Friday, April 30, 2010

No Dunces Here

Okay, Ernie, so you beat Roger. I wasn't too happy when you did that.

But you know what? You took that opportunity and you didn't waste it. And that is important. You fought to the death in that match against previous Roger-conqueror Volandri, and you came out on top.

And now... you know what, Ernie? You're in the frigging semi finals of a bigass tournament. Rome is not Delray Beach. This is not some little 250 you can fluke. This is Rome, man. This is a Masters event. This is a big frigging deal.

Now, no one in their right minds expects you to win this title, because, hello, Rafa is a freight train of clay pain and he will destroy anyone who stands in his path. But Ernie, I'm glad you are making the most of this opportunity. You were great in your match against Feliciano Lopez and I'm really keen to see how you're going to fare in the next round.

You're part of the class of '88, Ernie - the class that has given us Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic. And now your name - you're not the top of the class yet, my friend, but you ain't wearing no dunce's cap.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wrecking Ball

Someone - I think it was Matt Cronin - tweeted today that they didn't think that Rafa would lose a(nother? has he lost one yet?) set this clay court season.

To which I would say... I would not be surprised.

Sure, last year Rafa looked like an absolute wrecking ball right up until that semi final in Madrid where Djokovic pushed him all the way and then Rafa folded in the final, and then lost his way against Soderling in the round of sixteen at the big RG. So this is something we've seen before.

But there's something a little different about this Rafa. He's faced down some serious injury and he knows he's got to take care of himself. He's indulging in some sensible scheduling, something he's never done in the past. And if he takes care of his opponents as quickly as he took care of Philipp Kohlschreiber today - a player who is immensely talented and whom Rafa humbled - I would be very surprised to see anyone whose name isn't Roger Federer take a set off him.

Hell, even if their name is Roger Federer. Oh hi, Mr I-lost-in-the-first-round-of-Rome.

Rafa's back. And he's hungry. Roland Garros is his playground. And it's going to take something superhuman to stand between him and his fifth Coupe de Mousqetaires.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Roger, Really?

Ernie, you know most of the time I cheer (and cheer loudly) when you win. I'm on your bandwagon, dude. I love it when you do well.

But did you have to win this one?

I'm a Federfan first and foremost, and much as this win is massive for Ernie's career and I really like Ernie, I like Roger more. I know it's only Rome and stuff, but it's... irksome. To say I'm not especially impressed is an understatement.

Take this here very short paragraph - more like a sentence, really - of praise for the skill of Ernie and the win and stuff. If/when he wins his next round, you can bet that I'll be very excited.

But Roger, really?

He said just what I wanted him to in his presser, which was that it served as a wakeup call and that he's going to smash it out in Estoril. I think he underestimated Ernie a bit, which was foolish, because Ernie = good. But it doesn't change the fact that this isn't exactly the Bestest Sign Ever for Paris.

Still. It's Roger. I have faith and faith eternal.

But Roger, really?!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bad Luck for Belgium

For many years, Roland Garros was considered the domain of Justine Henin. It was her country. Then she went and retired and Roland Garros became anyone's Slam - Ivanovic and Kuznetsova have been the interim winners. But now she's back...

...or is she?

JuJu has a broken finger, and it seems to me like that is something which could seriously hamper her chances at Roland Garros. That is not the kind of injury you really want to be carrying. I really hope that she can get it all healed up by then, because I really want to see what kind of assault on the title JuJu can launch, but...

And then Kim Clijsters is injured too. Fed Cup has not been kind to Belgium this weekend. I understand Kim could be out for six weeks, which seriously damages, if not totally wipes out, her title challenge at the French, which she has never won. It's beginning to look like Belgium's best hope for the crown this time will not be their comeback queens but rather Yanina Wickmayer.

I don't have much to say on this subject other than this is spectacularly bad luck for Belgium and I hope they both get better. Because Roland Garros is better with these two in it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Roman Holiday

Wow - Barcelona finished without me even noticing. I got all caught up in Fed Cup and then suddenly Rome's started and that whole week is gone.

A little late, but awesome work, Nando Verdasco. I haven't been reeeeeeeally convinced by Nando for a while now, but to back up a final in Monte Carlo (where, admittedly, he got crushed, but them's the haps when you play Rafa, I guess) with a win in Barcelona is pretty much epic. Didn't see the match and so thus can't comment, but Nando's making a push to be in those claycourt contenders this year. And good on him for it.

Now, we're all caught up. Over to Rome.

