Friday, December 29, 2006

The Future of Tennis

Where Do We Go From Here?

Tennisheads have been following the actions of England’s Lawn Tennis Association over the past few months with a mixture of amusement and concern. The Brits first got everyone’s attention over the summer when they went after emerging star Novak Djokovic to change his nationality and play for them. Needless to say Novak’s parents, always concerned for the well being of their child, used the Brits offer to leverage a better deal from Serbian tennis officials and little Novak stayed put. That seems to have been the LTA's only failure. Brad Gilbert, Peter Lundgren and others soon joined their stable and everyone is now wondering when they will once again put players on the world stage capable of making the top ten.

They aren’t the only ones who have been busy. Bulgarian teen Mariyana Levova will acquire an Irish passport and play Fed Cup for Ireland in 2007. Tennis Australia is in flux as well. First McNamee, long a fixture in tennis circles was kicked to the curb and replaced. Roger Rasheed will now coach DC for Australia in 2007. Jason Stoltenberg has called the men who run Tennis Australia's National High Performance Academy unprofessional saying they weren’t preparing the up and coming kids for the ATP tour but rather for college play. He quit the Academy in October. Not to be left out Jamaica is looking to up the ante by setting up a structure that will have some of their players hit both main tours, ATP and WTA. Their National Director Douglas Burke is working closely with officials from Canada but admits that Jamaican players are at a disadvantage on the world stage.

“Jamaican players also face cultural challenges in terms of how they play their tennis, as according to Burke, while the locals are doing extra lessons preparing for their CXC exams, teens their age in the rest of the world are not focusing on school.

‘They see tennis as we see school. We are up against professionals at 14, 15, 16 years of age. These kids are playing 40 hours a week and touring the world and school is not a focus.

‘We need to get the financial support that is required to help our players make the transition to the professional level. It will cost between US$70,000 to US$100,000 a year, Burke explained.”

While all of this is taking place the USTA seems to be taking a two pronged approach:

Men- focus is on the home grown. Sam Querrey, Donald Young and several other young American men are being groomed for prime time.

Women – Blond and Russian seem to be the preferred flavor. Tarpishev, Russia’s Fed and Davis Cup coach recently admitted that Russia only develops a player up to a point and then send them out to be “finished” in Spain or the United States. He pointed out that most of these players, mostly women, continue to play for Russia and never give up their Russian citizenship. We aren’t hearing about too many American women coming up behind Venus, Serena or Lindsay right now. Madison Brengle one of the promising US juniors recently got a Wild Card into the Oz draw but I wonder if she’ll be thrown under the bus known as Maria Sharapova in an early round?

Why are small countries like Jamaica, Serbia and Croatia fighting to develop their players and build their own systems while the so called “major tennis powers” have to go outside of their borders to find youngsters, and coaches, who can help what they are admitting by doing so, their ailing programs? Why is Tony Roche coaching Roger Federer instead of an Australian up and comer? Why is Brad Gilbert working with the Brits and not with up and coming United States talent? Gilbert openly begged for a chance to work with Rafa Nadal earlier in the year but there was no way that was happening. United States tennis officials openly laughed at Spain a few years ago when that country set itself on a course to develop top players for the ATP. No one is laughing now.

Part 2 Will Focus on the United States and the USTA.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

James Blake Tennis Week Interview

Most of you know I'm not a James Blake fan but I found this interview on the website. These are the excerpts- I skipped most of the introduction. The entire interview is below.

Tennis Week caught up with Blake, who took a break from training on the courts of Saddlebrook near his Tampa home, to discuss AnthemLive and the exhibition match with Agassi. In this interview, Blake reflects on the influence his father exerted on his life and career, reveals the the reasons why he's decided to write a book about his life and career, reasserts his view that World No. 1 Roger Federer is the world's best athlete and reviews his 2006 season while looking ahead to the 2007 season.

Tennis Week: Memorial Sloan-Kettering will use some of the revenue from Anthem Live to launch a cancer research center in your father's name. How did this come about and what does it mean to you and your family to honor your dad in this way?

James Blake: For me, it's a really big deal especially given the circumstances and the fact that my father was treated so well during his battle with cancer. For us, as a family, we're really happy Memorial Sloan-Kettering got involved, we're really happy they helped my father while he was alive and that they can continue to help other people who are battling cancer and hopefully help even more so.

Tennis Week: This is the second year you're conducting Anthem Live? Can you discuss how you started it and Andre Agassi's involvement this year?

