Monday, November 30, 2009

Czeching Out Rafa and Nando

Well, that's pretty much it for tennis this year, except for the Davis Cup final this weekend - which really is going to be an interesting affair. Normally you'd pick the Spaniards every time over the Czechs, especially given the headcaseness of Tomas Berdych, but I just don't know this time. The Spaniards have definitely got the firepower to take out the Czechs, but I think it's really going to depend on who they play.

Let me elaborate - the two big guns of Spain are Nadal and Verdasco, yeah? No questions asked there. Rafa is THE man to beat in Davis Cup and we all know what the final last year did for Nando's career. They are the guys to beat. However... both of them are not exactly what I would call in form.

This applies less, I think, to Verdasco. He, like Nadal, did not win a single match at the year ending championships, but he pushed people pretty close - he took a set off Federer and took Murray to a third set breaker. He was in a tough tough group - I mean, does it come much tougher than Federer, Murray and del Potro? - and it would have been more surprising if he had won a match than losing all three, I think. He's not quite on that level - which for Davis Cup is fine, because Stepanek and Berdych aren't on that level either. Stepanek is, I would say, a real threat to Verdasco - their levels are not so far apart, and Stepanek can beat just about anyone, on his day - but I think Nando would have a definite edge over Berdych.

But the fact remains that this is a much harder task than the one he had last year. His big win there - the one that spurred him on to those heights of excellence that he reached in Australia - was against Jose Acasuso. Second round at the French Open aside, I don't think too many players are quivering in fear at the thought of playing big Jose. So it'll be interesting to see how Nando fares - I wouldn't say he's out of form, but I wouldn't exactly say he's on fire either. But if anything is going to ignite him, Davis Cup will.

Now. Rafa.

Look, if I were the Spanish team captain, I would be having serious second thoughts about playing Rafa. I think you could give him a run against Berdych, but I would be worried playing him against Stepanek. Rafa is not all there at the moment. He knows that, the world knows that, and I'll bet the Spanish captain knows that too. If he were to take a loss in Davis Cup - in the final, in an arena where he normally would shine - I think that would do him a lot more harm in the long run than a win would do him good.

That said, if Rafa were to be benched, I don't think that would necessarily do him any good either. I don't know if there's really a perfect option in this scenario. I believe Rafa is capable of beating either of the Czech boys - I mean, who wouldn't believe it? But he's not Rafa right now. He's Shmafa. And a loss would, I think, be bad for him mentally. And I don't want a broken Rafa. I like him just the way he is. watch him prove me spectacularly wrong.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Tortoise Takes Out The Hares

You know what? I am genuinely 100% pleased with the outcome of the World Tour Finals, or whatever it is we call the Masters Cup these days. Nikolay Davydenko totally owned Juan Martin del Potro, defeating him in straights in what was probably the least contested match of the tournament. That's not necessarily a slight against the match, either - we've seen some great tennis in this tournament, some truly epic battles.

And it was Kolya, Mr Slow and Steady Wins The Race, Mr Makes No Waves, Mr Cellophane, who came out on top.

Good on you, Kolya.

I don't think Davydenko will ever win a Slam. However, this really has to be the next best thing. I thought that when he won Miami last year - was it really only last year? - that that might be the title of his career. But now... I think not. The year ending championships is no mean feat. The guys you play against in this tournament are the best in the world - and considering the very high level of the ATP at the moment, that is really saying something.

So for Nikolay Davydenko to come out and win, that is really, really something.

And kudos to del Potro as well, who did very well to get to the final - but he's had his moment for this year. This one belongs purely to Kolya. Though I have to say, del Potro did deliver a particularly good quote - about Davydenko. He said, talking about the speed of Davydenko's game, 'he plays like PlayStation'.

Heh. I loved that.

I don't think this will stop Kolya being Mr Cellophane in the media's eye. He's been top five for a solid five-odd years now and they haven't paid any especial attention to him - this title won't change that, as I think it has more to do with him being perceived as dull rather than on his merits. However, for the tennis world, this serves as a reminder that you can't just look right through Kolya, can't walk right by him and never know he's there...

...because he totally is.

Congrats, Kolya!

Today's Results

Barclays ATP World Tour Finals (London)

Nikolay Davydenko def. Juan Martin del Potro, 6-3 6-4
Juan Martin del Potro def. Robin Soderling, 6-7 (1-7) 6-3 7-6 (7-3)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Serve of Validation (a little disappointment on the side)

It is very easy, as a Federer fan, to become greedy. We all felt very hard done by last year when Roger only managed to capture one Slam out of three finals and a semi. That was, by his standards, a poor year. And while he qualified for the year ending championships easily, he went out in the round robin stage. We were all in agonies... while fans of another player with the same year would be in paroxysms of joy.

This is why I'm not particularly upset by Federer's loss to Davydenko at the year ending championships. He's won the French and Wimbledon this year. He's never lost to Kolya before, but if he had to take a loss, this isn't necessarily a bad time. Sure, it's a little disappointing, but he's got the year end #1 all wrapped up. He's improved on last year. He's won this tournament four times before. He scored a very psychologically important win over Andy Murray. And he deserves to go home with his girls and put his feet up.

And Davydenko really, really deserves to win something.

I don't think will give Kolya some massive burst of confidence over Roger or anything. Looking at their reactions afterwards, I think they're both pretty realistic about the significance of this in the long run - ie. not very. It was a tight match all the way down to the wire, and for once, Kolya got lucky. And while I obviously still would have preferred a Federer victory, I can't help but feel a little bit happy for Kolya. He's such a good player but he gets forgotten about all the time, and he really deserves a big title.

To win said title, he'll have to topple the winner of Soderling and del Potro, who are engaged in a bit of a titanic struggle on this one. I have a slight hunch that the Yoker might be the one to come out of this with the win, and I am totally fine with that. If we see a Soderling/Davydenko final, I genuinely won't mind which guy wins. They both deserve a big win.

Today's Results

Barclays ATP World Tour Championships (London)

Nikolay Davydenko def. Robin Soderling, 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 6-3
Nikolay Davydenko def. Roger Federer, 6-2 4-6 7-5

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sod and the Semis

Roger didn't win that match I was frazzling over yesterday, but he did win a set, and that meant that he won Group A and will thus go through to the final. Joining him there will be his conqueror, Juan Martin del Potro, who managed to snuff out Andy Murray's hopes by a single game. I won't deny it - I laughed.

I don't think there's much to read into the defeat here - I know this makes two times in a row that Federer's fallen to del Potro, but I just can't see it being especially meaningful in the end. I don't think del Potro's ever going to be the boogeyman to Federer that Nadal and, to some extent, Murray, have been. Federer's got all the game he needs to defeat del Potro - it's just an execution thing.

I'd be interested to see what happens if they met in the final - how that one would play out. I can't really see Roger losing to him twice in three days or whatever the timeframe is. Now that would be a worry.

Del Potro will play, I think, Soderling in the semis - I'm pretty sure that the Yoker has the victory in Group A all tied up. That'll be an interesting match - hard to pick, to an extent - but I'm coming down on the side of Soderling in this one. He's been the form guy this tournament, and I think he's going to be very hard to beat... as both Rafa and Novak will tell you.

Speaking of Rafa and Novak, they played earlier, and surprise, surprise, Rafa lost. Novak is now waiting for the results of the Soderling/Davydenko match to see if he's through. I'm loving what the Sod's bringing to the courts these days and I'd love to see him in the final, but I confess I'm pulling for Davydenko on this one. I'd totally love to see him qualify for the semis. I don't think he'd beat Federer, which is who he'd run up against, but it would good validation for Mr Cellophane.

And if Davydenko does get through, it means that Federer is the only member of the Big Four (are we still calling them that? is del Potro allowed into the club yet?) to qualify for the semis. Now there's an unexpected result.

