Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sydney Also Gets Wild

More wildcard news - from Sydney this time, where Casey Dellacqua has been given a wildcard into the Medibank International. She's the second card recipient to be announced after Justine Henin, and it's not exactly surprising - much as I would wish that some of the younger kids would be given opportunities, their time will come. This is a good leg up for Casey on her comeback - and I guess she's lucky coming back around the Australian swing, because she'd find it tough to get this wealth of cards otherwise.

You just wait. You can bet your bottom dollar that the other women's card for Sydney will go to Alicia Molik, the second she expresses any desire to play the event... though she's playing Hobart, now that I think of it, so we'll see someone a little different. You've got to think it will be Olivia Rogowska - though she might get pipped at the post by Yanina Wickmayer, if the tournament director in Sydney is a big softie. Though if I were Rogowska and that was the case, I'd be pissed off. Rogowska definitely deserves a card somewhere, and with Justine Henin sucking up all these wildcards, a lot of her opportunities have disappeared.

But now that I think of it, Rogowska might have been carded into Hobart as well, which means she's out of Sydney, being as they are on the same week. That opens the door for someone like Monika Wejnert or Shannon Golds. That could be fun.

It's the last day before tennis starts - it's New Year's Day here, though not quite in Abu Dhabi yet, where things will kick off with the annual cashcow exo. Bring it on! I am totally sick of the off season.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Getting Wild In Brisvegas

Some more wildcard action - though it's for the Brisbane International this time. It's enough to make me wish I was going to that tournament earlier in the week rather than for the men's semis and the women's final... I love watching young dudes in action.

And Tennis Australia really should be commended for the emphasis they put on youth in their wildcards. Well done - seriously, well done. The Aussie young guns need to be blooded on the big stages, and these cards are definitely the way to do it.

Wildcards in Brisbane have been issued to Carsten Ball, Bernard Tomic and John Millman in the blokes' event, and Casey Dellacqua, Alicia Molik and Justine Henin in the ladies'. You couldn't not give a card to Henin - I mean, really - and with Dellacqua and Molik on the comeback it makes sense, though I really would have liked to see Olivia Rogowska and Monika Wejnert carded into this event.

But total win with the boys - particularly with Millman. He's good enough to play a match or two on the main tour, and I hold out hope that some other Aussie boys can come up through qualies. Ball has been to an ATP final before and is a bit passe, but I'm actively excited to see what Bernard Tomic can bring to the court this year. He's won a round at tour level before and I reckon this year might be the year when he starts to make a wave or two. And why shouldn't that wave start in Brisbane?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Countdown to the Hopman Cup

The Hopman Cup is coming up wonderfully fast - off season be damned, I am totally ready for some goddamn tennis! - and it's my favourite tournament of the year, as I am fond of saying a lot.

So let's talk Hopman, shall we?

The reason I love it is because, I think, it is practically a team sport, and as an Australian, I am conditioned to love these. (See cricket). You've got a guy, a girl, three rubbers, and heaps and heaps of fun times. It's like Davis Cup with a side of equality, and it is big fun.

And seriously, mixed doubles? Most underplayed sport ever. I love mixed doubles. Will anyone ever forget the proset that Dmitry Tursunov and Nadia Petrova played against Tommy Robredo and Anabel Medina Garrigues? I sure won't.

And, moreover, it's a great opportunity for players to learn things from each other and for young guns to shine. It's not the most prestigious tournament ever, despite the fact it's got to be a perfect tune up for the Open (hello, at least three guaranteed matches). This means that you'll often get one big name (Andy Murray this year) and a whole bunch of fierce young things ready to take them on. I'm excited to see how Laura Robson does, and Melanie Oudin as well. But we all know my special favourite is Sabine Lisicki and I'm pulling for her to do big things.

And I'm going to be there!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Mantilla Comes Down Under

I was reading Australian Tennis Magazine yesterday and I was reading an article about Jason Kubler, who, as we know, has been given a wildcard into the Australian Open, despite the fact he is only sixteen. I knew that he was a junior Davis Cup hero for Australia, but what I didn't know was that he was a claycourt specialist - apparently he's being called a right-handed Rafa.

How about that?

And then I was reading another article about Peter Luczak, currently Australia's second ranked man, and his favourite surface is clay too. This one I did know, but had completely forgotten, due to Luczak not really being on my radar.

And now Tennis Australia has gone and hired Felix Mantilla to help bring all our young talent to Slam glory in the future - specifically on clay.

And I said... awesome!

There's this notion that Aussies are totally crap on clay, and, sure, we don't have the bestest group of claycourters ever, but we so don't suck. Not only is there Luczak, but Stosur was the best performing Aussie at the Slams this year with her semi finish in Roland Garros. And we have a great group of youngsters coming up, kids like Kubler - actually, I read a really interesting fact which I did not know: Australia has the top 17 year old, 16 year old and 15 year old in the world (Bernard Tomic, Jason Kubler and Luke Saville). So hiring Mantilla is really a great idea, I think - it will maximise the potential of these youngsters, who might have clay talent but not the opportunity to play on it so much.

So great move, Tennis Australia. Applause everywhere from me!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

It's Not Cricket

Another post inspired by cricket and the transference of stuff across different sports (though I have just realised that the Hopman Cup starts on Saturday and the Abu Dhabi cashcow exo on Friday and I will be saved! saved! from the horror that is the Time With No Tennis).

At the moment, as I watch the cricket, one of the Pakistani batsmen has started to go for his shots, to smack the ball all round the ground and suchlike. Even if one isn't necessarily going for the Pakistanis, it's much more interesting to watch than the normal slow pace of test cricket, where it can take half an hour to score a run (or so it seems).

And then I thought about tennis and how players sometimes play in their shells, even when the shots are there to be taken, because it's percentage play. Sure, if they go for their shots they might make a mistake, but what's the worst that can happen? They lose a point. It might be a crucial point, but it's not like cricket, where you can lose your wicket.

I don't know where I'm going with this... except to say that people should go for their shots more. Because that's what the sport is, surely? It's not nudging the ball around the court until someone makes a mistake. It's shotmaking and artistry and winning a point rather than waiting for someone else to lose it. Yet some people play tennis like test cricket, and that's totally not the point of the sport.

