Saturday, July 31, 2010

Upping the Awesome Level

Well, well, well, Vika Azarenka seems to be pulling herself together. And so does Maria Sharapova. I am going to be very interested to see how this final tomorrow turns out.

Both of these ladies have been spectacularly disappointing this year - more so Vika, really, as MaSha sort of does still have that injury comeback thing going for her, I suppose. Both ladies have incredible amounts of potential - slam winning, I would argue. (In MaSha's case, this isn't even an argument - it's a fact). And so it's nice to see them back on track.

I'm definitely not Victoria Azarenka's biggest fan, but she really did bring something to the game. She has a particularly brand of fierce emotional tennis that is somewhere between compelling and disturbing. When she redlines her game, I think just about anyone would be hard pressed to beat her - Serena Williams from the Australian Open 2009 would agree with me on this one. But she hasn't found that redline so far this year.

Until now.

I'm annoyed she took out Sam Stosur, obviously, but I want the US Open to be interesting, damn it, and that means having as many of the top ladies in form as possible. And so if Vika and MaSha can bring their best games to the table, I say bring it and bring it HARD. Let's see how much awesome we can get in place come September.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Kazakhstani Wonderkids

Kazakhstan really knows what they're about with the players they're purchasing. I think it's a little weird that they actually have to buy their tennis players, but whoever's picking them out has a damn good eye.

Yaroslava Shvedova. She's pretty awesome. Just made Slam quarters. Win #1 to the Kazakhstani tennis buyers. Andrey Golubev. Just won his first title. Win #2. Evgeny Korolev. Definitely, I would argue, on his way up. A bit early to call, but I'm going to say win #3.

And now some other Kazakhstani tennis player, of whom I have never heard, has gone and beat Mikhail Youzhny in Gstaad. Yuri Schukin knocked out the top seed in three sets. Now that is a bit all right.

I know nothing about Schukin and so I can't actually say anything about the match or anything, you know, of substance. But I'm beginning to think that whoever is picking out players for Kazakhstan has a SERIOUSLY good eye - and while it's inevitable they'll get some duds, just look at their current stable. And maybe Yuri Schukin is the next Kazakhstani wonderkid.

Oh, and the top three seeds got knocked out in Umag. On the same day. Davydenko got beaten two and one. Now there's someone who needs to lift his game.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bobbing To The Surface

A name that is popping up with increasing regularity, I am finding, is Kevin Anderson. Has anyone else noticed this? This boy from South Africa is still under the radar, but he's a little less under, if that makes any sense.

The first time I encountered Anderson - encounters, she says, like she's actually met the guy - was in Miami a couple of years ago, where he put out Djokovic in a real stunner. He then proceeded to do pretty much fat nothing for a couple of years, but if someone is going to put a top guy, even if nothing ends up coming of it, you know there is some serious talent going on there.

He's playing Querrey as we speak, and they've split sets. Now, we must remember that Querrey won the US Open series last year, so this is no mean feat. I couldn't tell you exactly where, but I know I've seen his name popping up a lot this year. Has anyone else noticed this? Or am I just having flashbacks? Or is it because he's South African and there was that whole World Cup thing?


A name that is definitely NOT popping up is Simone Bolelli. Well, I suppose it is popping up, but not in a good way. It's in the losing-in-the-first-round way. And if that keeps happening, well... soon it will be in the qualifying way.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Yet More Andrey

So I'm pretty sure when I was all 'blah blah Brad Gilbert' yesterday, I probably should have been talking about Darren Cahill instead. Oops. My bad. But my main point still stands - ain't nothing wrong with Murray's game. Is all in Murray's mind. And he needs a coach who is good at that stuff, n'est-ce pas?


My boy Andrey Golubev lost in Gstaad, but considering he did win Hamburg the week before, I think I can give him a pass on this one. Did you know he jumped about fifty ranking spots and is now in the thirties? That is something fierce, yo. If he plays his cards right, he can totally be seeded at the US Open. Now wouldn't that be something!

But you know what he has to do if he wants to be taken seriously?

Stop playing on freaking clay when the claycourt season is over and it's all about the US. And you too, Nikolay Davydenko - are you listening?

I've ranted about this ad nauseam, so I won't go on about it again - but I mean, come ON, guys. What is the point of playing on clay at this time of the year? I just do not get it - not one little bit!

Oh, and in closing this post of randomness, I would like to give a shout out to my new fave doubles team. Janko Tipsarevic and Feli Lopez, please play doubles together for always, just for the Twitter fun times. You guys are made of pure awesome, covered in a luscious awesome sauce!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Coaching Carousel

It's a coaching merry-go-round! No sooner has the Roginator picked up Paul Annacone to add to his mighty team, but Andy Murray dumps Miles MacLagan, whom he's been with for, like, a thousand years. And I don't know if this is certain or anything, but it sounds like he's about to take up with Brad Gilbert.

I can't decide if Gilbert will be a really great fit for Muzz or a terrible one. I suppose it all depends on whether or not Gilbert believes Murray's game really is 'winning ugly'.

I think Murray could definitely use a change. He's been in a funk since Australia - ain't no one can deny that - and a fresh perspective could re-enliven him. It's exactly the same principle as Federer. Something's not quite right, so bring in a pair of fresh eyes. And I think Murray could really benefit from the mental side of the 'winning ugly' principles - you don't have to be smart or pretty about it if that's not working, you just have to get it done.

