semis of the tournament in Zagreb. I do not intend to make any kind of lasting comment on this tournament, because you might have noticed that I sure haven't been following it, but I have been following Mighty Marin. To get through to the semis - he came through Ivo Karlovic today - is a big achievement. But to do it when you're staggering around after a fortnight like he had? It seems foolhardy, and it also screams 'INJURE ME!'

It is his home tournament, so I think it would be foolish to suggest that this is the amount of tennis he would play after every deep run... but still. You sit down and put those big feet up, Marin. I have big plans for you and they won't work out if you're injured.

Let's talk about those plans. Obviously they're not anything I have, like, actual influence over or anything, but I have them just the same. Cilic is inside the top ten now, and I seriously wouldn't be surprised if he became this year's Juan Martin del Potro - the dude that took it to the very top guys and became a force in that power dynamic. We've seen that top group get bigger and bigger over the past few years - Federer has largely been on the very top, and it's been very apparent that the heir to the throne is Rafa (injuries nonwithstanding). The Slam records - 22 of the things between them now - and their continual, mostly undisturbed presence at #1 and #2 has shown that tennis is run by a Hispano-Suisse machine.

But then you had Djokovic come into the mix, and we had the Big Three for a while there. Then Murray shot up the rankings, and it was the Fantastic Four. And then Juan Martin del Potro went and won the US Open, and suddenly it's the Fabulous Five.

One guy a year for the past year has leapfrogged the gap into that top group. I used to think that Tsonga would be the guy who'd be next in. But you wait. I think that by the end of the year, the Fabulous Five is going to be the Super Six, and it will be Cilic who takes his rightful place in the upper echelon.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Boy Wonder

So, um, why is Marin Cilic playing this week? He should be back at home having a snooze. For aboout a week. He just played some epically huge matches in Australia. Why is he still playing this week?

But I didn't come here to write about Marin Cilic today - much as I do like writing about him, because I do sort of love him. No, today, we're talking about the boy he vanquished in the second round in Australia - Bernard Tomic.

I use the word 'boy' intentionally. Because Bernard Tomic is not a man yet, not even close. And although he played some great tennis in Melbourne, although he played above his physical age, and although he came within a few points of taking down the man who ended up reaching the semi finals and might well have come through Andy Murray if he wasn't so physically fatigued... he has a long way to go before he can really play tennis.

I don't question his physical ability - not at all. But what tennis, and especially Slam tennis, where the five set format comes into effect, is that tennis is mental as well as physical. There are lots of very fit, very able men in the ATP - it is the men who have it going on in the mind who rise to the top and become real champions. Take the king of tennis players, Roger Federer. He has always had his talent. He has always had his raw ability. He has always been fit and trained hard. So what turned him from a talent to a champion?

His mind.

Are you listening, Bernard?

If Tomic wants to make it to the top of this sport, he needs to man up. Those words are deliberately chosen. Because he is such a whinging child at the moment. Until he stops making excuses, until he curbs what appears to be an overweening ego, until he realises that even in Australia, where he is touted as the Next Big Thing, that he can never be bigger than the sport, he will go no further.

He suffers from Bad Dad syndrome. I don't think anyone can really doubt this. I heard rumours that his dad, John Tomic, stormed Craig Tiley's office after SchedulingNightMatchGate and threatened to relocate Bernard to Croatia. Now, does this remind you of someone? Because it reminds me of Damir Dokic, and we know how well that turned out.

I would like for Bernard Tomic to sit down with Jelena Dokic and have a good long chat with her. I think she could tell him some very interesting things and offer him some lessons. She had to learn how to become her own person her own way, and it took her years. Much as I find Bernard to be an annoying little shit, I don't want him to go through years and years of the Jelena experience before he comes good.

I want him to grow up.

So go grow, Bernard. And I don't want to see you again until you do.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Good, The Bad and the Frankly Ugly

So, um, the tennis that's going on this week is incredibly, incredibly boring. The one result that interested me (even just the tiniest bit) was in Zagreb, where inked up Austrian bad boy Daniel Koellerer beat cutie-patootie Andrey Golubev in three sets. Andrey had some great wins in the Australian summer and I hope his mojo wasn't as fleeting as tennis down under. Because he was rocking some great stuff down here.