Today's Results

Barclays ATP World Tour Championships (London)

Juan Martin del Potro def. Roger Federer, 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 6-3
Novak Djokovic def. Rafael Nadal, 7-6 (7-5) 6-3

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Frazzling Over Federer

What is with Roger Federer and the first set blues this week? He's just lost the first set 6-2 to Juan Martin del Potro, and I can't say I'm especially happy about it, especially as if he loses in straights, he doesn't qualify for the final. Which makes me cross. Argh. But I'll save my frazzling and wall punching for now. Roger's got the year end #1. That's a bigger victory in the long run.

Fernando Verdasco really did his best today - and boy was I pulling for him in that third set breaker! But it was not to be, I suppose. Nando's been struggling valiantly all week, but his level is just not as high as that of the other guys, when it comes down to it. Although he qualified ahead of Soderling, I don't think anyone would argue with me if I said Soderling was easily the better player right now.

But that said, Nando pushed Muzz and he pushed him hard. If Federer wins a set off del Potro (please, Roger!) then the qualifiers for the semis will come down to aggregate won/lost games, I believe, and in that case, two tiebreakers is not where you want to be, no sirree, not when Roger's got all those 6-1 sets in the bag. Muzz hasn't sucked this week, but I don't know if he's played well enough to deserve a semis spot. If only Juan Martin had been able to close him out. Urgh.

One person who is definitely not going through to the semis is Rafa - I think we left him yesterday having been crushed in the first set, and I wanted to send him home and give him a nice cup of tea. I still want to send him home and give him a nice cup of tea, but his level in the second set, even though it was very obviously Shmafa out there, was a lot better. He pushed Kolya all the way to the end, and broke back when Kolya served for it, and did all kinds of steely things. His form = obviously not so good. But this fight - which is the essence of Rafa, and which has been strangely lacklustre for a little while - is still there. And that, more than anything, is a good sign for Rafa. I hope he puts his feet up for a while. I think it will do him the world of good - and hopefully, he'll back to his fierce best in Australia.

Today's Results

Barclays ATP World Tour Championships (London)

Andy Murray def. Fernando Verdasco, 6-4 6-7 (4-7) 7-6 (7-3)
Nikolay Davydenko def. Rafael Nadal, 6-1 7-6 (7-4)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Shmafa Rears His Ugly Head

So I didn't need to punch a wall yesterday. If we just pretend the first set didn't happen, that would be a truly excellent win for Federer over Murray, who has troubled him a lot in the past. This head to head is turning around, my people - and I can see why.

The first set was a disaster. Ain't no one can argue like that. But then, like magic, Federer changed his tactics. And I think he found the right combination. I haven't seen Andy Murray drubbed 6-1 in a set like that for a very long time. Sure, it probably didn't help the Murray cause that his serve didn't turn up to the match, but in the long run, this was a match that Federer won, not that Murray lost. An excellent result. I was very happy...

...until I put my Rafa fan hat on. As I write this, he is currently being absolutely massacred by Davydenko. Now, we all know that I want to see Davydenko in the semis, and so winning this match = a good thing in that respect, but it pains me to see someone as good as Rafa playing this badly. After watching Roger struggle through 2008, I can sympathise with how devoted Rafanatics must feel right about now. The poor boy is just not there. His game's not there, his mind's not there... and for the first time that I've seen, his heart's not there. It's really sad to watch.

I don't know how much injury is still affecting him, but even if it's not, I sincerely hope he's giving serious thought to not playing the Davis Cup final. On one hand, that atmosphere would be one that he would feed off - normal Rafa, anyway. He's so fierce and steely most of the time that that nationalistic element would totally spur him on. But if this listless Shmafa is the dude that's going to turn up... I think that, mentally, that would do him more harm than good in the long run, and he should rest up for 2010.

But look at me, practically digging his grave when he's only down a set. Sure, he lost it 6-1, but you can never say never with Rafa.

That said, I really don't think he's going to qualify for the finals here. Soderling is already through from this group, and I really don't see Nadal beating Djokovic, unless Djokovic has an epic brainfreeze or something. Speaking of Djokovic, he's been on a bit of a winning streak, winning a couple of tournaments on the trot there - but his streak just got broken by the mighty mighty Sod. I'm really digging Soderling at the moment. His Scandinavian brusqueness - and, of course, his yoking - have endeared him to me. Provided he doesn't play Federer in the semis, I'd love to see him in the final. It would be the cherry of awesome on top of a sundae of a great year for him.

Today's Results

Barclays ATP World Tour Championships (London)

Roger Federer def. Andy Murray, 3-6 6-3 6-1
Robin Soderling def. Novak Djokovic, 7-6 (7-5) 6-1

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More on Mr Cellophane

My beloved Roger Federer is, as I write this, one set down to Andy Murray. Excuse me while I go and punch a wall.

Back now (and slightly hamfisted, so let's not talk about Roger and Muzz again). The first match this morning went the distance like whoa, with Juan Martin del Potro taking down Fernando Verdasco in a third set tie breaker. The breaker itself was a bit of a fizzer - JMDP won it 7-1 - but for the match to get to that stage... wow. This tournament has been a real struggle. We've only seen one match finish in straights, and that was Soderling's victory over Nadal (stuffs fist in mouth and refuses to admit something similar might happen in the match currently taking place).

But the match I really want to talk about was the second match yesterday, which was a really interesting affair - Djokovic against Davydenko. I'm not a Djokovic fan, as we all know, so I was pulling for Davydenko, and he nearly got there - nearly, but not quite. There was a bit of choking at the end from both players - Djokovic tried to serve it out, Kolya broke back to level at 5-5, btu then promptly got broken again and Novak managed to hold to take the match. But on the whole, I find this whole match up quite... intriguing.

Actually, I'm always intrigued to see how players fare against Kolya. He's one of those players who is capable of scoring a win on pretty much any given day against pretty much anyone, but he manages to fly under the radar on account of having the personality of porridge. (I've called him Mr Cellophane before, and I think it holds). But he's certainly beaten Nadal and Djokovic before in his career - has he beaten Murray? I'm not sure... a little research reveals that their head to head is 5-4 in Murray's favour. Kolya's beaten Nadal three times and Djokovic twice. The only person he's never had a win over is the Big Man Roger Federer, and even then he's managed to give him a scare or two.

I was sad to see Kolya lose yesterday, because I think that, if he makes it to the semis, he actually has a pretty serious shot at winning this title. He's easily the best player in the world who has never reached a Slam final and a title here would be... well, it would be pretty awesome for him. It would be validation. (Though I obviously am all about R-Fed winning... but we're not talking about him right now).

Today's Results

Barclays ATP World Tour Championships (London)

Juan Martin del Potro def. Fernando Verdasco, 6-4 3-6 7-6 (7-1)
Novak Djokovic def. Nikolay Davydenko, 3-6 6-4 7-5

Monday, November 23, 2009


Roger managed to pull out that match yesterday. I was following the scores at work, heart in my mouth - especially when it got to 5-5 in the second - but then thankfully he managed to break Verdasco in the last game of the second set and then scream away on a seven game winning streak to take the third set 6-1. Verdasco faded badly in the third - I think he gave everything he had up front. Still, although he won, not Roger's greatest match ever, and I think he's going to need to bring a little more to the table against Muzz and JMDP.

But no matter how crapulently he plays for the rest of the tournament, he is almost assured the year end #1 finish by virtue of what happened today. I bet Rafael Nadal pretty much feels like punching a wall at the moment. Not only did he lose, making it that much harder to snatch the #1 away, he lost in straight sets to someone who is not his favourite person in the world (to put it mildly) - Robin Soderling.

I've been converted to the way of the Sod. I love me some yoking. But damn do I feel bad for Rafa.

If he disliked the Yoker before this year - which he certainly did, I believe it dates back to that five day five set match that played in Wimbledon in 2007 where they ended up mocking each other and throwing jibes across the net - I bet he can't stand him now. Which is kind of sad, because the Yoker really seems to have grown into a bit of a dude this year. But you can't blame Rafa. First there was that heart-breaking defeat at Roland Garros, and now the smackdown here...

The Sod seems to be Rafa's own personal kryptonite. I don't know if there's a better way of putting it. Rafa is definitely off-colour at the moment, and so I don't know how much this result really counts in the long term, but in the short term, I bet it stings like a bitch. I'll be interested to see how this rivalry plays out next year. Robin'll be keen to tighten the thumbscrews, whereas Rafa... will want to go all Batman on him.

