Monday, May 31, 2010

Pathetic Fallacy

Welcome to Weel 2 at Roland Garros, where it is all happening. The skies were stormy and pathetic fallacy abounded as some of the big names of tennis crumbled under the pressure, unable to weather the storm. Count the incidences of literary wordplay in that sentence. Oh yeah.

Some people, on the other hand, had a cruise-y ride. But we're getting down to the business end, and things are getting veeeeeeeery interesting at ol' RG.

The winners: Surprise, surprise, I'm starting with Fed. He played a little scratchier than I would have liked against Wawrinka at times, but when you can come away with a straight sets victory over a player like Stan, you're doing OK. I was very happy.

He'll face the Yoker next, who's also appearing in this column (hopefully for the last time this tournament, fingers crossed fellow Fedfans!) He absolutely pulverised Marin Cilic. See above re 'when you can come away with a straight sets victory over a player like...' It is going to be on till the break of dawn in FedSod II: Electric Boogaloo.

And Nadia Petrova - here's looking at you, kid! Venus was my pick for the final from this half of the draw, and Nadz absolutely annihilated that negligee off the court. Well, maybe annihilated is a little strong, but it was a very tidy putaway. Let's just say I would now not be at all surprised to see Nadz in the final. This side of the draw isn't the strongest evah and Nadz has a good a chance as any.

The losers: Speaking of the negligee... Venus. Big time. I really thought she had what it takes to go deep this year, but looks like my hunch is wrong, wrong, wrong. Petrova is playing really good stuff (as evidenced by her appearance in the winners column) but Venus did not play a good match here. Disappointing for V. Still... I was going to say it'll get her onto the grass earlier, but it totally won't, because she has doubles. Further disappointment, then.

And Andy Murray. No one ever expects him to do that well at Roland Garros, but surely he should at least be able to play competitively with Berdych. I actually thought that was a really favourable match for Murray - I thought he could bamboozle Tomas with some moonballage - but no. Fail. Not to denigrate Berdych's achievement here, because he did good, but this was not a great performance from Muzz.

The disappointments: Jo Tsonga. It is very, very disappointing that he had to retire, not least because I picked him for the semis and now my bracket is all wrong. And it is very disappointing for the home team that is French tennis - Bartoli and Rezai did not exactly exceed expectations, and then their last hope caved to a back injury.

Get well soon, Jo.

The scraped-in-by-the-skin-of-teeth: Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Caroline Wozniacki. I have actually been totally pleasantly surprised by Caro this tournament - I foresaw an early exit for sure. But in this weaker half of the women's draw, she actually stands a decent chance of getting through to the finals. The finalist is going to be either Caro, Nadz, Lena D or Schiavone - not all outside the realms of possibility, but not my initial picks, that's for sure.

And though it wasn't quite skin-of-teeth, I have to talk JuJu here. I thought MaSha had her when she went up that break, but JuJu staged an awesome fightback. I'm sad for MaSha - playing like she did, she deserved better than a third round. But then again, so did JuJu.

One to watch: Mikhail Youzhny. He is creeping through this draw very quietly - surprising, given his propensity for bashing his own head with his racquet. Now he's facing Berdych for a spot in the semis. This would be a big career jump for both of them - Youzhny has been to Slam semis once before, Berdych never - and it'll be interesting to see who comes out alive. I can't tell you why, but I'm like the headbanger on this one.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Oh Hi, Captain Obvious

It is absolutely KILLING me that the best match of the women's side so far is all tied up at one set all at the suspension of play. I want to know what happens, damn it!

Henin/Sharapova may not be one of the most immediately obvious of the WTA rivalries, but I think it is certainly one of the most compelling. I will never forget that three hour match they played at the year ending championships a few years back, where Henin got through - or that absolute beatdown MaSha put on JuJu at the AO early the next year. Even when neither is on top of their game, they both play totally watchable tennis when they play each other.

And, I confess, I'm sort of hoping they wear each other out and make Sam Stosur's path that little bit easier... look at me, all parochial. Who woulda thunk.

The winners: Rafa Nadal. Duh. He is putting the beatdown on anyone who so much as looks at him sideways. I know clay isn't Lleyton Hewitt's best surface, but Rafa put him down like a rabid dog. Scary stuff.

A beatdown was also issued by, surprisingly, Jurgen Melzer. Totes did not expect him to beat Ferrer, mostly because I had completely forgotten he existed. I'm pretty sure this is the Djokovic quarter, which means Melzer has a good a chance as any of winning it. Go the Jurgenator.

And from the women, let's talk Sam Stosur, who had a sweetly routine win over Anastasia Pivovarova. And let's also talk Daniela Hantuchova, whom I also always forget about, who triumphed unexpectedly against Yanina Wickmayer. Great stuff from both ladies.

The losers: David Ferrer. Big time. He had what was basically a clear path to the quarters, and he screwed it up and screwed it up good. Like, a screw up of an epic degree. I understand that Jurgen Melzer was playing awesome tennis, but straights, Ferru? Really?

And I have to put Yanina Wickmayer in here as well. I know DaniHani is massively talented, but hello, Yanina, so are you. I guess she's just come off elbow surgery, so I shouldn't be too harsh on her, but I totally thought she was a dark horse for this section of the draw. And I don't like being proven wrong.

Oh look, Captain Obvious has just paid us a visit? You know who was a big-ass loser today at Roland Garros? Andy Roddick. I know he was maybe sick and he doesn't exactly love clay, but he should at least have been able to take a set off Gabashvili. At least.

The disappointments: Juan Carlos Ferrero. I totally picked him to come through his section of the draw, and he did not do me proud, to say the least. You can beat Novak Djokovic is breathing a lot easier (allergies aside) now that the two Spaniards are out of his section. JCF totally had more in him than this.

And Alisa Kleybanova? WTF? I've seen Yaroslava Shvedova play live and she's got some serious game going on, but I thought Alisa would have been able to outclub her. Obviously I was wrong. Well done Slava, I guess.

Oh, and Captain Obvious has just informed me Marion Bartoli should be in here. I guess I never really pay enough attention to her (except to comment on her weird-ass shots) to notice when she loses.

The scraped-in-by-the-skin-of-teeth: Greetings, Nadia Petrova. I am so glad Nadz took out this match, not just because I like her (which I do) but because someone had to kill that damn gold dress. Nadz is super talented and totally deserves this fourth round run. I hope she can make it even further!

And oh hi, Robby Ginepri. I was very disappointed that your opponent JCF lost, but you totally deserved this win. Who woulda thunk you would be the good news story for American mens' tennis from this tournament? Certainly not me.

One to watch: Teimuraz Gabashvili. I know Roddick was not that well and doesn't like clay, but straights, dude? You've got a little sumthin' sumthin' going on if you can pull that one off. This could be his breakthrough tournament (even though it feels like he's been round for a million years...)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

However Many Ice Baths...

So we're finally all caught up on second round matches, and it's third round all the way. What is going to be interesting is how this disruption in play affects people. I definitely think it could come into play in the WTA. The ATP... I think it will be more pronounced, purely because it will affect some people and not others. I don't think Rafa, for example, will be bothered at all - if he can come through that match with Verdasco at the AO last year and still win the final, then he'll be OK. Your Andy Murrays, however...? As many ice baths as he takes, I think it's going to be a dicey thing. Opinions?

But without further ado...

The winners: Roger Federer. He had the funhouse open for business against Julian Reister. That second set, which took eighteen minutes... can anyone remember a quicker set? I can't.

Rafa Nadal also. Obviously.

Oleksandr Dolgopolov Jr. Not just because he beat last year's semi finalist Fernando Gonzalez, but because he has one of the best names ever, no exception.

And over in the ladies, you have to go with Serena, who pulverised Julia Goerges. MariKiri, as well, who beat last year's champion Sveta. But I think my fave might beat Chanelle Scheepers, who beat Akgul Amanmuradova. She's into the third round and she has an awesome surname. What more do I need?

