Saturday, April 30, 2011
Friday, April 29, 2011
(Three weeks till Roland Garros and the day I quit my job!)
Thursday, April 28, 2011
I should just write about the royal wedding. But don't worry, I won't.
Um... Viktor Troicki lost at the Djokovic Open, which I bet does not make him happy at all. Not that I care very much about his emotional state on account of how I think he's a douchebag, but this is not a good sign for him going into the hardcore clay season. Sure, he lost to a Spaniard, but come on, it was Marcel 'most boring player alive' Granollers. Troicki will have to pick up his game if he wants to do anything this season.
Speaking of Spaniards, Fernando Verdasco won a match in Estoril. Excuse me while I go and fall over saying 'lawks a mercy'. To be honest, I think being out of the top ten is the best possible thing that could happen to him. Less pressure, maybe a little underdog-i-ness... couldn't hurt. Probably what he really needs is for people to stop going 'Fernando Verdasco won a match, lawks a mercy', but let's be honest... that is just not going to happen.
And also what he needs to do is not play Milos Raonic again for a while, but guess who is looming up large in that Estoril draw... This is karmic punishment for that 'real tennis' quip. You know it is.
... what else has happened?
Oh yeah, Vera Zvonareva has split from that incredible gorgeous romance novel cover model coach of hers. WHY, BEPA, WHY?! I wonder if #bringbacksergey would succeed where #wildcardformahut failed....
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Right. Let's ease back into things with a few quick stories:
1) Jarmila and Sam Groth are no more. Jarka and the GrothHawk have split up, which is a bit sad. She's back to being Ms Gajdosova now. His hair is presumably still silly. This event is probably most notable, tennis-wise, for her Twitter tirade about how she didn't marry Sam just for citizenship. Personally, I think the fact that people raised that question at all is insulting and ludicrous. Jarka does not need to be married to a man with stupid hair to play for Australia. Glad to have you, Jarka.
2) Fernando Gonzalez is back in town. I had almost forgotten about the existence of Gonzo, but I bet there were people that hadn't, like, oh, the entire nation of Chile. He chose to come back at the Djokovic - I mean, Serbian Open in Belgrade, where he beat Martin Klizan but lost to Feliciano Lopez. Winning your first match back - even if it is against someone I have personally never heard of - is no mean feat, so well done, Gonzo. Keep it up.
3) Someone who does not get a well done ribbon this week is John Isner. Ouch. That is going to hurt, rankings wise.
4) Welcome back Tommy Haas! He played doubles in Munich, his first match back in about 709838 years. He partnered Stepanek and they lost in a match tiebreaker, but it is so good to see Herr Hotness back on the court.
5) Grigor Dimitrov seems to have had something resembling a 'breakthrough', though I would not go counting chickens, you hear me. He beat Marcos Baghdatis, and the way people are talking about it, you'd think he beat Rafa in straight sets in the final of Roland Garros. Of course it's cause to be optimistic, but slow your roll, people, honestly. He's not exactly Milos Raonic yet.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Monday, April 25, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
I wouldn't expect it to become a regular thing (unless the WTA suddenly becomes extraordinarily interesting), but the WTA really is a little more happening than dudeworld this week. Except for Juan Carlos Ferrero, who is rocking the kasbah. Welcome back, mosquito.
But yes. Ladies.
By my calculations, we have four German ladies in the quarters of Stuttgart. Sure, it may be a home tournament and the home ground advantage may be in play, but that is one hell of a result. And also one hell of a Fed Cup team. Where have Germany been? Seriously, it's all 'Steffi Graf, we miss her, if she came back she'd be in the top five BOOM like that', but Germany are doing pretty well all on their lonesome.
We've got Petkovic. Goerges. Lisicki. Barrois. And she's not in this tournament as far as I can tell, but there's also Groenefeld. That is not a line up to be sneezing at. And the fact that these four are in the quarters of Stuttgart is not sneezeworthy either, because although it's not exactly the fifth Slam, this is not a Mickey Mouse field. The other four people in the quarters are Zvonareva, Stosur, Radwanska... oh yeah, the world #1 Wozniacki. Germany is holding its own. (It's also worth noting that between them, these four German ladies beat Jankovic, Bartoli, Azarenka and Li. If this is not quality, then I do not know what is.)