And at the end of the day, there's a LOT of players that go through a Brad Gilbert stage.

But what I'd be leery of is someone actually messing with Murray's game. That junkball thing he does is so effective when his head's in the game and he's pretty much got everything down all over the court - you could finesse and you could tweak, but if Gilbert went all Todd Martin/Novak Djokovic on Murray I think we could see some serious badnesses.

In short, Murray doesn't need someone messing with his game. He needs someone to straighten out his mind. Is Gilbert the man for the job? Is he, indeed, the man Murray has hired? Let's wait and see.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Great Game of Wait and See

So Paul Annacone, huh.

Everyone seems to have a lot to say about this whole - rather sudden - development, and I feel a bit left out, because I don't really have too much of an opinion.

I never really followed Sampras that much - I was too young - and so I can't really make any grandiose sweeping statements on how Annacone affected Pete's career or anything. Basically all I've got against that aspect of the story is that Sampras = pretty good, so Annacone must have a little something something going on.

But Federer is such a different player.

What I do know is this - Federer's at his lowest rank in a number of years. Something is clearly not working for him - whether it's the niggling injury he seems to be carrying or whether he's just in a funk. The best way to change things up and make a difference? Change something around you. So regardless of who Annacone is, I think this is a good move from Roger's perspective - even just psychologically. Things around him are different, and so he is different. I just hope Severin doesn't get too offended.

As to how the partnership will work out...? I have no grandiose predictions. I don't know enough. All I can say is this: wait and see.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Amazing Andrey

Everything I said yesterday about Andrey Golubev I want to say again. But more.

I knew you could do it, Andrey! Who was it that picked you out at the beginning of the year and said 'watch this kid'? It might have been a bunch of people, but one of them was me. This obviously shows tremendous foresight and insight and other kinds of -sight on my behalf.

But enough on how awesome I am. Let's talk about how awesome you are!

Clearly more kids should train on courts that have no room behind the baseline, because I think that has given you some really excellent habits - like the way you take the ball ridiculously early. And I mean ridiculously - when you're on fire, Andrey, and you're hitting the lines, there's just no way to compete with that. You have the capacity to outplay just about anyone, if you have your day. You're just that kind of guy.

I am so, so proud of you for winning your first title. Don't feel that you have to be this year's Juan Martin del Potro and win four on the trot or anything... but if you did that, I wouldn't be miffed. Just keep on winning matches, Andrey. Keep on hitting the lines. Keep on taking the ball early and making everyone really, really scared of you. Because you know what, Andrey? You have the potential to be something else entirely.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Awesome Andrey

Oh my my - who is this handsome young man who has swept into the final of Hamburg like a freight train?

Andrey Golubev, you rock on with your bad self. You are AWESOME. If it was not already abundantly clear, I am your fangirl. Big time.

Andrey has knocked out a bunch of people who should have beaten him this week. Florian Mayer in the semis. Denis Istomin, who I talked about a few days ago as a major up-and-comer suddenly playing awesomely. And, oh yeah, Nikolay Davydenko. How about that?

I've rabbited on and on and on about how impressed I was with him when I saw him play at the Hopman Cup this year. He tailed away after that and although there were flashes of that redline game that saw him beat Andreev, he didn't stay as awesome. But hello, daddy-o, I think the awesome is coming back. This has not been a cakewalk draw to the final, not at all. I repeat - Davydenko. I know Kolya's not exactly the captain of the form squad right now, but DAVYDENKO. C'mon.

And he also had a birthday this week. He might have missed 23 July, tennis's holy day, but he's only one away, and maybe some of that glitter has rubbed off.

You keep your awesome up, Andrey. Because that's what you are - awesome.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The First Kiddies

Three very important people in the world of tennis were born today. None of them actually play the game (at least, not very well) but all three of them have changed the way we view the sport.

The first of them is obviously me. I mean, what would modern tennis be without my wondrous incredibly insightful ramblings on Tennis From The Backseat wherein I am always right, never repeat myself and write excellent things all the time, because I am just that awesome?

The other two (who may be, I concede, sliiiiiiiiiiiiiightly more worldshaking) are Charlene Riva and Myla Rose Federer, who turn one year old today. I don't know if Mama and Papa Federbear have let them touch a tennis racquet in their life, but these two little munchkins have changed the tennis landscape in a palpable way. They really are the Mighty Babes, the First Children of tennis.

Everyone wondered, when Mirka Federer's pregnancy was announced, whether having kids would effectively turn Roger's mighty tennis mind into mush and whether he would ever be the same again. He proved them wrong, most emphatically. He said himself that he wondered, right after they found out Mirka was pregnant, whether he would be able to concentrate... and then stepped out on court at the Australian Open and beat Juan Martin del Potro 6-3 6-0 6-0, which was a bit all right.

And then he won the French Open.

And then he won Wimbledon.

And then his daughters were born, and it was all, 'oh, all right, they're here now, will he start going downhill?'

Roger might not be playing fantastically at this very moment, but he has been so awesome in the tennis world since Myla and Charlene were born - Australian Open, anyone - and I don't think it's any question he'll resurface when he's ready. He has said himself that he wants his kids to be able to see him play - and I think we all know that if Myla and Charlene are watching, Daddy wants to make them proud.

