Wednesday, March 31, 2010

R-Fed Frustrated

Oh, Roger. T-Berd? Really?

I don't think the two losses Roger has taken in Indian Wells and Miami are indicative of much of anything. Certainly, I wouldn't go ascribing dire death spiral-ness to it like people have been with Djokovic and Murray. But what it really is very annoying - both for the fans and for Roger himself.

Against both Baghdatis and Berdych, he's held match points and been in a winning position and then thrown it away. In neither match did the true Roger really show up, but he fought his way to the bitter end only to get pipped at the post. It's not the end of the universe, but it's very frsutrating.

This is definitely not a 'thank God the hard court season is over' moment like last year, but I suspect one Mr Federer will be glad to step onto the clay. He's assured the #1 ranking for a while yet and I think the change of pace will calm him down and do him good. He has the ability to snap out of bad mindsets - and I think when he steps on the clay, the frustration will seep away also.

I hope, anyway.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dangerous Belgians

I rated Justine Henin 'hot' on the hot or not scale a few days ago, and I would like to raise that to 'absolutely smokin' hot'. Damn, that girl is playing well.

It's been all 'oooh, your comeback's not so great now, is it, haw haw haw' since JuJu lost to A-Kley in Indian Wells, which really doesn't take into account the fact that a) A-Kley had mad skillz and b) it was a third set breaker. JuJu is absolutely steamrolling her opponents at the moment. This is one lady you do not want to face across the net. Elena Dementieva, who has met her early on in two tournaments now, must be doing the Dance of Joy, because after this tournament, JuJu will be back inside the top thirty and thus will be no more a dangerous floater.

Speaking of dangerous Belgians, Kim Clijsters was absolutely fierce against Victoria Azarenka today. Sure, Vika crumbled like too-dry pastry in the second set, but it was the face of the Clijsters Onslaught, which is enough to frustrate any player to tears (or violence - just ask Serena). I really wouldn't be surprised to see a Belgian take out this tournament - I just couldn't tell you which one.

And you know who else is a genuine contender? Sammy Stosur. She put a bit of a beating on Jelena Jankovic today, which, considering JJ beat her last week pretty easily, is a job well done indeed. If Sam can keep her head and not have one of those random match meltdowns she can be prone to, she has a great shot at the crown here. Wouldn't that be a great way to open her account as a top ten player...?

Monday, March 29, 2010


I can't wait for David Nalbandian to be back to normal. I cannot wait.

Personality wise, Bandy leaves a lot to be desired. He's not the most engaging guy. But he is definitely one of the most engaging guys on the court. The phrase 'lazy brilliance' has been bandied (ah, punnage) about and I can definitely see it. When he has got some matches under his belt... watch out for this dude. And if he comes through the clay season unscathed, watch out for him on grass. He is going to be fearsome.

Of course, he ran into Rafa today, but he still managed to take a set off the dude. And given the steely determination Rafa must have when he plays Bandy, having lost so much to him in the past - this is pretty good. I've got my eyes on you, Bandy. I expect big things.

And I also expect big things from Rafa. I would not be at all surprised if he snaps this title drought - maybe not this very second, but certainly the second he steps on the clay - and then goes on one of his tears where he doesn't lose for 6937493728 matches again. I think the steel is really coming back for Rafa, and even when his body lets him down, that steel can see him through. And I look forward to seeing it.

And I look forward to seeing more engaging Nadalbandian battles, because this really is one of the most interesting match ups in the sport!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Slumpy II: Electric Boogaloo

Well, it seems we cannot talk about Miami this year without talking about big league players who have been spectacularly upset. I wrote a week or so ago about how the media might start characterising Andy Murray as 'Slumpy' if he doesn't get his head in the game... however, I think he has stiff competition from Novak Djokovic there.

So, Novak. You're #2 now, eh. Good for you. You know what players ranked #2 generally don't do? Lose to Olivier Rochus.

Don't get me wrong - mini Rochus has got some mojo. He's fast like a road runner. However, he is about as tall as a garden gnome and someone who has reached the heights that Djokovic has reached should be smashing him like a guitar. I'm not quite sure what's going on with the Djoker here - whether this is just a continuation of his not-so-hot form or whether he has a Rochus thing, because his head with Rochus is not great, if I am not mistaken.

But let's face it - a player at this level should not be losing this match. Rochus is not one of the players in the draw that you look at and go 'dangerous floater'. He's not that spectacular any more. But neither, it would seem, is Novak.

Or Andy Murray, actually. At least Rochus is ranked inside the top hundred - Mardy Fish is outside it and he served Murray his own arse today. I'm not Fish's biggest fan but he does have some dangerous elements to his game, I suppose... except you know who else is supposed to be dangerous? Murray. He's supposed to be nigh on lethal. But no. Let's just lose. Slumpy ahoy - watch out, Andy, the media is coming. And they're probably all British, too.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Huge F*cking Idiot

Okay, firstly, Mardy Fish, I rescind my not-hot assessment of you yesterday. I'm still not a massive fan of your game and I don't think you're going to achieve too much more in your career, but if you're going to go and beat Andy Murray in straights, you deserve my respect. Kudos, dude.

Secondly, I think we can all agree that Wayne Odesnik is a huge f*cking idiot.