James Blake: It is the second year. Originally, I was going to make it just a one-year thing to benefit my father as a kind of a little bit of a memorial and a way I could give back. Then, when I asked Andre to do it the first time, he said "yes" and then he went back and checked his schedule and realized it was impossible for him to do it because he already had something on his schedule. But he said "I'll commit to doing it next year. Whatever it is, whenever you want to do it, I'll do it." So when you've got Andre Agassi committed to doing it, you jump at that chance. So I then decided "OK, there's gonna be a second time." And also, once I did do the event, I had such a good time doing it, the crowd was so much fun, having my friends there to help out with the event made such a difference and the amount of money we raised hopefully will make a big difference. So then it became a no-brainer that I wanted to do it again.

Tennis Week: You had an old high school friend, John Mayer, perform at the event last year. What do you have planned this year?

James Blake: We're gonna have Boyd Tinsley of the Dave Matthews Band and I'm excited about that. He's a big tennis fan and I'm a huge Dave Matthews band fan so it worked out real well. I've gotten to watch them perform a few times and he came to watch us play quite a bit, he came to watch us at the U.S. Open this year, so I'm pretty happy about that. The crowd was great last year and I've heard there aren't that many seats left for this week's event so I hope we can completely sell out. I'm real thankful to the community and all the hard work that the people at Anthem Live have done in promoting it and all the media like your magazine that have helped us out.

Tennis Week: You'll be playing Agassi Thursday night. Have you hit at all with him or been in touch with him since his retirement? That classic U.S. Open quarterfinal is a match people in New York still talk about in terms of the quality of play, excitement level and fan participation — I remember it seemed like hardly anyone left the stadium that night even though it ended after 1 a.m. — have you ever watched that match on tape and what is it like for you to get out and play with Andre again?

James Blake: I practiced with him quite a bit since then. Before he retired at the Open, we were on tour together pretty much all year, he's one of my good friends and obviously one of the best guys in the world to practice with so I got quite a few opportunities to practice with him this year. He's just really an exceptional guy, to have someone like that this committed to a cause and to helping a friend do something he knows is real important to me, it really says a lot about him and how great of a person he is. So I'm really excited that he's a part of it and I think it is going to be fun given that quarterfinal match we had. I think a lot of people do remember that, so I think we'll try to duplicate that, but this time with me coming out on top (laughs). That match was extremely memorable to me and I think it was to him. It was mainly so memorable because of all the fans who stayed until 1:30 in the morning; to have that many people standing and cheering and both of us being fan favorites pretty much everywhere we go, especially at the U.S. Open, and to have such a split crowd that was cheering for the legend that it might be his last U.S. Open and cheering for the kid who is from the area and who had gone through some troubles, it was just such an exciting feeling and something that might never be duplicated, but it came together perfectly that night. And we both played some of our best tennis so it worked out perfectly. This year, all of the planning for this event has gone really well so hopefully the even itself will go perfectly as well.

Tennis Week: What is it about playing the U.S. Open — the fan support, the surface, the fact that you're from the New York area — is it exactly that brings out your best tennis? U.S. Open tournament referee Brian Earley told us "probably the best two sets of tennis that I have ever seen are the first and third of Blake-Federer." Obviously, the Agassi quarterfinal is a classic match, you had a big win over Nadal at the 2005 U.S. Open and even the five-set loss to Hewitt in 2001, I remember people leaping out of their seats during that match. What is it about the Open that brings out that edge and excitement for you?

James Blake: I feel different at the Open. I grew up as a fan at the U.S. Open and when I go out to play there, I still get chills and I still get excitement to be a part of that. It's something different where I feel I've got a little extra edge whereas other people, maybe it's because it's near the end of the year and maybe they're tired, but I don't feel any of that at the U.S. Open. I feel so happy to be a part of it and it's my biggest tournament of the year and I've got a lot of friends and family in the crowd and even the fans that aren't friends and family seem to be friends and family because they're cheering so hard for me. It definitely makes a difference. I don't hear specific fans in the crowd that often while I play, but at the Open I definitely hear a lot more there and I'm more conscious of the fact there are people really cheering for me.

Tennis Week: During the fifth set of that Agassi match at the Open, there was that moment where you looked up and said "I love you dad" to acknowledge your father. Clearly, both of your parents have had a major impact on your life and were a big reason you started to play in the first place. What were your father's aspirations for you while you were growing up? I know you were a good junior, but maybe not the best junior. While you were growing up, did your father talk to you about your future and did he see that future as pro tennis or in a career or pursuing your education? What did your dad envision for you? Do you think he envisioned any of this?