Happy birthday, little Federers. 23 July is when all the cool kids are born. Love, your fairy godmother.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Keeping On Keeping On

I haven't been paying too much attention to women's tennis lately - naughty me - so I think it's time I rectified that a little. I haven't even really been checking the scores, so I was really very pleasantly surprised to see a new favourite of mine winning her second round match in Portoroz.

That new favourite is Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland and I really think she's going to grow up awesome. And no, I don't just like her because she's Swiss. She played Serena tight and fierce in the first round of Roland Garros this year and she seriously had some game going on - both in her game and in her head. Seriously, the girl's got a serious tennis brain on her shoulders.

I haven't seen too much of her play besides that one match, but if she continues to play like she did in that one match, she is going to be something. And she had a good solid win over the very talented (albeit underachieving) Tamira Paszek. Here's hoping she keeps on keeping on!

Anna Chakvetadze also had a very convincing win over Sara Errani, who was seeded #4. Chakvetadze is a headcase on an Ivanovician (though not quite a Vaidisovan) level. I'm not going to be all 'comeback' or anything, but I guess it's a reminder that headcases stay in the game by pure talent, and sometimes this can happen. There you go.

And another new favourite of mine, Anastasija Sevastova, had a win in Bad Gastein over promising youngster Simona Halep. I really want to see her play Anastasia Pivovarova, who is also still in the draw over there. Can't imagine how the commentators would handle that one...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Some Watch-This-Spacers

So Denis Istomin has pretty much sprung from nowhere, huh. The first memory of him I have is him playing - and being destroyed by - Federer at the Australian Open some years ago (like '06 or '07 or some long ago time). And then he just sort of hung around for awhile.

And now he's suddenly all awesome.

I mean, there is a limit to his awesomeness. He hasn't been winning titles or anything (that I can remember, anyway.) But's he's troubling people. He's pulling upsets. He's looking a little bit dangerous. Exhibit a - he took out last week's winner Nico Almagro in straights in Hamburg. That's a little bit cool, you know. He's got some good stuff going on. Watch this space, is all I'm saying where this kid is concerned.

I'd like to say the same thing about Julian Reister, who popped up in about the third round of Wimbledon from seemingly nowhere - literally, I had never heard of him before. He just put put bad-tempered on-the-outs I'm-pretty-sure-everyone-hates-him-right-now Victor Hanescu in straights in Hamburg also - tight straights, but straights. I don't know enough about him to talk coherently about him (same with Istomin) but it's kind of cool that some new people have been making a splash. Even if they have been around forever and I just haven't realised it.

Bad luck continues for Simone Bolelli, though. Dude just can't catch a break right now.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Speck of Nostalgia

I would like to give a shout out to my man Andrey Golubev, who won his second round match in Hamburg against Marcel Granollers in fine style. I am absolutely gagging to see this boy win a title, and if he plays the style of tennis he did at the Hopman Cup, then ain't hardly anyone gonna be able to stop him, because he is fierce (unlike whatever strange dialect I am trying to speak here). So here's hoping he can keep it together a little while longer in Hamburg.

(Mentioning Marcel Granollers, anyone remember that time he won a title, a few years back? Yeah, I hardly remember either. What happened to him? I thought he was on the up and up, but it sounds like he's just cruising along the plateau.)

Interesting match of the day, names-wise, was Jarkko Nieminen and Gilles Simon. That's a match I would sit down and watch, even though I find Simon's brand of weaponless tennis somewhere between weird and soporific. Simon is still the seed - though how he's managed to keep his rankings points up since that year he had in 2008 or whenever is beyond me - but it was Nieminen who came out on top.

Time was that would not be an early round match. But Nieminen's getting a little older, I suppose, and I don't think I would be the first to say that Simon's best year is behind him. But I kind of dig it when two veterans play each other, and this looked like a super tight match. I didn't actually see it so I can't make any, you know, informed comment (please, when do I ever?) but it makes me sort of nostalgic, I suppose...

Speaking of nostalgia, Dent vs Blake in Atlanta. Dent won. Blake is definitely on the way out. Any naysayers?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Spanish Weekend

I am never quite sure what to make of Nicolas Almagro. Sometimes I think he is the Prince of Clay and that he can do just about anything. A lot of the other times I forget about him completely.

He's been pretty much in the forgotten camp of late, especially in the grass season. The ascendancy of Rafa (and, to some extent, of Feliciano Lopez) has assuaged the tendency for people to think that Spaniards can't play on grass, but Almagro is still one of the forgotten ones. And he really hasn't done anything spectacular all year (though he did play part of an awesome five setter in Australia against Jo Tsonga, if I remember rightly.)

But that said, though I do forget about him, I do like watching him play. He is very entertaining and even though I am quite fond of Robin Soderling, I was glad to see Almagro take the title in Stuttgart this weekend. I don't think Almagro is ever going to be one of the greats, but he has the potential to be one of the pretty-damn-goods, so here's hoping he can keep his form hot into the summer.

Speaking of Spaniards, what's got into Albert Montanes this year? He just won a title and has been having an awesome, Federer-beating year. Who woulda thunk?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Breaking Glass, Breaking the Draw Open

What is it with American tennis players and freak glass related injuries? First Sam Querrey goes through a coffee table and needs some stupid amount of stitches, and now Serena is out for a good few months after treading on broken glass on a restaurant.