Drugs and sport do not belong together. If you look at the drug scandals we've had in tennis over the past few years, they're comparatively tame compared to what Odesnik has tried to do. We've had some cocaine scandals - Gasquet and Hingis spring to mind - and then some not turning up to drug tests/reporting whereabouts deals with Wickmayer and Malisse. But to try and smuggle eight vials of human growth hormone into Australia (a country, by the way, with such tight border controls that even the most minute fleck of soil could see you quarantined)?

You f*cking idiot.

There have been a number of reactions to this whole saga and a lot oh-my-god-Odesnik-is-coached-by-Canas-and-Canas-served-a-drug-ban and all that kind of thing, but I think Andy Roddick's reaction is my favourite and the one I endorse the most. He said:

"That's just plain cheating, and they should throw him out of tennis. There's just no room for it."

Word, A-Rod.

The WADA ban for this is two years, but this kind of offence in a sport as clean as tennis is pretty much unforgivable. If Odesnik were to be slapped with a lifetime ban, you would hear no word out of protest from me. Because let's face it - the dude is a huge f*cking idiot.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Dudes' Hot or Not in Miami

I hot-or-notted the ladies of Miami yesterday - surprise, surprise, today it's time of the dudes. (Sidebar - I know I was all like 'Alicia Molik is crushing her opponents' the other day and today she got double bagelled. I still think she's cool).

Okay. Dudes.

Hot: Yen-hsun Lu. He's back inside the top hundred and he's going up. He's had some injury problems but when Rendy plays well, he's awesome. Love this kid.

Not: Nicolas Lapentti. I know he and his brother did that big Davis Cup thing last year, but I think it's heading towards lacy, gently wafting curtains for Nico.

Hot: Marsel Ilhan. He's a Turkish sensation and he's screaming up the rankings. What an exciting new face (and new nationality, for tennis) in the game!

Not: Juan Ignacio Chela. I'm pretty sure the defining moments of his career will be his spats with Lleyton Hewitt. He hasn't been very impressive for a while now.

Hot: Philipp Petzschner. The more I see of this guy the more I like him. He's got some real fire in his tennis and I think there are bright things ahead.

Not: Mardy Fish. I'm just not feeling it. I know he sometimes comes through as a surprise in tournaments and ends up really deep, but he just doesn't do it for me.

Hot: Peter Luczak. No secrets about how much I dig Mr Milkshake. Really excited about his future as we head into the clay season.

Not: Stephane Robert. This may seem a little unfair, but he's suddenly turned up in the top hundred and I have no idea where he's come from. Judgment reserved until I actually see him do something.

Anyone I've missed?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ladies' Hot or Not in Miami

So we're in that interesting stage before the seeds turn up to play and we get a whole lot of first round tennis. It's a big melting pot at this level of the rankings, but some people are definitely way more awesome than others. So today, we're doing a hot or not of the women's draw.

Hot: Justine Henin. Yes, she may have been outclubbed by A-Kley in Indian Wells, but she's only just outside the seeds here and I think she's rad. I don't expect her to win the tournament, but let's just say I don't expect her to lose in the next round.

Not: Alize Cornet. I do expect her to lose in the next round. In fact, I'm pretty well flabbergasted she won the first one.

Hot: Carla Suarez Navarro. Not the most consistent player ever, but she plays crushworthy tennis. Her single handed backhand is the only one in the women's game fit to be mentioned in the same paragraph as JuJu's.

Not: Patty Schnyder. She's on the way down, and I don't think she's going to come back up again.

Hot: Elena Baltacha. Where has this girl come from? She's been burning it up - Anne Keothavong better not sit too pretty in that #1 British girl spot and Laura Robson better not start thinking British women's tennis is all about her...

Not: Tamira Paszek. I used to be a huge fan, but she hasn't really done anything to warrant this huge fandom. Come back to me when you've done something slightly more awesome, Tammy P.

Hot: Kimiko Date Krumm. Enough said. She's, what, 40, and still rolling strong? Love and respect.

Not: Melanie Oudin. People rave about her. I don't get it. Get off the stage.

Agreements? Disagreements? Happy to take all views into consideration...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Foot on the Accelerator

So I would not be feeling so great right now if I were Ashley Harkleroad. Not so much because I am probably going to known better for doing that Playboy shoot than my actual tennis career, but because I got absolutely whaled on by Alicia Molik.

Everyone knows how skeptical I've been about the Molik comeback, even after it began. I mean, hello, she was on Dancing With The Stars. How much more of a career death knell do you need? Added to which she's not the youngest most sprightly of players these days, and there was that weird inner ear balance thing she had... you can see why I was doubtful, n'cest pas?

Well, no more doubts. I am now onboard the Molik bandwagon. While I don't think she's going to get back to #8 or wherever it is she was, I'm confident that she can get herself back inside the top 50 sometime soon.

Not just because she beat Harkleroad - I mean, hello, Harkleroad had a kid and is on the comeback trail herself. But this result compared with the one from Miami, where she made it to the third or fourth round courtesy of some absolutely crushing wins, is beginning to add up. She's fixed whatever that problem was in Melbourne that allowed Julie Coin to come back from the brink of defeat and win the match.

Alicia's not just winning. She's crushing her opponents. Sure, her opponents aren't the great superwomen of the WTA tour, but she's not just doing what she has to do to beat them. She's roaring past them. She's got her foot to the floor and she's roaring back towards the top of the game. There is some steel below the surface there... and it's weighing her foot down on the accelerator. (Yes, I went to that convoluted metaphor place. Don't judge).