In cricket, you have one day cricket and twenty20, where the whole point is to smack it around and score some runs and put on a spectacle for the viewer. We have no real equivalent to this in tennis - well, exos, I suppose. But it's kind of a shame we don't have an arena where players can open up freely on their shots.

Though I think we do, and I think it's day to day tour level tennis. There's no point being a tennis player if you're a wuss that won't, you know, play tennis.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Court Talk

It being late December in Australia, I am obviously watching cricket. Because that is what you do when it is this time of year (aka the tennis dead season).

Anyway, I'm not going to change sports on you suddenly, on account of cricket really isn't particularly exciting, but there is one thing I'm interested in. In cricket, you often hear people talk about the way different grounds play - the MCG and the SCG and the WACA and etc etc all play very differently to each other, to the extent where you might put different people on your team for each ground. (Spinners for the SCG, etc.)

So this got me thinking about the different courts in tennis. Obviously there are different surfaces, and clay isn't going to play like grass, but does the actual court differ much? I suppose they do, come to think of it - you always hear about how courts play heavy and stuff like that, especially with clay. But is it the same with hard courts? Physical different surfaces aside, do courts really play any different? Is court 2 at the Aussie Open a different place to play, court-wise, than court 19?

This was a pretty pointless ramble. But it's something you don't hear about too often. To what extent is it an advantage or a disadvantage for players to play on different courts within the same tournament?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me

Today, being Boxing Day, is this blog's second birthday. On today, the day most sacred to sport in the Australia calendar, in 2007, I impulsively started writing.

And I forgot to stop.


No, no joking now. The last two years have been a pleasure and it's been a privilege to have so many of you reading. And this blog ain't going anywhere - there's a whole 2010 season to look forward to, full of excitement and thrills and spills and heartache and heartbreak and tears of joy and shots and Federer and all kinds of wonderful things. And there's my fabulous tennis trip in January, which will see me hitting four! count 'em, four! different cities, in pursuit of tennis.

It is somewhat ironic that today is Australia's sacred sporting day and the day on which I was inspired to start this blog and I have very little to say today. But it's the holiday season, and you all have shiny new presents to enjoy and food to eat and sports other than tennis to watch. Be off with you, and stop reading this!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Thought

There's an article on the Tennis Australia website about the December showdown and how important it has been for the juniors in Australian tennis to be out watching the playoff. It often seems like it is the juniors of Australia who are playing the playoff, but no - there are even more junior ones out there. Tomic and Rogowska aren't the only hope for the future of Australian tennis.

The article quotes from Scott Draper, former pro and now coach of a whole bunch of these juniors, and he had this to say, which I thought was really good:

"The challenge is in trying to give those kids a lightbulb moment. You can say something over and over again, but until it makes sense to them and makes them want to buy in, nothing's going to happen.

"You've got to be a passionate, self-motivated, hungry competitor; you've got to know how to affect your opponent and what you've got to do tactically to get the job done."

There's a lot to talk about in that quote, but on today, being Christmas, I just want to celebrate the fact that the wildcards are inspiring the kids - and it's working. Jason Kubler is, I believe, a perfect example of this, and I'm looking forward to seeing his Open performance.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wild About the Wildcards

Discretionary wildcards for the Australian Open have just been announced! I held off writing for today until they had been, due to having not much else to say.

There aren't any epically huge surprises. As we know, the playoff winners were Casey Dellacqua and Nick Lindahl, so they're in. Discretionaries in the women go to Alicia Molik and Olivia Rogowska. Gee, I am surprised there. There's still one more to be announced - presumably closer to the date - which I am really hoping goes to Monika Wejnert. But I don't think it will surprise anyone that Molik and Rogowska get these cards. Rogowska is definitely the player that deserves it most, based on her play over the last year. And if Tennis Australia is going to refuse a name like Molik...

Over to the men, and we have cards for Bernard Tomic (my brother saw me write this, and said 'yeah! he rules!' then told me I had to write it down, so I did), Carsten Ball and Jason Kubler. I had completely forgotten about the existence of Carsten Ball, but he did do pretty well on the ATP tour - he made a final at tour level and must have been pretty close to making main draw anyway. (But why didn't he play the playoff? Lame.)

I would have thought for sure that the remaining wildcard would go to Brydan Klein, but I am totally delighted about the fact that it went to Jason Kubler. Kubler is sixteen and one of the nation's brightest stars - I understand he was a bit of a junior Davis Cup hero. Great work on this one, Craig Tiley - really awesome choice! I think this'll probably be Kubler's first tour level match, and what better place for it to come than at the Open.

There is also one more male wildcard to be handed out closer to the date. I think it'll probably go to Brydan Klein, but I would love to see it go to Greg Jones. His play at the December Showdown totally merits it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Tennis Mind

It's interesting the matches that people remember. I was having a conversation about tennis with someone I'd only just met last night - something I find fascinating, because people experience and remember the game so differently it's interesting to see what sticks in their minds.

It's not surprising that the Australian Open dominates the collective mind - we are, after all, in Australia, and this is what we are exposed to. But even so, there are a lot of matches under that umbrella, and I was very interested to note that what this guy remembered best was Fernando Gonzalez - specifically, the match where he beat Nadal by powering him off the court with his draconic forehand.

A-ha, think I, so it is shots you remember! But no... the next match we started talking about was Johansson vs Safin in the final of '02. Then we discussed the minutiae of Gael Monfils' game.

I don't actually have a point to this, to tell the truth. I just find it interesting who and what dominates the tennis minds of other people. For me, it's always been Federer with a healthy dose of Safin on the side, a Nadal jus and, more recently, a Gulbis glaze, but that's certainly not everyone's experience. Defining matches - even if we just stick to Australia - for me include matches like the '06 final, where Federer beat Baghdatis, or the semi in '07, where he pulverised Roddick.

So... what dominates your tennis mind?

Monday, December 21, 2009

At Your Discretion

So... um...

The December Showdown is over. Lindahl and Dellacqua are through to the main draw of the Australian Open.

So what am I going to talk about now? December is a useless month, honestly. Do the players reeeeeeeally need an off season? Doesn't anyone ever think of the bloggers?