I'd have to say the award for biggest win of the day has to go to Ernests Gulbis. Yes, I know I'm biased, considering I've been clinging to the Gulbis train for a while now, but if he wins his next match I'm going to be cursing his name (he's playing Federer) and so I have to laud him now. Marcos Baghdatis is a tough, tough opponent, even if his ranking doesn't necessarily reflect this, and Gulbis smashed him like a guitar. I'm going to be very interested to see how Ernie does on clay - his breakthrough, we must remember, came at Roland Garros 2008...

Biggest loss of the day is a toss up between Sam Querrey and Juan Carlos Ferrero, but I'm going to have to go with the Mosquito on this one. A qualifier? Seriously, JC? I know you can do so much better than this...

...but perhaps, as it often happens on clay, this will be a blessing in disguise. Maybe JC will get some rest and be super fresh when he hits the home courts in Madrid...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

(Back) On Top of the World

It's official: Australia is back in the World Group of Fed Cup.

I know no one really gets excited about Fed Cup any more (or Davis Cup, really - but Fed Cup is worse) but I am really excited that Australia is back in the World Group. We might not look it, but our team is seriously good - and it's only going to get better.

Stosur is, and will continue to be, the lynchpin - she's the one that clinched the deciding victory today and sent Australia through over Ukraine. (And, I would like to point out, Ukraine is not a nation to be sniffed at tennis-wise - I have one word and that word is Bondarenko). But there are a number of others in the squad who have valuable contributions to make. Rodionova was the other star on the weekend - and on debut no less - but we've got some depth going on.

We have Molik, who is on the way back up. The erratically brilliant Dokic. The on-the-comeback Dellacqua. Jarka Groth. And then a number of very promising up and comers like Olivia Rogowska, Isabella Holland, Sally Peers and Monika Wejnert.

Everyone seems to pin all their hopes on Bernard Tomic for the future of Australian tennis. I think it's right here in this Fed Cup team. Aussie girls are on the rise!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Anastasia and Sam On Top

Australia has a damn good Fed Cup team. I don't think anyone can gainsay this now.

I think everyone was expecting Stosur to do well - the win she had in Charleston can only buoy her confidence, and even though she traditionally doesn't do quite as well when everyone's watching her. However, she's really come through big and scored a sweet win for Australia. Yay for Sam.

But the real star and story has to be Anastasia Rodionova. I don't think anyone thought that she'd come through Bondarenko - either of the Bondarenkos. They're both ranked higher than Rodionova and both are very used to having the weight of their nation resting on their shoulders - they're all Ukraine has, really. Whereas Rodionova is on debut.

So this was a really, really great win from Anastasia. I really wish I had had the opportunity to see it - and the Stosur match as well, for that matter - but Australian TV is very lax about televising these things. Which is a whole other issue.

...but back to the point. If the Aussies can come through in doubles tomorrow - which is a reasonable bet - then we're back in the World Group. And in the World Group in 2011, I think Australia can do real damage.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Best Name In Tennis

Thiemo de Bakker. One of the greatest names in tennis... just as a name, not as a player. Seriously, this is a great name.

Rafa beat him in Monte Carlo last week and everyone was like, 'meh, TdB. Come back to me when you beat someone awesome'. Which Rafa did. But I would like to contest that TdB is not un-awesome himself.

I mean, he beat Jo-Dub Tsonga. And Jo on clay... or Jo anywhere... that's really a bit of something.

I really don't know anything about de Bakker except that he has an awesome name. Which is really the whole reason I've devoted this very short blog post to him. But he's going to be someone to keep an eye on. I don't think he's going to pull a JMDP and win four tournaments in a row or anything... but he's consistently pulling results. He could be on the up.

And also, come on. Who has a better name? Thiemo de Bakker. That is a GREAT name.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ernie Rolls Onwards

So Jeremy Chardy has some serious cojones on clay. Remember a few years back when he knocked out Tursunov and Nalbandian in a row at Roland Garros on his way to the round of sixteen? (Leastways, I'm pretty sure it was those two - what's up with Dmitry Tursunov these days anyway? He used to be one of my favourites.)

Ernests Gulbis knocked him out in cruise-y straights today.

He had his mojo going on hard courts - his mojo took him all the way to the title at Delray Beach, where he overcame some serious opponents, not least of whom was Ivo Karlovic. And now in Barcelona, it's Jeremy Chardy who's fallen to the Gulbis train. And beating Chardy on clay - that's not the easiest thing in the world.