The losers: Sveta. Big time. I won't pretend I didn't expect her to lose early on (actually, first round, which is why she's not in the disappointments column) but it's always sad when a defending champ goes out early. I know she hasn't been in form, but I freaking love Sveta when she plays awesome, and I was sort of hoping that she had played herself back into form against Petkovic. But no such luck. And there's a reason MariKiri is in the winners column. I think she just beat Dulko for Upset Queen of the Year.

And it may be a little unfair, but for lack of someone else, I have to mention Fernando Gonzalez. I know he hasn't played in, like, forever, but who is Oleksandr Dolgopolov Jr? (Apart from someone with an awesome name?) He can do better.

The disappointments: I'm not going to go with actual losers here, because there were precious few major upsets yesterday (maybe due to rain), but I have to go with people who went the distance unnecessarily. Yanina Wickmayer, for one - I thought she should be able to put away Sybille Bammer relatively easily, but it was not the case. I have big hopes for Yanina, so hopefully she will do better in future.

And I did not think I would be mentioning his name here, but Robin Soderling. He set himself an impossibly high bar in his first two matches by absolutely annihilating his opponents, so I'm raising my eyebrows at the lack of annihilation. Four sets, Yoker? Really? (Yeah, I know, it's not major. But I'm struggling here.)

The scraped-in-by-skin-of-teeth: So maybe it wasn't really skin of teeth, but I want to talk about it, so I will. I never expected Sam Stosur to have so much first set trouble with Rossana de los Rios. She cleaned her up good in the final two sets, but I was scared there for a bit. Well done, Sam, but don't scare me like that again, please. You are my special favourite, after all.

One to watch: Julian Reister. I don't think he's going to be anything epic, but he played some great forehands against the Federmeister, and I think he really might be a bit of something on the Challenger circuit. There, he could really make some waves.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Hey Roland Garros, I Meant It - Get A Roof

Welcome to another odyssey in the adventures of Roland Garros and how much they need a roof. It is SO IRRITATING waiting till 4pm Paris time for play to start when you're in Australia and that means it's midnight. Yes, I'm whinging like a spoiled bratty little fangirl, but that is exactly what I am, so come on, Roland Garros. Get with the program and get a roof so I don't have to put everyone whose second round singles match got canned into the losers column. Remember Wimbledon in '07 when there were matches that took, like, five days? (Rafa, Yoker, I'm looking at you). YOU DO NOT WANT THIS.

Okay. Let's go.

The winners: Fabio Fognini. I know he only squeaked in by the skin of his very teeth and I should be putting him in this column, but this was such a spectacular victory, after all those shenanigans with the light and whatnot. Well done that Fog.

Also, Australian women's tennis in general. Sophie Ferguson may have lost, but both Jarmila Groth and Anastasia Rodionova won and won relatively easily as well. And if (fingers crossed) Sam Stosur gets through, that is three Aussie ladies in Round 3. And that is quite something.

I'd also like to mention Elena Dementieva. No one is talking about her, and I think this is a good thing. She is always over hyped in Australia and it never amounts to anything. I personally think she does much better with under hype... which is why it gets nasty when the last few rounds come around and everyone is hyped.

The losers: Well, Gael Monfils, obviously. Sucks to be you. 'Nuff on that.

We have to talk Ana Ivanovic here. I wrote a positively cheery series of posts about her a few weeks back, and yes, it was a blip. It is rare that a player has a blip of positivity rather than negativity, but it looks like what that was. I didn't expect her to beat Alisa Kleybanova but I expected her to do a little better than three games, which was, frankly, pathetic. Nothing more to say.

The disappointments: Agnieszka Radwanska. I honestly don't understand why she is seeded #8, because she never seems to be around when things get all second weekish in Slams. This said, I really like her game and I wish she, you know, won more. Very disappointing result. Yaroslava Shvedova is an excellent player - I saw her play at Hopman Cup, and was impressed - but Radwanska should certainly not be losing this tamely.

And much as I am parochially glad Anastasia Rodionova came through, I'm a bit disappointed in Vera Zvonareva as well. Is she still injured? She seems always to be injured. I didn't see the match, but this is really not a good result for her.

Oh, and Monfils. He should have been able to win that one.

The scraped-in-by-the-skin-of-teeth: The obvious choice is Fognini, but let's talk about those big seeds going four - specifically, the Andies. Andy Murray went four against the frankly over Juan Ignacio Chela and Andy Roddick went four against Blaz 'my name is awesome but no one knows who I am' Kavcic. Neither of them should really have gone four here.

And it wasn't really skin of teeth stuff, but I thought Jelena Jankovic was going to have a slightly easier time of it. Maybe her shiny yellow dress has made me a little over optimistic about her chances...?

One to watch: The selfsame Blaz Kavcic. I have no idea who this dude is, but if you can get through a round in a Slam and take a set off a top ten player, you've got a little something something going on. And also his name is totally awesome.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Get A Roof!

If there was one thing to take away from Day 4 at Roland Garros, it was this - GET A ROOF. Seriously, why is it that Australia, the Slam where it hardly ever rains, has two (soon to be three) of the things, and Roland Garros has none? When Wimbledon is ahead of the times you know something's a little interesting.

I know there's a lot of talk about Roland Garros moving sites - personally, I hope that doesn't happen, because this site is great, but how about a bit of the ol' upgrade? Melbourne Park is currently undergoing an AUD$363 million upgrade - surely Roland Garros can spring for a roof for Philippe Chatrier. I'm sure Wimbledon will give them the name of the guy they used.

But despite all this rain, there was actually some tennis - so without further ado...

The winners: The Yoker is coming through the draw like a hot knife through butter and I'm surprised people aren't talking about it more. He was on and off court in something like 71 minutes, which is obscenely quick. I will be very much surprised if he does not make it to the quarters (where I am hoping he will be stopped by Federer), because he is looking very, very good. He might have peaked a touch too soon, but we shall see, we shall see...

Speaking of winners, after a slow first set, Roger Federer is also in this column. Definitely a much better match than that four set nailbiter he played with Jose Acasuso last year.

Over with the ladies, I'm very surprised I'm saying this, but I am super impressed with Caro Wozniacki. She's not normally the type of player who closes out matches quickly, but she's had two quick matches now. Maybe this injury cloud hanging over her head has been good in a way, because it's forcing her to pull the trigger a little earlier and be more aggressive.

And also, no one's talking about her, but Nadia Petrova. Watch out for her!

The losers: Andrea Petkovic. Anyone that holds four match points (or, indeed, any match points) and then loses the match has got to be absolutely kicking themselves, and I'm sure this is exactly the case with Petkovic. It would have been an upset if she beat Kuznetsova, but she had her in the palm of her hand and still couldn't close it out.

Also, Lucie Safarova. I thought she was going to go a long, long way and then she went and lost to Polona Hercog in straights. This is a big time loss, because Safarova had the draw to go a long way. It's going to be really interesting to see who comes out of that side of the draw, because I just cannot pick it at all.

The disappointments:I have to put Gisela Dulko here. To go from beating Azarenka to losing to Chanelle Scheepers (yeah, I don't know who she is either) is fiercely disappointing.

I also have to put Taylor Dent here, because as brilliantly as Robin Soderling played, Dent played horrifically awfully. Seriously, dude, with your serve, you should be able to win more than two games in a best of five set match, even when your opponent is top ten. Really disappointing showing here.

The scraped-in-by-the-skin-of-teeth: As if I would go past Sveta on this one. She clawed this victory by the skin of her teeth, and I'm still not quite sure how she did it. Kudos to her, though. I love watching Sveta when she's playing well, and I'm really hoping she has sort of played herself into form. I would love it if she could come anywhere close to defending her title. Am not in any way expecting this to happen, but it would be awesome.