I shall have to do the best I can with what little I have, I suppose (less than two weeks until Abu Dhabi! THANK GOD.) So let's talk discretionary wildcards. The playoff may be over, but Tennis Australia has still got a few cards left to give out. I don't know how many are reserved for the reciprocal arrangements we have with the US and France, but I think (read: I read somewhere) that Tennis Oz has three wildcards leftover for the girls and four for the men. Or maybe the other way round.

So who do you card in?

Let's start with the boys. Tomic is a gimme, if you ask me. He played a night match on Rod Laver Arena last year and he's one of Australia's best hopes for the future. There is a wildcard with Bernard's name on it somewhere, mark my word. Peter Luczak will, I think, make it in my virtue of his ranking, so we don't need to worry about him. Chris Guccione is a possibility, but if he didn't play the play off, then maybe he's injured or something. Same with Marinko Matosevic.

That's a good criterion, actually - if you didn't play the play off, you obviously don't care. This leaves us with Tomic and two others. I think Tennis Australia will probably give on to Brydan Klein, though I don't think I would (mostly on the grounds that there was that sledging thing that one time and I'm not down with that). And maybe Greg Jones. Though I would give one to James Duckworth, because I think he's awesome.

Over to the girls, and you've got to pick Rogowska and Molik straight off. I'd be very surprised if they didn't carded in - Molik especially. If I were Craig Tiley, I'd also be giving a card to Yanina Wickmayer, even though she isn't Australian, but it looks like he's already said no. So if we;re just going off girls that played the playoff, I'd be looking in the direction of Wejnert and Peers. They definitely have something to offer.

The actual Open aside, I'll be looking to see who gets carded into the subsidiary events - your Brisbanes and Hobarts and Sydneys. We could get a good view of some interesting young talent...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Nick and Casey Win Their Way In

We have our winners! After some epic matches at Melbourne Park, Casey Dellacqua and Nick Lindahl are through to the main draw at the Australian Open.

Casey Dellacqua was no surprise, really - but after she went down so hard in the first set to Olivia Rogowska, I thought she was in serious trouble. This is the second time in two days she's gone down and gone down bad in the first set - 2-6 against Peers, 1-6 against Rogowska - and it's something she might want to keep on an eye on. Nonetheless, she is through, and well-deserving - she hasn't lost a match all week and she's looking great. Jelena Dokic won this playoff last year and we all know how that turned out. Here's hoping Casey can do similarly well.

I was a bit disappointed in Bernard Tomic's performance - I really thought he had the cojones to beat Nick Lindahl - but I was equally impressed by Lindahl. This match went five sets, which is no mean feat in and of itself, and when you consider that Lindahl was two sets to one down at one point, that's pretty awesome. There was probably more on the line here for Lindahl than Tomic - Tomic will, I think, get carded in anyway, while I don't think Lindahl is enough of a name to have earned it, even though he was seeded above Tomic in this tournament.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this will be Lindahl's first time in a Slam main draw...? I've never seen him there before, but I might have blinked and missed him. It'll be interesting to see how he performs on the big stage. He's obviously got a little somethin' somethin' going on upstairs, considering his match against the terribly talented Tomic today. So I don't think he's the type to break down under the pressure. I'll be in Melbourne for the first round of the Australian Open (and second and third!!!!) so I'm going to make a point to see some of his match, whosoe'er it may be against. I may have to reevaluate my opinion of him.

Now... there are a whole bunch of discretionary wildcards. Who will get them, I wonder...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Praising Peers

So I sooooooooo was not fair to Sally Peers. I thought she was going to get pulverised by Casey Dellacqua, but at the beginning of the match it was Peers doing the pulverising. When I checked in with the score, Peers was leading 5-0 in the first set. Against Dellacqua, that is something - even for top players.

Peers ended up winning the first set but fading badly in the second two - nevertheless, even with the fade, I am very impressed. I've never had extraordinarily amounts of cred for her before, but I've changed my mind on her now. I'll be keeping an eye on her, that's for sure.

Dellacqua is through, however, and she'll face Rogowska in the final. Rogowska is resurgent for sure after her slow start, but I still don't think she's going to come through Dellacqua. Good on Casey - it's been a hard road back for her, and I'm glad. And if Olivia wins too, good on her. We're going to have a strong wildcard contender in the ladies no matter who wins.

In the blokes, we're having Lindahl and Tomic facing off. (Side note - what happened to Colin Ebelthite, who won here last year? He wasn't even in the draw, as far as I saw). It's no secret that I'm pulling for Tomic here - I think he'll get carded in anyway, but it'd be good for him to really fight for it, really earn it, as it were. The matchplay will make him all tough and stuff and the feeling that he earned it will be really good, I think.

I'll be interested to see what Lindahl brings to the court. Every time I've seen him he's been spectacularly unimpressive, but he must be doing something right...

Friday, December 18, 2009

More of the December Daze

So I was wrong about Monika Wejnert pulling an upset - Olivia Rogowska defeated her in two close, but straight, sets. That said, Wejnert is going to be one to look out for, and I really hope that she gets wildcarded into a few events here and there throughout the Australian summer. By winning the 18s title she got a wildcard in here, so she's been prepared to play a lot of tennis lately. I'll be looking out for her.

I was right, however, about Jess Moore being able to pull an upset - even though she was the third seed and Alicia Molik was fourth, I don't think anyone seriously expected Molik to lose. I think Molik is a pretty safe bet to get carded into the Aussie Open anyway, so I doubt she's too worried, but this is a really good win for Jess Moore. I saw her play briefly at the Australian Open in 2008, where she made it to the second round by defeating Julie Ditty (I think), and she's seriously crafty. I'll be interested to see how she goes from here. She'll be playing Rogowska in her semi and that'll be a good match to watch.

You'd have to think that whoever wins will face Dellacqua - I can't see Sally Peers coming through her (though she had a very tidy win against Marija Mirkovic, while Dellacqua had a scare against Shannon Golds). It'll be interesting.

Over to the boys, and Tomic is through to the semis after a tidy win over Greg Jones, the third seed. I guess Jones couldn't keep up the winning streak he had going, which for him is a shame, but for my predictions, not so much. Tomic will face Kaden Hensel in his semi after Hensel beat Matt Reid. You'd be pretty foolish to pick against Tomic there, I think.