Sorry I ever doubted you, Alicia. Sorry I was such a naysayer. Because right now, I pretty much think you're fierce.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Demuscling Her Way Back To The Top

I kind of love that Jelena Jankovic wasn't able to lift the trophy when she won Indian Wells. Because I think it means she's moved a long way towards shedding the excess muscle bulk that slowed her down so badly last year.

This means, my friends, that Jelena Jankovic could be on her way back.

It's pretty rare that I say anything positive about any of the Serbian players, what with Jelena being all defensive and Novak being a) irritating and b) suddenly a grinderman and Ana being, well, a big trainwreck. So pay heed to this rare occurrence - I think Jelena Jankovic just might be on the up and up.

I'm not certain about this, but Jelena certainly played better to come through Indian Wells than I have seen her play in a long time - particularly in her final two matches, against Stosur and Wozniacki respectively. Stosur fell apart to an extent, but Jelena really capitalised and never let her get back on her feet. Against Caro, she found the weakness - the forehand - and picked on it over and over again.

She played smart, and I haven't seen her play quite so cleverly for a long, long time.

This is exciting going into the clay season because I think her game is definitely very well suited to clay. And to win a tournament by beating Wozniacki, who plays quite a similar game, is a Very Big Deal Indeed. Sure, you can make the case that Jelena was simply the one that didn't lose, in the way of some WTA tournaments - but I'm not feeling that. Jelena won this one. And my gut says... it says look out, rest of the WTA, because Jelena's going to have a Serbian resurgence all on her own.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Don't Expect the Unexpected

Well, I think we can safely say that anyone who bet on Ivan Ljubicic to win this tournament just won a crapton of money, because I - and probably just about everyone else - would never have picked this in a thousand years. In a field rich with players like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and finalist Roddick... Ljubicic? really?

I mean, Ivan's good. He used to be #3 in the world. He's real good. But that was almost five years ago now and he hasn't been playing strictly excellent tennis. Challengers have been involved. And also, he's 31, which is up there for a tennis player. And despite his former ranking, he's never won one of these things before.

I love that, even though he's past the heyday of his career and his highest ever ranking (one would think, anyway) Ljubicic just pulled off his biggest tournament win ever. Seriously, could it happen to a nicer guy? I was serious yesterday when I said this was a happy final. I would have been happy for Roddick to win - I expected Roddick to win - but I am totally gleeful that Ljubicic did.

This isn't because I think he's a total dude, even though I do think he's a total dude. This proves that even now, even in this era of Hispano-Suisse dominance, even though I love that era, sometimes the unexpected just sneaks up and punches you in the nose. You never expect the unexpected in men's tennis any more... and so when the unexpected happens, it really does put a little smile on your face.

Congratulations, Ivan Ljubicic. This is awesome. And so are you.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Happy Final

I wrote yesterday about how awesome Rafa is - because that dude's awesome. He did go out today, which was a bit sad, on account of how he is awesome. But you know who else is awesome?

Ivan Ljubicic. Seriously, I love that guy. He has to be one of the most eloquent men in tennis. And his story is so fascinating as well... and he's just such a good orator and statesman for the sport. This is starting to sound a lot like yesterday's post just with Ljubicic subbed in, so I will stop this ranty mcrant now.

But you know who else is awesome?

Andy Roddick. This dude deserves this final. He hasn't done anything massive since the Wimbledon final last year, but that final alone means that he deserves a big title. And if he can pull this one off, then I will be very happy. And if Ivan can pull it off, I will also be very happy.

I guess what I'm saying is that I dig this final. I really don't think anyone would have predicted it - Ljubicic especially, because he isn't exactly ranked #3 like when he made the final in 2006. But these guys are both so deserving of a big win. I love the randomness of this final - even though I love it when we get the big names in the final, it's always fun when you get a huge surprise.

And this final is a surprise, no questions there. But whoever wins it... it's going to be a great thing, and it's going to put a smile on my face.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

That Guy's Awesome

This post is my ode to Rafa. Because seriously, I love that kid.

It's sometimes easy, when you are so firmly entrenched in Camp Federer (which we all know I am), to remember that Rafa is also made of awesome and that Roger would probably not be quite as awesome with that Rafa relationship in his life.

I don't want to talk about Rafa's tennis career here. I don't want to talk about his injury woes, his problems, the fact that he might not have the longevity of some other players. I just want to talk about the fact that Rafa is awesome. He's often overshadowed by Roger, because Roger is a) also awesome, b) such a good statesman and c) so good at English. But we cannot overlook just how amazing Rafa is for the game and how much he has contributed.

It's always easy to talk about Rafa in terms of Roger and how their bromance has become the defining bromance of sport - and one of the greatest bromances of all time. This was shown nowhere more clearly than at Hit for Haiti 2, where two dudes clearly not having a bromance fought with words while Roger and Rafa shrugged at each other across the net. Their friendship and the gentlemanly nature of their rivalry is totally awesome and one of the best things about tennis in many ways, because I think it has changed tennis for the better.

But I want to talk about Rafa the individual, because I think he, by himself, has made tennis more awesome. Kids growing up and idolising Rafa are learning not only the statesmanship which is now so great at the top of the game, and they're not just learning the fierce lefty spins and the hooking forehand - though they too are great for the game. What they're learning is a level of mental toughness I don't believe anyone else in the game even approaches. Rafa has, I would argue, a mind of steel - and it's probably the most steely mind in the history of tennis. Has their ever been anyone who fought harder than Rafa Nadal, who backed himself more, who believed he could win even when it looked spectacularly unlikely?