Though what's going on in men's tennis right now is certainly more interesting than women's tennis. It's Fed Cup this week, and it hasn't started yet. Cue yawnfest.

So... guess what we're going to talk about. I do believe that yes, once more, it will be the Australian Open.

I discussed what we had learned yesterday - which was basically that Serena aside, the women's tour was weak, and that Roger Federer was still light years ahead of the men's pack, despite there being some very good boys in there. But let's go in a bit more depth and look at some individuals.

Winners out of this tournament? Roger and Serena, obviously. They totally justified their #1 spots. I've talked about them a heap over the past few days, so for now I'll keep it brief: thumsb up.

Major winners also include Justine Henin, comeback queen, and Marin Cilic, who is proving his worth. Look for both JuJu and Red Hot Cilic Peppers to go deep at tournaments (probably Slams this year). Other winners include, in my opinion, Andy Murray, who may not have gone the distance, but he made the final and played some excellent stuff; Ivo Karlovic and John Isner, who proved they had games beyond massive serves; Nicolas Almagro, for match entertainment value; and Li Na and Zheng Jie, because hello, awesome for Chinese tennis right there. Also epic win - Hit For Haiti. The whole thing.

But now the juicy stuff. Disappointments.

Novak Djokovic. For somehow having an excuse every time he loses a major match. He didn't retire this time, but seriously, he has the constitution of a delicate flower.

Ernests Gulbis: I've been on your bandwagon a long time, dude, and you're giving me nothing here.

Sabine Lisicki: You're so talented, girl - and you went out to Alberta Brianti? What was going on there?

Russian women's tennis: Lena D has been the only one of any consistency in the girls lately, and she ran into the redhot JuJu in round two. Safina was injured, but when the Russian going furthest in the tournament is Maria Kirilenko, something is up.

Maria Sharapova: See above.

Serbian women's tennis: Not even touching this one.

Robin Soderling: Dude, if you throw away your awesome year last year for a string of badnesses, I will be very, very cross. You hear me?

Bernard Tomic: You can play tennis, kid, but SHUT THE HELL UP. And while you're at it...

Bernard Tomic's dad: SHUT THE HELL UP ALSO.

I'm sure there are more - but I have to have something to talk about over the next few days! So fill me in, guys - who were your winners and losers of the Australian summer?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What We Have Learned

There are tournaments going on this week - shout out to my man Peter Luczak for pulling an upset in Chile - but let's face it, no one really cares about them at the moment. It is over, but it is still, as always after a Slam, all about the Australian Open.

So let's have a look back at what we learned from this Slam, the first of 2010, and what it tells us about the year.

Let's start with the ladies. What has Australia taught us? Well, it's taught us that someone who stepped away from the game for the better part of two years can come back and reach the final. Actually, scratch that. We learned that last year when Kim Clijsters won the US Open. Justine Henin's run to the final here merely reinforced it. Not that there is anything 'mere' about Justine - her performance was mighty. She is truly talented and she has pulled off some truly spectacular results.

But there is something deeply wrong about a tour where players can come back so quickly and so hard and overcome nearly every possible obstacle in the way. If there wasn't a Serena Williams in the world, then Justine Henin would have pulled this off. The tour hasn't set out to make things easy for the Belgians, obviously, but the fact remains that both Kim and Justine have been able to pull it off, and that really, in an elite sport, shouldn't happen. There are very few women who are legitimately Slam contenders at the moment - Serena, Venus if the tournament begins with 'Wimble' and ends in 'don', Sharapova if she catches fire, Kuznetsova if she avoids erratic performers. For Kim and Justine to skip immediately into that top pool... well, that's fabulous for them, and an amazing achievement, but in a tour that was up to scratch, it really shouldn't have happened. People shouldn't be able to sail right back to the pinnacle of elite sport bam! like that.

So allez Belgium! And huge congratulations to Serena, who is really the one person holding up her end of the WTA bargain. Everyone else... lift your game. Please.

To the men now, where things are much brighter. I think the women's game looks so dull nowadays because men's tennis is undoubtedly in a golden age. Before the tournament, people were saying there were legitimately twelve contenders for this Slam. I would have narrowed it to eight - Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, del Potro, Davydenko, Roddick and Tsonga - but the fact remains that there are a lot of excellent players at the moment, champing at the bit to reach the upper echelons. There is talent and amazing tennis everywhere.