My dark horse, James Duckworth, went out against Nick Lindahl, but considering the scoreline was 6-0 2-0 retired, I think it's pretty safe to say that that wasn't exactly indicative of the overall level of his game. He's going to be pretty good in time - I'll be watching out for him. Lindahl will face John Millman in the semis, after Millman put out Tomic-beater Matt Ebden. I've never seen Millman play so I can't really make any comment, but I've never been especially impressed by Lindahl - why is the second seed here? Is he really ranked that high?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Marquee Matches in Melbourne

At any other time of the year, I'm sure I would find the wildcard playoff for the Australian Open terribly, terribly dull and hardly worth paying attention to. It is a mark of how bored I am that I find it as fascinating as I do.

But fascinating I do find it, and there are some pretty intriguing match ups in there. The marquee match on the women's side would obviously have to be Alicia Molik and Jess Moore - if anyone, barring Casey Dellacqua, is going to topple Molik, I think Moore has got a good shot. I'll be watching keenly to see how that one goes. Dellacqua should, I think, have a slightly easier time of it with Shannon Golds, even though Golds is seeded above Moore. But then I haven't seen Golds play that much, so I'm basing it on pretty much nothing.

Sally Peers and Marija Mirkovic will also face off, but the match I'm really keen to see is Olivia Rogowska and Monika Wejnert. Wejnert - whom, as we all know, I think is pretty awesome - managed to topple Jelena Dokic here last year, and won the nation under-18s title last week. And Rogowska, top-seeded though she is, hasn't exactly been playing great guns... so there is some serious upset potential there, mark my words.

Over on the blokes side, the marquee match is Bernard Tomic and Greg Jones, no question. I like Tomic to win this tournament, but Jones has been playing awesomely this week - he hasn't dropped a match yet. And he's seeded above Tomic, and... yeah. If anyone's going to be Tomic, Jones is a good shot.

There's a match of pro tour stars in Matthew Ebden and John Millman (Ebden was the guy that took a match off Tomic); Kaden Hensel will play Matt Reid and second seed Nick Lindahl will face off against surprise package James Duckworth. The more I see of this kid (Duckworth, that is) the more I like him. He's only seventeen but he's got game - he's kind of a miniature Murray, in some ways. But awesome, and not annoying, like the Muzz. I look forward to seeing a lot more of him in the future...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Liv Scrapes In

I don't know how Olivia Rogowska got through to the quarters of the December showdown playing the way she did - she lost two matches, for heavens' sakes! - but she did. The rules of roubd robin have always been completely inscrutable to me. But I'm glad she did - actually, let me qualify that. If she lifts her game, I'll be glad she did. I don't think I'd like it if someone got through to the Aussie Open by playing not so well.

But even though she's the top seed, Liv is definitely not the favourite here. Whether it's Molik or Dellacqua I don't know, but you have to think that one of those two will take the wildcard for the girls. They've got the weight of experience, if nothing else.

...but I do admit to a preference to Monika Wejnert. She'll face Rogowska tomorrow and I think she has a real chance at winning. I would love to see her surprise everyone and make it through to the main draw. She has serious game.

The other top seed, Brydan Klein, has been eliminated. How Rogowska got through losing two matches and Klein didn't with the same win/loss record... yeah, it doesn't really make sense to me either. I suppose it must be some kind of game countback. But he's out, even though he did manage to win his last match. Bernard Tomic is through, however, seemingly back on his game after a weird loss yesterday, and he'll take on Greg Jones. That will be, I think, a pretty interesting match...

And James Duckworth made the cut as well. I'll be watching his progress keenly - he could be a dark horse and surprise everyone!

It's a rest day at the December showdown tomorrow (probably appropriate, given as it was forty-something degrees there yesterday). What on earth am I going to write about?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Coming Clean on Klein

I think it's safe to say that Brydan Klein will not be winning the play-off wildcard from the December showdown - not only has he now been beaten by James Duckworth, Kaden Hensel (of whom I have never heard) owned him today. A lot of things will need to go his way if he wants to progress through...

Klein is a player that I think is a bit overhyped. He's very talented, yes, and he did win the AO juniors a couple of years back, but I think that was more of a fluke than anything else, to tell the truth. He's served on Davis Cup occasionally, but I've seen him play a couple of times now and I haven't really been impressed with what I saw... and that whole sledging incident didn't really endear him to me, either. So if Klein is one of the bright stars of the future of Australian tennis, I think we're in trouble.

Someone who is a bright star, Bernard Tomic, also got beaten, which surprised me, I confess. He went down to Matthew Ebden, who isn't a slouch, but he isn't a star, either. I hope Tomic progresses through to the next round, I really do... it would be a big shame to see him fizzle in this intranational playoff.

I am, however, on the James Duckworth bandwagon. That kid is great.

In the women, Olivia Rogowska looks out for the count as well - which is a shame. Dellacqua and Molik are still all a-g-go, though, as is my little favourite Monika Wejnert... I'm cheering for you, Monika!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Slamming Down in December

The annual December showdown has started again at Melbourne Park. Nominally, this is the playoff for wildcards for the Australian Open, but I personally like to think of it as 'the thing that keeps Jodi amused in December'. There's precious little else going on and it's always kind of cool to see the up and coming Australian kids...

...though not so up-and-coming in some cases, especially in the women's draw, where we have Alicia Molik and Casey Dellacqua vying for spots. Molik played to her seed today and made short work of Victoria's Jade Hopper, but Dellacqua - who is, somehow, unseeded... colour me WTFed - pulled an upset and beat the top seed, Olivia Rogowska. Now, I think very highly of Rogowska, but I wasn't exactly shocked. There is something serious whack with the seeding system for this tournament if former top 100 player Dellacqua is unseeded.

It'll be interesting to see who comes away with the wildcard out of the girls... I think it's round robin, so Olivia Rogowska is in there, and I'd seriously be keeping my eye on her. When you consider that Jelena Dokic won this playoff last year and then went on to win through to the quarters, this isn't a crapulent tournament by any means. If Molik and Dellacqua ever play, that is also going to be a hell of a battle. Sally Peers, Marija Mirkovic and Isabella Holland are all players to keep your eye on - same with Jess Moore - but the one I'm really looking out for is Monika Wejnert. That girl has game with a capital G.