(Yes, I went there. I went to that pun territory. And I am not ashamed.)

Today's Results

Barclays ATP World Tour Championships (London)

Roger Federer def. Fernando Verdasco, 4-6 7-5 6-1
Robin Soderling def. Rafael Nadal, 6-4 6-4

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sweet Six Hundred

I'd like to start off today by saying guess what?! This is my 600th post here at Tennis From The Backseat. Yep, I have so much drivel to spout about tennis that I've sat down to do it six hundred times. Thank you for reading - it's been a pleasure. Hope you're still around by the time we crack 700! (Or, for that matter, 601).

Secondly, I would like to say tennis! oh sweet, glorious tennis! how I have missed having an actual match to talk about!

And thirdly, as Federer has just gone a set down to Verdasco, I would like him to know that I will be very very cross if he loses.

But that match is still in progress. Over to the one that has been completed. I pretty much said everything I wanted to say about the Murray/del Potro rivalry yesterday, but it's interesting to look at it in the context of an actual match. For those of you that don't know, Murray came out on top in this one, winning in three sets.

This takes the Murray/del Potro head-to-head to 5-1, which is not especially favourable if you're Juan. I've envisioned this as some great epic rivalry in the future, but it's not going to be that epic if JMDP insists on losing all the time - the nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah factor of 'I won my first Slam before you' only goes so far. The one time JMDP won was on clay - it'd be interesting to see how these two match up on hard courts in a Slam, in the wake of JMDP's US Open crown. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Full credit to Muzz for pulling this one out today - 6-2 in the third is a pretty decent effort! I didn't see the match, so I'd appreciate any commentary from someone who did - did the home crowd thing help or hinder Murray? I thought at Wimbledon it kind of hindered him, but maybe things are different under the dome...

...and Roger, if you lose, I'm warning you - I will be cross cross CROSS.

Today's Results

Barclays ATP World Tour Finals (London)

Andy Murray def. Juan Martin del Potro, 6-3 3-6 6-2

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rivalries And Other Animals

One more day till real tennis! The off-season is looming up before us like a great cavernous maw of boredom, so I'm determined to enjoy this year ending championships as much as I can. And I don't think it can be an unenjoyable tournament, with all the talent on show!

We've got two great singles matches to kick us off tomorrow - Group A is playing, and we're going to start off with Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro, followed by Fernando Verdasco and the mighty mighty Roger Federer. Both matches have the potential to be great - because, hello, this isn't the WTA here, and all four of these guys have the potential to win the whole thing. (Well, I'd probably put a bit of question mark over Verdasco, but I don't know if anyone would call that forehand 'weak'.)

I'll be very interested to see the match between Murray and del Potro in particular - not that Federer/Verdasco won't also be interesting (and I'll probably be more nervous about it, given my extreme pro-Roger tendencies), but the Murray/del Potro rivalry is one that I think is going to be intriguing for a number of years. In the long run, I think Murray and del Potro are going to be each others' biggest rivals. They're not quite Roger and Rafa, but their games match up quite interestingly...

They don't like each other. We know this. I don't think Andy and Juan M are ever going to have a bromance like Fedal. Juan is a big hitter. Muzz is more of a defensive counterpuncher. Muzz is the one that everyone's been talking about as the Next Big Thing, the favourite at the Slams... but Juan has consistently outperformed him, and beat him to the first crown. Juan is big and strong. Muzz is smaller and wiry. They're such totally different players that it's really difficult to pick one over the other.

Murray has a 4-1 head-to-head lead over del Potro, which definitely is in his favour psychologically - and I think the dislike between them is probably something that will spur Murray on, given the fact that he's a pretty sour sort of guy. But the last time they played was Montreal - aka before the US Open. How is the Murray/del Potro dynamic going to change in the aftermath of Juan's grand slam triumph? Knowing that he has that one up over Muzz will, I think, make Juan very, very happy...

Friday, November 20, 2009

What I Will Do On My Holiday

In the absence, once more, of Real Tennis (how on earth am I going to manage in December?) I thought I'd use a schoolyard staple - what I did on my holiday - and turn it around a bit. Here it is - what I plan to do on my tennis junket in January.

Well, I plan to go to pretty much every tennis tournament in Australia. Except Hobart. Because Hobart is lame.

If I have my way, I'll spend two days in Perth for the Hopman Cup, where I'll hopefully get to see the interesting pairing of Andy Murray and Laura Robson play, and then fly on to Brisbane, to catch the men's semis and both finals. And then, after returning back to my dull dull life for a few days, I'll go on up to Sydney, catch the finals of both the men and women, and then down to Melbourne, for five glorious days at the Aussie Open.

I've booked the Sydney/Melbourne leg of my trip - and consequently have no money, but am very excited nonetheless. Whether the Perth/Brisbane leg ever eventuates will remain to be seen, but it's going to be awesome, even if I don't get to go. It's going to be sweltering and I suspect I'll end up with one of those tans that looks like leather, but such is the price we pay in the pursuit of our love.

The US Open series is often called the greatest roadtrip in sport, but I think my tennis junket here just might rival it... especially if I do make it clear across the country to Perth (a six hour flight, on a good day). It also means I'm completely mad (as many people have told me), to use a great chunk of my holiday leave on tennis, but there it is: I love tennis. And I've never been to either Brisbane or Perth, so that will be big fun also.

Apologies for the incoherent rambling - excitement (and heat) is what I'll chalk it up to. Have you got a tennis junket story - a tennis roadtrip (or plane, or whatever) that you've done/plan to do? Tell me about it!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Off The Beaten Track

So today I will write about... um...

Yeah, it's hard when no one's actually playing this sport we call tennis.

But at least we have London, and I intend to flog that horse until the whole thing is over. I know I talked London yesterday, but hey! guess what!? more London today. And tomorrow, probably, and the next day, and the next, and... oh, use your imagination.

One thing that I have been wondering about is this - why London? The year ending championships has been in a few different places in the past - Shanghai and Houston being among them - and I have to say that I thought London was a pretty strange choice. I mean, sure, they have a pretty sweet arena with the O2 that they might not otherwise get to use, but come on - they have a Slam already. Hell, they have the Slam - ain't no prize bigger than Wimbledon. So why do they get the year-ending championships as well?

Imagine if it was decreed that the year-ending championships were going to be in Melbourne. I don't think anyone would like that too much, because Melbourne already has the Aussie Open. I mean, sure, Melbourne is also very far away from the rest of the world, but that's beside the point. Why don't the ATP share the love?

That's why I thought it was really good that the year ending championships were in Shanghai. Major city in a major country - but Slamless. Sure, Shanghai now has its own Masters series to make up for it, but it's not quite the same. Lots of tournaments claim to be the Fifth Slam, but I don't think you can go past the year-ending championships for prestige outside the Slams. So why stick it in a city that already has a friggin' Slam?

That was a lot of words used to say something quite simple. How very me of me.

So where should the year ending championships be? If we rule out Melbourne, London, Paris and New York - and let's rule out the continents of Australasia, Europe and North America, just to be fair - where do we put it?

How about Johannesburg? Or Sao Paolo? Or Hanoi? There has to be somewhere that deserves a bit of tennis lovin'. I guess it's all about money and facilities and such things... but, yeah. I don't think London really is the Bestest Place Ever to be having your end of year tournament. It's... unfair.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

London: The Anti-Doha

So the groups have been announced for London, and my eyes went, obviously, to Federer's group. 'Oh no, that's so hard!' I thought... and then I looked at Group B, and it wasn't exactly a walk in the park either, and I realised that that's the point. Every single player in the year ending championships is really, really good.

Like in the WTA year ending championships, pretty much anyone can win this one. However, it's not because everyone is capable of losing, like it was over there. Every single one of these guys is capable of beating every other one of these guys on any given day. Unfortunately for me, it turned out that the two guys who've never had That Day against my beloved Roger Federer are in Rafa's group, but who knows? maybe this will prove useful in the later stages.