James Blake: No, definitely not. He was someone who focused so much on hard work, on the process of me working to get better and of me getting better always. So when I was a junior — and like you said, I wasn't the best of juniors — he was focusing on me working hard, as hard as I could, to get better. His view was always that my focus should be trying to get better for the possibility of playing in college. So I did that and I got to college and it just became more and more of a reality that I could do this for a living. He was actually against it (turning pro) at first because he stressed education so much and the improvement of your mind — as much or more — than the improvement of yourself physically so when he heard that I was thinking about leaving Harvard and turning pro he wasn't too happy originally. But then when he saw how committed I was to it, how it was a dream for me and then when I told him that I would be able to go back to Harvard at any time, he supported me 100 percent. He was a great parent, cheerleader, friend, everything all wrapped up into one and I am very happy and grateful for that.

Tennis Week: Looking ahead to the Australian Open, I've always felt that should be a good surface for you and your game. I know you've never been past the fourth round in Melbourne, but you did win Sydney in January and it just seems given the surface and the conditions, combined with the fact you'll be one of the top five seeds this year, you should have a good shot to do well there. What do you think about your chances in Australia and what do you have to do in order to play well and contend there?

James Blake: I also think it could be a very good surface for me and I'm really looking forward to it. This year, I've had my best year ever and I'm hoping to go down there and have even more success. You never know exactly what's going to happen. I've done well at Sydney like you said and I've done reasonably well at the Australian Open. I've run into some pretty tough competitors there. I lost to Schuettler the year he made it to the final (2003), lost to Safin a year he made the final (2004) and this year against Robredo I just felt for some reason I didn't play my best tennis. I'm looking forward to January because I'm going to be training really hard this offseason and coming off this year I know there's going to be a lot of extra pressure. People are going to be wondering if I can continue this success, if I can keep playing at the top 10 level that I've been playing at and I'm excited to face that challenge: to prove that I do belong, I hope. If I don't then I'll find that out next year. But I really believe I do belong (in the top 10) and I really think I can back it up next year. And the first big test is Australia. I think it's a good surface for me. I train down here at Saddlebrook where they have a Rebound Ace court for me to train on and hopefully I can get used to the heat — that's really the biggest thing because here in the States we're not used to playing in 100 degree weather in December and January so I'll get down there and hopefully have some success at Sydney and get used to the heat of the Australian summer and once I'm adjusted I hope I can play some of my best tennis down there.

Tennis Week: Two things I wanted to ask you about: one is I know you've been writing a book. How is that process going? Secondly, what's the story with your racquet? We keep hearing you are going to launch a new Prince model then it looks like you're using the same racquet. What's the story with the book and the racquet?

James Blake: I am writing a book with Andrew Friedman. He's helping me with the book because as much as I like to think I'm relatively well spoken (laughs), it helps to work with someone who has experience writing past freshman year English. He's helping me out. It's been a great experience to go back and think about all the experiences I've been through the past few years. It's just going to be from 2004 up until now.

Tennis Week: Will it be written in a diary form or more reflecting about your life and career?

James Blake: A little bit more reflecting on everything. It's not going to be just a diary. It will be reflecting on what happened tennis-wise, what happened to me off the court, what's happened to my family and friends. It's going to be a little extra window for people to know what's happened with me. By now, I think some people have heard or read the stories, but I still don't know if people really understand how much went into the virus I had and how much went into the family troubles and so it's interesting to go into all of that because in most tennis press conferences you're in, you're talking about tennis, talking about the match, talking about your training and all that kind of stuff. So now to talk about things that really are very important to me in my life — my family and friends — is something that's interesting to me. It's great to do that and to kind of sit back and think about how far you've come in just a couple of years. You don't get the chance to do that because tennis is the type of sport where you almost don't have an offseason, so you're going all the time, you're thinking about what's coming up next, you're moving forward and all that kind of stuff as opposed to you don't get too many times to think about how lucky you are, how much has happened to you in your life, the good times and the bad times. So for me it was interesting to do that in the middle of your career. A lot of people might do it at the end of their careers, but for me to do it in the middle of my career while I think I am still getting better and improving my game to look back at how it's gotten to this point is something I hope that people will appreciate it.

Tennis Week: What's the story with your racquet? I was told at one point Prince might be releasing a racquet with your name or endorsed by you as soon as January?