It doesn't really matter whether or not one of these German ladies wins Stuttgart - although if my beloved Sabine Lisicki were to do it, I would be super happy. Whatever happens from here - whether all four of them make the semis or none of them do - this is a fantastic result. Germany has suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, become the dark horse powerhouse of women's tennis. Russia aside, it's hard to pick out who has a stronger ensemble act - and a better choice of ladies to pick from for Hopman Cup.
They may not be in the finals this year, but look out for this German squad in years to come. If they can all stay uninjured and keep playing this way... well, who needs Steffi?
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
But something interesting DID happen today, so let's WTA it away. That interesting thing? Sabine Lisicki, my favourite of all the ladies on the WTA tour. She's been out with injury, she wasn't given a wildcard into the Australian Open (even though, like Nicolas Mahut, she desperately deserved one), and she's been clawing her way back up the ladder for some months now. And today, she had a great, great victory over Dominika Cibulkova in Stuttgart.
There's obviously still a long way to go for Sabine. Beating Cibulkova is obviously not beating the world. It's not going to send you rocketing to #1. But quite apart from the fact that Cibulkova is a quality opponent - which she is - it's the way that Lisicki won this match that was so impressive. She was presented with about 678 opportunities to choke. It would have been so easy for her to lose the second set and then roll over in the third.
But she didn't.
Lisicki can be erratic and wild - she's one of those hyper-talented players who is almost too talented for their own good - but the scrappiness and fight she showed today will go a long, long way in her fight back to the top. I don't want to go and call her the Lady with the Iron Mind or anything like that right now, but if she can keep up this level of fightingness, the only way is up. I follow her on both Twitter and Facebook and what's really come through for me is her desire to win. She's emotionally involved in her tennis, and while I think this hinders some people, in her case, it's a blessing.
There is room for Sabine Lisicki in the top ten. There is a place for her there if only she can scrape together the points. And if she continues with this attitude, she is going right there. Maybe not tomorrow, but it's calling. And she'll make it.
Monday, April 18, 2011
So. Fed Cup.
I suspect a lot of us would rather not talk about it, especially those of us who are Australian or American. It was not a good time, shall we say. I mean, there were moments, moments where things were great, people who played their hearts out. But in the end... oh dear. Oh dear, dear, dear.
Australia were playing Ukraine, and we managed to embarrass ourselves a lot less than the Americans, so go us. We had match point in the doubles...! We could have taken it...! And Anastasia Rodionova could totally have won that singles match...! And... if wishes were horses, etc.
The Australian press (what little of it there is that covers Fed Cup, anyway) has been pretty mean to Anastasia Rodionova about the whole "losing three rubbers" business... and it certainly is a weekend to forget for her. Not her finest hour. But in reality, she wouldn't normally be the lady that takes the court anyway, so well done to her for stepping up. And a super well done to Jarka Groth, who won both her singles rubbers and was generally awesome all weekend.
But no, on the whole, Australia suffered from a case of Fed Cup malaise. Fed Cup is just not that important to people, in the long run. Ukraine had the same thing - they were sans Bondarenkos. We had no Stosur, no Dokic, and Groth and Rodionova were essentially left as a two woman team. Kudos to them that they did as well as they did...
...and didn't, oh, lose 5-0, like a certain American team I could name.
You have to feel sorry for them. People believe, I think, that the American Fed Cup team is a lot better than it actually is, on account of there have been some Williamses on it before. But to throw McHale, Oudin, King and Huber up against Lisicki, Petkovic, Goerges and Groenefeld? Ouch.
The Germans have an awesome Fed Cup team and I will not be surprised if they win the whole thing in coming years. What they did to the American girls is only the beginning, I think. Let's hope somebody actually notices how awesome these girls are... because if you thought people didn't care about Davis Cup, it's ten times worse for Fed Cup.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
I could have written this post last year and I don't think anyone would have been able to tell. If I had called the opponent Mr X, then I guarantee no one would have been able to tell.