Group A contains the Mighty Fed, Muzz, JMDP and Nando; while Group B has Rafa, the Djoker, the Yoker and Kolya. That's quite a collection of players right there - especially when you consider that the Yoker only finished ninth and is coming in to take A-Rod's spot. It really makes you appreciate the level of tennis we have in the ATP at the moment.

So who's going to win? Well, I don't know. Just about any one of these players is capable of winning this tournament, and without being 100% sure of their form, it's hard to tell. I'm not liking the look of Murray very much, for example, but he does have a good record against Federer (although Federer totally trounced him the last time they played). Rafa is not exactly in his happy place right now, but is anyone ever really going to bet against him with the guts and steel that he has? Djokovic is in form, but he's just won two tournaments on the trot and might be a bit tired in the legs. And Federer... well, who can really tell with Roger? He might win every match in his group. He might win none at all. I'm hoping that that early exit he took in Paris will mean he's very fresh, but it could also mean his matchplay is not where it is.

And that's just the big four. We can't forget that JMDP is coming off the US Open, even though he hasn't done much since. Davydenko has showed some totally fierce form lately. Soderling Reborn is a bit of a monster and Verdasco has a forehand like whoa. All of these guys are really, really good. I know I've said this before, but it cannot be overemphasised. This is a bunch of total champs.

So who's going to win?

You tell me. I'm not going to pick it. Of course I'm pulling for Federer - he is my special favourite, after all - but with this field, anything can happen!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Whole New World (Team Tennis)

I was in a bar last night with some friends, and one of them tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'hey Jodi! Look, tennis is on!'

This is not an irregular occurrence - it is no secret that I love tennis, obviously - but I was still surprised, because, hello, this is not tennis season, and I spent all of yesterday whinging about that fact. But lo and behold! still! still there is tennis going on. The tennis we ended up watching (well, glancing at occasionally) in this bar was World Team Tennis.

I'd vaguely heard of the concept of league tennis via Venus and Serena - they bought a team, didn't they? They, like, own it or something? - but I'd never given much thought to how it worked or who played it. I suppose if I sat down and thought about it, I probably would have assumed that it was a whole bunch of people from the satellite tours trying to get some matches in, even though it obviously doesn't count for points or anything. And yes, it was largely people from the satellite tours - with some notable exceptions - but not total randoms. I knew every single player on the bizarrely multicoloured court.

Angela Haynes and Coco Vandeweghe were down there, American up and comers, which I thought was pretty cool - young guns getting matches. Then there was Sam Warburg, and, to my immense surprise, Australian Lleyton Hewitt lookalike Nathan Healey, who I have not seen around the courts these many moons. I'm glad to know he's still playing tennis and presumably still making money out of it - because that has to be one of the main functions of league tennis, surely, the ability for people to make a quick buck. If you're not top tier, then your income from tennis is necessarily limited, so league tennis in this respect must be a good good thing.

And then, to my surprise, Venus Williams walked out on court! And later, Mark Knowles! These aren't two bit hack players - these are players of serious goodness. So maybe league tennis does have some weight to it after all, some serious cojones. It must be pretty fun to watch.

That said, Venus really shouldn't be out there. She's always injured and her off season is short enough as it is, and she needs to rest, damn it!

I don't think I will ever start following league tennis seriously. I'm not that into sitting in bars antisocially, for one thing. But it looked kinda fun, and I'm certainly going to keep an eye out for it a bit more.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why Do We Need An Off Season Again?

So now we've entered the toughest time of year for any tennis blogger - the time when hey! guess what?! there's no tennis.

Well, this isn't strictly true. We do have London coming up in a few days, and that will be totally exciting. But for this week, and after that, it's the barren wasteland known as the off season, when we all twiddle our thumbs, look awkwardly at each other and say, 'what now?'

For now, we can talk about London. After that - I remember last year that I talked a lot about Australian tennis and young up and coming players, and that seemed to work out pretty well. I became a total connoisseur of people I'd never really seen play, which was pretty sweet - and that's where I first encountered Olivia Rogowska, who is, as we know, a young Aussie girl coming up through the ranks and who has got a pretty neat game. She's currently best known for very-nearly-almost defeating Dinara Safina in the first round of the US Open this year... but I really hope and really believe that this will not be her biggest claim to fame in the future, because she's got game, and women's tennis in Australia is in better shape right now than it has been for a while and...

...yeah. Can't use up all my best material before December's even started! What would that look like?

But one last parting shot for today - Jason Kubler. There seems to be a lot of buzz around him in Australian tennis at the moment. Who is he? I have no friggin' clue. But I'm going to find out. And I bet your interest is piqued now, hmmm? Don't you want to keep reading just to find out who he is?


Sunday, November 15, 2009

La Monf Loses (but kind of wins anyway)

I think I've begun several of my latest pieces with 'wow', so I'm deliberately refraining today, but the sentiment is still there. I so did not expect that performance from Gael Monfils.

More power to Djokovic for winning the match - kudos to Novak, who is definitely this season's Nalbandian - but it was Monfils that really caught me. I said yesterday that I totally would not be surprised if he retired injured a set or so into the match, given that the window of opportunity for him to be not injured is about the same size as John Howard's conscience. But no, he got that match all the way to a third set breaker. The Paris crowd got what they deserved - well, I'm sure that would have loved to see their homeboy La Monf win it, but they got good tennis anyway - and all is well that endeth well.

It's sad, really, that Monfils is so very rarely able to play at full capacity, because he really is completely incredible. I remember hearing once that the French sports institute (whatsoe'er they be called) runs all these tests on their players, testing them for all these different athlete things, like speed and agility and whatnot, and Monfils was so good at them he practically broke the scale. But unfortunately his aggressive, bendy style of tennis is not good friends with the body. I think he's probably doomed to be one of those people that never really quite reaches their potential - he has that semi final finish in Roland Garros from last year, but I don't think we'll ever see him get much further than that, unless he pulls a Marcos in Australia.

You know what I'd really like to see one day - speaking of Australia? A Tsonga fully fit and pressure free, like he was at the Aussie last year, taking on a fully fit and pressure free Monfils. That would be an athlete's delight, that match. I think the stadium would probably explode, ot being designed to contain that much French flair. That match would be fierce.

Today's Results

BNP Paribas Masters (Paris)

Novak Djokovic def. Gael Monfils, 6-2 5-7 7-6 (7-3)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Novak Becomes Nalbandian

Wow. Where has Novak Djokovic been hiding during the Slams this year?

He's playing totally fierce at the moment. I would venture to say he is probably the top player on court at the moment - and I don't like saying anything nice at all about him, so that is saying something big. Sure, Rafa is SO not at his best at the moment, but Novak totally ate him for breakfast today. There are not many people who could snap Rafa in two like that, and Novak did it. Wow.

Coming off the heels of that Basel title as well, that's pretty awesome. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him cream Monfils tomorrow (possibly due to a trademark Monfils retirement) and win two titles on the trot. I guess someone had to take on the vacant mantle of David Nalbandian, and it looks like Djokovic is the one standing up to be counted. I don't like him - which we know - but more power to him. Maybe that mask he's wearing on court is freaking his opponents out.

He'll be facing Gael Monfils, who only ever seems to turn up to work in France. Seriously, you never see him for the rest of the year. When he's playing and he's uninjured, he's totally fierce, and he's awesome to watch. Unfortunately, this period lasts for approximately four seconds every year. Will some of those seconds be tomorrow? I would be guessing no. It would be totally un-Monfils for something like that to happen.

Today's Results

Novak Djokovic def. Rafael Nadal, 6-2 6-3
Gael Monfils def. Radek Stepanek, 6-4 5-7 6-4

Friday, November 13, 2009

Putting Rafa on the Couch

I bet it feels really, really great whenever Rafa Nadal beats Jo-Dub Tsonga. Rafa loses a few matches here and there, sure, but there are a few that I think really mean something to him - losses to Nalbandian, losses to Soderling, and that Australian Open 2008 loss to Tsonga.