Story of the day: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga going apesh*t at tournament organisers about scheduling. I have to admit I don't have a lot of time for these kinds of temper tantrums - sure, it might put you out to have to play on Sunday, but suck it up, dude! But I am not a tennis player, so maybe I don't understand how difficult it is... and in any case, the tantrums are always mildly amusing, in a watching-a-train-wreck kind of way.

And the other story of the day is LightGate with Monfils and Fognini. Monfils nearly made the worst decision ever when he asked to push on at 4-all in the fifth... it will be interesting to see who comes out of this. I expect to be Monfils, but I would not be surprised if Fabio Fognini surprised him...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dinara Gets Krummed

I don't think there's a whole lot more that can be said about Day 3 other than Dinara, Dinara, Dinara. What a compellingly disappointing performance. I don't know whether the break up with Zeljko has been a good thing or not, but Gaston Etlis needs to get Dinara to a sports psych, stat. I've seen a lot of tennis matches in my time - I've seen your Grosjeans and your Gasquets - and that is one of the single chokiest performances I have ever seen.

The winners: Well, Kimiko Date Krumm, obviously. When you're just about forty and playing on one leg and you beat a former world #1, you've got a little sumthin' sumthin' going on.

Other women that I thought were major winners were Maria Sharapova, who has continued her good form from Strasbourg; Justine (obviously); Anastasia Rodionova, who won her first ever Slam match, and Jarmila Groth ('cause she's Australian). However, I thought the winniest winner among the women yesterday was probably Yanina Wickmayer. She's in that year-after-the-breakthrough phase, but I think people ought to watch out for Yanina. She's got quite a nice draw and she could potentially go a long way.

Over in the boys, I thought David Ferrer and Lleyton Hewitt were probably the best performers over all. (Note: I am judging Rafa by a completely different standard. He was obviously the best player yesterday, but by his own admission, it was not his bestest match ever, even though he won comfortably.)

The losers: Dinara Safina. Obviously. She's going to plummet down the rankings Ivanovic-style here, and it's not going to be pretty. A change is clearly what she needs and she has that in the form of Gaston Etlis - I just hope it begins to pay dividends for her. And that she can fix that mess of a serve. It's crazy.

For the dudes, though we lost players like Juan Monaco and Eduardo Schwank, who are good dirtballers, disappointment of the day was clearly Sam Querrey. He really shouldn't be losing to Ginepri, and he knows it - he left Paris in a fit of pique, leaving his doubles partner in the lurch. And he quit Twitter. Not really impressed with Samurai right now.

The disappointments: I think Rafa was a little disappointed in himself, but it would be totally unfair to place him in this category, so I won't.

I do have to put Carla Suarez Navarro here, because I had hoped for a lot from her. I know she's injured so it isn't her fault, but it is disappointing. She's a lovely clay player with a beautiful backhand. Now she and Martinez Sanchez are both out, I think only Medina Garrigues is flying the flag for the Spanish ladies.

Eduardo Schwank was also disappointing. He's got some moves on clay and he went out to a dude I have never heard of (Blaz Kavcic), retiring in the fourth set when down two sets to one. Didn't see the match so I couldn't even tell you what his injury was, but this is a disappointing result for him.

The-scraped-in-by-skin-of-teeth: Why, hello, Andy Roddick. He looked very nonchalant in his five set win over Jarkko Nieminen and he came perilously close to being bundled out. He hasn't played a match on red clay all season so I'm not surprised he's rusty - and let's face it, Roland Garros is not the tournament closest to his heart. That one is coming up in a few weeks.

Horacio Zeballos, also. He only just made it through 8-6 in the fifth over some dude I have never heard of.

One to watch: Gianni Mina. He may have been routed by the raging bull yesterday, but Mina's going to grow up into something a bit cool. I would not be surprised if he surpasses his doppelganger Gael Monfils...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Richou, Muzz, This is Not Wimbledon 2008

Well, Day 2 put me in a good mood, with a very nice win for my boy Fed and a very entertaining match from Muzz and Richou. Outcome might have not been what I had hoped from that one, but good stuff.

The winners: Fed. I was a bit worried about him coming in and he was ever so slightly scratchy in that first set, but when he put his foot to the accelerator he scorched away. I felt a bit bad for Peter Luczak, but I cannot pretend to be anything less than thoroughly satisified with this match.

Everyone you expected to be a winner was a winner yesterday, pretty much. Not a single seed lost all day, so it seems unfair to single anyone out. I would, however, like to mention Caro Wozniacki. I expected her to be ripe for an upset special, but her performance against Kudryavtseva was nothing short of commanding. Maybe she's not as injured and out of it as I thought she was.

Also Kei Nishikori and Carsten Ball in fierce five set wins. And Sophie Ferguson in a big comeback. Yay.

The losers: I have to go with Richard Gasquet here. Seriously, dude, two sets up against Muzz again? This was that Wimbledon disaster all over again. I know he was tired, but all he had to do was close it out and get off court and it would have been much easier for him. Kudos to Muzz for pulling it out, but Richou, I thought you could have done a little better here.

And I also have to put Michael Yani in this category, not because he's a loser but because his loss was so heartbreaking. He's never won a tour level match and loss to Lukas Lacko 12-10 in the fifth. Nightmare written all over it.

The disappointments: Richou, once again, I am looking at you.

Also, Novak Djokovic. I'm not expecting a lot from him in this tournament, but he really shouldn't have lost that set to Korolev. I know Korolev is fierce when he has his day, but he wasn't really having his day. Should have done better than that, Nole.

The scraped-in-by-the-skin-of-teeth: Why, hello, Andy Murray. I know you roared back after being down again, but you really didn't deserve this much. This level of play is not going to serve you well... though if you want to go back and practice on the grass a little early, keep playing like that. You'll get your wish.

One to watch: Stefanie Voegele. I was really impressed with the way she played in her match against Serena - she seriously tested her. She managed to break the Williams serve - no mean feat - and was tight with her all through the first set. She's only young and she has great potential - they make 'em good in Switzerland.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and The Still-In-It-Just

Roland Garros is here! Day one is over and gone and we have some stories and some winners and some losers and all kinds of things. Tennis, tennis, tennis - I love tennis! I love Roland Garros! (Yes, I have had a couple of glasses of wine...)

The winners: Robin Soderling. Big time. He smashed Laurent Recourderc like a guitar and looked very, very dangerous. I thought this was the best performance of the day by a long way - for the boys at any rate.

Over in the women, you have to go with Gisela Dulko, because that was quite some win she had over Vika Azarenka. See notes re smashing like a guitar. But another person that did some serious smashing was Aravane Rezai. That gold dress has given her superpowers, even though it's totally fug.

The losers: You can't go past Victoria Azarenka on this one, because this was one of the most disappointing performances I have seen in a long time. I thought this was going to be an upset win, but I didn't think it was going to be an upset shut out. Dulko absolutely destroyed Azarenka, but Azarenka destroyed herself as well.

There have been 'Azarenka is the next Vaidisova' opinions voiced. I think this is a bit OTT - Azarenka had a leg injury which she didn't take time off to heal, which was totally stupid, but not the end of the world. She really needs to take time off now, and this exit gives that, at least.

And also - Janko Tipsarevic. What kind of performance was that?

The disappointments: It's got to be Gulbis. This was a great win by Julien Benneteau, but obviously not the way that Gulbis wanted to conclude his clay tournament, especially when he's done so well at this tournament in the past. And the retirement... oh, Ernie. Not happy with you, chappie.

The scraped-in-by-the-skin-of-teeth: Jo-W Tsonga. He really, really shouldn't have gone five sets. I picked him to win his quarter and I will be mighty pissed off if he screws up my bracket. Obviously he hasn't been in le form d'awesome or anything, but his quarter is so eminently winnable...

That's all from Day One... oh, except for Dinara Safina breaking up with Zeljko Krajan! That made me actually very sad - I loved those crazy kids, with all their shouting... I kind of hope they get back together. I love them.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Roland Garros 2010 - The Gents

A little late but definitely better than never - we did the predictions for the girls yesterday, it's time for the boys. We have our first dude winner in Marin Cilic - he won, like, five seconds ago. But everything else is still up to fate...