I know Ernie has a bit of the dirtballer around him as well - it might have been the same year, actually, when he rode the train all the way to the quarters before falling to old friend Djokovic. I know that it's easy to read too much into Ernie wins, but this is a seriously good sign, especially coming off that title in Delray Beach. If Ernie can do well on the clay, then everything is looking good.

I know I am a chronic optimist about this boy, but I am so eager for him to do well. He has so much talent - I want him (finally) to deliver.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Making The Best Of What You Have

Personality-wise, I am not a fan of Lleyton Hewitt. I pretty much think that, while he has definitely matured over the years, sometimes he should learn to shut up. Actually, a lot of the time he should learn to shut up. He can be so totally... naff is the word that comes to mind, but it's not the right one. I think I might just go with irritating.

But on court? I cannot help but respect the dude.

On court, he has completely outperformed his abilities. Someone with a game like his - counterpunching, no real weapon - should never have reached #1 in the world and stayed there for as long as he did. And he really shouldn't be a contender on the world stage.

Australian commentators are fond of asking whether Lleyton has the chance at another Slam. To that I say, categorically, no. He's an overachiever, and the real talent of a lot of the others in the field has caught up with him. But what he does have is the potential to go deep, to take any draw that is even slightly favourable and run with it. While it would be surprising to see him in a Slam final, it would not be surprising to see him in, say, the quarters. That is the kind of ability and... surprise factor he has.

What I'm trying to say is that I have a whole lot of respect for the on court Lleyton - for the way he never gives up and for the way he does so much with what little (comparatively) he has. Case in point, overcoming the promising young Turkish dude Marsel Ilhan in Barcelona. I'll be interested to see how he does from here...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Season of Sam

First thing's first: This is my 750th post! Yay me!

Second thing's second: Rafa's decision to skip Barcelona? Smartest thing he could have possibly done.

Third thing's third: Sam Stosur is made of awesome.

It kind of slipped under the radar in Australian tennis this week, mostly because a new president has been elected for Tennis Australia and there's a little bit of controversy there, but Sam Stosur won her second career title in Charleston. This puts her back in the top ten and, if she can keep up her results through the clay court season and accumulate some solid points, I think she's going to be a fixture there - even if she loses some of the points she made by reaching the semis of Roland Garros last year.

Stosur's game is, as I talked about a few days earlier, great on clay. Her kick serve goes from being awesome to practically untouchable, and she's proved this week she has the mental strength you need for the clay court season. She demolished some truly excellent players this week - not least of whom was Vera Zvonareva, who pulverised a racquet so spectacularly it actually shattered.

I'm excited for Stosur and her prospects on clay this season. Because I have an inkling that this season is going to be the Season of Sam.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Message Sent

Message sent.

So that whole thing about Rafa Nadal not winning a title for nearly a year? Functionally irrelevant once he steps onto clay, particularly the clay of Monte Carlo, his self-professed favourite tournament.

There has not been a moment this week when Rafa has not looked like winning.

If Rafa keeps playing like this, no one is going to be able to touch him. End of story. The only person who might even come close to getting a set off him is Federer, and even that might be contentious. If Rafa stays in his happy place, then he's going to slide right into his fifth Roland Garros title, mark my words.

The only thing that might end up being his undoing is, like last year, his scheduling. We all know that his faith in his knees is probably not optimal at the moment - though that might all have slipped away once he stepped on the clay and attained nirvana, I don't know. He's playing four tournaments in five weeks, and it's a decent bet that he's going to win every single one of them.

What Rafa doesn't want to do is run out of steam. I mean, sure, he has a lot of steam, but I'm sure there is a school of thought that says that he should, you know, take it easy and maybe not play so much tennis, particularly on this surface, which is so tough on the body.

But if he's going to beat opponents for the loss of only one game, as in the case of Nando Verdasco today, he can pretty much play as much tennis as he likes...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nole in the Hole

I am not, as we all know, a huge fan of Novak Djokovic, but I was getting really excited about the prospect of a Nole/Rafa final in Monte Carlo. I don't know if anyone will ever forget that epic match they had in Madrid last year - it is definitely one of the classics of the last ten years, no question.

So you can understand why I, and the world, have been salivating at the prospect of a claycourt rematch. The newly be-#2ed Novak against the semi-injured king of clay... it could have been great.

Except for the bit where Novak went and lost to Nando 'poor man's Rafa' Verdasco in one of the worst losses of his career.

Kudos to Verdasco for playing awesomely here, but I really don't think anyone can deny that stuff is up with Novak. Firing Todd Martin is probably good in this respect - he's changing things up - but he really needs to get his act together if he's going to be a real contender at Roland Garros.