I can't quite understand how that happened, but I do know that there must be one terrified restaurant owner out there quivering in their boots anticipating the wrath of Serena.

Is this just bad luck for Serena? Or is it the universe's way of ensuring she doesn't win three Slams this year and make the rest of the women in the field look a little bit ridiculous?

I mean, if Serena says she'll be ready for the US Open, I believe her. But coming in on no matches is definitely not the bestest prep ever. And it's a little bit sad that even though she'll be coming in matchless and to the scene of her greatest ever humiliation, she's still the favourite.

So if Serena doesn't win in New York, who is going to step up to the plate? That is the question now. Will it be Kim Clijsters in a fairy tale repeat? Or will someone else make a dash on it? Given Serena's injury, basically any winner is going to be a surprise winner. That broken glass just broke the draw wiiiiiiiide open. It's going to be an interesting US Open indeed.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Past Tense and the Spanish Inquisition

In the best news about these two all year, Nicole Vaidisova and Radek Stepanek are married. I may not be the biggest fan of either, but after the 2010 they've both had career-wise, it's really great that they've got something awesome to remember the year by now.

But as tennis gossip isn't my forte, let's use this to springboard into a discussion of their, you know, tennis.

So Stepanek is one of those creepy-dangerous players who lurks around and occasionally springs big upsets, in a manner not unlike someone jumping out of a cupboard and yelling 'no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!' It actually took me a really long time to realise that Stepanek was out injured, because he is permanently so under the radar when he plays anyway. Seriously, he has this way of somehow making it to about the semis of a tournament without drawing any attention. He did it in Brisbane this year, actually - I was there for the men's semis, and I didn't even realise Stepanek was in them, let alone expect him to win.

But when he's gone, you just don't notice it. He's not an epic force in tennis like Federer or Nadal, or even one of the guys who match him ranking-wise, like Hewitt or Isner. What he brings to the tennis table is good tennis, but it isn't memorable, and it hasn't moved the game forward. I guess what Stepanek has done in his career is make this a gift, because he gets forgotten about. A lot.

Vaidisova, on the other hand, was memorable... but not for the right reason. It's really galling to refer to someone in the past tense when they're only 21, but Vaidisova's career is emphatically past tensed. Though Stepanek has definitely got the better results over his career (and definitely the better mileage), even though Vaidisova reached a higher ranking, Nicole is going to be remembered for longer and remembered as one thing and one thing only: the ultimate headcase.

Not exactly the moniker you want. And Vaidisova played some great tennis in her career. Why it stopped, I don't know. But it will take a lot of work from the Ana Ivanovics of this world to ever eclipse Nicole's fall from tennis grace.

But whatever has happened in their careers, good luck to Radek and Nicole. (Awkward segue, much? 'Troubled careers! Fall from grace! Oh well, good luck!') Congratulations and maybe - who knows? - we'll see you back on the court someday. (You're only 21, Nicole!)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Safin Suited

So someone put Marat Safin in a suit. What's up with that?

The Kremlin Cup is so going to be the most awesome tournament this year. It might be catastrophic and disastrous - is anyone else having real problems imagining Marat Safin as an office dude? - but it will be awesome. In my mind, it will be full of Safinesque fun.

There was an article on about 'Safin the Suit', and I am just having real problems picturing that. Not vodka-drinking, racquet-smashing Marat? Surely not? Apparently he showed at Wimbledon last week to convince people to play in his tournament, and I really hope it succeeded.

I thought I had all these things to say about this, but I'm really just stuck on Safin in a suit. It's very counterintuitive.

I am glad, however, that the world of tennis has not lost Marat Safin, and that he's sticking around, even if he's all suited up. I'm really looking forward to see how his baby Moscow tournament turns out. Wish I could go there, really... it would be fun times. Maybe Marat would be around, wink wink.

So yeah. That's my point. Yay Marat still being around. And yay for the beautiful chaos that will be in his tournament (in my mind).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Little La Monf

You know who is looking a little bit good at the moment, formwise? Gael Monfils. And there's something you don't hear said a lot.

I don't think anyone would argue with the fact that Monfils is one of the most talented guys on tour. He's also probably one of the best athletes in the world (I read somewhere that France puts all its athletes through some kind of crazy tests, and Monfils broke records in all of them.) When he's on, he's on. But he's the sketchiest damn player you ever met. He is worse than David Nalbandian (at least you know he's going to turn up for Davis Cup) and maybe on a par with Marat Safin. You never which Gael will show.

He hasn't really done anything much particularly remarkable this year. Not that I've noticed anyway... until this week. First, he plays like a gun in Davis Cup to help secure a huge win for France over Spain. And now he's tearing it up in Stuttgart.

Well, I say 'tearing it up'. He lost a set to Pablo Andujar. Maybe this is a little optimistic. But there is cause for optimism whenever Monfils strings a few matches together. It will be interesting to see whether he can close out this tournament. If he does, then... maybe we will be in for a rocket of a summer.

Or maybe not. It is Monfils, after all.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

All Guns... Whimpering?

One of my favourite matches in Wimbledon this year was the third round clash between Rafa Nadal and Philipp Petzschner. (Brief tangent - Petzschner has since also become one of my favourite tweeters, if anyone is interested.) That match was a real clash. Rafa wasn't totally there - it wasn't quite Shmafa playing that match, but it wasn't RafaRafa either - and Petzschner played some of the most wonderful all guns blazing tennis I have seen in a while to grab two sets from the raging bull.