The women provide more intrigue this year, I think, but the boys are pretty cool too - if Bernard Tomic doesn't win the wildcard, I'll be a bit surprised, but there's going to be some competition. He won his match easily today, but top seed Brydan Klein had no such luck - he lost to handy-dandy up-and-comer James Duckworth, who is definitely one to keep your eye on. Other players to watch include Greg Jones and Matthew Ebden - Tomic is only the fourth seed, wow. How did that happen? He's preceded by Klein, Nick Lindahl and Jones - but if he doesn't win, colour me shocked.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


So I was thinking today about the tournaments I won't be going to on my January adventure - namely, the Moorilla International in Hobart and Kooyong in Melbourne - and that got me to thinking about the phenomenon that is the exhibition tournament. (Obviously, Hobart has nothing to do with this, but whatevs).

Players are always complaining about their crazy tennis schedules - and with good reason, I do believe. I'm sure if I was pushing my body to the edge eleven months of the year I'd be pretty cranky about it too. But yet they still play these exhos, which sort of undermines their credibility in this arena some. So this begs the question... why?

The obvious answer is the cash, because these things are obviously huge cashcows. But the top tennis players - i.e. the people that get asked to play exhos - are ridiculously rich anyway, rolling around in piles of filthy lucre. So money alone doesn't seem to be enough, and without the points you'd get you have no incentive there, and with the already packed schedule... so why exho?

I think, personally, it's because of trick shots.

One thing you always hear when you watch tennis is the term 'percentage play'. Players that play high percentage plays all the time -people that play it safe - are stupidly boring to watch, and I can't imagine percentage tennis is that much fun to play either. But if it's your career, then you're not going to go risking losing your match because you want to try stuff out. In fact, the only player I've ever really seen try stuff out in a tournament match is Roger Federer, when he's sailing ahead lightyears in front, and even then it's sometimes not an especially good idea.

But exhos? You've been paid your cash and you don't have any points riding on the line, so why not cut loose and have fun? Nothing to gain so there's nothing to lose - so it becomes all about the shots.

Which begs the question... why isn't more exhibition tennis televised? Because that stuff is a watcher's paradise.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


It's official. It's all booked and paid for and the tickets are sitting next to me as I write this. Tennis From The Backseat will be coming to you from four different cities and four different tournaments this January!

(This also means I may now have to live in a cardboard box, given the amount of money it's costing me, but it'll be worth it).

I'll be kicking off my nationwide tour in Perth on January 7, where I will be spending two days at the Hopman Cup (which is also my favourite tournament of the year!) And yes, I will be seeing an Andy Murray tie... though that doesn't excite me as much as simply going to Perth. I've never been to Western Australia, so it will be an adventure. Not that I'll get much of a chance to do much sightseeing, but hey! Perth! I will have been!

I'll be catching the red eye on Friday night and will cross back to the east of the nation to arrive bright and early on Saturday morning in Brisbane, where I will be spending a day at the Brisbane International, hopefully trying not to fall asleep because of the time difference between there and Perth. I've got tickets for the men's semis and the women's final, so that should be pretty excellent.

Then I come back to Canberra the next day and spend a week at work, of which I am sure I will enjoy every second, before jetting off the next Friday night to Sydney for the women's final of the Medibank International. I'll also take in the men's final the next night before setting off to Melbourne the next day for six! count 'em, six! glorious days at the Australian Open.

Now there is a holiday.

I'm aware I've outlined my travel plans before, but I'm so excited I had to do it again. I don't know if I'll do an Aussie summer this big again - it is, as noted, costing me a bundle - so I'm determined to love every second of it. Even where it involves flying clear across the country twice in three days.

How far have you travelled for a tournament?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Time Off, Time Out, Time to Change

So Dinara Safina is out of Brisbane and in doubt for Melbourne. She's got an injured back which she obviously needs to rehabilitate. This is sad.

This is also bad, as she has finalist points to defend at the Aussie and will thus go tumbling down the rankings. The season will start and go on without her, and who knows when she'll get back in?

But you know what? Even though it will obviously be an epic fail for her to miss the beginning of the season and lose all those points, effectively meaning she'll have to start from scratch-ish (not quite Square One, but a few squares lower), I think it might be good for her to take some time out. This whole being on tour thing is obviously doing her head in, and it can't help any when you've got a bunch of people dancing around a bonfire going 'Dinara Safina is the worst #1 eveeeeeeeer!'

This will give her more time to recuperate physically and prepare herself mentally for another assault on the upper echelons of women's tennis. She knows what to expect now. She knows how tough it is, and how people talk and judge and whatnot. A little time away from that eye could be very good for Dinara. I just hope Zeljko isn't shouting at her too much in the meantime...

And you know what? Maybe this back injury will force her to do what people have been telling to do all year and fix her serve. Or even if the back injury doesn't come into play in this arena, this will give her more time to work on it with Zeljko. Because if she is going to make another assault along the lines of the one she made in mid-2008, the serve is where it has to start.

So rest up, Dinara. Rest, recuperate and get better. I may be the last person in the world clinging to your bandwagon, but I'm still clinging to it. And I'm sure that, when you come back, you will be in a position to give us great things.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

French Flair, French Fail

So I had another thought about Davis Cup. I've already covered the wondrousness of the Spanish team in general, for being wonderful individual players and for being a great team with a second string almost as strong as the first. We've covered this. Spain = good, no?

But... France has nearly the same amount of men in the top hundred - Spain has a few more, but not many. They've got some really excellent singles players, even if they don't have anyone quite as spesh as Rafa Nadal. They've got a pretty dedicated tennis federation.

So why isn't France doing anywhere near as well?

Spain is better. End of story. They're just awesome. But France really, really should be making it to the semis and finals. I mean, look at them! They've got Tsonga, Simon, Monfils, Gasquet - and then they've got tough doubles dudes (as in Slam-winning) like Llodra and Clement to add to their singles string. This shouldn't be a weak team at all. And yet they keep freaking losing.