I don't think there has been. And that's why I think that, even though I'm a huge Fedfan and I think we should celebrate the greatness of Federer the man and the Federer/Nadal bromance, we should stop every now and again and celebrate the greatness of Nadal. Because Rafa... well, that guy's awesome.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Today's disappointment for me was obviously Sam Stosur going out to Jelena Jankovic, but getting to the semis here is still a totally massive result for her. Here's hoping she can build on this and bring a similarly solid result in Miami. And I do believe this propels her into the top ten - onya, Sam!

(And also, this is best I've seen out of Jankovic in a long time. Good to know that one of the Serbian kids is doing okay for themselves).

But what I really want to talk about is the Murray result - i.e. him losing to Robin Soderling, who seems to be a little bit of a giant killer. Soderling playing on a bad day is a horrific thing to watch but the Yoker on fire is supreme, and that seems to be what's happened to Murray here. I'm inclined to lay all the 'blame' for this result at Robin's door.


How long it is before people start talking about Murray's 'slump'?

I would like to say that I do not think he's in a slump. Not at all. However, you know those crazy media kids. If Murray doesn't bring it in Miami, where I'm pretty sure he did rad last year, then tongues are going to start wagging. And let's face it, Andy is not, at this stage of his career, a claycourter. This means that his results during the clay season are probably not going to be spectacular. How long before this translates to 'slump'?

We've seen it with Roger, we've seen it with Rafa, we've seen it (with, I would argue, some justification) with Novak. It's Andy turn to assume the mantle of Slumpy, and I'm going to be very curious to see how the media spins this if he doesn't pull an epic result in Miami, even though this result in and of itself is not dreadful by any means...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Novak on the Edge

I talked yesterday about how Federer's loss to Baghdatis was not indicative of any great slide in form, any more so than his 2007 loss to Canas was the beginning of an end (we all know how that turned out - three Slam year ahoy!) And this is all true.

However, it does not mean that Novak Djokovic's loss to Ivan Ljubicic is NOT indicative of some greater overall thing. (Fear my double negative). Because I would contend that this is the latest in a string of weird things that... well, let's just say I'm not exactly on the 'Djokovic will dominate the tour this year bandwagon'.

Maybe it's the newfound pressure of being #2 or something, but Djokovic looks tired whenever he steps out on court (moreso than usual, anyway). At the Australian Open, we saw a lot of this - he managed to cruise through four relatively weak opponents before physically crumbling when he hit the brick wall that is Jo Tsonga.

But that brick wall seems to be coming earlier and earlier. This time it was Ivan Ljubicic - who is made of awesome, don't get me wrong, but really not the kind of person Djokovic should be rolling over for.

I used to rag on Djokovic all the time for being a rude little douchebag. But maybe he needed that abrasiveness. Maybe it gave him the edge he needed to play tennis at the top. Because he seems to have lost that edge now, lost that fire, that desire... and if this trend continues, he's not going to stay at #2 or even #3 for much longer.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

And The Moral Of The Story Is...

...when you have match points, you must convert them.

Roger Federer held three match points against Marcos Baghdatis today and failed to convert a single one, which led to him losing the match. I don't think this is indicative on any greater trends - guess it didn't just go his way today - but it does show that in tennis, it isn't so much winning points that matters, but which points you win. They both won the same number of points (108) but Baghdatis comes out with the W next to his name.

That's tennis. So let that be a lesson to you - convert the points that matter.

It's annoying that Roger is out of Indian Wells, but it's not a major crisis or anything. With him gone, I am now barracking whole heartedly for Rafa (even though his shorts are heinous). It's going to be interesting to see who steps up for this one.

Speaking of stepping up - Sam Stosur! She's into the quarters after a sizzling win over Vera Zvonareva, the defending champ. Seriously, MADE OF AWESOME. She has a great chance of winning the whole thing, and now that would be something else. She won her maiden singles title last year... to get the second one at a tournament this massive would be rad.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

To Do A Wozniacki

This is a big league women's tournament. It may be traditionally sans Williamses, but we can agree on this, n'cest pas? Indian Wells is a big frigging deal.

And this is anyone's tournament.

Let's look not at who is in, but who is out. Kuznetsova. Azarenka. Sharapova. Henin. Clijsters. Think of a big name in tennis - she's probably goneski. This makes this one of the most open tournaments in forever, and there's a real chance that some total random could come through and win the whole thing. There are a few names left - Jankovic, Wozniacki, Zvonareva - but then there a whole bunch of that second tier down who have the most massive chance in forever to walk off with a massive title. I'm talking Kleybanova. I'm talking Stosur. I'm talking Wickmayer and Martinez Sanchez. This tournament is one of the biggest chances in ages for someone to really announce themselves on the women's tour.

When the big names in men's tennis go out, I find it disappointing. In women's tennis, we're in a place where I find it exciting. We're in a place where someone could do what Wozniacki did at the US Open and make the best of a bad situation , or, alternatively, a place where someone could massively step up to the plate. You might be able to tell that I am massively in favour of Option B. Specifically, I am in favour of Samantha Stosur running away with the entire thing, but it's going to be interesting either way. Fun times.