James Blake: I hope so. We're still working on it. This is another thing I'm learning is about the whole racquet production process. There's a lot that goes into it, there's a lot of tinkering that goes on with the racquet. I actually never thought I was that picky about racquets, but apparently I am (laughs). And I'm finding out I need mine to be exactly right in order for me to go out there and give 100 percent. I don't want to go out there and feel I'm 95 percent because my racquet can't do this or won't do that. We're in the process of perfecting it. I'm really happy that Prince has had the patience to deal with me and to kind of put off getting this racquet out, but when we do get it out I'm really going to be proud of it. And it's not going to be something where I'm just lending my name; it's something that I was part of the process and I really feel strongly being about it being a racquet that I use and if people play like me or want to play like me then hopefully this racquet will help them.

Tennis Week: Your Indianapolis final with Roddick registered a ratings increase of 50 percent over the prior year despite the fact it was televised on tape delay. People always talk about the need for rivalry and good American players competing in the later rounds of tournaments in order to promote tennis television growth in this country and we have that now in the Federer-Nadal rivalry and two top 10 Americans with you and Roddick. You're a sports fan, you watch other sports often. What does tennis need to do — the game's governing bodies, the players, the networks — in order to help improve its appeal as a television sport and are you optimistic that can and will happen?

James Blake: I think right now things are going well; like you said there is a rivalry, we have two top 10 Americans and we have Americans who are committed to Davis Cup. I think one thing that would help is a little more continuity and understanding of the season. I don't think fans can really get their minds around the fact the U.S. Open seems to be the end of the season and then there's more tournaments going on. All that builds up to Shanghai, which American fans and sometimes even European fans don't realize is really one of the biggest events of our year and it being such a big deal with the top eight players in Shanghai. So I think there needs to be a way to let people know what's important and what isn't as important and just in general what's going on in the year. I don't know exactly how to do that, but the schedule maybe just needs to be fixed. I'm a part of the player council and we're still working on that. We're trying to cut down the schedule a little bit, we're going to take out one of the Masters Series (tournaments) to make it easier on our bodies because there's so any people getting hurt that it takes away from the game. I really like the way it's going with the rivalry of Federer and Nadal and with myself and Andy playing great finals like that one in Indianapolis. Hopefully, we can continue that and then maybe it's a matter of people realizing how good we have it. Because for a while maybe we were spoiled with Sampras, Agassi, Courier, Chang playing in finals of Grand Slams all the time. Now, it's become so much more of an international game, we won't have any one country dominating like that, probably. Hopefully, people can realize and appreciate the differences of all the players and of their stories.

Tennis Week : In the press conference after the U.S. Open quarterfinal with Federer, you made a convincing case for Federer being the best athlete in the world. You said it was "a joke" that he wasn't recognized as such. You also said "I feel like he is legitimately a level above me right now. That's not to say I can't beat him on a given day, but there's definitely work to be done and I need to play better if I expect to be on that level consistently..." You're No. 4 in the world, coming off the best year of your career, you've beaten every other guy ranked ahead of you except Roger. My questions are: How do you close the gap on Roger and is it a matter of technical and tactical adjustments or do the mental approach and attitude play a part of it. Secondly, what are your thoughts on Sports Illustrated naming Dwayne Wade as its Sportsman of the Year and overlooking Federer?

James Blake: The Laureus sports awards named Roger athlete of the year. Dwayne Wade, obviously is an excellent athlete and to have won a world championship at such a young age is incredible, but to name anyone better than Federer seems ridiculous to me. What he's done in terms of the last three or four years, his record, I don't know if it's ever going to be matched. To see how well he's played and the fact that the game has grown so much; there's such great depth he's playing against and he's winning consistently. If Tiger Woods won as much as him, it would be just incredible to think about what they'd say about him. To me, it seems unheard of to name anyone as the best except Federer. Obviously, it's an opinion-based thing; it's like comparing different generations — to compare different sports it's a difficult thing to do. But I think what he's doing athletically is just unmatched. And as far as what I need to do to get to him? I need to try not to think about all that stuff I just said. I need to think about myself making the four steps because for me to think about myself being number four in the world a year or two ago kind of would have taken me aback and I wouldn't really think about anything else and I don't think I would have made it here. All I did the whole time was concentrate on getting better and working hard and thinking about ways to get to the next level. Right now, I need to do that. I need to keep trying to improve. Hopefully, that will get me to that point where I can honestly say: "Roger Federer isn't a whole level above me, maybe he just played better than me on one day and maybe I just played better than him on one day." Right now, after what he did to me in the Shanghai final, I can't say I feel that great about the way I just played him. Like I said, hopefully soon that will be something that's possible, but you never know.