(Oh, off the subject of dudes, well done to Sveta Kuznetsova for doing stupendously in her first round match. I really thought Sorana Cirstea was going to hurt her badly, but she cruised through with very little trouble at all. Yay Sveta.)

Okay. The dudes.

Roger's quarter: This is a stacked quarter and no mistake. I mean, it's not super heinous or anything like that, but it has every dark horse in it that I could have possibly imagined. Let's see who we have in there... Tipsarevic, Gulbis, Montanes, Monfils, Wawrinka... it's stacked. And then we have some big time seeds like Cilic and Soderling. And then randoms like Dmitry Tursunov (where have you been?)

But I'm not picking against Roger here. I know he's not been playing so well of late, but he peaks at Slams. We know this. And he has comparatively little pressure coming in here, when you consider what's been going on for him in years past. He's held that cup. He's been there. And it may sound cheesy, but I believe in him.

There are lots of people with a good shot in this quarter, but I don't think there's much that can overcome the Federer factor here. There could be a blockbuster quarter final with Soderling - that would be a nerve wracking match and no mistake! Insert Cilic here and you could have the same thing going on. But like I said - Roger all the way.

Winner: Roger Federer
If not him, then: Marin Cilic or Robin Soderling
Dark horse: Ernests Gulbis
First round matches to watch: Gulbis/Benneteau and Lapentti/Dent

Muzz's quarter: This may be Murray's quarter, but I don't know if I'd pick him to win it. He may have made the quarters last year, but I just don't think he's going there again - not just because he's not exactly Captain Clay, but due to this weird slump he's in. And with Nice champion Richard Gasquet up first round, I'm calling potential upset...

Compared to Federer's quarter, there's not as much going on in this one, and as far as I can see, the quarter is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's to lose. He hasn't been playing spectacularly of late, but with his game, he has the ability to swing his way into the semis without too much trouble. There's not that many clay names in this quarter - not at all. Mikhail Youzhny and John Isner are the only dudes I can see who could seriously challenge...

...unless, and this is a very big unless, Andrey Golubev somehow catches fire like he did in Australia for a little bit. I haven't seen much of him on clay, but I was so, so impressed with what I saw from him in Australia this year. I will never forget sitting on a plane on the way to Perth and watching him absolutely demolish Igor Andreev. It ranks among some of the best tennis I have seen from people not named Federer, and I mean that.

Winner: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
If not him, then: Mikhail Youzhny or John Isner
Dark horse: Andrey Golubev (and, while he's not exactly a dark horse, Andy Murray)
First round matches to watch: Petzschner/Ball and Isner/Golubev

Novak's quarter: Djokovic better not focus too much on the clay court Spaniards lurking in his quarter, because there's a big danger lurking in his first round - you can bet your bottom dollar that Evgeny Korolev will not be taking any prisoners. I'm really looking forward to this match, because while it doesn't have upset written all over it, it is bearing the label 'big possibility of an upset right here'.

But if he does get through it, there are the aforementioned Spaniards lurking in David Ferrer and Juan Carlos Ferrero. The quarter really should be on Djokovic's racquet, but I don't know if it will quite play out like that. These Spaniards might just annoy him into submission, and hunch-wise, I really like past champ Ferrero.

I feel like we should talk about Andy Roddick, but because he hasn't played since Miami, it is not unreasonable to say he might not have his clay legs yet, and he really hasn't performed that awesomely here in the past. He has a reasonably forgiving draw, however - Monaco in the third round should be his first real threat.

Just noticed that if Djokovic does get through Korolev, he might just run into a very, very hungry Kei Nishikori in the second round. I don't think he'd be so happy about that.

Winner: Juan Carlos Ferrero
If not him, then: David Ferrer or Novak Djokovic
Dark horse: Sam Querrey
First round matches to watch: Djokovic/Korolev and Starace/Marchenko

Rafa's quarter: Dootsiez at All I Need Is A Picket Fence had it right when she said this quarter was full of people not named Nadal. It's full of Spaniards who would make a Djokovic or a Murray quail - the Almagros and Verdascos of the world - but they seem a little pale next to the might of Rafa, who is hungrier than ever before to get this title.

Gee, I wonder who will this section...?

I am hoping that Gianni Mina performs well in the first round, however, because he is an exciting young dude. I don't think he'll do anything sacrilegious like win a set, but at least a set of good competitive tennis would do wonders for his confidence. (And, indeed, the confidence of any player, ever, who could stay close to Rafa on the dirt).

Ljubicic and Bellucci are also good clay players active in this section, and we all know how Philipp Kohlschreiber can pull an upset. Lleyton Hewitt is also here, seeded to face the big man in the third round. You can bet he's dirty about that. Because I can tell you right now who will this section.

Winner: Rafael Nadal
If not him, then: Nicolas Almagro (but it will be Rafa)
Dark horses: Ivan Ljubicic and Philipp Kohlschreiber (but it will be Rafa)
First round matches to watch: Llodra/Bellucci and Ljubicic/Lu

This leaves us with the following semis:

Federer vs Tsonga
Ferrero vs Nadal

I would not be surprised to see a total repeat of the Australian Open semi for the Federman - that win had some psych-stuff attached to it, if you like me. He might falter if he gets ahead of himself and starts thinking about the final, but I think he learned his lesson about that last year.

I wonder who could possibly win the other semi. The only question is how many bagels there will be in it.

Which leaves us with:

Federer vs Nadal

The eternal question - can Federer beat Nadal for the Roland Garros title? And much as my heart says yes he can, he can do whatever, he's awesome, I have to go with Rafa on this one. This is his backyard, and to say he's in form... understatement of the century.

What did you pick?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Roland Garros 2010 - The Ladies

So here we are. Roland Garros is upon us, and it is that time again: draw preview time! Today we focus on the ladies; tomorrow, the gents.

Without further ado, I give you Jodi's ill-educated and definitely emotionally-motivated picks for Roland Garros 2010.

Serena's Quarter: Wow. This is one tough quarter - definitely the toughest of the four, I would contend. The two big seeds in here are Serena, who you can never count out, and Sam Stosur, who is pretty much on fire at the moment. But who else is in here? Why, it is Maria 'cow on ice' Sharapova! And look - would that be four-time champion Justine Henin?

You've also got a couple of dark horses in there in Zheng Jie and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, whose first round match against Alize Cornet will be one to watch, as they were rivals for junior Slams in the same years. You also have Marion Bartoli, but I can't say that I'm expecting big things of her.

Sam Stosur in particular has a tough match up first round with rising young star Simona Halep, who recently made her first WTA final. If she comes through that match unscathed, I wouldn't be placing any bets against her until what could be a quarter final blockbuster with Justine Henin (or Sharapova).

You have to pick JuJu to win this quarter, even with everyone else in it. You just don't ignore stats like hers at this tournament. But you can't ignore Serena, ever awesome at Slams, nor can you ignore Stosur, who will want to defend her semi final points from last year.

In summary:
Winner: Justine Henin
If not her, then: Serena Williams or Sam Stosur
Possible dark horse: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
First round matches to watch: Pavlyuchenkova/Cornet and Stosur/Halep

Jankovic's quarter: Both the Serbian girls are in this quarter, and I think one of them has a much better chance than the other... and it's not the one that's won here before. If she gets that far, I don't expect Ana Ivanovic to progress beyond a second round with Alisa Kleybanova, who should club her off the court.

This is a very Australian -heavy quarter - Jarmila Groth and Anastasia Rodionova both feature, as does Alicia Molik, who plays Jelena Jankovic in the first round. I actually don't mind Alicia's chances here - I think her game matches up quite well to Jankovic's - but with the way Jelena's been playing lately, I think this is a bit of a long shot.