It's not so much that he lost to Verdasco - Nando is a great player - but the manner of his loss. Djokovic hasn't lost a match so badly since he was beaten by Safin at the Australian Open in 2005, and that's saying something. His rut has been overshadowed by the rut of Murray, but he needs to pull up his socks if he really wants to rock the HispanoSuisse domination machine on the red stuff.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sam Slams It In Charleston

I hear there is tennis going on in the world that is not in Monte Carlo and does not involve anyone named Rafa or Nole or Daveeeeeeeeeed. You might have heard of it, though I really don't give it as much screen time as I ought. It's called 'women's tennis'.

In all the excitement of Rafa on clay and Murray failing miserably, I just about forgot the ladies existed this week. And this meant that - as she is often wont to do when no one is watching - Sam Stosur is through to the semis in Charleston.

It's very popular to go on and on and on about how Australian tennis players are rubbish on clay, but I don't think the sitch is as dire as it is often made out to be. Our #2 dude, Peter Luczak, is essentially a claycourt specialist, and Sam Stosur? Well, there was that whole bit where she made the semis at Roland Garros last year. And oh look, here we are in Charleston on the red stuff, and Slammin' Sammy has slammed her way into the semis again.

I think a lot of Sam's weapons, particularly her serve, are accentuated on clay. It's not un-Rafalike, the monstrous kick she can get on her kick serve when she serves it right on the clay. And that serve is hard enough to play at the best of times.

I would not be at all surprised if Sam went on to win this tournament - though I'm not going to go and predict it or anything, because we all know Sam does her best work when no one's looking. She looked great in her quarter final match against Shuai Peng and I'm really excited to see how Sam slams it this year on the clay.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Bakery Reopens

The Rafa Nadal bakery is well and truly open for business. Two bagels, two breadsticks... wow. That's something else.

Rafa hasn't won a tournament since Rome last year and so he is, in some respects, at his most vulnerable going into this clay season. If he cannot win on clay, especially here at Monte Carlo, where he's won six times in a row before, then something is going on.

...but as of this moment, something is not going on. Or rather it is, but it is the good something. If Rafa wanted to send a message, he could hardly have done it better. Smell that fresh bakery aroma - it's going to be around for a while.

I mean, sure, Thiemo de Bakker and Michael Berrer aren't exactly Federer and Djokovic. But when you consider the pressure - the incredibly immense pressure - that is on Nadal at the moment, the way he has opened this season is exemplary. There's no fear from Rafa - Shmafa is nowhere to be seen on the red stuff. There's none of that caution that we saw after that loss he took to Soderling at Roland Garros. There's none of that.

It's a little difficult to make a sweeping statement based on two matches. But when in those two matches Rafa only gave up two games... consider this statement swept. Rafa is, as ever, the man to beat at Monte Carlo - and he's the one they'll all have to overcome if anyone else is going to taste glory on clay.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Slumpy In Da House

So we all knew that Andy Murray isn't the greatest claycourter ever in the history of claycourts. No one really rates his chances of winning Roland Garros too highly - let's just say that the odds of it being his first Slam are not high.

But when you combine this slump he's in at the moment - and yes, I think it's genuinely a slump now - with the clay, then you have a lethal cocktail for the Muzz. He's playing worse than he's played in a long, long time, and now he has to do it on his worst surface too. That is not good.

I had thought that perhaps the change of surface might be a good thing for Andy - he might be able to put that black memory of the Australian Open final behind him and start fresh, the hardcourts over for a few months, out of sight, out of mind. But it looks like it's gone the other way - the red stuff has exacerbated all the worst points of his clay game and made it genuinely dreadful.

Let's be fair - he's played only one match on the stuff this season, so it might be a little early to make sweeping generalisations. But that one match was pretty telling. It's not that he lost it so much as the way he lost it - this was no pipped-to-the-post-in-a-third-set-breaker. This was a solid two hoof beatdown. Philipp Kohlschreiber made Murray look ridiculous - and that's not something Kohli does a lot. He's a good player and a very dangerous one, but he's not the type of dude that regularly just blasts people off the court.

So I'd be watching out if I were Andy Murray. This is danger country. He needs to find his feet of clay, because here be dragons (and raging bulls).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dirty Ernie

So I'm about a day late on this one, but how about that win Ernests Gulbis had over Marco Chiudinelli? That was a pretty sweet win, if I do say so myself.