This isn't the most coherent ramble, so I'm sorry if this next bit doesn't make any sense, but I have a notion that this might have been fostered at the talent development stage. What do we know about French players? They're full of flair, they're spectacular to watch when they're on but almost painful when they're off, due to the fact that they're largely enormous headcases and tend to implode.

Surely this isn't some kind of national trait...? You can't be born this way, surely? Somewhere along the line, the French guys are trained to be this way.

Don't get me wrong - I love French tennis. But the headcase aspect of it (and the habit they have of being easily injured) is spectacularly trainwreck-y.

So that's my thesis, I guess. France should be good at Davis Cup and isn't. Make them so.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Serena Story

So I was reading my Australian Women's Weekly yesterday - only for the recipes! - when, to my surprise, I came across a five page story about Serena Williams.

As I often lament, tennis is not really a big sport in Australia due to the fact we don't have any major stars in it at the moment, so I was pretty surprised - though I suppose if you're going to write a story about a tennis player, an Australian magazine is going to write a story about an English speaking one... and a big name who's been around virtually forever.

Because that's what I took away from it, really. Serena - both the Williams sisters, really - have been around for ages, and I've known, but never really realised, if that makes sense. Venus reached the final of the US Open when she was 17. When Serena was 17, she won it. How many seventeen year olds do you see winning Slams these days? The one exception I can think of is Maria Sharapova, and even that was five years ago.

We've always known the Williams sisters were special - particularly now, when the rest of the field is largely so insipid - but I don't think I ever realised how unusual their upbringing was. I'm not just talking about their dad and his determination that they would learn tennis, and their first games in the gang-infested streets of Compton, but from a game perspective.

They never played juniors. Their dad only let them play adults, and only when he thought they were ready. This meant, in effect, that the tennis world never saw them coming. I can't think of any other WTA player that's done anything like that. There was no Bollettierri academy for them, none of that living in a dorm and drilling every day (though apparently there were only four beds for the five Williams sisters, which meant Serena, the youngest, had to pick a different sister to curl up with every day. Thanks, AWW!) Their tennis lives are completely dissimilar to those lived by other players, their tennis experience so difference.

So is this a key factor of their success? Not that there's anything flawed about the current juniors process, but when two of the biggest champions of the decade have come from this kind of background, is there merit to alternative methods of coaching juniors? It's something I'd certainly like to think about...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The JuJu juju

Another quick hit today, because I'm not sure how much I have to write about it - Justine Henin. She's back.

I have been, I admit, very dubious about her comeback - I didn't believe she was going to do it all the way up until the announcement. And I am, I confess, still not wholly on board. When she quit tennis in May last year, she looked so... broken. She hated tennis. She didn't want anything to do with it. And I haven't seen anything to suggest to me that that might have changed...

...well, except the fact that she's making a comeback and all. That might have some weight. I think I'm just very stubborn.

She's just won a couple of exhibition matches - against fellow Belgian Kirsten Flipkens and then against the lovely Flavia Pennetta. There has been a lot of excitement about this fact, and I totally understand why. That's worth getting excited over.

But I don't know how much you can read into it. Flipkens and Pennetta have just come off a solid year of tennis, and I think you can bet on their exhaustion. Henin is fresh. There's a distinct advantage right there. And, love of the game aside, no one - no one - can deny JuJu's talent. She's one of the biggest natural talents the game has seen in a long time. That backhand of hers... oh! what a thing of beauty!

And then she has the name factor as well, because hello, she's JuJu! These are all contributing factors to her exhibition success.

All this said, these are still big wins for her and I do actually now believe she's back for good and stuff. But I'm reserving judgment on her comeback until I see her play in Australia, in proper competition. Then we'll see what JuJu is really made of.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Another quick hit on Davis Cup - anyone else think that next year's first round clash between Spain and Switzerland might prove more of a challenge than this year's final?

Think about it. If anyone's going to topple Nadal in Davis Cup, it'll be Federer. If anyone is going to topple Federer, it'll be Nadal. The Spaniards have a lot more depth - their greatest asset, which is why they won and why they keep winning - but the Swiss don't exactly have a team of slouches. Wawrinka, when he's in form, is capable of beating just about anyone. And Chiudinelli is certainly capable of an upset or two. And if you put Yves Allegro into the mix for the doubles, you've got a world class team right there.

Trouble is, this is all moot, because we don't know who's going to play. Federer hasn't played first round Davis Cup in a thousand years. Wawrinka's girlfriend is due to have a baby in February, which might put a bit of a dint in Swiss plans. And who knows what the Spaniards will be doing? Rafa might be injured again. Same with Verdasco. Though they, unlike the Swiss, have got a very solid second string.

So it could be pretty lame. Or it could be totally awesome - even if just for that one rubber, where Nadal and Federer faced off in the one arena in which they have not yet met: national pride on the line...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Prince Rafa The Humble

How can you not have a soft spot in your heart for Rafael Nadal? The following is what he posted on his Facebook account after the Davis Cup victory:

"Please allow me to be very happy for this win. I know most of you are not Spanish but this is the win of my team and I am very happy for the win. I know I have also a lot of Czech fans and I respect very much the fact that in any case you support me and obviously your country. Thanks a lot also to all the fans from any part of the World for your support also!"

How can you not love him? Isn't that just one of the most adorable things you've ever heard?

We are very lucky to be watching tennis in an era when we have guys like Nadal on the court. Federer is, of course, the game's ultimate statesman, but I do love Rafa's quirky, broken English, the genuineness of his sentiment. He loves the game. He respects his opponents. And his humility. I don't know if there's anyone in the game today quite as humble as Rafa.

The Spanish team managed a clean sweep, with Rafa beating Hajek (ironically, Hajek is the only guy to have ever beaten Rafa in Davis Cup - I doubt Rafa construed it as revenge, but I would) and Ferrer beating Dlouhy. Stepanek and Berdych sat this one right - rightly too, because I bet they're both buggered. Stepanek especially - he fought like a crazy person this weekend. I don't think it's unfair to say that Berdych never really showed up.

This marks the end of 'real' tennis for the year, though I reckon I can a few more blog posts out of it over the next few days before I have to think of something else to talk about. I'm glad Spain won, however. I'm glad David Ferrer got his moment and I'm glad that Rafa found his mojo again, even at the last minute. And I'm certainly always to see all the huggy man-love that goes on with the Spanish team!