And now here we are, a couple of weeks later. Little tournament in Stuttgart. And Petzschner's going out first round.

C'mon, Petzschny! What are you trying to do to me here?

To be fair, he was playing Albert Montanes, who is seeded and thus ranked higher than him. But Montanes's real pedigree is, let's face it, on clay, and this tournament is in Petzschner's home country! And he was coming off such a good match in Wimbledon too, even if he lost... sigh.

Petzschner is the second player (apart from the usual crowd) who has really stood out to me this year, announced themselves in the tennis stadium in my mind. The first was Andrey Golubev (who actually had a win in Bastad - nice one!) after his absolute demolition of Igor Andreev at the Hopman Cup. Petzschner played that same sort of fearless tennis against Nadal, at least for a couple of sets... I mean, sure he didn't win the match, but he played some fierce stuff.

Let this not be one of those 'not with a bang but a whimper' situations. Because that would be epically disappointing. I want to see more of you, Philipp Petzschner. Don't make my Twitter-fangirling of you be for nothing!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Talent Isn't Everything

As I have absolutely nothing else to talk about, I'm going to talk some more about Davis Cup. And what I have to say is this: if France don't win it this year, they are missing a huge opportunity.

Think about it. They have beaten Spain, the out and out favourites. They have so many players who can be so good on any given day... but who can also be terrible on any given day. If they all come out firing - can you imagine a France with a switched-on Jo Tsonga and Gael Monfils playing singles? - then nothing short of a miracle can stop them.

Of course, they're playing Argentina in the semis, and the Argentinians have a miracle up their sleeves. He goes by the name of David Nalbandian, and as just about any Davis Cup playing nation can tell you, he can derail the fiercest of challenges. But he is but one man, and the French squad is packed with talent.

What the French squad is not packed with is consistency. If they could find this like they did against Spain, they would be unstoppable. There are reasons why one man squads like Nalbandian's Argentina and Djokovic's Serbia can do so well, and that is maximising the consistency of a star player. France have a whole bunch of stars... but none of them seem to shine at the same time.

I hope, for their sake, much as I want Bandy to do well at this Cup they call Davis, that all the French guns fire in the semis. Because to have that much talent in a tennis nation and not have anything to show for it? That is a bit of a tragedy.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bandy Shining

What is it about Davis Cup that brings out the best in David Nalbandian?

Seriously, the dude has missed, what, the last six Slams? He has been effectively absent on the individual tennis stage for about two years, ever since he went on that tear and won, like, the entire indoor season. But the second Davis Cup rolls around, Nalbandian is beating everyone in sight.

It reminds me a bit of Ljubicic, that year when he led Croatia to a big damn victory by winning just about every rubber he plays. Juan Martin del Potro may be Argentina's best player ranking-wise, but when it comes to Davis Cup, they don't have a bigger asset than Nalbandian. And I think it's probably good that they aren't currently playing alongside each other - I think we all remember the Argentinian disaster that was Mar del Plata a few years back, where they nearly punched each other out in the locker room.

Davis Cup does not bring out the best in all players. Sometimes it can completely cow them or crush them. Sometimes they're effectively uninterested - sure, they enjoy it when they're there, but Davis Cup is definitely not a priority (yes, Mr Federer, I am looking in your direction). But it's got something that brings out the best in David Nalbandian, and considering that his career on the individual stage seems to be effectively over (when was the last time you saw him play a tournament) I'm glad Bandy still has a place to shine. Because he is one of the great talents of our age and I would hate to see him wasted.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Davydenko and Other Disappointments

Spain have been sufficiently kept real. No Davis Cup threepeat for them. One tennis journalist wrote that while the defeat wasn't necessarily surprising, the 3-0 blowout was. I agree totally. Any nation is at risk against the hyper-talented France, but I would have expected Spain to have at least won one of the first three rubbers.

Nando Verdasco is going to wear this back home and no mistake. All the previous Davis Cup heroics will be forgotten in the face of his new found bunny status. I guess he'll just be hoping that Spain is too focused on the World Cup to care (which, to be fair, is probably true).

The Czech Republic are also through - without Berdych and Stepanek, which is a massive result for them - but the real battles going on are the two that are still alive, Russia vs Argentina and Croatia vs Serbia. They're both technically anyone-can-win, but you really have to like the team that took the doubles rubber in both situations.

In the former, that is Argentina. A lot is going to rest on Nikolay Davydenko, and he doesn't sound incredibly optimistic. He was phenomenally disappointing against David Nalbandian in the first singles rubber. I mean, sure, Nalbandian is awesome and all and he always brings it at Davis Cup, but Kolya was totally under par. Very disappointing. I'd be putting my faith in Mikhail Youzhny if I were the Russian Davis Cup captain - he seems like Russia's best bet for an equaliser.

And for Croatia, who are down one rubber to two, it's all on the shoulders of mighty Marin Cilic. He is certainly capable of taking out Novak Djokovic, but Djokovic is coming off a great Wimbledon and Cilic has not been in great form of late. However, if he brings it, if he throws the kitchen sink at Djokovic, he definitely has a chance. I thought Davydenko/Nalbandian was going to be the match of the weekend and it was totally disappointing. Maybe Cilic/Djokovic will be the one to remember instead...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Keeping Spain Real

It had to happen sometime. Spain cannot win everything in the world.