I have to go with Jankovic to win this quarter, on recent form alone. She is one of the ones to watch going into this tournament and is a definite title contender. But while this quarter isn't as jam-packed as Serena's, there are some names in here. Vera Zvonareva might challenge. So might Kleybanova, and hey, Dinara Safina has made the final the past two years (even though she has got a prime upset opponent first up in Kimiko Date Krumm.) But I think Jelena has one key challenger here - not the other big seed, Agnieszka Radwanska, but the young Belgian Yanina Wickmayer. She's been to a Slam semi before, she's hungry, she's fierce, and basically, I just kind of think she's awesome.

Winner: Jelena Jankovic
If not her, then: Yanina Wickmayer
Possible dark horses: Alisa Kleybanova and Carla Suarez Navarro
First round matches to watch: Jankovic/Molik and Safina/Date Krumm

Wozniacki's quarter: If we get a super massive surprise in the women's draw, this quarter seems ripe for it. This quarter looks like a cakewalk compared to the Serena quarter. You might have last year's defending champion Sveta Kuznetsova in there, but she has been a non entity of late. You might also have Caro Wozniacki in there, but she's under an injury cloud so large it might have come from a volcano.

So if not them, who?

Sorana Cirstea made the quarters of this tournament last year and she has a huge chance to topple Kuznetsova in the first round. You have Li Na in there, who is, as we saw in Australia, more than capable of making it to a Slam semi. And then you have the two Italians, Schiavone and Pennetta, who, while neither has particularly shone lately, you wouldn't like to bet against... Also lurking is Jelena Dokic, and if she gets her hand in and her head straight, she is capable of catching fire. And her first round opponent Lucie Safarova might just pull a massive, MASSIVE run.

I don't quite know who to pick in this quarter, but here goes...

Winner: Flavia Pennetta
If not her, then: Lucie Safarova or Li Na
Dark horses: Am I allowed to call Svetlana Kuznetsova a dark horse?
First round matches to watch: Kuznetsova/Cirstea and Safarova/Dokic

Venus's quarter: I'm not picking against Venus in this quarter, no way, no how. I have a feeling about V this tournament - she just might go deep deep deep.

But she's not the only contender, not by a long shot. You can't not talk about Aravane Rezai, who clubbed Venus off the court last week. Nadia Petrova is also a solid chance, and Dementieva... well... maybe.

But you cannot, cannot, cannot underestimate Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, who is super fierce on clay and has the big title to prove it. If anyone is going to take it to V in this quarter, I like MJMS (though Rezai certainly has the firepower and the confidence).

Upset alert, however - watch for Vika Azarenka to fall to Gisela Dulko in the first round. You just watch. Also keep an eye on young Anastasija Sevastova - I think she might grow up to be something a bit special. And Venus's first round match is not without difficulty, either - she has tricky leftie Patty Schnyder. I know Patty hasn't done much of late, but she is experienced at this level and very steady.

Winner: Venus Williams
If not her, then: Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez or Aravane Rezai
Possible dark horse: Nadia Petrova
First round matches to watch: Dulko/Azarenka and Oudin/Medina Garrigues

So this leaves us with the following semi final matches:

Henin vs Jankovic
Pennetta vs V Williams

I think the first semi would be an absolute blockbuster, but you won't catching me betting against JuJu at Roland Garros. The second might be a blowout if Pennetta implodes - even if she doesn't, I like Venus. That leaves us with:

Henin vs V Williams

Winner: Justine Henin

Like I said, I won't bet against her. Not here. Not at Roland Garros. But let's just say this... I wouldn't put my life on it. Venus and Jankovic are both, in my opinions, also solid bets for the title.

What did you pick?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Body Count

I wrote a couple of days back about the sad story of Mario Ancic and how talent just wasn't enough for him, because his body just wouldn't hold out. Well, Roland Garros hasn't even started yet and we already have a substantial body count. And that makes me sad.

Firstly, Juan Martin del Potro. He is out for a long stretch of forever and won't be able to defend his US Open title. It's one thing to take an extended break from the game - it didn't seem to do Kimmie and JuJu any harm - but it's another altogether to have such a substantial injury and come back. Whether Juan M is still a Slam contender when he comes back... we'll just to have to wait and see. But this is not good news for him.

Then there's Kimmie - alas, poor Kimmie. She'll get better, but even two Slams in, I'm so used to seeing her there that it seems like a big loss being without her. I'm sure JuJu, broken finger aside, will manage to hold up the Belgian end of the deal very well (not to mention Yanina Wickmayer), but still, boo.

And now Caroline Wozniacki might be in doubt. Much as I find her brand of tennis incredibly boring, this is sad, because she is a genuine Slam contender these days. The women's draw is incredibly open this tournament and she might just have been able to take a stab at it. She might be fit, but then she might not be.

It's hard to imagine how big a toll tennis takes on someone's body when you watch it. We all saw how Rafa's body gave out on him last year - he who always seems so strong and indomitable was beaten by his knees. And even perenially uninjured I-walk-on-water Roger Federer has said he plays in pain 80% of the time. Which is, you know, a lot.

I don't know what there is to be done about this, apart from Federesque sensible scheduling. But it's always something to think about, when we watch these matches - this sport can really wear a person down.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Few Moments Too Late

So it finally happened, and not a moment too soon - Wayne Odesnik has been suspended for two years for drugs.

I say 'not a moment too soon' - in reality, it was several moments too late. More than several. A LOT. The minute Odesnik picked up his racquet in Houston, it was too late. I know there's innocent till proven guilty and all that, but the fact is that he had pleaded guilty already in front of a Brisbane court to possession of eight vials of human growth hormone. Use your brain.

With this debacle and then the whole thing with Yanina Wickmayer and Xavier Malisse last year, which would have put serious dents in both their careers when they effectively did nothing, I think the drug rules of our sport might need to be looked at. I'm not sure how much is ITF specific and how much of it comes through WADA, but when Yanina Wickmayer can get suspended for a dodgy password and someone in possession of vast amounts of a banned substance can still play, there is something going on.

But let us just be satisfied now that things are as they should be. Odesnik should not be allowed to play and now he is not. Drugs in sport are an abomination and punishment should be strict (but not, as in the case of the Belgians, stupid).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Alas, Poor Mario

You know who really can't catch a break, poor dude? Mario Ancic.

I think he is an awesome guy and one of the saddest stories of tennis. He is a machine of pure tennis radness when he is well. Unfortunately, it seems like he hasn't been well since about 1874. Remember when he was in the top ten? It seems like it lasted for all of four seconds, when, with his talent, it should have lasted years and years and years. He is one of the most supremely talented people I've seen on court for a long time - I mean, he beat Federer at Wimbledon! - but he just never seems to get well. He just had pull out of Nice.

I suppose the Ancic story is testament to the fact that for every tennis fairy tale there's a quiet tragedy. Alas, poor Mario. I think you're super. Get well. Eventually.

Well, that was depressing. Good news! French Open qualies! John Millman winning his first round match! Yay! Unfortunately none of the other Aussies did - Guccione, Ebden, Jones, Matosevic and Lindahl are all out -but YAY JOHN.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rezai, Randomness and Roland Garros

So in all that Fedal frazzling, I totally forgot about what I actually spent most of the week writing about - the women's draw in Madrid.

I wonder exactly how many people in the world put money on Aravane Rezai to win that tournament. And exactly what holiday island they're on now, which beach, which fruity cocktail they're sitting...

Seriously, Rezai has been on the rise this year - she first really popped into my field of vision when she very-nearly-almost beat Serena in the semis in Sydney, because I remember being very cross that she was going to be in the final, as I had tickets to it and hadn't exactly paid to see Aravane Rezai. And also she was wearing some hideous gold thing. But who would have thought she'd go all the way and win a Premier tournament?

Seriously, this year's Roland Garros is one OPEN tournament. Henin may be the favourite - and, indeed, the only big name player to have won one of the big clay titles - but just about anyone could win this one. Rezai aside, the last Premier event was won by Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. Now that MJMS isn't awesome, but she isn't normally what you'd think of as big title material.