Put Rafa Nadal on clay - particularly, it seems, the clay of Monte Carlo - and it doesn't matter who is on the other side of the net, because he's going to win. The opponent, in many ways, is beaten before he even begins. No one dethrones Rafa Nadal in Monte Carlo. And, as it is the first tournament of the clay season (the proper clay season, none of this Golden Swing ridiculousness), it's an ominous note for the rest of the ATP.
When the ground is red, it's Rafa's time. (As well as all those other times when it's Rafa's time.)
I don't think Rafa played anywhere near his true abilities on clay today - not even close. And yet, even playing at, what, 70%? 75%? there was no way Daveed Ferrer was touching him. And Ferrer is not exactly sub-par when it comes to clay - he has a clay title already this year, which he earned by beating Almagro, the Prince of Clay. But when it comes to Rafa...
It must be so hard for people to come out against Rafa on clay and expect to win. Belief is a huge ingredient of the tennis... cake? pie? and it is a rare man who comes out with even the faintest hint of belief that he'll win. This is why Nadal/Djokovic on clay will be such an interesting match, I think, whensoe'er it happens (and it seems likely that it will, at some point), because if there is one thing Novak has never struggled with, it's belief.
But that is a match for another day. Today is all about Rafa, and one of the most ridiculous tournament streaks we have ever seen. Congratulations, Rafa. When the ground is red, you are terrifyingly, ridiculously good.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
So now that David Ferrer has got to the final, he has basically won. We already knew that Rafa would win the tournament, so getting that cookie tray is nearly the same as winning...
...back tomorrow, when Rafa actually has won. Again.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
So it was largely a day where the unexpected remained unrealised in Monte Carlo. Rafa won (duh). Roger won (also unsurprising). Ferrer and Melzer won. Even Andy Murray won, though I don't know if we can necessarily call that 'expected'... but in a world where we all know Rafa is going to win the tournament anyway, pretty much everyone did what they were supposed to.
With a couple of exceptions.
I'm going to start with the lesser exception first, because really, I don't know if anyone ever actually expects Gael Monfils to win. There is always a possibility that he will - and he does often enough that he's seeded in this tournament - but it is never, ever a surprise when he loses. Even when it's to a qualifier. I'm pretty sure that qualifier-conqueror, Frederico Gil, is a specialist dirtballer, but even still... it could have been some random grass court specialist ranked #684748 in the world and there's still a chance Monfils would go down. That's just Monfils.
But you who is supposed to be consistent? People that played in the Wimbledon final last year, and who have been ranked in the top ten for a while now. I hope you're trembling in your boots, Tomas Berdych, because if you play like this when Wimbledon comes round again, you are going to get booted out of the top ten so fast that you'll get whiplash.
Seriously, I feel like people have been waiting for Berdych to 'arrive' for, like, ever, and when he had that Roland Garros/Wimbledon run last year, everyone thought his time had come at last. But you know what? I'm getting more and more confident that that brief period of tennis excellence from Berdych was a BIG FAT FLUKE. Because has he lived up to it ever since?
Not even a little bit, not even at all.
He lost to Ivan Ljubicic, who is, let's be fair, a very, very good player. But the guys at the top of the game - your Federer, your Nadal, your Djokovic - they didn't get where they are just by occasionally losing to 'very, very good players'. They have what it takes. And Berdych, it appears, does not. And at this stage? I don't think he ever will.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
So Andy Murray won a match. While sporting one of the most ridiculous hairdos ever seen on a tennis court. Um, like, well done Andy. And stuff.
We all know that I am not exactly Murray's biggest fan, but I genuinely would like to see him get a few wins in here on the clay. The hardcourt season was a total wash and I don't know if those demons are going away. But when the tour gets on clay, I think the pressure lifts from Murray's shoulders. No one expects him to perform on the red stuff. We've all heard for years that Murray is capable of winning in Australia, in the US, oh yeah, AND DEFINITELY at SW19, but at Roland Garros? No way. And that, I think, really lightens Murray's load.