Not that Rafa has a personal problem with Tsonga or anything, but I think that loss really messed with his head, and no matter how many times he beats him, that loss hangs with him. It really was a beatdown, and I think it freaks Rafa out that Jo-Willy has the power to do that whenever he's on fire... and Rafa doesn't know when that will be.

Totally didn't mean to embark on a Rafa psychoanalysis there, but then I don't mean to write a lot of things and I do, so there you go. Rafa is someone who really likes control, I think - certainly, tennis-wise, he plays much better when he can impose his game and control play - and Jo-Willy is someone he can't control. He knows Jo has the power there to totally eat him for breakfast... and it weirds him out that he doesn't know when that is, or when it will be, or...

...yeah, well anyway. Rafa won. He beat Jo in straights. Nice work Rafa.

Other winners include Gael Monfils, who only ever seems to win in France. What's up with that? He beat Mighty Marin and is apparently still in the running, or recently was, or something, for London, which I don't quite understand. He made quarters in Roland Garros... but what else has he done this year?

Today's Results

Rafael Nadal def. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 7-5 7-5
Novak Djokovic def. Robin Soderling, 6-4 1-6 6-3
Gael Monfils def. Marin Cilic, 3-6 6-4 6-4
Radek Stepanek def. Juan Martin del Potro, 4-0 retired

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Postcard From Paris

I have to say, I'm really very glad that if my beloved Roger Federer had to go out early in Paris, at least he was joined by another member of the Big Four. Andy Murray fell victim to Radek Stepanek today, after totally destroying him in the first set.

I know Murray won Valencia and all, but I just haven't been so sold on him for a while - especially since the US Open. That loss he took there was - well, not stupid, because Cilic played absolutely lights out - but... unfitting, I guess. Outside the Slams, sure, a loss to Cilic ain't anything much: Mighty Marin could beat just about anyone, given his day. But in the middle of a Slam? Murray should be winning those if he wants to become a legitimate Slam contender.

Wow. So did not mean to derail that into The Trials and Tribulations of Andy Murray and Why He Is Just Not Good Enough Right Now.

The other two members of the Big Four, Nadal and Djokovic, progressed - pretty serenely, in Djokovic's case, not so much in Rafa's. It's really mean of me, but I'm just hanging for Rafa to crash out here... because I'm a Roger girl and after winning the French and Wimbledon, it would seem totally unfair if he didn't get the year end #1. Not that Rafa isn't made of awesome, because he totally is, but this is a Roger year. A Roger year, damn it!

Oh well. Roger can make up some points in London. He crashed out in the round robin stages last year, so... and yeah, of course, Rafa didn't play at all, so there are many, many points he could make up. We'll see, I guess.

Speaking of London, I hear on the grapevine that one Andy Roddick is out injured. This is a huge, huge shame, because he deserves his spot there after his awesome Wimbledon showing. However, what does this mean for the people in Paris at the moment scrambling for a spot - the Verdascos and Soderlings and suchlike? It would likewise be a real shame if Soderling missed out, especially after his good win over Davydenko today...

Today's Results

BNP Paribas Masters (Paris)

Rafael Nadal def. Tommy Robredo, 6-3 3-6 7-5
Novak Djokovic def. Arnaud Clement, 6-2 6-2
Gael Monfils def. Julien Benneteau, 6-46-3
Marin Cilic def. Fernando Verdasco, 3-6 6-3 6-4
Radek Stepanek def. Andy Murray, 1-6 6-3 6-4
Robin Soderling def. Nikolay Davydenko, 6-3 3-6 6-4
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga def. Gilles Simon, 6-2 6-3

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We'll Always Have Paris

This is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Not only did my beloved Roger Federer lose to Julien Benneteau - yes, I had to say that to get it out of my system, because this is positively DYSTOPIC - we have witnessed the very, very last match of one of the truly great characters of tennis.

Marat Safin, we'll always have Paris.

(Yes, I know every blogger in history will be using that title today. Uniqueness is overrated.)

Marat was one of the New Balls generation, the spunky young things who came through at the beginning of the millenium and who were supposed to set tennis on fire. And they totally did set tennis on fire, too. Federer (sob sob sob why Benneteau whhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyy?!?!?!) is the one who is really going to go down in history, but at the beginning, it was all about Lleyton Hewitt and one other man - one Marat Safin. A feisty twenty year old who totally drubbed Pete Sampras in the US Open final and then celebrated with a case of vodka, because God had come to him, patted him on the head, and said 'you will the win the glory'. The Marat that proved that just because you were abrasive and opinionated it didn't stop you from being totally lovable.

Racquet-smashing Marat. Marat of the blontourage. Marat of the poker-faced humorous quips that have made him the darling of the media for many years (probably much to his disdain). Marat who didn't give a flying f*ck about anyone or anything and who did things his way.

Marat who, in the end, really didn't like tennis that much. But that was okay, because tennis liked him. The game will be poorer without him. He's no statesman, no Federer or Nadal or Ljubicic. But he is a character. Even in rankings freefall, he was one of the most popular players ever.

(Of course, it probably didn't hurt at all that he was totally smokin' hot).

It's probably sort of fitting that it was Juan Martin del Potro who defeated him today (though I probably would have found a reason for it to be fitting no matter who defeated him, except possibly Thierry Ascione). JMDP is another young dude who just won his first Slam at the US Open. At the beginning of this next decade, JMDP is going to be one of the guys who takes the game forward. He's part of this generations' New Balls, I guess you could say - and he is making his mark. He has made it today, by ending Marat Safin's career.

I don't think Marat is going to go gently into that good night. I don't think we've heard the last of him. It's not his style. We may not have the privilege of seeing him play any more, but we will, hopefully, get some more of those sardonic press conferences that have made us all chuckle. I, personally, would love to see him come to Australia some time in the future and commentate the Open with Jim Courier. I have a feeling that a match commentated by those two would be a riot, even if the match itself was as dull as dry toast.

So thanks for the memories, Marat. Ain't no one gonna forget you. And, yes, my friend, we will always, always have Paris.

Today's Results

BNP Paribas Masters (Paris)

Julien Benneteau def. Roger Federer, 4-6 6-7 (4-7) 6-4
Rafael Nadal def. Nicolas Almagro, 3-6 7-6 (7-2) 7-5
Novak Djokovic def. Juan Monaco, 6-3 7-5
Juan Martin del Potro def. Marat Safin, 6-4 5-7 6-4
Robin Soderling def. Ivo Karlovic, 6-4 7-6 (8-6)
Fernando Gonzalez def. John Isner, 7-5 7-6 (7-3)
Marin Cilic def. Lukasz Kubot, 6-7 (3-7) 6-4 6-2
Tommy Robredo def. Tomas Berdych, 6-4 6-4
Gael Monfils def. David Guez, 6-4 7-5
Arnaud Clement def. Tommy Haas, 5-7 6-3 7-6 (10-8)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Stan Sitch

You know who really hasn't brought a lot to the table of late, much as it pains me to say it? The second banana Swiss Mister, Stan Wawrinka. I mean, sure he made quarters in Basel last week, but what is this going-out-in-the-first-round nonsense, hmmm? To a qualifier of whom I have never heard? In straight sets?

I think the only appropriate response is a giant WTF?

Maybe he's been a little distracted. His girlfriend is pregnant, after all - and not everyone can be all like, 'oh, wow, I'm going to be a dad... WIN EVERYTHING NOW!' like certain Swiss people we know and love. I don't know if this Stan situation counts as a slump yet but it's certainly heading in the mini-slump direction. Maybe he just needs a good long rest at the end of the season before Australia and the birth of his baby.

With all the hype over Chiudinelli playing so well (although dear Marco also lost this morning... to a much more worthy opponent than Random French Qualifier, however) the fact that Stan has... ahem... not been playing so well has perhaps slipped under the radar a bit. And there is that other Swiss guy as well - you know, whathisface, Federman or something - that kind of detracts from all the others. It must be hard being a Swiss tennis player in the era of Federer sometimes..., I really did not mean to get into a deep and meaningful ramble about how hard it is to be Swiss when the Ultimate Swissie is playing. Stan's play has, I suspect, nothing to do with the awesomeness of Roger or the resurgence of Chiudinelli. He's just not playing so well right now, and it's a shame, because watching Stan play is awesome. That backhand is sweet as. There should be more like it.