Meanwhile, over in the dudes, the big names pretty much survived, but they did it differently. Rafael Nadal was in total cruise control mode in his victory over Mario Ancic. Novak Djokovic came within three points of losing to Philipp Kohlschreiber.

Will the real #2 please stand up?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Marvellous Marinko and Awesome Alicia

In all the kerfuffle of Hit for Haiti and the Sampras/Agassi war of words and all the trainwrecks - oh, speaking of trainwrecks, how about Maria Sharapova today? disaster central - I've forgotten to talk about what I think is a really nice story coming out of Indian Wells, from an Australian perspective anyway. In fact, there are two nice stories... which in this age for Aussie tennis is pretty rare.

Act One: Marinko Matosevic. He's been steadily climbing up the rankings for about a year now and making his presence known something severe, and it's finally come good for him at tour level. He played qualies here, qualified and then had the most massive win of his career when he beat Michael Llodra in the first round. Llodra is no schlep - he has some tour titles to his name, for heavens' sake! - so this was absolutely massive for Marinko.

He may have gone down to Jo Tsonga in straights today, but hello, he got the chance to play Jo Tsonga. That alone makes this potentially the biggest tournament of Marinko's career and is going to see him jump a huge number of rankings places. How 'bout that?

What I really like about Matosevic is his determination, and with this kind of impetus behind him, he's only going to get better. I'm excited about seeing where he goes from here.

And then, of course, there's Act Two: Alicia Molik. While Marinko Matosevic may have gone out today, Alicia Molik is still in there, with an absolutely crushing win over Elena Baltacha. I've made my reservations about her comeback quite clear and she is proving me totally wrong. She is playing awesome tennis in the desert and she's starting to show some real form and consistency. It's enough to make you feel all warm and fuzzy.

And... he's not Australian but we love him anyway - R-Fed had a win. Sweeeeeeeeeeeet.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Trainwreck Named Ana

Oh, Ana.

I don't know how much more there is to say about this girl. It started off as a slump. Then it turned into a bad season, a bad year. Now it's just a disaster. I feel it's not inaccurate to say that Ana Ivanovic's 'real' career ended with a bang, and that bang was her victory at Roland Garros 2008. Everything afterwards...? It just does not bear speaking of.

Is it - and it's difficult to say this - game over for Ana?

I think there could definitely be worse things for her than just taking some solid time out of the game - maybe even a Justine and Kim style sabbatical. I mean, with her loss to Sevastova today she's out of the top fifty, so much worse can it get? First it was the top ten, then the top twenty, then the top fifty... those milestones are only going to keep coming until she does something serious about her game. And trying to play through it... that's a whole year and a half of stuff not working.

Go away, Ana. I don't want to see your face again before you've fixed what is wrong. I don't even know what is wrong any more. It's probably not just one thing. It's many things. Fix them all - or at least some key ones. Because what you're doing at the moment...? Not helping. You might get a few wildcards on account of how you are Ana Ivanovic, but really? you're going to have to start playing qualies sooner rather than later and that is not going to help at all. Not when you start losing - because at the rate you're going, you will - to people who will never sniff the Grand Slam glory that you once tasted.

Go away and fix your issues. That is the only advice I can offer now.

On the upside, though, how awesome is Anastasija Sevastova? I'm really digging her at the moment - I'd like to see her string some great results together!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Time And A Place

So, um, that was awkward.

Don't get me wrong - I think Hit for Haiti is awesome. This one was definitely not the pure distilled radness that was the first one, but hey, it got it done. It made the big monies for charity and the crowd had fun times. And I think just about everyone reckons Navratilova, Graf and Davenport could make some pretty sweet comebacks. Navratilova especially. She has got it going on.

And then we had the dudes. And it started out well - I mean, hello, it had Tennis's Greatest Bromance out there with Roger and Rafa, and there's obviously bromances between Roger and Sampras and Agassi as well...

...but it is pretty obvious, no matter how many 'I love you, man's get thrown around, that there is some unfinished business between Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. There is a whole lot of anger and bitterness and it's pretty clear that they just don't like each other much, end of story. Which is fine. They have every right not to like each other.

But Hit for Haiti was not the place to start making caustic remarks at each others' expense. It was pretty clear that Roger and Rafa found it really awkward, and the crowd found it awkward, and hell, everyone that watched it must have seen it was awkward.

The money still got raised and it's not going to make a difference in that sense, but dudes, time and a place. Hit for Haiti - not that place. I don't think it was ever going to be as awesome as the first one - you just couldn't fake that joyful spontaneity - but at least the players there just got into it and had a blast. Roger and Rafa kept those grins plastered on their faces throughout the whole Andre/Pete exchange, but there was no blast being had there.

C'mon, Pete. C'mon Andre. This is weird to say, considering the dudes you were playing with/against are younger than you, but grow up. Roger and Rafa are exemplary for the sport. Pete and Andre... great humanitarians, both of them, obviously... but this was not the right time for dirty laundry.

Friday, March 12, 2010

I Don't Care What It Says On Your Shoes

You know who is a disappointing player? Michelle Larcher de Brito. Seriously, why does she get talked about so much? I don't understand it at all. Maybe it's just that she's young and hasn't grown into her game or something and wiser people than me have seen some kind of Ultimate Tennis Potential in her, but she does absolutely nothing for me. Nothing at all. Exhibit A: she got crushed today by Alexandra Dulgheru. Like, crushy mcrushed with a side of orange crush. Not good.