Tennis Week: I've never heard you make a statement regarding a ranking goal, but in terms of just looking at your game, assessing where you are and trying to get better, what can you do? Obviously, every player hits a peak point of their career. What do you think about your level now and how much better can you get?

James Blake: I definitely think I can get better. There's some things I'm going to be working on in the offseason where I think my game can improve, but the tour is always improving as well. I think it showed the last few years in my ranking that I've improved at a greater rate than some of the other players. Now I hope by my improvement in this offseason, which I know I'll be able to do if I stay healthy, I hope it's still at a greater rate than some of the other guys. But you never know. Obviously, at some point all of us hit a plateau and stop improving, but I don't think I've reached that. I'm excited to start a new year and feel like I'm even better because every year I've started the last three years in Australia, I feel like I'm a better player than I was the year before. Even though the prior season ends only two months before, I feel like I'm a better player at the start of every season. So I'm looking forward to getting better and playing better and I definitely feel like I can improve.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

WTA 2007 Preview

It's no secret that the women's tour was not must-see throughout 2006. Why? See the top 3 below. Next year can't be any worse, can it? A who to watch for the WTA in 2007 would have to include everyone in the top 30 and two women who are not: Venus Williams and Serena Williams. If they come into 2007 relatively injury free and able to bring their "A" games while taking a page from Justine's book and playing a smart, point-enhancing season they'll be at least top five.

The Queens

(1) Justine Henin-Hardenne (BEL) - The words liar and cheat usually follow praise for her game and temper any admiration many fans want to feel for her. Her team has worked very hard to overcome the bad taste left in fans mouths by her "no mas" in Melbourne when it was obvious she couldn't bring the goods against Mauresmo. By the US Open it was obvious the little Belgian was on a mission that wasn't so impossible. She finished the year at No. 1.

What does she need to do in 2007?

She can forget totally rehabbing her image. UNESCO posts aside she is a known entity. The only way she will cut down on the negative talk is to continue to play the kind of tennis she played in 2006. She managed her time well and there is no reason to think she'll do any differently next year. She is being marketed as the WTA's answer to Federer. Let's see if she can dominate in 2007 and justify that talk. I think she can barring injury and suspicious cases of gastric distress. I really don't think the Pirhana cares what people think but if she wants to make money she's going to have to.

(2) Maria Sharapova (RUS) - It's hard to find a female tennis player so widely reviled by so many tennis fans. She was booed in Miami after her on court antics and despite her winning her second Slam the only real celebration seemed to be among her corporate sponsors. Bananagate and her nasty attitude towards reporters who asked her tough questions instead of groveling at her feet may have made her a very hard bed which no amount of cajoling by IMG will overcome. Her publicists want us to ignore her pulling out of Moscow and the poor attendance in Zurich and point to Madrid. Spain is tennis crazy right now and they came to see tennis—not her. One blogger screamed "enough" when talking about all the publicity she was getting. And we won't talk about the cell phone incident, will we?

This woman truly doesn't care what anyone thinks of her. She comes across as eat-your-babies mean and no amount of hips not lying (the commercial they aired ad nauseum where she's "dancing" to Shakira's hit song) or feeling pretty will change that impression with some fans. She desperately needed to win her second Slam and where else could she count on the luck of the draw but in old New York? Tennis fans are a savvy bunch and all they care about is the tennis. She is from the American school of hit hard and if that doesn't work hit harder. The shriek? Distracts her opponents and they can't hear the ball off the racquet and judge how fast it's coming at them. Yet she is 466 points behind a woman who is a much better tennis player than she is. She and Justine will be seeded on opposite sides of the draw in Oz so their only chance to meet will be in the Final. Unless the luck of the draw holds I don't see her winning another Slam although she will probably make the semis…and yes I did go there!

(3) Amelié Mauresmo (FRA) - I don't think anyone was quaking in her thongs when they had to play her. No one gets called a head case more often other than Marat Safin. Watching her try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory this year was jaw dropping.

I would call her La Reine de Headcases but there are so many more in the top ten she's just a lady in waiting. She finally fulfilled the promise she showed at 19 when she made it to the finals in Oz before her private life became more of an issue than her tennis. Yet I can't see anyone worried that they can't beat her since she so often beats herself. She got a taste of the top this year and since she is an athlete I think she'll want to stay there. I don't see her winning Oz but I think she can pull it off at Wimby unless the Dragon Queen gets a cup cake draw.

(4) Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) - What can you say? When this woman wants to play she can beat anyone yet she often seems puzzled about why she's on the tennis court. This was a forgettable year for her despite her No. 4 ranking because she can play so much better than she did. Maybe now with the pressure off she can play the tennis that won her a Slam. Will she win one in 2007? No.