So, Stan, have a good off season. I expect a hearty serve of Backhand Delight next year.

Today's Results

BNP Paribas Masters (Paris)

Nikolay Davydenko def. Benjamin Becker, 6-2 6-1
Fernando Verdasco def. Andreas Seppi, 6-7 (3-7) 6-4 6-4
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga def. Albert Montanes, 6-1 7-5
Nicolas Almagro def. Marco Chiudinelli, 6-2 6-4
David Guez def. Stanislas Wawrinka, 6-3 6-4
Juan Monaco def. Jeremy Chardy, 7-6 (8-6) 7-5
Julien Benneteau def. Philipp Petzschner, 4-6 7-5 6-3
Arnaud Clement def. Feliciano Lopez, 6-3 6-1

Monday, November 9, 2009

Farewelling Fabrice

If he's going to go out, he's going to do it with drama. I think everyone in the tennis world would have killed Thierry Ascione if he had managed to squeak out that match against Marat Safin. The world wants as much Marat as possible before we have to let him go.

Three match points. Three match points Marat saved in this match. Three match points between him and the end of his career. I wonder if he was tempted to choke on any of them...? I'm very glad he didn't. It means I can still believe he loves tennis, still believe that maybe there will be a Clijsters/Henin style comeback for him. I know there won't be, but a girl can dream, n'est pas?

However, Marat is not the only person we're farewelling (though not yet! NOT! YET!) Fabrice Santoro has played his last ATP level match and I think it's only fitting it was in Paris, his home country, in front of an adoring crowd. 'Twas James Blake that did the deed... seriously, it's, like, the first match he's won all year, and it has to be ending the career of someone as superb as Santoro.

Santoro never was, I think, one of the greats. He never won a Slam, or any of those major, major titles that put you in contention for Halls of Fame and general tennis immortality. He was, however, special. I don't think there's any player who was quite as unusual as him, with such a quick, quirky style of play, with such soft hands and such creativity. Every time I watched him play - he might not always have won, but still - he came up with some stuff which was really unexpected. He was a constant surprise. And he was different, and we like different here at this blog.

But now it's time to say goodbye to the little wizard. Marat Safin once said that being told he had to play Santoro was like being told he was going to die - such was Santoro's ingenuity and originality on the tennis court. Here's hoping a few kids see some tapes of Santoro and try to factor some of that quirky brilliance into their play - because the tennis world needs some magicians like Fabrice Santoro.

Today's Results

BNP Paribas Masters (Paris)

Andreas Seppi def. Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-3 6-3
Ivo Karlovic def. Pablo Cuevas, 7-6 (7-3) 6-4
Tomas Berdych def. Vincent Millot, 6-3 7-6 (7-4)
Lukasz Kubot def. Andreas Beck, 6-4 3-6 6-4
Viktor Troicki def. Paul-Henri Mathieu, 7-6 (7-4) 3-0 retired
Albert Montanes def. Victor Hanescu, 3-6 6-3 7-6 (7-3)
John Isner def. Alejandro Falla, 4-6 7-6 (12-10) 7-5
Marat Safin def. Thierry Ascione, 6-4 4-6 7-6(7-3)

Fed Cup

Italy def. USA, 4-0

Flavia Pennetta def. Alexa Glatch, 6-3 6-1
Francesca Schiavone def. Melanie Oudin, 7-6 (7-2) 6-2
Flavia Pennetta def. Melanie Oudin, 7-5 6-2
Errani/Vinci def. Huber/King, 4-6 6-3 11-9 (match tiebreak)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Basel Dystopia

Yet another reason I Severely Dislike Novak Djokovic - he went and beat my beloved Roger Federer in the final of Basel, the Roginator's home tournament. I am appalled and disgusted and this is a universe gone topsy turvy and if Federer doesn't keep the year end #1 I am going to punch a wall. Or something.

I don't think there's an epic chance of him losing it, but I understand that it is within the realms of possibility, and I don't like that very much. It makes me sad that a tournament that's been so great as Basel ended with what is obviously the wrong result. Hmph. Screw you, Novak.

Yes, I am a paragon of maturity.

Everything came up Muzz in Valencia, which is really hardly surprising. Much as it would have been nice for Youzhny the Make-Himself-Bleed man to pull an upset, it was never really going to happen. Still, great run for Youzhny, and nice title from Muzz, so maybe he can climb back over Djokovic to that #3 spot. Stranger things have happened.

And then, in Bali, Aravane Rezai won the tournament... whatever the hell it was. I still don't understand the point of Bali, but I guess it's nice that she won. It was such a classic WTA match, though... Bartoli has been playing great all this week, and then bam! final! ...


An ignominious end to what really has been a pretty ignominious year for the WTA. Kim Clijsters' US Open win aside, I don't think we've seen much amazing stuff there... and I really, really hope next year is better.

Today's Results

Valencia Open 500 (Valencia)

Andy Murray def. Mikhail Youzhny, 6-3 6-2

Davidoff Swiss Indoors Basel (Basel)

Novak Djokovic def. Roger Federer, 6-4 4-6 6-2

Commonwealth Bank Trophy of Champions (Bali)

Aravane Rezai def. Marion Bartoli, 7-5 retired

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Battle of the Basel Boys

Well, we got our battle of the Basel boys - what a lovely match it must have been, seeing these two hometown boys having a good match. It's the furthest Marco Chiudinelli has ever been in a tournament, and it's great that it could happen in Basel - and it's lovely that he got the chance to play his bestie Rog.

I really hope Chiudinelli gets the comeback of the year award, because he has just been made of awesome so far. After finishing last year somewhere around #800, to be in the top hundred now and making tour level semis is pretty rad. I'd love to see him put up a good showing in Australia next year, maybe make it to the fourth round or so - he really deserves a great Slam run, after his awesomeness this year.

And speaking of awesome Swiss people, there is nothing that I can say about the awesomeness of Roger Federer that I have not already said. I really wish I had seen this match - because I love me some of the nice Swiss guys. A win for Basel.

Roger will play Djokovic in the final, who came through a good match against Radek Stepanek. That's a quality marquee final - I bet the organisers of Basel are very happy. I don't know how this tournament could have gone better for them.

In Valencia, we're going to see Muzz vs Youzhny - Youzhny's really on a kick these days. I remember writing a 'where are they now?' piece about him a while back, and now suddenly he's in finals all over the place. I don't know how you can not be a fan of a man who, you know, totally accidentally made himself bleed that one time, so I'm looking forward to a good match there.

Today's Results

Valencia Open 500 (Valencia)

Andy Murray def. Fernando Verdasco, 6-3 2-6 6-3
Mikhail Youzhny def. Nikolay Davydenko, 3-6 6-4 6-3

Davidoff Swiss Indoors Basel (Basel)

Roger Federer def. Marco Chiudinelli, 7-6 (9-7) 6-3
Novak Djokovic def. Radek Stepanek, 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 6-2

Commonwealth Bank Trophy of Champions (Bali)

Marion Bartoli def. Kimiko Date Krumm, 6-1 6-3
Aravane Rezi def. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, 6-2 6-3

Friday, November 6, 2009

Computer Problems =/= Crystal Meth

Let's get the actual tennis out of the way for starters. Just about everything came up Swiss in Basel overnight - Novak Djokovic took out Stan Wawrinka, but it's smooth sailing for one Mr R Federer, who made short work of Evgeny Korolev, and for his bestie Marco Chiudinelli the Resurgent, who also made short work of Richard Gasquet. Eminently satisfactory. It looks on track to be a Federer/Djokovic final and that would be pretty fun to watch... though not as fun as watching two childhood mates battle it out! I'm sure a lot of Swiss folks would love to see Roger vs Marco.

Everything fell the way it was supposed to in Valencia, pretty much - Gilles Simon was the only one who fell that, seedtastically speaking, probably shouldn't have, but he was playing Mikhail Youzhny, who has been made of awesome of late, so that's hardly surprising. Murray, Kolya and Nando all live to fight another day. Fun times, fun times.