Today's Results

Davis Cup Final

Spain 5, Czech Republic 0

Rafael Nadal def. Jan Hajek, 6-3 6-4
David Ferrer def. Lukas Dlouhy, 6-4 6-2

Saturday, December 5, 2009

To The Victor Go The Spoils

When it comes to Davis Cup, the Spaniards have got something that so many other nations lack, and that is depth. Quite what it is in the air in Spain that has led to them producing so many excellent sportsman is not known, but they're doing something right in the talent development stage over there, because they have put together one of the best Davis Cup squads you could ever dream of.

I mean, look at who isn't on the team. Robredo. Ferrero. Almagro. Garcia-Lopez. You could pretty easily field two Spanish teams and they'd both be contenders for the title. The Spanish tennis federation (whatsoe'er they may be called) should be lauded, because they are doing something very, very right... or at least they were when these lads were coming up, anyway.

The Spanish team clinched the doubles and thus the Davis Cup today - which was hardly surprising, considering they were able to field two fresh guys up against Stepanek and Berdych, who were both match weary. Stepanek is usually the lifeforce of that doubles duo - they were undefeated coming into the final - but he was listless and exhausted today (which happens when you lose a match you should have won after five hours). The Czechs, when it comes down to it, never stood a chance. It might have been a tournament of four on four, but they were simply outnumbered.

I don't know whether they'll continue to play the dead rubbers, but it really would be nice if the Czechs could score a point or two. They deserve at least one - and at any rate, they don't deserve to be whitewashed. They played too well and worked too hard en route to the final to get here. Congrats, Tomas and Radek and other Czech dudes. You did good.

But the day belongs to Spain. There's no hero like there was last year - all four guys played, and all four guys won. But, as I said yesterday, the hero for me has to be David Ferrer. By rights, he should have lost that match, but he didn't give in, didn't give up, and to the victor went the spoils. I'd love to see that match do for him what Verdasco's match against Acasuso did for Nando - I'd love to see Ferru deep in a Slam (preferably the Aussie), in a round that has the suffix -final. Quarters, semis, whatever. He's been so solid for ages, but he's fallen off a bit this year - here's hoping he's soon back on top of the world.

Today's Results

Davis Cup Final

Spain 3, Czech Republic 0

Lopez/Verdasco def. Berdych/Stepanek, 7-6 (9-7) 7-5 6-2

Friday, December 4, 2009

David's Day

David Ferrer, I am sorry I ever called your rubber a throwaway. That is totally unfair to how much you wanted it, how hard you fought for it and how sweet it was when you took it out.

Spain have taken a 2-0 lead after the first day of play in the Davis Cup final, and you have to think that this is a pretty unassailable lead now. It started when Rafa crushed Tomas Berdych - I read a great line on the Davis Cup website which said that this match marked the return of Hurricane Rafa, back on his favourite surface, playing for his country. This wasn't Shmafa that turned up - oh no, Shmafa stayed well away. Shmafa is a good player, but there's no way he could take thirteen games in a row off a player like Berdych.

Berdych didn't look especially inspired, I have to say - he didn't really play that much tennis that was worthy of this level. He had his chance late in the first set, missed it, and that was the end of that, really. There was no way he could have stopped Rafa winning that match - probably no way he could have stopped him winning it in straights, either - but he could have played a bit better, I thought.

But nice as it was to see Rafa looking like himself again, the hero of the day has to be David Ferrer. Is there any man as comfortable in a five set situation as Ferru? The dude is a total machine, fitness wise. But you know what? one of the reasons I think we always see him in five set situations isn't to do with his fitness. We always see him in the fifth because he has mental fortitute like whoa.

Think about it. Stepanek was totally owning him in the first two sets. Like, serious ownage. Stepanek is, I would say, the more talented of the two players - he certainly has the most natural flair - and it showed. But then Ferrer just... didn't give up.

There's something about Davis Cup that fosters these epic clashes, and today was no exception. Five hours of tooth and nail fighting. I want to give Stepanek his dues - he played wonderfully in the first two sets, and it wasn't like he died totally in the last three - but the day belongs to David, for having sheer grit and nerve and refusing to give up in the face of what looked like certain defeat. He's almost terrier-like in his refusal to lay down and die - he reminds me a bit of Lleyton Hewitt in that way, actually. Kudos. Epic, epic kudos.

It looks like Berdych and Stepanek will be the ones taking the court tomorrow in the doubles - I suppose the Czechs will have to do everything they can to keep the tie alive. But I don't like their chances. A fresh Lopez and Verdasco up against a listless Berdych and an exhausted Stepanek? It'd be superhuman if they pulled it off.

Today's Results

Davis Cup Final

Spain 2, Czech Republic 0

Rafael Nadal def. Tomas Berdych, 7-5 6-0 6-2
David Ferrer def. Radek Stepanek, 1-6 2-6 6-4 6-4 8-6

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ferru Up To Bat

So the Davis Cup draw has been announced - and trust me, I am all over this tournament, being as it is pretty much the last real tennis we will see until the cashcow exhibitions start in January. First up we will have Nadal and Berdych (a match which you have to like Rafa to win, even if Shmafa is the dude that shows up) followed by Stepanek and Ferrer.

Now this is interesting. I thought for sure that the Spaniards would play Verdasco, at least in the first singles match ups. But no. Apparently not.

Ferrer is definitely not a slouch. This we know. But he hasn't exactly been captain of the in form squad either, and Stepanek has had an excellent, excellent year. If the Spaniards are going to lose one match, it's going to be this one, I think. So why, I asked myself, play Ferrer when Verdasco would stand an excellent chance?

But then I thought about it. Better to cede this one rubber - and it's totally not even ceding, because Ferru isn't exactly going to roll over and die - than risk Verdasco playing three matches and then being totally knackered by the time the reverse singles come around. The lineup says that the Czechs are playing Dlouhy and Hajek in the doubles - but even if they swap them out and put Berdych and Stepanek in, they'll come up against a fighting fit Lopez and Verdasco combination. And if the tie is still live going into the third day - let's say that Ferrer loses to Stepanek - then Rafa and Nando between them are surely going to be able to pick up that third point.