(5) Kim Clijsters (BEL) - The former Queen of the Cupcake draws has said this will be her last year. She suffered with injuries but still managed to finish the year in the top 5. Will she be interested in tennis in 2007 or will she be picking out cribs and layette sets? She seemed very "meh" in 2006. She may fight hard enough to stay in the top ten and make some quarter finals and maybe a semi or two but unless she changes her focus she'll go out as No. 9 or 10.

(6) Nadia Petrova (RUS) - To the players below her: "Incoming at twelve o'clock high." She'll be lucky to finish in the top 10. All the drama with her coaching situation (or in her head) is not helping her play her best. Yet here she is at No. 6 in the world. Go figure.

(7) Martina Hingis (SUI) - The Black Widow has to be pleased with her year. She came from nowhere and is ranked No. 7. She still has problems handling Big Babe tennis and it doesn't matter if you hit a beautiful shot with pin point placement when some Valkyrie sends it literally screaming back at you with some added KPH on it. It could also be a gremlin sending it back her way with a lot of deceptive action on the ball. Martina has worked on her fitness but she has not changed her game. I see her in a holding pattern next year.

(8) Elena Dementieva (RUS) - La Princesse or La Reine of the Headcases? With no serve she has managed to have a pretty good year. At No. 8 she's about where she belongs. Once she gets the ball in play she's hard to beat. If she plays like she did this year she, like The Black Widow, will end the year about where she is.

(9) Patty Schnyder (SUI) - I think she starts to wonder if her hubby is robbing people in the stands when she gets to a third set. I've been watching Patty for years now and I wonder why she's never kicked into that other gear which is inside of her. If she did she'd be top 5, top 3. As it stands she's another one right where she should be. If she wanted to use her other gear this was the year to do it.

(10) Nicole Vaidisova (CZE) - She had some great wins this year and her confidence has to be high. She can move up and I don't think she's afraid to tap into the talent hidden inside of her. She is from the hit-hard-and-then-harder school but if she wants it she can get to No. 5.

The Ladies in Waiting

I don't see much movement in the top 10 so these ladies are really in a bind. With the new WTA B-Tier championship strategy I see most of them battling it out for that right while the top 8 go to the YEC or Tier A championship. That topic deserves its own discussion so I'll just say here that if they ever wanted to make a tour consisting of the haves and have-nots they couldn't come up with a better idea. The only top 10 spots I see vulnerable are 6, 8 and 10.

(11) Dinara Safina (RUS) - After her destruction of Sharapova everyone figured her for the Final 8. Instead she exited stage left and ended the year at No. 11 not even eligible for an alternate at the big dance. And as she sank Sharapova rose. Maybe it's a family trait, I don't know. I see her right where she is, maybe No. 10 if she really wants it. Ironically if you finish No. 9 or 10 you can't go to the Tier B championships which start at the woman ranked No. 11 and end with the woman ranked No. 23. You can be an alternate at the Big Dance. I don't think she's ready for prime time yet.

(12) Jelena Jankovic (SRB) - The Queen of the B list players wants to move up into the top ten. If Petrova slips and falls The Black Widow will move up a notch to take Petrova's spot and maybe Kim's. I don't think Kim wants to go out as B List champ so she'll fight enough to stay in the Top Eight. JJ's managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at the US Open makes me think that while she has a chance to make it to No. 9 or 10 she may want to stay where she is and have a chance at the Tier B championships.

(13) Anna Chakvetadze (RUS) - Maybe she had a bad day at the Open but this girl just does not impress me. She looked like a deer in headlights during the match I saw her play. I'm stunned she's ranked ahead of Ivanovic. She may end the year right where she is.

(14) Ana Ivanovic (SRB) - Other than turning grown men into McCreamy's this girl has the stuff to move into the top ten. But again unless you crack the top 8 it doesn't mean jack. She wants it and wants it badly. But she's got to get past a few other women to get to No. 8.

(15) Francesca Schiavone (ITA) - May move up a few notches but will probably end the year just about where she is. A strong contender for B Tier champion.

(16) Anastasia Myskina - I'm surprised she's ranked this high. She must be content with where she is because every chance she had to move up she managed to lose. Note to Anastasia: you're not blonde. You're a smoldering brunette. You don't have to be blonde to win tennis matches you have to be good. Play to your potential and you don't have to fight Schiavone for Tier B queen.