So, yeah, I wouldn't be surprised if Andy gets a few good wins in on the clay. I would also not be surprised to see a grass court collapse once the immense burden of being a Brit at Wimbledon descends once more. That's the time that will make or break Murray (for 2011, at least). He's been in a hole, and while the clay season can be a bit of a ladder out if he plays well, it's not until the grass that we'll know whether he truly has made it out. The clay season is almost irrelevant, in its way, so he may as well make the best of it he can.
Fernando Verdasco was all like 'oh yeah, I'm just making the best of it I can on the hardcourts until REAL TENNIS starts, I WILL SHOW YOU, MILOS RAONIC RAAAAAAR'... and then he lost tamely to Disco Tommy. Pride and the fall, Nando. It's a thing.
This loss sends Verdasco nosediving out of the top ten - FINALLY. How long has it taken?! Geez. Andy Murray might not have won a match since Australia (till today), but at least he's still a little bit relevant. Verdasco just seems to be devolving further and further into a pit of irrelevance every day. And he doesn't have a ladder.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
I promise that when I quit my job (right before Roland Garros begins!) I will be better at that daily updating thing I had going.
YAY FEDERER WON YAY THIS MAKES ME HAPPY GO OFF AND BE HAPPY TOO.
Monday, April 11, 2011
In the grand old tradition (which I started yesterday) of talking about TWO WHOLE PLAYERS in one post, today I'm... going to talk about two players. Wow, really ruined that surprise. Oops.
The two lucky dudes on whom the glorious honour of my educated opinion are being bestowed today are Richard Gasquet and Nikolay Davydenko. I don't think their careers are directly comparable in the long run - Gasquet, as we both know, is quite a bit younger than Kolya and if talent was the only ingredient in the sundae that is a tennis player, then he would blow Kolya off the court - but they both have been around for a while, both have been in the top ten, and both are dudes on whom I have a little something something to say today. So there.
I don't think it's a secret to say that Richard Gasquet is one of the biggest wasted opportunities in tennis today. He is a typical French player - talented to the point of absurdity, capable of incredible - almost alien - tennis, and yet so inconsistent it can make you want to scratch your eyes out. I always think about Gasquet in the same box as Berdych - or at least Berdych prior to 2010. Gasquet made a run to the Wimbledon semis once, I think, but that's about it. I think that Berdych's one final is the one final he'll ever make at Slam level. Sketchy and inconsistent and... yeah, all those things.
But I actually want to say nice things about Richou today. I think he has actually played really well this year. He hasn't had a single first round exit - which for someone as skittish as him, is really something. He hasn't beaten anyone EPIC AND MAJOR OMG, but he's put together some nice streaks of matches - his run to the semis in Dubai, for example, where he beat Gilles Simon, or his run to the quarters in Indian Wells, where he came up against the blisteringly hot Novak Djokovic.
I'm not saying that he's going to go on and win Wimbledon or anything like that. But this is nice stuff to see from someone as traditionally inconsistent as Richou. Modest accomplishments, but solid ones. They're the ones that will earn you points. He just won over Denis Istomin in Monte Carlo, making another tournament where he hasn't lost in the first round. Well done, Richou.
And then we come to Kolya.
He's the opposite of Gasquet - a player who has made the most of talents that are a little bit limited. We know that he's challenged the great ones. We know he's done amazing things. But right now, he is having the most godawful year, poor thing. He just lost to Robin Haase in Monte Carlo, and his ranking is falling and falling. He's lost more times than he's won this year. He probably won't be seeded in Roland Garros, and I'd call him a dangerous floater, but who knows how dangerous he'll really be?
Haase is only the last of the players this year who've beaten Kolya who shouldn't have. After getting all the way to the final in Doha, Kolya has had a shocker of a year. What's he going to do to turn things round? I don't know. People are shouting 'retire', but I think there's more tennis in Kolya yet. We just need to find a way to winkle it out somehow.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
It has taken a long, long time for this to happen, but I have fallen off the Ernests Gulbis bandwagon. Ker-plunk. I am off. And the bandwagon is merrily wheeling away into the distance... actually, no. It's bouncing and jolting across interminable potholes and I'm pretty sure it's about to fall into a ravine. Hence the jumping off. I'm not going down with it.