But anyone is big title material right now in the WTA. Including Aravane Rezai.

Marion Bartoli better watch her back, because Aravane is skyrocketing up the rankings and may soon be French #1. Her victory over Venus - arguably the best performer of the leading women on clay this season, even though she hasn't won a title recently - was absolutely superb. She's already left perennial underperformer Alize Cornet far behind and it looks like the only way is up.

You always wonder how players are going to back up big wins like this one. However, what we have to remember that because this field is so wide open, ANYONE in the WTA draw can theoretically win Roland Garros. It might not be Rezai or MJMS, but someone random could come skyrocketing through in the same manner and claim the prize. Back it up shmack it up - they'll have a Slam!

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Clearing of the Slate

I would be lying if I didn't say I was expecting Rafael Nadal to win the Madrid final yesterday.

And I would also be lying if I didn't say that, in a way, that is the way it should be.

Obviously, I am a Federfan first and foremost. I wanted him to win yesterday. But when Rafa took it out? I was neither surprised nor upset when he won, just as I will not be surprised or particularly upset if/when he wins Roland Garros. Just as Wimbledon and the green grass courts belong to Roger, so red clay belongs to Rafa. It is right that he should dominate on it, on his home turf.

I would not be surprised if what we see in the six weeks of tennis we have ahead of us is a return to 2007, when the clay is Rafa's and the grass is Roger's. Leastways, this is how I am seeing it in my mind at the moment - each winning on the surface which is his own, each challenging, but not quite succeeding. Rafa has his Wimbledon. Roger has his Roland Garros. Each has proven their point.

What I would like to see is spirited challenging from both men, particularly from Federer on the clay. It would really be something, and would, I believe, silence any doubts anyone has ever had about him ever, if he beat Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros. I sincerely hope they have the chance to play in the final again.

I attached significance to this Madrid match yesterday. Today... I'm not so sure, and not just because Federer lost it and I am his fangirl first and foremost. It felt to me almost like a clearing of the slate, like a return to the past, where the clay belonged to one and the grass to the other, before glandular fever and knee injury took their toll.

What it feels a bit like is a second chance - 2007 all over again. Roger is #1 and Rafa is #2. The Hispano-Suisse domination machine is back where they ought to be, at the top.

And so - let the games begin.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I said yesterday that I wouldn't write about the possibility of a Fedal final for fear of epic jinxage. Well, that seems to have worked out well, as I got my Fedal final. Both boys came through in three tight sets apiece.

And here we are. Exactly a year since they last played, in the match that really defined the rest of the year for both players.

Is it any wonder I'm f^&*ing terrified?

I don't want to put too much weight on this match - not least of all for my own sanity. If you look at the Rome final in 2006, that was absolutely momentous for both players. The course of tennis history might be quite different if Roger Federer had capitalised on one of his two championship points in that match. But it was Rafa that came out the victor and became the Clay Domination Machine that he was for the next few seasons. That was a key match.

Some matches seem like key matches at the time, but don't turn out to be quite as portentous as one might have initially imagined. Yes, Australian Open final 2009, I'm looking at you. But then sometimes a whole tournament can pretty much punch you in the face with its significance in hindsight, when there is no way you could have ever known how much it would mean.

Madrid 2009 shaped the future of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Djokovic, after an excellent clay season, was finally broken by Nadal in that epic semi final. But that match took a whole lot of juice out of Nadal - and he didn't have a lot of juice left to give. He lost the final - and Federer won it. And that win - especially after he came out and said that he expected to win the tournament - well, that win set him up to take the crown at Roland Garros.

Roger Federer. Rafael Nadal. Two of the greatest champions our sport has ever seen. They have not played since the final of this tournament one year ago.

But circumstances were different then. Rafa was exhausted (partly because he had won every single clay match in the last, well, ever) and Roger was hungry and maybe even a little bit more different. Now Rafa is fresher and Roger has - well, how much does he have left to prove?

That whole proof thing might be enough to make another man complacent, but we know that's not the way one Roger Federer rolls. And how has the Roger/Rafa dynamic changed in their year apart?

This match might not turn out to be significant at all. These two have played about twenty matches in the past, and not every single one of those matches has turned out to be world changing. But a lot of them have. Rome 2006. Wimbledon 2008. Madrid 2009. Just to name a few.

Two men enter, one man leaves. Roland Garros awaits in one week - the citadel that King Roger currently occupies and that Rafa the conquistador desperately wants to reclaim. This might be considered a preview, a match where they suss each other out, each vying for dominance but not quite committing yet.

It might not be an important match. But let's just say this - I wouldn't put money on it being of little signficance. Not one cent.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Murray Conundrum

I would like to state right now that I am not going to even muse on the possibility of a Fedal final in Madrid. It will be a jinx. And Ferrer and Almagro are fierce players. Note that I am not mentioning any words like 'destiny'.

Instead, I want to talk about Andy Murray.

I completely forgot he was even in this tournament until he lost to Daveed Ferrer today. This is not just me not paying attention - this is, I believe, symptomatic of Murray's career over the last few months. It has been very easy to forget about Andy Murray. Too easy, when he's supposed to be ranked in the top five.

I don't know how much of this is his relative inability to play on clay and how much is the funk he is undoubtedly in. A quarter final in Madrid is actually not that bad a result, considering what other results he's been pulling over the last little while. And maybe this under the radar thing will work for him. He's certainly the dude that no one is talking about going into Roland Garros.

...where, we must remember, he made the quarters last year. His relative inability to play on clay is just that - relative. He's never going to be a dirtballer, let's put it that way.

But, all this aside, I can't help feeling that something is very wrong with Andy Murray. And with Wimbledon fast approaching, where expectations are going to hit him like a freight train, he's running out of time to straighten up and fly right. Because if he's in a hole now, imagine what the British media will do to him if he disappoints in SW19.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Madrid Mesdames

It is very sad that, when there are only three proper seeds left in a tournament, two of them have to play each other in the quarter finals. But such is the way of the world, I suppose.

Sam Stosur may have lost to a Venus Williams running hot today, but she still has a whole lot of momentum propelling her forward into Roland Garros. She has a lot of ranking points there to defend, but to tell the truth, I don't think she's going to have tooooo much of a problem doing it. Of course if she gets drawn against a Williams in the quarters or something that might prove a problem, but for now, I think Sam is on track to do great.

I thought the same thing about Jelena Jankovic. I haven't exactly revised my position, but let's just say I wasn't expecting her to lose to Aravane Rezai, talented as Rezai is. (I remember her pushing Serena hard in the semis in Sydney... though that might have had something to do with the strange gold lame outfit she was wearing). Rezai herself might be a bit of a dark horse to look out for - a French girl in France...

But it's Venus who's really been proving herself. She can dirtball like nobody's business - I think it's her most underrated skill. And if I were a betting woman and I wanted to make a few dollars, I might just put a little money on V to win Roland Garros. I think she has a really, REALLY good chance.

In Roland Garros news, Kim Clijsters is out. Pout.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

WTA WTF (again)

I kind of wish I hadn't used the headline 'WTA WTF' yesterday, because I want to use it again today. Serena, really?

Come on, Serena. I haven't always been your biggest fan and that you don't peak till the Slams, but I thought I could count of you to keep some semblance of normalcy in this wacky tournament, particularly as pretty much everyone who might be considered competition is out already.

But no. Not to be.

And so we're left with Venus... Jankovic... a few other randoms... and one Sam Stosur.

At this point, I think I might be picking Jankovic to win the tournament, but what a shot for Sam Stosur. She made relatively quick work of Patty Schnyder at the moment and is looking fierce. She's been one of the form players this season - even though 'form' basically constitutes 'losing last' for the WTA these days (though Sam has been playing genuinely well) and a win here in Madrid would not only be HUGE for her career, it would catapult her with a whole ton of momentum into Roland Garros and, I believe, the top five.