I'm always a little wary of foretelling a player's entire clay season by their performance in the first week - I mean, they need time to adjust and whatnot - but sometimes it's just really hard to resist the temptation. I certainly don't think Ernie is going to go on and win the title or anything like that - I really doubt he'll get through Stan Wawrinka in the next round - but a good solid win like this is nothing but good.

We must remember that Gulbis really sprang onto the stage when he made the quarters at Roland Garros in 2008. The boy can seriously play on the dirt. I wouldn't call him a dirtballer - I think hard courts are probably best suited to his game - but he can bring it on the red stuff. I'd give him a solid shot at any smaller tournaments he plays and, providing he gets a good draw, a pretty decent run at some of the bigger ones.

The real test for Ernie will be whether he can upset big names on clay. And well... Stan Wawrinka is a good place to start...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Viva Voce Victor

Man, I bet Victor Hanescu really appreciated his draw in Monte Carlo. About a day after he got beaten down in the final of Casablanca, he finds himself jetlagged in Monte Carlo... having to face the same dude that beat him down.

I mean, there's an argument, I suppose, that it gave him an immediate chance to wreak revenge. Unfortunately, it didn't work out quite that way and he got beaten down just the same. Stan did not budge an inch, and Hanescu was just as incapable of finding a way around him as he was in Casablanca.

This is largely due to the fact that Stan is awesome, especially on the dirt - just as we have discussed in the last couple of days. However, I can't feel that Hanescu, while he is a very good player, really needs to add something to his game if he's going to progress any further.

I had the opportunity to watch Hanescu play quite a few times on my Epic Tennis Adventure in January. He was injured a bit, so it's probably unfair to base a lot on what I saw, but he played a bit like a poor man's Isner, and when the real Isner was playing (as in Hopman Cup, where I saw Hanescu first) that doesn't do too much. And then I saw him play - and get absolutely demolished - by Federer in the second round in Australia.

I'm inclined to think that Hanescu needs to grow mentally before he can improve his game. Every time I saw him play, there seemed to be a point where he almost threw in the towel - even when that point was a third set breaker, as against Hewitt in the Hopman Cup. Now, I haven't exactly made a study of him over the years, but it's something to keep on. What goes on in the mind of Victor Hanescu?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Stan Gets Dirty

How on earth is this only Stan Wawrinka's second career title? That totally blows my mind. Stan is such an awesome player that this just seems so... weird to me.

And it's been a good few years since his first title - that was Umag 2006, if I remember correctly, where he defeated one Novak Djokovic. Since then he's lost five finals, in a case of what I like to call 'Stosuritis' - but here he is, on debut in Casablanca, winning.

Winning, I would like to point out, in the first real clay tournament of the year - the first one that matters, anyway, on account of how we are actually building up to something (i.e. Roland Garros). Not that I think Stan is going to go on and win the French Open or anything... but I think we could be looking at a good run from Stan this dirtball season. Unlike Chela's win, I think this win actually means something.

This said, Victor Hanescu is not the biggest baddest opponent in the world - still, he was the third seed here and a very creditable dirtballer. Stan's going to have to face much bigger and meaner claycourters in the rest of the season... but you know what? when Stan plays well, it takes someone who is really, really awesome to stop him. Look at his run at Wimbledon last year, where he just got edged out by Andy Murray.

I have a hunch. I have an inkling. And my inkling says that this year's claycourt season is going to be a very good one for Stan Wawrinka.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

JI's Last Hurrah

Well, thank God Wayne Odesnik didn't make it to the Houston final, that's all I can say. Good on Sam Querrey for winning that one.

But I feel like he might have expended a little too much righteous energy in that match, because Juan Ignacio Chela is not really someone he should be losing to. Querrey is, what, 37 in the world? And sure, I realise and respect that he is not a dirtballer and Chela is (at least, more so) but Querrey really should be making mincemeat of JI. Because, let's face it, everyone else is.

I was very surprised to see Chela on the winner's podium here, not just because he beat Querrey, but because he beat, well, everyone else. I think everyone's attention has been focused squarely on Odesnik here, so his run to the final - and, indeed, the title - hasn't been the focus of much of anything. But I'd written Chela off as a huge has been. He's done nothing of note for at least two or three years.

But now, a title. Huh.

I think this is a fluke rather than some kind of epic return to form from Chela - I still think he's going to be remembered as that dude that had that spat with Lleyton Hewitt that time moreso than as JI the fantastic player. This is a huge result for him, make no mistake. But whether or not it means anything in the greater scheme of things? I don't think it's anything more than a last hurrah.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Still A Dope

So if Wayne Odesnik wins in Houston, it's going to be the most awkward trophy ceremony ever.