If there has ever been a tennis player who lacked mental fortitude more than Ernests Gulbis, I bet I've never heard on them, on account of of they never would have won anything ever. Gulbis is very, very talented - ain't no one denying that. But he's also clearly lazy and extremely mentally volatile, and there is only so far talent can take you. He is the least disciplined player in all aspects of his game I have ever seen. And it is such a waste, because those crazy-talented players are the best kind to watch. In his way, he is like a skittish Svetlana Kuznetsova - and when Sveta is your benchmark for consistency, problems: you has them.
It's a little odd to write this article when Gulbis has just pulled what is technically an upset victory over also-skittish Alexandr Dolgopolov. But there is a difference between Dolgopolov's brand of crazy and Gulbis's, and that difference means that, in the long run, Sascha is going to be the more successful one. Bet you any money.
Sascha can go hot and cold in huge extremes - look at his match against Soderling in Australia. He got pummelled to pieces in the first set - 6-1 - and then suddenly he was on FREAKING FIRE and Robin Soderling was walking off the court in defeat, wondering what the hell happened, where the kid had come from and who he thought he was anyway. No one will ever call Dolgopolov the model of consistency. He's almost Safinesque that way - though far less explosive. He seems like a pretty chill guy, despite his massive swings. But he's taken his massive talent and, with his coach Jack, applied some discipline (albeit of the long-haired boho variety). And this year has shown that that works.
Gulbis, on the other hand? Anyone who saw the semis in Sydney knows just how much he can do and just how lazily he can throw it away. He has a huge talent but he seems too lazy to do anything with it. I wrote a few years back, when I was on that bandwagon, that I expected him to be top ten in a year - two, max. And he hasn't even come close. Not because he doesn't have the talent - he does - but because he doesn't seem to have the desire to do that much with it.
Gulbis may have won against Dolgopolov today. These things happen. But in the long run, Sascha is the one with the will to win, and if one of them is going into the top ten, it's Sascha all the way. Ernie may have won this battle, but Sascha will win the war.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Friday, April 8, 2011
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Monday, April 4, 2011
Here is a thought. What is going to happen to Novak Djokovic once his streak is broken?
The streak is on at the most is incredible. It's one of the best streaks I have ever, ever seen, and there is no mistaking it. But one day, it is going to end. Someone - it might be a Rafa or a Roger, or it might be some random ranked #82 who gets lucky - is going to beat Djokovic one day. (Unless they don't, in which case, hot damn, but somehow I think that's a little unlikely). And what will happen then?
Amazing as this current streak is, I think it might actually be what happens to Djokovic post-streak that will really test his mettle. Rafa and Roger have both had amazing streaks which have eventually been broken - Rafa and his 80-odd wins on clay, Roger and his Slam semis and the Djokovic-esque 25-odd wins strung together - and they have come out the other side no different, willing to start from win #1 again and keep going. They are big damn champions, and no mistake.
...and yet it would be so easy to lose that once, see your streak ended, and then slip into a total funk.
I suspect that Djokovic will probably be just fine after his streak ends. I don't know if he'll ever put together another streak as good - because hell, that would be really, really hard - but even if he takes a couple of losses in post-streak hangover, I'm sure he'll be okay. But it's food for thought. We can only really appreciate streaks when they're broken. And the measure of the man is only really taken when he struggles back from adversity. If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same...
Sunday, April 3, 2011
It is no secret that I have never, ever been on board with Novak Djokovic. We've never appealed to each other, so to speak (because he obviously totally knows who I am and spends his life seeking my approval). I don't think I'm ever going to be on board that Djokotrain. But HOT DAMN, he is playing some absolutely ridonkulous tennis at the moment.
I never, ever believed that Djokovic could become #1. Nuh-uh. Never gonna happen. If he was born in a different era, sure. But with Roger and Rafa around? No way, Jose. Djokovic might pull the odd win over them, but he was going to stay in his goddamn place.