Now there is a bit of something.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Can I get a what what for Madrid and the ladies? Seriously, WTA, I know we've had our issues, but I know you can do better than this.

Let's review. I'm pretty sure the Williams sister may just well be the only seeds left standing after Wozniacki and Dementieva went tumbling out. Safina gone. Henin. Kuznetsova. Sharapova. Name a name, and they're gone.

Actually, that's not strictly true. Jankovic is still there - and much I like to watch Jankovic when she's playing well, she's not exactly the player I want to set my hopes on as a bastion of reliability. So we have the Williamses and Jankovic and...

...and unexpected SAM STOSUR IS UNEXPECTED.

It was just last month when I was reading about Stosur getting into the top ten in Australian Tennis Magazine and how this was the most massive thing ever omg she was ranked #10!!!!1!!! Well, register this. If she does super well at this tournament, she could be in the top five by the end of it. The top freaking five.

Let's compare to this the boys for a minute. This is like Marin Cilic, relatively recent top tenner (currently sitting at #11) suddenly finding himself in the top five. To get there, he'd have to leapfrog Tsonga, Verdasco, Soderling, Roddick, Davydenko and del Potro. Just have a look at those names there. There may only be two Slam titles between the lot of them, but look at those names. You just couldn't do that.

But that is what Stosur is on the verge of doing. She played superbly well to beat the excellent recent Rome winner in Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. Truth be told, if she can beat MJMS, she can beat just about anyone. She's got one thing going that the rest of the field are lacking at the moment, which is that one thing the WTA has had problems with for a while now - consistency.

It's been a long time since I've thought an Aussie had a genuine chance at a Slam title. But you know what, Sam? Roland Garros needs to watch out for you.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Unexpected Madrid is Unexpected!

There is something about the claycourt season that never gives you a chance to catch your breath. One second you're bemoaning a certain semi final in Estoril and then suddenly the next tournament has started and half the women in it have lost before you even thought about it.

(Seriously, WTA? Henin? Sharapova? Kuznetsova? Safina? Serena taking three and a half hours? WTF?)

But Madrid is here, and cover it we must.

I don't think anyone realised at the time last year what a key tournament Madrid would turn out to be, especially for the men. It was quite unusual. Going into it, no one would have ever suspected that we would see what was probably one of the greatest three set matches ever, that it would make one man and break two others.

Because that was precisely what it did. It was Federer's win in Madrid that catapulted him forward, momentum-filled, into Roland Garros - and it was nothing but momentum and sheer willpower that got him out the scrapes he got into Acasuso and Haas and del Potro. Madrid made that man, claycourt wise.

And it was Madrid that broke Novak Djokovic, snapped him in two after that epic semi with Nadal. And Madrid broke Nadal as well, the straw that broke the raging bull's back, that finally fatigued the unfatigueable, and set him up to go into that fateful round of sixteen clash with Robin Soderling.

So will Madrid be fateful again this year? Only time will tell.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Better Than Great Britain

Let's do a tennis feelgood story. Specifically, let's talk about the Australian Davis Cup team. I'm not normally extraordinarily nationalistic when it comes to tennis, but watching the progress of both our national teams this year has made me happy.

Sure, we may only be second tier, but the Australian Davis Cup team has not lost a rubber this year. Sure, we've been facing Chinese Taipei and Japan respectively, who are not exactly known to be tennis powerhouses, but not one single rubber. That seems to me to be pretty impressive. We have had the added advantage of playing at home, but nonetheless. Not one. That's awesome.

And it's not as if we've been a one man show, either. We've had Lleyton Hewitt do some heroics, we've had some from Carsten Ball, Peter Luczak, Bernard Tomic... for the first time in a long time, the Davis Cup team is beginning to attain something that almost looks like depth. And with players like Greg Jones and Nick Lindahl waiting in the wings and players like Jason Kubler and Luke Saville on the rise... the future is looking bright.

Not that I expect the Aussies to win Davis Cup anytime soon or anything. We have a ways to go before we're even in contention - if we get an unfriendly draw, then we'll have zero hopes of being the grown up group next year. But we're edging our way towards something a bit good - and certainly we're doing very respectably.

We're not going the way of Great Britain, that's for sure. Well done, boys, on a fabulous tie over the weekend. And if the world group playoff is in Australia, you can bet I will be there with bells on.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?

I decree this week the Week We Do Not Speak of Estoril. This tournament will be like the last rugby world cup - never, ever to be spoken of again. Roger, I am choosing to forget this ever happened. I hope the rest of the world will be as kind. Montanes? Really?

But I'm not talking about that.

Instead, let's talk about Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, who came through the whole of the shenanigans in Rome with the Serbians and the Williamses and took the whole thing. As late bloomers go, she is a late bloomer - a late bloomer even among late bloomers. But the flower that blooms last blooms brightest (or something). Anyway, Maria J rocks my socks. Serve and volley? Love it stupid.

I was fortunate enough to see Maria play live this year - sure, I was cheering against her, because it was Hopman Cup and she was playing Stosur - but I think I may just have been lucky enough to witness something very special. Her excellent run of form this year really began at the Hopman Cup, where she teamed up with Tommy Robredo to win the whole thing. The series of wins she had there, over players like Stosur - well, they have really set her up with a whole lot of confidence. (She also lost to Laura Robson, but... well, Estoril.)

She's been on a roll ever since. I said yesterday that Jelena Jankovic could be a genuine Roland Garros contender. If Maria Jose can take her down, well... that's not just special, that elevates her to the role of genuine contender. I can't say I see Maria winning Roland Garros - I think I'm more cautious in my predictions - but she could certainly be a massive mover and shaker if she keeps playing like this.

...she'll be a problem for the other players, that's for sure. And how do you solve a problem like Maria?

(Yes, I went there. Yes, I know I did it poorly and inelegantly. Deal.)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Renaissance of Jelena Jankovic

In all this writing about Ana Ivanovic - who finally lost, after a good run to the semi finals - I have completely neglected to write about the other Serbian success story of the week.

Well, there are a few, I suppose. Novak Djokovic doesn't really count as one, although Filip Krajinovic certainly does. But this week's biggest Serbian success is easily Jelena Jankovic.

I'd almost forgotten about Jankovic, to tell the truth. She never took the same Serbian slide that Ana did - she's remained solidly near the top - but she hasn't really looked like a challenger for a long time now. Until this week, really. I mean, come on - beating Venus and Serena consecutively in the same tournament? Allowing Venus - who, as I have written before, no slouch on clay - only one game? Sure, Venus was suffering under the curse of the leggings (may they never be seen on a tennis court) but that is a masterful performance by Jankovic.

I've written a lot this week about how Ivanovic hasn't been losing. She hasn't been winning per se, but she hasn't been losing, and that's a big step for her. Jankovic is pretty good at not losing - this is why she has preserved her high ranking where Ivanovic hasn't - but this week she has come and looked like a winner. Not-loser Jelena? Not here. Winner Jelena? Raising her head.

I don't want to go and call her a major contender for the French Open, because I don't want to endow her with that level of faith just yet. But let's put it this way... if she can take out Venus and Serena - crush Venus, out-tough Serena - there is no reason why she couldn't have a massive, massive run there.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The I-Don't-Want-To-Say-Renaissance of Ana Ivanovic

One tournament does not a comeback make. One string of wins does not equal a Renaissance.

But when you've been winning as few matches as Ana Ivanovic - when those wins have come so few and far between - then a tournament like Rome can herald the beginning of a whole new player. Of course, it can also be an enormous fluke, so here's hoping that's not the case - for Ana's sake.

But I like the way she's playing. I know Vesnina was, well, Vesnina, and Azarenka was injured, and Dementieva didn't turn up, and now Petrova went all shank-happy, but still Ana hasn't cracked. I wouldn't be prepared to say that she's been undoubtedly 'winning' her matches, but she hasn't been handed them on a silver platter, and, most importantly, she hasn't lost them. The WTA can be, and has often been of late, a game not of who wins but of who loses first. And Ana - well, Ana is great at losing first.