Actually, you know what? If he does win, I don't think they should even have a trophy ceremony. They shouldn't give him a trophy and they shouldn't give him prize money, because it's all going to be taken away anyway. Because the dude f*cking cheated and if he thinks anything different is going to be proven he has got another think coming.

You know that things are bad for a sportsman when sportsmen from the same country are actively baying for their blood. Sport is quite parochial, traditionally - even tennis, which is hardly a team sport. But Andy Roddick and Sam Querrey, to name a couple, want Odesnik gone. Roddick thinks he should be gone from tennis, bam. Querrey refuses to lose to him.

And fair enough, Sam. You shouldn't even have to play this dude. And even the current doping rules are allowing him to play, and the ITF hasn't slammed down the banhammer like happened in the infamous Belgian case a while back, Odesnik should not be playing. He admitted to possessing HGH and that, by itself, is going to be a two year ban. And no one deserves to have to play - and, as has happened so far in Houston - lose to a cheater.

I bet one Jerzy Janowicz is quite pissed off right now... and I bet he, and pretty much everyone in the sport of tennis at the moment, is identifying as one of Sam Querrey's Samurai for the next match.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Dirtying Up Stan

Let's talk Stan the Man. We all know Stan. We all like Stan. He's that other Swiss dude that plays tennis and has a baby, remember? He won that gold medal with his mate Rog that one time and they had that weird campfire ritual? You with me?

So, once upon a time Stan was in the top ten, but he hasn't been there for a little while now. This really isn't due to too much fault of his own - we're in a totally strong age. This said, Stan has not been playing totally great for a while. He's good, he's solid, but not great. He takes some weird losses. He takes some losses he really shouldn't. Sometimes Stan is not the Man. (Even though his backhand is a thing of pure joy. Can we please have a Gasquet/Wawrinka exo one day where they're only allowed to play with their backhands?)

What people often forget about Stan the Man is that he won junior Roland Garros in 2003. And also, his first title was in Umag, which is, I believe, on clay. The dude is, in essence, a dirtballer. I mean, look at the big result that catapulted him into the top ten - it was making the final in Rome a couple of years back, which is one of the biggest claycourt events there is. (I believe he beat one R Federer en route to that title, and that is no mean feat). Most of Stan's best results have come on dirt.

And this is how I explain the weird score of Stan's match today - he may be playing a little erratically, but he's a dirtballer in his soul. That's where 6-4 0-6 6-4 comes from. There's some good solid play in there, with a little WTFery in the middle.

I like Stan's game a lot - especially his backhand - and I think that if he has a real swell claycourt season, he can climb back into that top ten. So here is the question I ask today - what does Stan need to do to eliminate the WTFery and be Stan the Man all the time?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wishes for Martina

The big tennis news of today is Martin Navratilova's diagnosis with breast cancer, and I'd like to join the rest of the tennis world in expressing my well wishes - get well soon.

I don't think we can underestimate the influence Navratilova has had on the game. I don't know if anyone will ever break her record number of Slam titles and I doubt any other player will have the extraordinary longevity she has had. She is truly remarkable - anyone who watched the second Hit for Haiti will testify that she was pretty much the fiercest player on the court and she hit both Steffi Graf and Lindsay Davenport off it.

Her rivalry with Chris Evert is also one of the defining rivalries of the sport and one that will certainly be remembered for a long time. And even after her retirement from tennis, she has continued to be an important presence, someone whose opinion is respected and whose voice carries real weight. No matter how exclusive any nominated tennis hall of fame might be, Navratilova would be in there. No question.

So get well soon, Martina. If there is a tennis player in history who can be characterised as a fighter, it is you. Lay a smackdown on that disease. Tennis isn't done with you yet. The Martina story is not over.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


So, doping rules. What's up with them? Because sure as hell am not understanding them.

How is it than when Richard Gasquet was caught having cocaine in his blood - a drug that probably would not enhance his performance at all, however illegal it might be - he was tossed out of the sport until his name had been cleared... but when Wayne Odesnik gets caught with eight vials of human growth hormone, which is definitely a performance enhancing drug, he... plays Houston?

I'm guessing it has something to do with possession vs it actually being in your bloodstream, but come on. Look at the great debacle of Yanina Wickmayer and Xavier Malisse, who were out in the cold for ages. The way I see it, the offenses of Wickmayer, Malisse and Gasquet combined - and, you know what, throw Hingis in there for good measure - are nothing compared to what Odesnik is guilty of here. What Odesnik has done is a serious, serious offence in a clean sport.