Now that I have said this, watch Lopez and Verdasco come back from two sets down and then win their final two singles rubbers to take the tie. But as I write this, Spain are perilously close to being bundled out of the Davis Cup in straight rubbers.

Now that is a shock.

I know they don't have Nadal, but with the depth they have (and the number of pre-blooded Davis Cup heroes) you'd think that that wouldn't be an issue. But it looks like France have suddenly stopped being the wouldashouldacoulda team of the Davis Cup, realised that they have incredible amounts of talent pretty much oozing out of them, and done something about it.

Gael Monfils winning over David Ferrer is not a big shock. I think La Monf is the higher ranked player at the mo and he's certainly the most talented. The Spanish tend to come alive for Davis Cup, but Ferrer has a curiously poor record, comparatively. He's always the high ranked guy that gets yanked off singles to let some lower ranked guy be the hero (cf. Verdasco, the final in Argentina a couple of years back). And La Monfa, when he's not injured, is a mighty force to be reckoned with.

But Verdasco should never have lost that match against Llodra. Llodra is solid, for sure, but Verdasco is top ten. After all his previous Davis Cup heroics, he just might be Spain's undoing this time.

They've just won Wimbledon. They're probably going to win the World Cup. I guess this Davis Cup probably-loss is just keeping Spain real. They can't win everything. Just most things.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Getting Down With WTT

So, world, level with me. What's the deal with World Team Tennis?

In a schedule that's already packed, I'm not quite sure why people would play World Team Tennis - though I suppose it comes with a big pay day - but I certainly think it is a lot of fun! And it's a viable alternative to the seniors tour that gives people who have retired the opportunity to keep playing professional tennis in a way that is fun and exciting.

And would anyone deny that the Venus Williams/Martina Hingis match up is the most keenly anticipated match of the week - including everything that's going down in Davis Cup?

I'm not exactly sure what the rules are - I have a notion that there is no ad scoring - and there is a crazy coloured court. It seems to be restricted pretty much to the US, but I remember a WTT exo that went on on Margaret Court Arena during the Australian Open this year which was big fun. I'd love to see it played more - maybe not so much with the current big time players, though if they want to play it, more power to them - but with some of the old stars. Hingis, Kournikova, Davenport... they all play WTT and it seems like a perfect fit. I want to see Marat Safin play it. I think it'd be rad.

In short, from what I know of WTT, I think it's awesome. It doesn't dovetail especially well with the actual tour, but it is good fun and allows tennis to be a team sport. I think it's especially good for some ex-pros... and I hope to see more of it. Unless it has some major failing of which I am not aware. But I don't think it does. So yay WTT! Let us see more!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Greatest Ever

It's official. I don't think there is any room for argument on this one.

Dustin Brown is the Greatest of All Time when it comes to hair in tennis.

Seriously, that dude has AWESOME HAIR.

He beat Sam Querrey in Newport today, which raised a couple of questions - 1) Who is this Dustin Brown fellow anyway and 2) What the hell is Sam Querrey doing playing in Newport?

I'm all for more grasscourt tennis, but dude, Wimbledon is over. If you're trying to set yourself up as some kind of uber tennis player, you need to learn the rules - don't play on a surface when there's no point in playing on this surface. And if you do, don't go losing to Dustin Brown - even if his hair is awesome.

This is the grass version of those clay tournaments that exist for no reason. I suppose they can't exactly whack it in the existing grass season due to the fact that no one in their right mind is going to go from Paris to Newport to London, but it just seems like a pretty pointless tournament.

And now I don't care about it at all because my man Nico Mahut is out. But what I do care about is Dustin Brown's hair. Which is rad.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Caring About Davis Cup

Welcome to episode #70348502845098 of 'Davis Cup, ain't nobody gonna take you seriously when you're scheduled like that'.

Seriously. The week after Wimbledon. This is not just the week after a Slam, but the week after the six most intense tennis weeks of the year. And you expect the big boys to play? Ahahahahahahahaha.

I don't know how much influence the Players' Council have over stuff like this, but the scheduling of Davis Cup is something that Roger and Rafa and the boys might want to work into their meetings. Because with scheduling like this, nobody who is anybody is going to play it. And I'm assuming that Davis Cup wants and needs people who are anybody playing it.

Davis Cup is supposed to be this big prestigious thing, but when you can't get the big players playing because the scheduling is so stupid, then it devalues itself. And in reality, with the calendar the way it is, there are precious few times that are good times for Davis Cup, times where it doesn't detract from an individual's career. The weekend after Wimbledon is possibly the worst time ever, but there's not exactly many good times. Even the final takes up precious off season time - and considering how little time players get off, I can understand how a lot of them would be loath to play. Davis Cup is making itself really hard to care about for a lot of players.

I've heard a few people say that Davis Cup would be better if it were all played across a two week period, and you know what? I agree. The two week tournament is the most prestigious thing there is in our sport, and so you'd be lifting the profile right there. It would be like a Slam, but for nations. It would require a significant overhaul of the Davis Cup brand and I'm sure there would be some resistance, but I think in the end, it would be for the best. Because then, I think, people would start caring about Davis Cup again.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Sixteen Is More Than Eight. This Is Maths.