But what did Australia teach us?

It taught us that Roger Federer really still is a cut above the rest.

Don't worry, I'm not going to turn this into another slurred wineglass-waving ramble on how amazing Federer is... I think I've done that enough over the past few days! But my personal bias aside, he is one of the safest bets in modern sport. He hasn't lost before the semis in a Slam since 2004. Two thousand and freaking four. That is a long time ago. With this victory, he has now won a Slam every year for the past eight. And, oh yeah, he has sixteen Slams, which is more than anyone ever.

He was tested in this tournament by people who were definitely form players coming in - Davydenko, Murray, even Tsonga. He had a totally unenviable first round draw in Andreev. And every time - every time he was under pressure, he came up trumps. What really came to the fore in this tournament was his mental strength - yet another part of his spectacular game that is underestimated. You cannot overstate the value of calm under pressure, and that is where so many of the other men in the draw fell down.

Another thing that came to the fore was just how tough the game of tennis is. We saw Rafa's knees give on him. We saw Jo Tsonga and Marin Cilic burn out because of too many long, long matches. We saw Djokovic drive himself to vomiting... though the Djokovic constitution never seems to have been particularly hardy. This highlights, once again, the amazingness of Federer, because he just really hasn't had these problems. Whether it's fitness, or good scheduling, or just good luck... or a combination of all three! - the fact remains, and was reinforced by this tournament, that Federer, quite simply, is betterer. And the field has got a lot of chasing to do.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Space They Cannot Touch

It strikes me at random moments just how lucky we are to live in the age of Roger Federer.

Today at my desk, I was staring out the window. I was trying to think of a solution to a problem I had at work, and all I could do was relive the Australian Open's mens' final again and again. What is one trivial problem (granted, I work for the government, but still) compared to his achievement?

Sport is something that is often belittled (though not by Australians, for whom it is something of a religion) as something that is pointless in the greater scheme of things. I used to think this myself. But I think we have underestimated the nature of sport as an activity that brings hope.

It doesn't have to be tennis. It can be anything. When you support one thing, one team, one individual, you espouse a view which is different to any other. I am a competitive person on an individual basis, which is why I think tennis appeals to me so much, but the same is true, I think, of all sports. You may support a team because of its location or because of its players. Rarely does one support a team 'just because'.

Tennis is an individual sport, and so it is easier for a fan like me to transcend nationality and to support nationality. I am a Roger Federer fan not because he is Swiss or even because he keeps winning - though it certainly is not a downside! - but because he is Roger Federer. Not only is he the greatest tennis player the world has ever seen, he is potentially the greatest sportsman the world has ever seen when it comes to sheer statesmanship. Has anyone ever been a better example than Roger Federer?

Tennis is a gladiatorial sport. It is mano e mano - or, at the very outset, two men against two. Even in Davis Cup, nation against nation, tennis is more about the individual than the nation. I think this is why tennis can polarise fans so much. It is not like cricket, for example, where one tends to support one's national team. In tennis, one gravitates to the player in whom one's values most align.

And for a lot of people, this is Roger Federer.

He is an excellent player. His genius as a tennis player cannot be underestimated. I don't know if there's any argument now as to his status as greatest of all time. Laver, perhaps, could challenge. I don't think anyone else could. He has overcome challenge after challenge to win Slam after Slam - sixteen of them now. And beyond all this, beyond all this winning, he has become one of the best examples we have in sport at the moment.

He is a sportsman. He is a humanitarian. And this is what makes sport worthwhile - players like Roger Federer, people who care as much for people as for sport.

I think this was really crystallised for me at the Australian Open this year. I was there at Roger's practice sessions. I saw the care and respect he has for his fans. I was there at Hit for Haiti. I saw the care and respect he has for the world.

And this is what sportsmen - the gladiators of our time - can bring to the world. They can bring hope. And through victory and through loss, simply through virtue of being who they are - men like Roger Federer can make thousands smile and weep with joy.

This is basically a rehash of a conversation I had at the pub a few hours ago with a friend of mine, and I apologise if it's a little incoherent with a) alcohol and b) Roger love. But I do believe that there is nothing better for sport than people like Roger Federer - people who are brilliant, and who use their brilliance to give something back to the world.