And Bali is still as WTF? as ever - except for one thing. Vera Dushevina has been brought in as an alternate to replace Yanina Wickmayer. Why? Because the Flemish Doping Authority has banned her for one year, effective immediately. Same with her countryman Malisse.

I confess that the Malisse ban doesn't bother me as much - not because his circumstances were any more or less dodgy or anything, but because he's getting on and the better part of his career is definitely behind him. But Yanina Wickmayer? Title-winning, US Open semifinalist teenager Yanina Wickmayer? This could derail her whole career.

And the reason for the ban? She failed to report her whereabouts for testing three times over eighteen months. She claims this is due to a dodgy password, and technology being what it is, I see no reason why she shouldn't be believed. There's not a whiff of drugs about the girl. And three times over eighteen months? I could understand her getting a warning, or a slap on the wrist, or even a fine - but a one year ban is much, much too harsh. A one month ban, maybe, if you were being really mean - it'd rule her out of Bali but she'd be back by the Aussie Open. But this is frankly ridiculous.

The case of Malisse is also ridiculous - I can't remember what his offence was, but it was something else stupidly minor - but it doesn't tug at my heartstrings the way Yanina's does. She seriously has her whole career ahead of her, and this is not going to help. One can't help but think that is the backlash to the Agassi thing (about which I still have not been able to bring myself to write) and if it is, then that is stupid, reactive and unfair. Just because Yanina Wickmayer had computer problems doesn't mean she was off doing crystal meth somewhere.

Both Wickmayer and Malisse are planning to appeal, and I seriously hope these rubbish bans get overturned. Sure, drugs in sport is a big issue. However, tennis - whatever Andre Agassi might write - is pretty clean now. The biggest scandal we've had of late has been Richard Gasquet, and his poison of choice was cocaine, which isn't exactly performance enhancing. And he got off with, in the end, a slap on the wrist. If Wickmayer and Malisse's bans get upheld when they weren't guilty of anything more than being a bit cavalier with reporting, with no evidence they were actually doing drugs at the this time, then that is absolutely stupid. Slap on the wrist, tell them they were naughty and not to do it again - but you can't destroy someone's career over a password that didn't work.

Today's Results

Valencia Open 500 (Valencia)

Andy Murray def. Albert Montanes, 6-4 6-2
Nikolay Davydenko def. Guillermo Garcia Lopez, 6-4 7-6 (7-3)
Fernando Verdasco def. Tommy Robredo, 6-3 6-2
Mikhail Youzhny def. Gilles Simon, 6-4 6-4

Davidoff Swiss Indoors Basel (Basel)

Roger Federer def. Evgeny Korolev, 6-3 6-2
Novak Djokovic def. Stanislas Wawrinka, 3-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-2
Marco Chiudinelli def. Richard Gasquet, 6-1 6-3
Radek Stepanek def. Marin Cilic, 4-6 6-3 6-3

Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions (Bali)

Marion Bartoli def. Shahar Peer, 6-3 6-2
Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez def. Samantha Stosur, 7-6 (7-4) 7-5
Vera Dushevina def. Anabel Medina Garrigues, 2-6 6-1 7-5
Sabine Lisicki def. Melinda Czink, 6-2 6-7 (1-7) 6-4

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hey, Leonardo

Not much to report today, other than a) I still don't understand what the hell this Bali tournament is supposed to be and b) everything is continuing apace nicely in Valencia and Basel. The big guys are winning, no one's getting scared, and all things are quiet and peaceful.

Well, I suppose that's not strictly true. Leonardo Mayer gave Andy Murray a bit of a run for his money, extending Mr Newly-beAdidased to three sets. Mayer is another one of this players who seemed to pop out from nowhere and then suddenly you'd see them in every tournament. I can't quite put my finger on when it happened - about six months ago, maybe - but I swear I'd never heard of him before and then he was playing every week. Just like Horacio Zeballos, as discussed yesterday.

They are both Argentinian. Perhaps the Argentines have some super secret tennis program wherein they can just suddenly launch people into the bigtime with no prior warning? If Mayer and Zeballos worked their way up from satellite tournaments, their transition between tours was certainly not gradual. Just bam! ATP! every week. Bizarre. Probably explicable, but then what would I have to talk about?

The other Big Dude who was out on the court today was Djokovic, and he didn't get anything like the scare Murray had... ain't nothing scary about a double bagel drumming (unless, of course, you are the one being bagelled). I don't know whether Jan Hernych, the bagelee, was injured or just played sucktastically, but that's a two-hoof beatdown if ever I saw one... which was certainly not the trend in Basel today, where a couple of guys saved match points before progressing to the next round. Mighty Marin Cilic very nearly succumbed to the Serbian wiles of Viktor Troicki, while Richard Gasquet just managed to edge out John Isner. I think the Swiss public have got their money's worth on this tournament - must be an exciting tournament to watch! And they've still got Stan Wawrinka, Marco Chiudinelli, and, oh yeah, that Roger bloke left in the tournament, so hopp Suisse!

Today's Results

Valencia Open 500 (Valencia)

Andy Murray def. Leonardo Mayer, 6-4 3-6 6-3
Nikolay Davydenko def. Juan Monaco, 6-3 7-5
Fernando Verdasco def. Janko Tipsarevic, 6-3 6-3
Tommy Robredo def. Feliciano Lopez, 4-6 6-3 6-4
Albert Montanes def. David Ferrer, walkover
Mikhail Youzhny def. Pablo Cuevas, 6-2 2-6 6-1

Davidoff Swiss Indoors Basel (Basel)

Novak Djokovic def. Jan Hernych, 6-0 6-0
Marin Cilic def. Viktor Troicki, 7-6 (9-7) 6-7 (8-10) 7-6 (8-6)
Stanislas Wawrinka def. Jarkko Nieminen, 7-5 2-6 601
Richard Gasquet def. John Isner, 4-6 7-6 (11-9) 6-2
Evgeny Korolev def. Jeremy Chardy, 6-4 7-6 (7-1)
Marco Chiudinelli def. Michael Lammer, 2-6 6-3 6-3

Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions (Bali)

Shahar Peer def. Magdalena Rybarikova, 6-1 7-6 (7-4)
Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez def. Agnes Szavay, 4-6 6-4 6-0
Kimiko Date Krumm def. Anabel Medina Garrigues, 6-4 6-3
Aravane Rezai def. Melinda Czink, 6-3 7-5

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Zeballos Mystery

Feddy McFeddenpants won his match in Basel overnight! Hurrah! In fine form! Hurrah! I do so love it when the R-Fed is cruising. It makes me feel like something is right with the world.

Other Basel winners include Mighty Marin Cilic and Swiss Mister Stan Wawrinka, so congratulations to both of them. I also am glad when they are winning - especially Stan, for whom times have been a little lean 0f late. Star of the Future Jeremy Chardy also won, knocking out seventh seed James Blake - and, may I ask, why is James Blake seeded? Because really, he has not done one single thing this year. One. Single. Thing. Chardy beating him was technically an upset, but I would have thought Chardy was higher in the rankings any day. Oh well. Evidentally not.

One question about Basel, though - who is this Horacio Zeballos fellow? He seems to have suddenly emerged from nowhere over the last few weeks and bam! finals in St Petersburg and assorted other results of goodness. He went out here in Basel (Richard Gasquet did the deed) but I just don't understand where he came from. Anyone got any answers for him?

Meanwhile, in Valencia, Tsonga is out injured. I'm pretty sure he was one of the contenders for the last spot in the Masters Cup, and so an injury at this stage = so not good. Other contender Fernando Verdasco has stayed alive, though, so maybe he will clinch that eighth spot. (Has Kolya officially scored that seventh spot yet? I'm not sure.)

And in the land of the women, I still don't know what exactly this Bali tournament is or what it hopes to achieve, but it seems to have a very arbitrary group of players playing there. Interesting ones, however, so I'm not complaining. Sabine Lisicki, my special favourite, took a loss (boo) but Sam Stosur had a solid win over Agnes Szavay, and that made me quite happy.