So how is it that he's not suspended? If Wickmayer and co are guilty until proven innocent, what's up with the Odesnik ruling?

I have no doubt that if/when Odesnik gets convicted or sentenced or whatever they call it, he will be out on his arse. Andy Roddick said he should be thrown out of tennis and I agree wholeheartedly - and I think a whole lot of the tennis world does too. I don't understand why he is allowed to play at the moment, but the fact stands that he should not be playing. And that's something he should have realised himself. Just because you can play doesn't mean you should.

I bet things are real chilly in the locker room for Odesnik right now...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Fairy Tale That Wasn't

Farewell America and hello Europe, farewell purple hardcourts - welcome to the red stuff. It seems like just yesterday we were all worried about these two big hardcourt Masters titles - well, it was yesterday, but whatevs. Today, it is all about the clay.

Suddenly, my friends, we are in the lead up to Roland Garros - where, for the first time ever, Roger Federer will be returning as defending champion. Here we have a very interesting few months of tennis. Oh yes we do.

But today let's forget all that. I want to write a little bit about one particular player - a player that opened his clay account (and, indeed, his account for the year, as far as I can tell) with a loss in Casablanca. (So much for 'hello Europe' - we're actually still in America and in Africa this week. Oops). That player is Robin Haase.

A couple of years back, when Haase played Hewitt in the first round of Wimbledon and played him so, so tight (five sets) I seriously thought this Dutch kid was the real deal. He was about twenty at the time, I think, and he played tennis pretty damn spectacularly. He was to me about two, three years back what Ernests Gulbis is now - one of the faces of the future of tennis.

And then he pretty much fell off the face of the planet. And I have no idea what happened to him.

This is the case sometimes, I suppose - when a player with so much promise and talent just never makes it happen. We always hear about the ones that do - I mean, Roger Federer, hello - but there are so, so many that don't. Just take a tour through the winners of junior Slams. For every Federer, even every Monfils, you have a Todd Reid. Who is that? Good question. I only know because he's Australian - he won junior Wimbledon and then did nothing else of note ever, as far as I can tell.

Robin Haase is, I am sad to say, might just be a Todd Reid. He didn't lose badly today - he went down in straights in breakers to Marcel Granollers - but even just playing a match on the tour level is a big thing for him now. I thought he'd have a huge stack of titles by now.

For every fairy tale, there is the one that didn't quite happen. And Robin Haase is one of those stories.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Thinking Andy

I don't know who you were expecting to be the best performer of US hardcourt season mk 1 - hell, I don't know who I was expecting it to be. But I certainly wasn't expecting it to be Andy Roddick. Though, I have to say, I am quite glad that it is.

I am very glad that he pulled out this victory - actually, 'pulled out' is the wrong phrase to use. He dominated T-Berd from beginning to end in the match today. He absolutely owned this match - and, indeed, this tournament. Only two tiebreakers kept him from winning the Indian Wells/Miami double. And if he had done that one, well...

I think Roddick has been due for this excellent little spell - he's deserved it, if nothing else, and he needed it, if he was ever going to come back from Wimbledon last year. That loss at the very end hurt him worse than any early round exit could have done, because it got him square in the mind. But today, he thought his way to this victory.

It's really the mind that makes or breaks Andy Roddick. His game is excellent - the fact that he's been solidly at the top of the game for the better part of a decade shows this perfectly. But the moment when he transcends that line and goes from being a good player to a great one is when he thinks. That's the Roddick that turned up at Wimbledon last year and that's the Roddick it seemed, for a little while, that that Wimbledon killed.

But that's the Roddick that turned up here this week, and he is definitely coming away with the tennis equivalent of Man of the Match for these few post-Australia months. How will this translate onto clay...? Let's wait and see.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Venus Ascending

So I bet Venus Williams isn't feeling too pleased with herself right now. To get absolutely smashed like she got in the final of Miami... well, no one likes that. And I imagine it's pretty hard to simply be glad you got to the final (a la Federer in Roland Garros in 2008).

We have to talk about Kimmie for a little bit, because, come on, that was seriously Kimpressive. There have been a few question marks over her since Australia and that weird loss to Nadia Petrova - was the US Open a fluke? I have to give that one a big resounding no. Kim's comeback is THE comeback against which all comebacks will be judged, even that of her Belgian compatriot and, arguably, tennis superior Justine Henin. The Kim now is better than the Kim then, and I don't think anyone will naysay that.