So there are all these articles floating around asking if Rafa is the greatest of all time.

To which I say, guys, come on.

Maybe, in the future, there will be a case to be made for Rafa. If you want me to believe that he is one of the all time greats - maybe even in the top five - I have a lot of time for you. Rafa is going to go down in history, that is for sure. He has eight Slams now - as many as Agassi - and considering that he's only 24 and I'd lay money on him winning, absolute minimum, two more Slams, then there is definitely a case to be made for him to be one of the greats.

I know Federer lost in two consecutive quarter finals. I know this. But he still has sixteen Slams. He still has pretty much every record there is in the history of tennis. The title of 'greatest of all time' - which, I would argue, and I would have a good case for, is rightfully his - still sits firmly on his shoulders. Just because he did not have the six bestest weeks of his life ever does not mean it suddenly switches to Rafa.

This is not to say that Rafa might not end up eclipsing Roger's records. He's improving all the time. I wouldn't say it was a probability, but it's a possibility.

But right now? As of July 2010? Nadal might have won the last two Slams, but Federer's still the greatest. He's still got the sixteen Slams, the 285 weeks at #1, the 23 semis, the 25 quarters, the billion other insane records. And while Nadal might eclipse all of these, he hasn't yet. Federer's still the greatest. Six not-so-great weeks (by his standards) aren't going to change that any time soon.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Truth and Wimbledon 2010

Let's be honest. This was not the bestest Wimbledon ever. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a thwarted Fedfan. I'm saying this because despite the number of five set matches and shenanigans going on, one match managed to overshadow the whole tournament. One lonely little first round match out on the back courts is going to be the reason Wimbledon 2010 is remembered.

Wimbledon 2010: the year of Isner and Mahut.

Normally I would try and cover a number of stories that went on over the week, but the fact is that everything, even the victories of Nadal and Serena, pale beside the achievement here. They won Wimbledon. Isner and Mahut won an enormous victory for tennis. Has any match ever garnered such public attention? John Isner is now some massive media dude in the US - everyone wants a piece of Izzy - and I'd be surprised if the same thing isn't happening to some extent with Nico as well.

After and during this match, people were all like, 'blah, this is why we need fifth set tiebreaks!' Um, no. It is matches like these and prove exactly why we don't. How could a fifth set tiebreaker adequately have described the drama that was this match? It deserved to go to 70-68, because the match was just that close. That is the truth of the matter, plain and simple. It's right that this match effectively went for fifteen odd sets, because no one was giving ground.

The person that blinks first is the one that loses. That is the truth of tennis. This match showed exactly what it means to be a tennis player, and a good one - not blinking. For ages and ages and ages. It is a cruel truth, but that is the nature of the sport. And there is no way a fifth set tiebreaker would have done justice to the drama of Isner and Mahut.

And so, not to devalue the immense and awesome achievements of Serena and Rafa, that is who really won Wimbledon this week. Isner. Mahut. Tennis. Because these are the things that will be remembered about Wimbledon 2010 for always.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Surprise, Surprise II: Electric Boogaloo

Once Roger was out, it was always going to be Rafa who won the tournament.

What's kind of odd about the Slams this year is that even though it feels like there's a great deal of change going on and suchlike, it's still the same guys who are winning. The scorecard this year so far stands at Nadal 2, Federer 1, everyone else 0. Considering what has been going on in past years, this is relatively normal. Things aren't quite as changing of the guard as everyone seems to think they are.

But let's talk about the match some. I think Rafa was perfectly prepared to play Berdych because he'd played Soderling earlier in the week, and they both play similarly. (And, additionally, Rafa is not the biggest fan of either dude.) He had his game plan just about perfect - did he execute some crazy shots or what? - and his game face on. Rafa was in the zone. As soon as he walked out on the court, it felt like he was going to win. That aura is part of Rafa's power, I think.

Berdych didn't play a bad match, though he certainly didn't bring to the court what he did against Federer and Djokovic. He can be very proud of this week, though I'm sure he'll be a little disappointed in the final. I was a little disappointed in the final - it felt like he could have done better if he wasn't quite so nervous. But this said - he started off great and he had his chances, he just didn't really take them.

It has to be said, though - compared to previous years' finals, this one was a bit rubbish. We've been spoiled in the last few years with the epic five setters - the Federer/Nadal juggernauts of '07-'08 and then the massive Federer/Roddick epic last year. This match could have been an epic - I don't think it was just the absence of Federer that made this match a bit blergh - but it was the absence of a seasoned Slam contender. Roddick might not have won more than one Slam, but he's been to the place before. It was painfully obvious that while Rafa was at home, Tomas was still feeling things out.

There is definitely something exciting about the first time Slam finalist. It's part of what made the Australian Open so exciting in '06 through '08 - the unknown quantity. But it somehow feels a little weird at Wimbledon. Maybe it's because Wimbledon is so steeped in tradition and history that there is a certain rightness about the seasoned professionals playing there. That sounds wanky because it is. But the fact remained that this year's final was not one for the record books, not one that people are going to remember till the end of time. I don't think that was necessarily the fault of the final itself... but rather the fault of the excellent, excellent finals that came before.