I'm almost positive the reason she gets discussed so much is because of her shriek. She's freaking loud. Anyway care to gainsay me?

And this is so not trendy to say, because she is the next big thing and all, but you know who else does nothing for me? Melanie Oudin. Yes, I know she'll probably grow up awesome and she made the quarters of the US Open last year and she's the best thing since the Williamses and sliced bread for American tennis and she has 'believe' on her shoes and whatnot, but I just don't feel her. I saw her play at Hopman Cup - she was playing Sorana Cirstea in a dead rubber, if I remember correctly - and even though she won, I really could have cared less. She was great at Hopman Cup for comedy value when she stood next to John Isner, but that was pretty much it.

Anyway, I'm not quite sure Oudin is going to be quite as great as everyone seems to think she is. I'm quite willing to be proved wrong on this, but I just do not feel her. No matter what her shoes say, I do not believe. And results like getting beaten 6-0 in the third by Roberta Vinci? Not helping.

...on a more positive note, you know who I really am feeling? Anastasija Sevastova. She beat Nuria Llagostera Vives in three today and I liked it. But maybe I just have a weakness for those Latvians...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Showdown - Show Up, Throw Down

So the first round of Indian Wells has started for the ladies - aka the unseeded showdown to the death. Surprise, surprise, Justine Henin showed up for the showdown and threw down good, making very, very quick work of Magdalena Rybarikova. And no matter what happens after this tournament, JuJu should have, like, a ranking. That will be sweet.

...but if I were seeded and in that quarter, I would be quaking in my high-ranked boots.

There were quite a few people who showed up and threw down at this no-seed showdown, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that one of them was Alicia Molik. I haven't been too impressed with the Molik comeback - as far as comebacks go, the bar has been set pretty high, and she's limboed under it without even trying thus far. But she was totally fierce in her win over Tatjana Malek - one and three - and I've been force to reevaluate my assessment. Looks like there's some life in Alicia yet - so keep proving me wrong, Alicia, and win some more stuff!

Someone who got shown up and thrown down, however, was fellow Aussie Jelena Dokic, who got totally pummelled by Vera Dushevina. I never know what to prescribe for poor Jelena except bed rest - she always looks so completely exhausted. But not to worry, Jelena. I still like you.

Oh yeah, and there were those Laureus Awards. And stuff. Hurrah for Serena and Kim, winning their awards - but I think we can all agree that R-Fed got ripped off. Hello, he became the greatest player in the history of his sport last year. Can anyone top that? I THINK NOT.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dreaming Anastasia

Now, here is something I completely forgot to write about last week, what with all the shenanigans of Davis Cup... and also because the women's tour is not so interesting right now. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a personal favourite of mine, won a tour title - a tour title which I am pretty sure is her first - in Monterrey.

Coming right on the heels of Ernests Gulbis' first tour title, this makes me feel very vindicated. Pavlyuchenkova was an extraordinarily talented junior - I think she won a good half dozen junior Slams - but she came up at the same time as Alize Cornet, who obviously bloomed a little earlier. However, you'd be excused for saying 'who?' about Cornet at the moment - seriously, when is the last time she won a match? whereas Pavlyuchenkova has made some good steady progress.

I'm pretty sure it was Indian Wells last year where she made the semis - either there or Miami, anyway. That was her really big coming out party, the first really epic result she had on tour. However, she's been making good progress for a while now - she's very much a slow and steady wins the race sort of player in that sense.

But I was super glad to see her win this title in Monterrey because she really is incredibly awesome. In my mind, she really will be the next successor to that uber-Russian crown that Sharapova and Dementieva and Safina and Kuznetsova and Zvonareva and all those kids toss around among themselves. She's mentally steadier than more than a few of the players on that list and if she keeps progressing the way she is, she can do pretty much anything. And it's not as if she beat a whole crowd of nobodies in Monterrey - she ran up against Daniela Hantuchova in the final and lost the first set badly before gritting it out in three. That's some toughness right there.

Considering Indian Wells (I think) was her first breakout last year, I'll be interested to see how she backs that up - that can often be a test. But let us just say this - Jodi's picks are starting to come good. Now if only Sabine Lisicki could get her arse into the top ten and Gulbis could keep winning stuff, I could legitimately be a super genius.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Blood From a Stone

...and then there's the other big story out of the weekend, which is that Great Britain was defeated by Lithuania in the playoffs way down the scale. This pretty much ensures that ol' GB will fall even farther down in those subsidiary groups.

This, at the outset, seems quite unusual, on account of Britain having a top ten player. But I think this goes to show that one man does not a team make. If Andy Murray does not play, well, Britain are rightly where they are. They have a few subsidiary players, but no one marvellous. They belong with the Lithuanias of the world. That is where they are at, talent-wise, at the moment.

Which is why I find it so perverse that people are out for blood.

I mean, sure it sucks for British tennis that Britain is losing. But that is just the way it goes. There is just not the talent in Britain at the moment to be a gun Davis Cup nation. If you want to look at something, look at the way you're grooming your juniors. Look at your talent scouting processes. But firing the coach or a whole bunch of people is not magically going to make the team you have play better. There is no quick fix.

There is no short term solution to a lack of immediate talent. The only thing you can do is look at how you are finding and developing talent. We see the same thing in Australia - this is why there is so much pressure on the shoulders of Bernard Tomic. We want there to be someone awesome, and we want them now.