(17) Marion Bartoli (FRA) - If Maid Marion would eat her veggies and fish and drop about 25 pounds she would put a scare into her peers when she reaches the top 8. She's got the game; she even looks like a young Monica. I'd love to see an in shape Bartoli against Sharapova. She could blow right past Martina and end the year in the top five I think she's that good. She is the Fat Dave of the WTA.

(18) Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) - Maybe Maid Marion should bequeath her crepe recipes to Daniela. Her stamina is her problem. Her lack of movement also hinders her. She's got the shots but she's almost stationary like Lindsay was before she got fit. I think the game has passed her by but she plays enough to keep her ranking in the top twenty. She ends 2007 where she is.

(19) Anna-Lena Groenefeld (GER) - An underachiever. I don't know what distracts her. She's German so I can't say she's got that whole Russian thing the Safin family has going on. If she plays the way she did this year she may fall out of contention for the Tier B championship.

(20) Shahar Peer (ISR) - I don't see her moving into the top 8. She plays well and she plays just enough to keep her ranking. She may move into the high teens depending on how some of her peers do but that will be it in my opinion.

The Court in Exile

Lindsay's retirement makes this group interesting but I'm not sure if there will be much change here with few exceptions. This may be the group where Safina, Groenefeld and Hantuchova end 2007. Remember those ranked 20-23 are in the Tier B championships.

(21) Li, Na (CHN) - In China the last name goes first so I'm sticking with that convention for Ms Li. There is tremendous pressure on the Chinese women to move up in the rankings ahead of the 2008 Olympics. If she doesn't finish in the high teens the year will be considered a failure for her. She should be poised to enter the top ten in 2008 which is doable. She should set No. 15 as her goal for this year. Anything higher is gravy.

(22) Tatiana Golovin (FRA) - Another woman that sends men into a tizzy but has not capitalized on chances she's had to move up in the rankings in 2006. Everyone wants her to be top ten but until she wants it she won't be. I see her in the first 15 tops.

(23) Katarina Srebotnik (SLV) - Another B tier princess. I have to say I've never seen her play. With the women beneath her fighting for that No. 23 spot she may be in danger of losing it and falling towards No. 29 or so.

(24) Bepa Zvonereva (RUS) - Bepa is Vera in Cyrillic so I'm not disrespecting her. She gets major props in my book for showing her humanity when Mary Pierce went down with that severe knee injury. Bepa's an underachiever in my book. Maybe she needs a coach who will kick her in the butt and make her cry but by doing so stiffens her spine and pushes her up a couple of notches. The game may have passed her by and she may drop a place or two.

(25) Lindsay Davenport (USA) - With the birth of her child on the horizon Lindsay has more important things on her mind. If she had continued to play I'm not sure if she would've moved up much. I am sure she wouldn't want to be the Tier B queen either so as usual the universe converged and gave her a way to leave the game with dignity. I wonder if she'll be able to curb that tongue of hers and do some commentary in 2008?

(26) Sugiyama, Ai (JPN) - Again following Asian name conventions I put her last name first. I saw Ai play live at the Open. She still has game but as James Brown once said "money won't change you but time is taking you on." It may be time for Ai to call it a day.

(27) Anabel Medina Garrigues (ESP) - Never seen her play. With Lindsay gone and Sugiyama probably moving down in the rankings she has a chance to move up some. Not sure if she'll make No. 23 though.

(28) Flavia Pennetta (ITA) - Another underachiever. Every chance Flavia had to move up she blew in 2006 and it's a shame because Flavia has a nice game. When she plays with confidence she is a threat to anyone. Just ask Sharapova. Flavia should be No. 20 or so. Has a chance to move up from this ranking segment.

(29) Samantha Stosur (AUS) - Singles is an afterthought for her. May move up due to retirements or other random tennis events but I don't see her higher than No. 25 at the end of the year.

(30) Maria Kirilenko (RUS) - No more McCreamy remarks from me. This girl has the looks they wish Sharapova had. If only she had more of the Siberian woman's will. A good year for Maria K. would be finishing in the high 20's.

Special Note: Thanks to Craig Hickman for the addition of the artwork!

Friday, December 22, 2006

MV's Year End Blog

It’s me, MV.

Well since everyone and their freaking brother will be writing these end of year thingies I thought I’d write one too.

As you all know it’s been a banner year for the Captain. His end of year point total is just phenomenal and it will be a long time before anyone approaches his greatness. I am proud to have played a small part in helping him achieve his goals. We’re looking forward to the New Year starting in Kooyang in January.