But this week? Not so much.

I don't really like her chances of coming through Maria Jose Martinez Sanches, but I wouldn't rule it out, either, and a week ago, I would have ruled it out for sure. So this is a good thing. This is progress. And progress is good. Progress is how you get to a Renaissance.

It's been a merry day for the Serbs, with Djokovic progressing in Belgrade and Jankovic going absolutely mental on Venus, hammering her into the ground. This is the best she's played in a long, long time. But I want to reserve my final praise today for another Serb - young Filip Krajinovic. He's had his first ATP wins this week and he deserves it roundly - he has some excellent, excellent game going on!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Almost Positively Merry Story of Ana Ivanovic

Well, well, well. I am all astonishment. Not one, not two, but three wins in a row? Two consecutive wins over top ten players?

Admittedly, these top ten players have not been playing so well - this was hardly the Elena Dementieva that got beaten by Justine Henin in the second round in Australia - but still, Ana Ivanovic, I am feeling almost positive about you! And that is something I have not felt in a long time.

When was the last time Ana won a title? Actually, I have a vague recollection of her winning one last year, but it was a lone bastion of hope in a battlefield of despair. Here's hoping Rome - which must be counted as a personal victory, if not a tournament victory - does not turn out the same way. If Ana is rising, I want her to stay risen. Like a souffle.

Fear my simile.

In other news, Juan Martin del Potro is out for three to six months - I can practically hear him sliding down the rankings. I doubt many people will be backing him to repeat in New York. And speaking of people who have had some success in New York, some dude called Roger had his first clay court victory of the season. I am trying very hard not to care.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Slightly More Cheerful Story of Ana Ivanovic

Whoa, whoa, whoa. I feel like I want to write exactly the same post as I did yesterday, only even more so.

So now not only has Ana Ivanovic had a win, she's had a win over a top ten player...?

Surely not.

I am, of course, hesitant to place any faith in this win because a) only a tennis moron would put any money on Ana to do anything, and I like to think I am not one of those, and b) Vika is obviously injured. But injured or not, it cannot be overstated what a massive win this is for Ana.

The reason why a win, any win, is good for Ana is not because she's been losing a lot - which she has - but because her opponents haven't been beating her. She hasn't given them the chance - she's been too busy beating herself. If she can stand on the other side of a net from Victoria Azarenka and not self-destruct, this is a massive, massive moment.

Like I said, not placing any faith in Ana nor expecting this to be the start of something. But this win will have to do wonders for her self-confidence. Maybe she's going to go on and take a bunch more losses. But if that happens, I hope she actually gets beaten rather than losing. That would be a positive step.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Sad Story of Ana Ivanovic

Is that a W I see before me, right next to Ana Ivanovic's name?

Surely not.

Remember when Ana Ivanovic was ranked #1 in the world and was beating Dinara Safina in the Roland Garros final and stuff? I mean, sure, Dinara's not exactly the bestest player ever at the moment, but she's still ranked #3. And Ana's, what, #58?

We are at the point with Ana where it is a big freaking deal when she beats anyone. Gone are the days when she was a serious threat - when seeing yourself drawn against Ivanovic would give you pause and make you scared. Now you might as well just count yourself through the next round.

You know how many match wins Ana has had this year? I wouldn't quote me on this figure, but I think it's six. Newsflash: this is not a lot. And now she has one win, and the media is calling it a turning point.

One win is not a turning point. Not for normal people, anyway. However, for Ana, I kind of get where they're coming from. We're at the point where any win is a good sign. Even if it's 'just' Elena Vesnina, a solid but unspectacular player.

Time was I'd bet Ana barely knew who Vesnina was. Now beating her is a bust-out-the-champagne cause for celebration.

I was never a huge Ana fan, but you know what this makes me? Sad. Because the whole situation is just so pathetic - someone who was once great is now celebrating the smallest of wins. Mighty. Fallen.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Welcome to 2007

Welcome to 2007. We have JuJu winning comfortably in Stuttgart, we have Rafa bulldozing everything that even resembles an obstacle in his way and they're both obviously going to win Roland - wait, what? It's not 2007? We're not travelling back in time? Could have fooled me.

The wheel has turned and it has come back to the same place again. We had many, many years where the winners of Roland Garros were this pair, and if I'm not very much mistaken, it would not be a smart person who would bet against it happening again. The Rafa Freight Train is rolling on down the tracks. JuJu is little-sparrow-ing everyone off the court. This is... well, 2007.

Are these two going to win the big one? I have to say yes. The broken finger on JuJu might give some cause for doubt, but when you consider that it was Sam Stosur she beat - and not I-crumble-before-you Sam but Slammin' Sam - then I think she's going to be just fine. And with that injury cloud over Serena, well... if JuJu is not the favourite for this tournament, I will eat my sofa.

(Though, sidebar - Sam Stosur is totally a dark horse. She made the semis last year and I would not be at all surprised to see her go one better. She's at a career high ranking of #8 at the moment and she deserves it. Girl's on fire. Which makes JuJu's result even better).

And Rafa...? Well, what can you say about Rafa? He was a steamroller. Again. He's inexorable, unstoppable at the moment. I really hope he can get back up to #2 before Roland Garros, because I do not like the possibility of him meeting Federer in the semis ONE LITTLE BIT.

Skipping Barcelona was smart. I will be interested to see how he goes in Madrid, because he will have enough gas left in the tank this time. All I can say is this - it will be a very strong man who stops Rafa winning his fifth, and right now, I don't even think it's possible.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Red Carpet

I feel like ever since Ernie won Delray Beach I've been going, 'okay, I don't want to say this is it, but he's close, he's closer, he's getting better, he's almost there.'

Well, guess what, amigos? I'm finally ready to make that sweeping claim.

Roll out the welcome mat. Here comes Ernie.

I said a couple of weeks ago that I didn't think anyone would take a set off Rafa this clay season - at least not until Roland Garros. Well, guess who proved me wrong? That would be one E Gulbis, who played an absolutely spectacular match to take Nadal to three today. The final breakdown was 103 points to Rafa, 101 to Ernie. That is the difference of a hair. Like, literally, a hair. And against just about any other player, what Ernie did today would have catapulted him into that final.

Although he lost today, this has got to go down as the biggest tournament of his career. To beat Federer and go pretty damn close with the Claycourt Freight Train... that is something else. Though I was obviously pulling for Federer, I'm very happy with the way Ernie has progressed in this tournament.

Roland Garros awaits. The future beckons. And Ernie - at last, at long last - is striding down the red carpet to meet it.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Funky Town

So the mantle of #2 claycourter this year is definitely not going to Novak Djokovic. Despite his, you know, not winning the French Open or anything, I think it's fair to argue that that's what he was last year. But this year - no frigging way.

Novak is in a funk. With his ranking, he really should be beating Fernando Verdasco (who is, arguably, currently #2 claycourter). But no. And it's not just the admittedly in-form FeVer he's losing to - he's taken some stupid exits for quite some time now. I wouldn't go so far as to say 'worst #2 ever' or anything like that, but when you look at the dude who is #3, then you can say that something is rotten in the state of ranking system.

(BTW, I kind of love that Rafa is #3 despite the fact he didn't play Wimbledon last year. That is rad... and I really hope he gets back up to #2 before the Roland Garros seedings are done).

But there's someone in a worse funk than Nole, and that's Andy Murray. I didn't even notice when he lost, and that's saying something. I know clay is not his best surface, but he is just not bringing anything to play at the moment. His head is not in it.

So in our top four, we have an unfocused #1 (yes, Roger, I'm looking at you), a #2 having a crisis and a #4 having a breakdown. This all says one thing to me, and it's this: RAFA'S GONNA HURT YOU. HE WILL HURT YOU IN THE FACE.