Today's Results

Valencia Open 500 (Valencia)

Gilles Simon def. Tomas Berdych. 6-4 4-6 6-3
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez def. Gael Monfils, 6-2 7-5
Mikhail Youzhny def. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-7 (3-7) 6-0 3-0 retired
Fernando Verdasco def. Oscar Hernandez, 6-1 0-1 retired
Janko Tipsarevic def. Victor Hanescu, 6-4 6-3
Feliciano Lopez def. Alberto Martin, 7-5 6-3

Davidoff Swiss Indoors Basel (Basel)

Roger Federer def. Andreas Seppi, 6-3 6-3
Radek Stepanek def. Florent Serra, 3-6 7-6 (7-1) 7-6 (7-1)
Marin Cilic def. Philipp Petzschner, 6-4 6-4
Stanislas Wawrinka def. Ivan Ljubicic, 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-4
Jeremy Chardy def. James Blake, 7-6 (7-4) 6-7 (6-8) 6-4
Richard Gasquet def. Horacio Zeballos, 7-6 (7-3) 6-4

Commonwealth Bank Trophy of Champions (Bali)

Marion Bartoli def. Magdalena Rybarikova, 6-4 6-4
Samantha Stosur def. Agnes Szavay, 6-2 3-6 6-1
Yanina Wickmayer def. Kimiko Date Krumm, 7-6 (7-5) 6-3
Aravane Rezai def. Sabine Lisicki, 1-6 6-3 6-4

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Trials and Tribulations of B Becker (no relation)

It's not very often you see the top players split across two tournaments like we're witnessing this week with Valencia and Basel - Davydenko and Murray are playing in Valencia, while Federer and Djokovic take on Basel. Highly unusual. Though, I have to say, I think Valencia would be the major port of call were not Basel Federer's home tournament and thus assigned more symbolic value...

No major seeded upsets in either of the tournaments today, with the exception of eighth seed Philipp Kohlschreiber, who went out to resurgent Swiss mister and Federer bestie Marco Chiudinelli. (Roger and Marco also played doubles together... yeah, they lost. Whatevs.) This can probably partly be ascribed to hometown advantage and crowd support, but Chiudinelli has put in some very consistently good performances lately, going reasonably deep (considering his ranking) in some tournaments. Here's hoping we can see a little more of him, because any friend of Roger is a friend of mine. Hopp Marco!

But one player I really do want to talk about is someone who lost in Basel today, and someone I'm coming dangerously close to admitting to the Club of Lost Souls, over which James Blake and Alize Cornet currently preside. That player is Benjamin Becker.

Okay, sure, this B Becker (aka Becker-no-relation) is never going to be a tennis legend in the manner of the other B Becker. Becker-no-relation doesn't have that sort of talent. But I've seen him play a bit and he's quite talented. He'll probably go down in history for being the player that defeated Andre Agassi in his last professional tennis match and not for anything much of his own merit, but still - I've seen him win matches. I've seen his win big matches. (I mean, Andre Agassi? End of his career? New York crowd? Tall order!)

...but this year? Becker-no-relation has been nowhere to be found.

Basel has been no exception, with Becker-no-relation going out in the first round to Viktor Troicki. Now, I've seen Troicki play before as well (in person) and he's also got some game, but I'd be picking Ben over him anytime. So where has Becker-no-relation gone this year? He was one of those players who was never going to be top ten himself, but always gave them a run for their money, occasionally pulling an upset... you know the type. He was a danger man. This year... more of a mouse. Sigh. Here's hoping it's an end-of-year thing, and that Ben-not-Boris is back bigger and better and upsettier next year.

Today's Results

Valencia Open 500 (Valencia)

Andy Murray def. Daniel Gimeno-Traver, 6-3 6-1
Gilles Simon def. Igor Kunitsyn, 6-3 6-2
Gael Monfils def. Marcel Granollers, 6-4 6-2
David Ferrer def. Nicolas Almagro, 7-5 6-7 (3-7) 6-2
Pablo Cuevas def. Juan Carlos Ferrero, 2-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-3
Juan Monaco def. Martin Vassallo Arguello, 6-3 6-2
Leonardo Mayer def. Igor Andreev, 6-3 6-3

Davidoff Swiss Indoors Basel (Basel)

Novak Djokovic def. Andreas Beck, 6-3 7-5
Marco Chiudinelli def. Philipp Kohlschreiber, 7-6 (7-5) 3-6 7-5
Viktor Troicki def. Benjamin Becker, 6-2 7-6 (7-5)
Jan Hernych def. Peter Luczak, 6-3 6-4
Evgeny Korolev def. Simone Bolelli, 3-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-2

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Bali Enigma

So, um, Bali. What is it?

I mean, obviously I know what and where the island of Bali is and stuff, but what is this women's tournament that's going on there, all round robin and stuff? I thought the year ending championships were, you know, year ending. But apparently not, it seems. Does it count towards the rankings? What is it? What is the point of Bali?

Oh well. I'm sure I'll find out soon enough.

Over to the boys, and R-Fed is back on court! This makes me very, very happy. He had a solid win over little Olivier Rochus... yeah, I don't have much more to say than that. I really hope he defends his title here. I know there's still a possibility that Nadal could overtake him in the rankings before the end of the year, and much as I love Rafa, I'd rather that didn't happen. After the French and Wimbledon, this year belongs to Roger. So I want him to defend all those points, please.

So Roger's off to a flier in Basel, and the other boys' tournament going on is in Valencia. Kolya is one of the high seeds there and I confess I'd like to see him win it, cardboard personality and all.

...yeah, I thought I was going somewhere with that and I wasn't. Talk amongst yourselves.

Today's Results

Valencia Open 500 (Valencia)

Nikolay Davydenko def. Alejandro Falla, 6-2 6-1
Tomas Berdych def. Paul-Henri Mathieu, 6-3 6-4
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez def. Simon Greul, 7-5 6-2
Albert Montanes def. Roberto Bautista-Agut, 6-1 3-6 6-4

Davidoff Swiss Indoors Basel (Basel)

Roger Federer def. Olivier Rochus, 6-3 6-4
Radek Stepanek def. Rainer Schuettler, 6-2 6-0
Andreas Seppi def. Stephane Bohli, 4-6 6-1 7-5
Florent Serra def. Ivo Karlovic, 7-6 (7-5) 6-4

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sister Knows Best

It really was only fitting that Serena win Doha - that the #1 player this year come away on a high. I don't really have a whole lot more to say than that, really.

I like that the girl that won won every match. I really, really am not a fan of round robin play. I mean, I see why it works out well for all involved in a year-ending championship capacity, but I'm still not a fan. There's just something not right about someone losing a match and winning a tournament. I guess I've been conditioned to the knock out winner takes all format too much... but there's a reason Etienne de Villiers' round robin experiment was an epic fail.

Okay, so I didn't exactly mean to get on a rant about round robin there, but it is interesting to think what other structures the year ending championship might take. I can definitely see why round robin is the format chosen for now - it means that people who pay for tickets definitely get to see the big guys/girls play. And in a tournament where everyone is elite, there's no such thing as an easy opener.

But still. It's good to see that the person winning wins every match, nonetheless. Congratulations, Serena.

And big, big congratulations to Ivan Ljubicic as well, who won his first ATP title in, like, forever, in Lyon. I'm a big Ljubicic fan - you've got to love a man who is that eloquent! - and so I hope to see more of him deep in tournaments in the near future!

Today's Results

Sony Ericsson Championships (Doha)

Serena Williams def. Venus Williams, 6-2 7-6 (7-4)

St Petersburg Open (St Petersburg)

Sergiy Stakhovsky def. Horacio Zeballos, 2-6 7-6 (10-8) 7-6 (9-7)

Bank Austria Tennis Trophy (Vienna)

Jurgen Melzer def. Marin Cilic, 6-4 6-3

Grand Prix de Tennis de Lyon (Lyon)

Ivan Ljubicic def. Michael Llodra, 7-5 6-3