This whole scheme does rely on Rafa - if he has to retire injured or something, then Spain are... well, not dead in the water, but let's say that they got left off the lifeboat and the Titanic is sinking. They've just given themselves the best possible chance to win the doubles by ensuring that Verdasco is fresh, and if Rafa can claim those extra two points... bam, Davis Cup is coming home to Spain. But if Rafa's injured and Berdych gets that point tomorrow... well then, there's one dude who is going to have to step up to the plate in a big way and that is David Ferrer. Verdasco as well, don't get me wrong - if there's a live reverse singles rubber and Rafa's out, you can bet it'll be Nando they chuck in - but if Rafa is removed from the equation, then David's throwaway point suddenly becomes vital.

I'm being a bit of a doomcrow re Rafa here, but it is a realistic possibility. And you know what? even if Rafa stays uninjured, I want Ferru to step up. He was the one guy that lost in the Davis Cup final against Argentina last year, necessitating Verdasco's win over Acasuso. So it'd be nice for him to get a point, get some glory.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Musings on Entitlement

For the second year running, tennis has apparently been named Australia's favourite sport. Considering the amount of television time given to tennis in Australia (not much, unless it's the Australian Open), which is a country which pretty much reveres sport as a religious experience, then I find this a bit doubtful. Typically, Australian interest in a sport gets greater when we have some big heroes in it, and we're not doing so well at the moment. Considering one of the favourite questions asked by commentators is, 'will Lleyton Hewitt ever win another Slam? We reckon he can!' ...yeah, I'll leave you to ponder on the realism of that.

But then I started thinking about the whole Tiger Woods scandal - on which I have no opinion, by the way - and then I staretd thinking about scandal in sport in general, and something struck me. We have precious, precious little scandal in tennis. I mean, sure, in recent times we've had the whole Agassi palaver, but scandals in tennis are few and far between. It's practically a scandal that Andy Murray broke up with his girlfriend, and that was amicable on all sides.

You only have to look at domestic sport in Australia to know that all sports are not the same. Football players are the worst here - every second week it seems like another rugby league player (or occasionally an AFL player) does something scandalous. The amount of women that have been beaten by football players here because the players felt like they had a right to do so - well, it's a whole other rant, but it's a lot, and it's not good. Being a sporting hero creates a sense of entitlement, I think - a sense that they deserve more than the regular people - and from there, we get scandals like these.

But tennis? Not so much. Even the Agassi scandal didn't play out that way - he certainly acted on privilege when he got the ATP to hush the crystal meth thing up, but the taking of the drugs was more sheer stupidity than anything else. I haven't done a huge survey of scandal in sport or anything, but just looking at the Australian case, it does seem to me to be about entitlement.

So why - as far as we know - does tennis not foster this sense of entitlement?

I'd like to write it off to good leadership from the top - the Federer and Nadal effect - but I don't think that's it. I think they're certainly a good example and a good influence, but this relative lack of scandal in tennis has been going on for a while. There are examples of tennis players who did clearly feel entitled to something more - I feel like I should throw the McEnroe name into the ring here - but in comparison to other sports, it's very minor.

So here's a question. What is tennis doing right? (And I hope it's just not hushing up the scandals better!)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Czeching Out Mr Safarova and the Worm

Having mulled a little on this in the ensuing day, I think I might have changed my position slightly on Rafael Nadal. I still think it won't be great for him if he loses, but I think the likelihood of him losing is not as great as I thought it was. I did some reading and apparently he was having a bit of a back problem in London which is not bothering him now. This remarkably quick recovery from an injury nonwithstanding, I think Rafa might be in better shape than I thought he was. It wasn't like it was total schleps he was losing to at the World Tour Finals, after all - and not just any random members of the top ten, either. These were three guys that have given him significant trouble in the past, and to whom he had lost this year.

So not so much of a biggie as I had maybe thought. But still... Rafa is not in form. Ain't no one gonna deny that. Shmafa should be enough to put some pain on Berdych, but the Worm could be a whole other matter...

Let's talk about the Czechs for a minute, because, let's face it, they're the underdogs. Even if one or both of them can pull surprise wins out over Nadal or Verdasco or whomever else the Spaniards decide to throw into the ring, they are missing one very important thing - depth. They have Stepanek and Berdych and... watch that tumbleweed roll by.

So how do they play this? Stepanek and Berdych will obviously play both singles rubbers - unless there's a dead rubber involved. There's pretty much no way around this - they have no chance otherwise. Even if Nadal and Verdasco sit out a rubber or two, the Spaniards have Ferrer and Lopez available to throw into the ring. I'm assuming Ferrer is in there to act as some kind of spare singles player - I'm guessing Verdasco and Lopez will take the court in doubles. I'm kind of surprised Juan Carlos Ferrero didn't get a go instead of Ferrer - I think he's been more impressive lately - but Ferrer is no slouch either. And neither is Lopez, for that matter. The Spaniards have got four perfectly effective singles players here.

The Czechs have got Stepanek, Berdych, Jan Hajek and Lukas Dlouhy. Hajek is the one man ever to have beaten Nadal in a singles rubber in the Davis Cup... yeah, somehow I can't see that happening again. And Dlouhy isn't exactly a worldbeater either. He and Hajek are - I hate to say it - padding.

When the Czechs played Croatia, they won the opening two singles rubbers and then took a gamble and played Berdych and Stepanek in the doubles. It paid off, and they took an unassailable 3-0 lead. Will they do that here? This is the match I'm interested in - the doubles. If they win it, it's a valuable point, yes - but somehow I don't think they're going to win both opening singles rubbers, which would mean the tie was live into the final day, which would mean both Berdych and Stepanek would be absolutely fatigued out of their brains. So do they then cede the doubles by playing Hajek and Dlouhy? And what if they gamble on Berdych and Stepanek in the doubles and then they lose? They're really screwed then.

Exciting as it must be to be in the Davis Cup final, I would not like to be in Stepanek or Berdych's shoes right now. There's so much pressure. But then they're not expected to win, so maybe they can swing freely. I don't know. We're just going to have to wait and see, I suppose.