The Kim then probably couldn't have whaled on Venus like the Kim now did, but I think Venus has to wear a lot of today's loss. She checked out, plain and simple. She just didn't show up to the match. There are definitely two Venuses: the awesome Venus, who has been here for the majority of this week, and the not-awesome Venus. And the not-awesome Venus isn't like Rafa's evil twin Shmafa, who is still a pretty good player. The not-awesome Venus is... well, not awesome.

This said, and this hard loss taken, I think this has been a great result for Venus this week. She has been strong for a couple of months now - it's easy to forget how well she did in Australia because of that dreadful match she played in the quarters, but hello, the quarters is pretty good. And then you have her sweet results in Acapulco and whatnot... Venus has been coming hard all year, and I would argue she's looked better in the early part of this year than she has in a couple of years.

So watch out for Venus on the red stuff - because if she's coming hard now, I think she's going to come hard in the leadup to Paris. And in Wimbledon? That's Venus's turf. And if she continues wearing her awesomepants to matches (unlike today) she is going to be a serious force to be reckoned with.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Shmafa Back In The Picture

Yeah, so, it was not really Rafa that turned up to play Andy Roddick today. It was Shmafa, through and through, Shmafa-ing about and missing balls and making bad play decisions... Shmafa who is still good but not quite good enough. Another one bites the dust for Rafa.

It is almost impossible to conceive that Rafa has not won a title in almost a year - not since Rome last year, if I am not mistaken. Now this is crazy.

But you know who Rafa is looking a lot like at the moment - apart from his evil alter ego Shmafa? He is looking a great deal like another great man did about a year ago - one Roger Federer. One racquet-smashing, 'thank God the gard court season is over' Roger Federer.

And what happened to Roger Federer after that hard court season? Well, there were a couple of tough losses early on, in Monte Carlo and Rome, but then there was a big, big win in Madrid, and an absolute epic of a grinding victory in Paris on the red clay of Roland Garros.

And is there a safer bet than Rafa Nadal in Roland Garros?

So fear not, Rafanatics. Rafa will rise again. Count on it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Miami Nice

You know who really, really might win this tournament? Robin Soderling. He is playing like a total gun right now. This would be the victory that would totally confirm his status in the top ten, the run that started at Roland Garros last year.

But then I also want Rafa to win. And Roddick. It really looks like we might be set for another happy final like in Indian Wells. It's rare I'm satisfied with the outcome of a tournament when Federer's been knocked out relatively early, but if can get a Yoker/Rafa or a Yoker/A-Rod final, I will be very satisfied indeed. The other contender is Berdych... I can take or leave him. But the other three? Happy whoever wins.

The women's final is also an interesting sitch. I was really looking forward to the Henin/Clijsters match, but even though it went for a thousand hours, it didn't meet the highs of Brisbane. It was decided on errors more than anything else, and JuJu cracked first. Disappointing.

But Clijsters is through, where she will face Venus. This is a happy final, really - people have been talking smack about Venus for a little bit and hopefully this finals appearance will fix this. Same with Kimmie - since that weird loss to Petrova, she's been a bit funked out. Whoever wins, this is a good result. And it's people who should be in the final being in the final, not a whoever loses last.

Good times.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Shmafa Out of Sight

It is super hard to believe that it has been ten months since Rafa Nadal won a title. Anyone who watched him play against Jo-Willy today... well, the Rafa that turned up today is the fierce, true steely Rafa, Captain of the Fight or Die (mostly Fight) squad. I love that Rafa. That dude is fierce.

Since his defeat at Roland Garros, we've seen an awful lot of Shmafa, Rafa's evil twin. Shmafa is still a pretty rad player - he is still, I would say, top ten, and he still wins a lot of stuff, but he's not the dude that won four Roland Garroses in a row, that is for sure. He's the dude that exhibits a little uncertainty, maybe misses an easy shot at a routine moment... the dude that is a half, a quarter, an eighth of a step short of what he should be, and you can tell it frustrates him.

But there was no sign of Shmafa today. It was Rafa, the true, the original and the best, that whaled on Jo-Dub and totally beat him into submission. And as Rafa himself knows, it takes a lot to beat Jo-Dub down.

This probably isn't a popular sentiment, coming from someone so strongly aligned with Camp Fed, but I really hope Rafa cleans up here in Miami. I hope he wins and wins good and carries that momentum forward into the clay season and plays like a god. I hope we don't see Shmafa for a long, long time - because good as Shmafa is, tennis isn't tennis with Rafa.