The Captain has taken his UN ambassadorship seriously and here are some pictures of him in India. We have seriously fallen in love with Asia and its many different cultures. Knowing the Captain I have to make sure I check myself in the mirror to make sure I don’t have any dot’s on my forehead from now on. My taste buds are finally back to normal thank you very much for asking. Needless to say wasabi is not a staple in our home.

I recently spoke with PY. He was bored silly in the Maldives or some place he was at the time. He said something about the little piranha not liking all the attention he gets but I’m not sure what fish would care that he’s got his own cult following. He said he’s been told no more blouses or body armour. He has to wear plain tees and jeans. He also said since they didn’t mention what color the tees have to be he’s stocked up on cyan, fuchsia, and lime greens as well as pastels. He’s favoring baby blues and pinks with deep vee necks. He’s been working out and he hopes his fans like what they see next year. He’s staying away from white. Too butch he said. Black is part of his new year wardrobe as well.

He’s also found some jeans that he’s sure his fans will like seeing on him. He mentioned something about the corrida but the phone line suddenly had a lot of static on it and I couldn’t understand it.

I have to admit that when I called him it was because I was just sooo upset. As you know PY and myself are the heads of the tennis WAG’s and as such we get to say who is in style and who is not. Imagine our surprise when Mother Russia sent e-mails out to the effect that she in now in the running for head WAG. Who nominated her sorry arse? The cue ball she married? Even the piranha has better hair sense.

I’m glad to report that PY agrees with me. He said he was appalled when he saw the get up Mother Russia wore to her wedding. I had to remind him that Mother Russia was the one in the ermine trim not the one in the suit that was at least two sizes too big. He then went on a ten minute rant about Mad Max and the yellow suit that was also two sizes too big. I gently guided him back to the subject at hand.

PY wanted to know if the cue ball was marrying his mother. I told him that was illegal in most countries and besides she was a young woman although it was hard to tell. HF PY had one word for her wedding dress – tackkk-ayyy. She looked like she should be selling potatoes from a stall at a market in a small village he said which made me spit out the Tandoori chicken I was eating at the time. I told him he should have respect for other people’s culture and that maybe her outfit had cultural significance. There was silence for a few seconds before HF PY managed to say “whatever”.

We did manage to get a few days shopping in and I totally enjoyed Paris. We visited “The Triangle d'Or” – The Golden Triangle the neighborhood consisting of Avenue Montaigne, Avenue George V, and Rue Francois 1er near the Champs Elysées.

Dior, Chanel, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Lancôme, Givenchy, Cartier and Yves Saint Laurent all have flagship stores here. The big-name designers also dominate the shops on Avenue George V, whilst no lover of fashion should overlook the Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps, two of the city's top department stores on the Right Bank of the Seine. For some reason Patricia wanted to hang out in H&M but we dragged her out. She was kicking and screaming because she wanted this skirt she saw for under twenty euros that who knows how many polyesters sacrificed their lives to create. We invited the Piranha but she wanted to hang out in the boys section for god only knows what reason. We lost her in H&M and headed with a reluctant Patricia to the Yves Saint Laurent shop.

We also visited a La Perla store. Funny, that same woman who looks like the ex American First Lady was there with her friend. She called her Mrs. Ford while she was trying to convince her to buy a pair of lacy pale blue crotch less unmentionables. PY bought two pair in every color. For the Piranha he said. Mrs. Ford went to H&M and ended up with a couple of boxes of cotton briefs. Seems she and the Piranha met each other in that section of the store since HF PY let it slip that the Piranha had bought several boxes of cotton briefs as well and that she had met Mrs. Ford who seemed to be a nice lady. He quickly went back to discussing Patricia when I asked about all those La Perla’s though.

HF PY (thanks to whomever gave him that honorific since it’s how he wants to be addressed now) and I were reliving moments spent shopping when the Piranha came in.

She needed HF PY to pose with her in a photo shoot showing how they were just the normal couple in love who have pillow fights and gaze into each others eyes. I was too polite to mention they’d done that already. Seems she’s annoyed that not too many people took her side in not showing up for her country’s sports award ceremony. HF PY told me that she felt she evened the score since they voted her fourth last year. I thought it was all about winning but he said that she feels this second chance thing is a bunch of crap. I politely refrained from comment.

I should mention that the Captain had the ceilings redone. I can’t for the life of me figure out why he did it but he seems perfectly happy with it. I guess I don’t get it because I sleep on my tummy while he tends to sleep on his back. One day I’m going to have to take a really good look at that ceiling.

Happy New Year to all of you, my fans, and The Captains as well. HF PY is talking about starting his own blog in 2007.