Turns out Novak Djokovic doesn't believe in the status quo. And that has made me believe that... hey, actually, yeah, maybe he could get to #1 after all. I don't know about staying there - baby steps - but get there? I'm not going to say never ever any more.
The way he played today against Rafael Nadal - who is currently ranked #1 for a damn good reason - was outstanding and it was terrifying. If I'm Rafa, I'm feeling worse about this match than I would have over a two set routine Djokowin. We saw something today from Djokovic that I, for one, have never really seen in him before - he outfought Nadal, who is the biggest fighter in the game today and arguably ever. He outgritted the toughest, grittiest, raging bull-iest man in the world. And it was not dreamt of in my philosophy. Not at all.
The streak now stands at 26, I believe. There's still a way to go before Djokovic approaches that McEnroe streak of 39, and we'd have to get a lot closer to that number before we consider the possibility of it being broken. But this is without a doubt the best start to a season anyone has ever had. To win the Australian Open, go undefeated through February and March and then take out the Indian Wells/Miami double. Holy mother of God, that is really, really scary.
It's right, I think, that the man giving him the biggest challenge is Rafa. I'm not about to proclaim Rafa and Creme Brole the new Fedal or anything, because Fedal is forever (I'm a traditionalist). But there is no denying that these two dudes play wonderfully compelling matches, and that they are the best two in the world right now... and Novak has the edge.
It is going to be so, so interesting to see what happens once we get on the clay... which is pretty much, like, now. This is the time for Rafa to catch fire, like he always does. Unfortunately for Rafa, 'catching fire' also means 'shit ton of points to defend' and Novak is snapping at his heels like an angry terrier. And if Djokovic can beat Nadal on the clay - especially if he can beat him more than once - I'm going to be more than terrified. And I won't be the only one.
(I hate you and your refusal to believe in paragraphs, Blogspot! Apologies again for the spacing - one day I'll work out how to fix this!)
Saturday, April 2, 2011
Friday, April 1, 2011
Roger Federer played his match against Rafael Nadal tonight like he had a dinner reservation (and considering it is his special lady friend's birthday, he probably does). Once he started losing, he just... kept doing it.
Let's just say that it was not my favourite Federer match - or Federer loss - of all time. He seemed like he had his crankypants on the entire time. And he made 38 unforced errors.
And he was wearing that grey outfit which makes him look like a giant wall. I am not a fan of Roger in grey. He's always referred to as an artist, so give him a freaking palette, all right?
Rafa, on the other hand, was wearing a midori-and-pineapple technicolour dreamcoat and I thought he played exceptionally well tonight. If he can play this way tomorrow against Djokovic, I think he has a swell chance of winning. And if it's not going to be Roger to break that streak, I feel like it should be Rafa. And with the clay season approaching, that would be such a powerful message to send...
Anyway, although Roger looked a little out of sorts in this match, I don't think it was any kind of pre-existing condition or anything he was carrying in. He made way too many errors, but the fact of the matter is that Nadal was playing so well he didn't give Roger too many chances. I talked the other day about how the rankings aren't lying at the moment - Fedalovic really are so far above everyone else it's just not funny. Well, Indian Wells and Miami have demonstrated that Rafa and Novak really are #1 and #2 at the moment (in no specific order, though if Novak wins Miami tomorrow, I think there really will be a specific order).
Roger has some work to do. But although there seems to be a lot of apocalyptic disaster talk around - and the dispassionate performance he turned in today against Rafa won't help it - he's still played great this year. When the only guys you're losing to are guys ranked above you, then you're doing pretty well. Roger Federer will be all right - hell, he is all right. Sometimes you get outplayed. Such is the nature of the game.
Nadal/Djokovic tomorrow is going to be a super intriguing match. I'd love to watch it, but as it's on at 3am my time, I don't think this is going to happen. It's rare that what's intriguing about a natch is defense, but these two dudes are the best at it in the game right now, no question. I'm hoping for some loooooooooong rallies and some sweet-ass shotmaking. It has the makings of an eminently watchable match... even for those who probably won't be able to watch it!
...and then comes clay...