But enough of this. Congratulations, Rafa. You keep vamosing your way into the history books.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Surprise, Surprise

There was always a certain inevitability about Serena winning this tournament. Once it got to the quarters - especially once it got to the semis and Venus was out - it was always going to happen.

There's a reason Serena is so good, and it's not because she has a first serve that is better than anyone else's on the tour, and it's not because she knows what shot to make when. It's because she's got tunnel vision when it comes to winning. Sometimes that tunnel vision can articulate itself in unpleasant ways - the US Open last year comes to mind - but on the whole, it is the driving force behind her success.

I've heard it compared to Nadal's state of mind, and while I think there are similarities, I think they are not the same thing. Rafa has an intense concentration - more intense than any other player I've ever seen. It's a kind of point by point concentration which is quite unique - he has a fierce will to win every point he plays. Serena also has a great deal of concentration, but it's not quite Rafa-esque - what is behind her is her overwhelming will to win. Not the will to win the point, like Rafa, but a more abstract will to win the set, the match... and, I would extrapolate, at life.

This is also, I would contend, one of the key differences between Serena and Venus. Serena has some more weapons than Venus does, sure, but that singular focus? That's all Serena, amigo.

I wasn't expecting a lot of Vera in this final but I was, I confess, a little disappointed. She played great to keep Serena to 3-all in the first set, but once Serena got the break, it was pretty much all over Red Rover for Vera. She's definitely come a long way mentally but she has a while left to go, I think. Nonetheless, a very successful two weeks for her, and I think she can come away very proud.

But surprise, surprise... Serena triumphed. Congratulations, Rere. You deserved this one big time.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Berdych and the Big Time

This has been a good, good tournament for the Czech Republic, better than they ever would have hoped. Not only did they get Petra Kvitova, surprise semi finalist, now they have Tomas Berdych, surprise finalist. And even though I am still totally mad at Tomas for beating my beloved Federer, I am kind of excited to see how he goes lining up in this final.

He was absolutely outstanding in his match against Djokovic yesterday. Djokovic may be ranked higher, but I would argue that Tomas is more innately talented, and yesterday, it showed. Djokovic did not play his bestest match ever, but he didn't actively suck or anything - Berdych just caught fire. And I am really, really interested to see what happens when he goes into the final.

At long last, is this it? Has Tomas Berdych finally realised his potential?

He will face Rafa in the final, and even though you have to like Rafa to win, Tomas is exactly the kind of player that can trouble him. He plays quite similarly to Soderling, and we know how that one's gone down in the past. Make no mistake, Tomas will have to redline his game. But if he does, he has a really good shot.

But yeah. Rafa. I think it is really, really likely that he will lift his second Wimbledon trophy this weekend. And more power to him.

He played wonderfully against Andy Murray. I think he really hit his stride in this tournament when he was down 5-0 in the first set of his match against Soderling. Even though he didn't end up winning that set, he came charging back so hard that Soderling was totally knocked on his arse by the momentum and Rafa stormed away with the match. He didn't give Murray a look yesterday, not at all. Murray didn't play his awesomest tennis ever or anything, but he didn't (like Djokovic) actively suck. Rafa just took his chances away.

As anti-climactic as a non-Fed final is for a Fedfan, I think the men's final is going to be really interesting. You have to make Rafa the favourite, but I'm not writing off Berdych. This could finally be the break everyone knew he could make.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Breaking Out

Let's talk ladies' tennis. I'm actually pretty excited for this final - given the rate of knots that seeds have fallen at during this tournament, ending up with a Serena/Zvonareva final is better than any of could have expected.

To be honest, I think Serena's going to romp home with very little trouble at all. Vera is an awesome player, but I don't know if she has the chops to take down Serena on grass. Serena has been playing super solidly all week and she's definitely looked to be the best player here, in my opinion. Getting through the Sharapova match was key - that was the match which really announced her as the firmest of favourites. So yeah. I think Serena's going to win.

This is not to say, however, that this tournament has not been a breakout tournament for many others. Zvonareva, for one - after all this 'oh no, the Russians are fading fast' palaver, here we have one in the final, which is a massive achievement for her. I'm really hoping that Bepa puts up a good account of herself, because boy can she play. It will be mostly mental for her, I think - if she can keep her head together, it should be an entertaining match.

But let us pause for a moment and consider the enormity of this tournament for Petra Kvitova and Tsvetana Pironkova.

I think this result is going to be a big springboard for Kvitova. I think she is going to rocket up the rankings and do great things. I hadn't seen a lot of her play before this week but now I am convinced that she has top ten potential. The Czech Republic has produced a lot of very-nearly-almost-but-not-quite women of late - there's Safarova and Benesova, not to mention Kvitova herself. But I think is really going to take her places. Watch out for Petra!

Pironkova, on the other hand... I can't really see her going to top tennishness or anything, which is sort of counter-intuitive, because I actually like her game more than Kvitova's. Scratch that, I love the way Pironkova plays. Her variety is a massive asset, and she's outstanding to watch. But I guess I feel with her that she's been doing the same thing for a while now, and this has been the first really big result she's pulled since she beat Venus back in, what, 2006? She's the kind of player who is always dangerous but never quite there - a Philipp Kohlschreiber, if you will. I think that if she was going to be glorious, it would have happened already...

...but Tsveta, in the tiny chance that you ever read this, don't listen to me. Prove me wrong. Because I love, love, love your game!