But the reality is that sometimes your stable is full of awesome players, and sometimes all the talent was born into another country. And you can fire as many people as you want - it's not going to fix anything. You cannot get blood from a stone.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Big Damn Hero

Some more on Davis Cup, because you know what? I forgot to write about the real star of the Davis Cup weekend, the real story, the real big damn hero.

David Nalbandian, take a bow.

A browse through the back archives of this blog will reveal that I don't often warm to Bandy, though I think he's an important dude to have in the game. He went out in, what, May? last year, and apart from a couple of sporadic appearances, hasn't been in the game since. He's not the youngest player on the court any more and I, to tell the truth, was expecting that a retirement announcement might not be so far fetched.

But no. Bandy might still have some injury woes, but he's still Bandy. And did he bring it or did he bring it for Argentina? I'll answer that - he brought it. It can't have been anything even resembling easy, having a vital rubber on your shoulders when your body is betraying you - and to double up from doubles and play (and win) that crucial singles rubber? Nothing short of awesome.

Argentina should be proud of you, Bandy. Even when you're practically in a wheelchair, you've still got the cojones to step out on that court and be a big damn hero. Respect.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Stepping Up In Davis Cup

Davis Cup is over for another badly-scheduled round, and while I don't think we've had any huge upsets per se, there have certainly been some interesting results.

Exhibit A: Spain vs Switzerland. I think we knew that Spain was going to win this one and win it easy... and some of us were secretly hoping Spain would win so that Switzerland that there could be a home tie in Australia in the playoffs. Which is very possible now. Woot.

Back on track. What I actually wanted to talk about here was the great effort that David Ferrer that put in. If you read the write up on the Davis Cup website it seems to blame Switzerland's showing all on Wawrinka playing poorly, which I think is a bit unfair. I mean, sure, he didn't play great, but I think David Ferrer played really, really well, especially in that decisive reverse singles rubber. He hasn't the bestest Davis Cup history in the past, as I have discussed before, so I like to see him bring it for his nation.

Ferru had that great year a couple of years back where he was up at about #4 in the rankings and then fell right back down again. I haven't seen him play this well for a long time - he's reached two finals of late, winning one, and now he's brought it at DC. He seems delightfully upwardly mobile!

The other really interesting result - and the only one that might even vaguely be called an upset - is the Serbia/USA tie. With Djokovic playing for Serbia and without Roddick, I think this one was always on the Serbian racquet. And I don't want to imply that US boys didn't bring it, because I think we can say they brought it. Especially John Isner. He very, very nearly knocked Djokovic off his perch. But this one had Serbia written all over it, and it really was Viktor Troicki that stepped up. I've been sort of following him since I saw him play Rafa in the first round of Australia a few years back, and he's really grown up excellent.

I felt really sorry for the US boys - they did a great job - but there was just not too much they could do about drawing the Serbians. (Hey, maybe if the Davis Cup were scheduled better, then someone like, say, Roddick, might be able to play! Mull on that, Davis Cup. Mull on that).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Davis Cup Ditties

Okay, so I know there's proper Davis Cup going on at the moment, but let's just talk playoffs at the moment. It's all going swimmingly for Australia - we've won our tie 3-0 going into the final day. Whether or not the final day will be played is moot, given the massive floods in Melbourne at the moment, so it's good we came through in three Bam.

We'll play Japan in the next playoff, and that's another intensely winnable tie. Australia might even end up in the actual Davis Cup next year. Mon dieu. Sacre bleu.

Back to normal Davis Cup, and it all seems very close. There's been a few ties won outright - France, Croatia and the Czech Republic are all through - but the rest are still tight. But I want to talk France now. They're 3-0 up on Germany - and, for once, that is exactly where they should be.

France has got so many excellent players - like, seriously, so many. SO MANY. And yet, in the last few years of Davis Cup, they have been ridiculously disappointing. They should be a guaranteed semi finalist every year with the number of top hundred players they have. I mean, come on, Tsonga, Monfils, Gasquet, Simon, Llodra, Clement, Benneteau... and on and on and on. And yet year after year that enormous streak of mental inconsistency that runs through French tennis gets them.

To be fair, Germany isn't exactly in its bestest tennis place ever at the mo, and they're playing without Tommy Haas. Their lynchpin at the mo is Kohlschreiber, and there's only so much he can do. But they're certainly not a sucky team, so this is a great result for France.

And I also want to shout out to the Czech Republic. They're effectively a two man team, but they brought it solidly at Davis Cup all last year and it looks like they're not going to stop this year. They smashed Belgium like a guitar. Berdych and Stepanek - whatever their flaws in ATP play, they get it done at Davis Cup.

Friday, March 5, 2010

That Time Again

It's that time again... Davis Cup. And why yes, since you asked, it is a really stupid idea to put it right before Indian Wells! What top notch participation that encourages. How clever, scheduling-wise! I bet everyone is so freaking thrilled.


Anyway, we might not be in the world group, but the Australia/Chinese Taipei tie is one I will follow with interest... and if Australia loses, I don't know what words there could possibly be to describe the embarrassment. Australia is without Hewitt - no shocks there - but Chinese Taipei is without its spearhead player also, with Yen-hsun Lu not playing.

Thus, if Australia does not win = humiliation for all!

Our singles players are Peter Luczak and Bernard Tomic, which is pretty respectable... though I can't help thinking that, with Luczak being our big gun, it might have been a good idea to hold the tournament on red clay rather than at Margaret Court Arena. I don't know that any of the players from Chinese Taipei are especially great claycourters and Luczak definitely is. But if you asked me to name even a single clay court in Australia, I would be coming up blank. Melbourne Park is definitely a better venue in that respect.

I do believe that one of the Chinese Taipei-an players is the dude that lost to Tomic in the final of the boys' AO a few years back. Now that could be an interesting grudge match. I don't know anything about him other than that, but Bernard should probably watch his step...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Post of Very Little Content

So is it just me or is there big fat nothing going on in the tennis world this week?

Seriously, as far as I can tell, three tour level matches were played yesterday - three women's matches in Monterrey. None of them was very interesting and so I have thus nothing to say about them. Except that Daniela Hantuchova seems to be making a mini resurgence this season. Good for her.

Really, the biggest news is about who is or isn't playing next week, and even that isn't that exciting. Serena and Venus never play Indian Wells... which is so old hat that I don't think anyone's ever bothered writing about it this year. Dinara Safina is out with a back injury. (Is it terrible of me to hope that the back injury forces her to somehow change her service motion?)

And then, of course, Roger Federer is being all coy. Will he or won't he? I guess we'll see next week.

It's a sad world when there's no news and you manage to write a whole blog post about this lack of news...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Venus Rising

Welcome to post #701 on Tennis From The Backseat, for all Jodi's meandering tennis ramblings. Enjoy the ride.

Today we're talking Venus. Why? Because Venus is winning freaking everything at the moment, that's why. In fact, I would go so far to say that if you had to pick the most in form player on the women's tour at that very moment, it would be Venus. And that isn't something I say lightly, because I have really not been especially impressed with Venus over the last couple of years.

But one cannot deny the facts. Two tournament wins in two weeks - Venus can rightly be crownded eternal queen of Acapulco, in my book - as well as a win over some quality, quality opponents at the Billie Jean Cup. I mean, sure, it's an exo event, and if you had Venus vs Kimmie on a bigger stage, maybe the match would have gone a different way, but wins over Clijsters and Kuznetsova are, well, wins over Clijsters and Kuznetsova, and not something to be taken lightly.

The question is, however - how far is this run of awesomeness going to go?

We all know V isn't going to play Indian Wells, so the next time we see her in action will be in Miami. It is obviously very good for her to have a rest after these intense few weeks, but I will be interested to see how she performs in Miami. Is this just a mini hot streak - like the one she regularly goes on at Wimbledon? (It's not unfair to say that Acapulco is Venus's second Wimbledon, the amount of titles she's won there). Or is this form going to be carried across past Miami into the clay season?

In short, are we going to see a V who could do damage at Roland Garros?

I would like to think that we could, if only to shake things up a bit. Venus has never traditionally done that well on the red clay of Paris (except, as previously noted, that one time in 2002) and it would be interesting to see the dynamic if she suddenly did make a run at it. That, combined with the return of Henin... even in the WTA, we live in interesting times!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Factoids for 700

Hey, guess what?! This is the offical 700th post on Tennis From The Backseat. Yes, I have dribbled on and on and on about tennis and I still have more to say. I don't know how informative or insightful that might stuff might be, but I'm going to keep saying it nonetheless.

Onto the real business of the day - I've been so wrapped up in the phantasmagorical victory of Ernests Gulbis over the weekend (hurrah!) that I forgot about all those other tournaments. And there are some interesting things there, so let's get started.

Factoid #1: Venus Williams has won more clay court tournaments than any other active player except Justine Henin.

I don't have too much to say about that except whoda thunk? V's never made a huge impact at RG (except that year she went to the final) - with those kind of numbers, I find that surprising. V ain't just no grasscourt gal.

Factoid #2: Elena Dementieva plays too much tennis. She should not be losing to Kleybanova.

This is not news. No wonder she has never won a Slam.

Factoid #3: This is the first time ever Novak Djokovic has defended a title.

I don't know whether to class this under 'fluke', 'maturing player' or 'deeply troubling'.

Factoid #4: Juan Carlos Ferrero has still got it.

He may have lost in the final, but JCF has still got serious game. He's now ranked #14 in the world. What is this, 2004?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Changed Man

Oh yes he did.


I am disproportionately excited about Ernests Gulbis' maiden tournament win in Delray Beach. I know it's only one tournament. I know it's not a huge tournament. I know he might go on to do a fat lot of nothing...

...but this is so, so much better than anything else I have experienced while clinging to this Gulbis bandwagon by my fingernails.

I don't think we can underestimate the significance of this win for Gulbis. Something has clearly clicked in his brain, because things are going right again. There was an interesting stat in the ATP write up of this final - Gulbis did not win his tenth tour level match last year until Wimbledon, but this year, he's already at 10-4. He started off with the quarters in Doha, where he (understandably) lost to Federer, a couple of first round losses, including the AO, which was disappointing, but then semis in Memphis and now the title in Delray Beach. Excuse me for making assumptions, but this to me smells changed man.

He beat Karlovic in the final and he beat him good. When you're Ivo Karlovic, basically your job is to get the other dude to the breaker. There were no breakers today - Ernie beat him comprehensively in straights, two and three. When you're breaking a serve like Dr Ivo's, you've got some serious returning mojo going on. And he's tidied up those errors, and...

...look at me, gushing like Federer won another Slam. But this one is a real victory for me. Damn it, I knew Ernie could do it! Good on you, Ernie! Good on you!