Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Rear View Mirror - 2011 Australian Open

by Savannah

It's over. Two weeks of living in the twilight zone where day is night and night is day, of sleeping in the afternoon so that you could be up at 7p EST to watch a match starting at 11a Melbourne time. The winners have received their trophies and had their photo ops and the tennis world has already begun it's countdown to the French Open.
There will be thousands of words posted about the meaning of what happened in Melbourne, and I'm adding to the cyber clutter by adding my two cents to the pot.

Let's start with what did happen.

Both tours have spent tons of money trying to grow the sport of tennis in Asia. The calendars of both tours have been adjusted to allow for major tournaments to take place in China, Japan and Indonesia. I suspect that Li Na winning the major warm up event in Sydney and making the Final of a Grand Slam has done more to grow the sport than anything the tours have done so far. Li has always been a thorn in the side of the Chinese Federation fighting them for the right of players to retain most if not all of their winnings. Her comments about the offer of the head of the Federation to buy her dinner have to be seen in that context.

Fact of the matter is Li Na should not have won Sydney or made the Australian Open Women's Final. After all her coach, Thomas Hogstedt, ditched her just before she began her Australian quest to join the team of Russia's Maria Sharapova, something she found out about on line and that was confirmed by Hogstedt via e-mail. I'm sure she and her husband are thinking about who had the last laugh as Sharapova had a dismal showing in Australia.
Not only did she make history with her racquet the tennis public was introduced to a woman who speaks passable English, has a wicked sense of humor, and shared with us that her husband snores so badly she wakes up every hour. I think women all over the world know how that is.
And it wasn't only Li. We got to hear a lot from Vera Zvonareva who came into the tournament ranked #2 in the world. And what must the thinking have been in the upper echelons of the WTA when the best match of the tournament was between Svetlana Kuznetsova and Francesca Schiavone? What were they thinking when their number one, in a match that lasted over two and a half hours only made ten winners and had to wait for her opponent, who she was spotting ten years, hit the wall after having played a four hour and forty four minute match the day before?

The ATP had different questions answered. When the world number one lost his match in the quarter final round due to injury there was hope that the sentimental favorite would win the Tournament. Instead Roger Federer lost to a focused and determined Novak Djokovic. It takes a lot out of you to defeat even an injured Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer succumbed to Andy Murray setting up the first Grand Slam final in a long time that did not feature Rafa or Roger. Would the quality of tennis live up to the standard those two men had set or would it be a yawner?
I have to admit I fell sound asleep during the first set so I can't say much about the tennis played. I did manage to distract myself enough to see both the second and the third set where Murray seemed to have no strategy other than to keep hitting his returns right at Djokovic. It's true, Li Na did that from the middle of the second set on but she had an excuse. She had played a lot of tennis coming into her final. Clijsters also played the week before. But Na had the expectations of her country on her shoulders and once she became tired she became distracted and that was all she wrote.
Murray has the weight of Britain's 75 year Slam drought on his back but I still don't understand why the man who defeated Ferrer with aggressive play went ass up against Djokovic. I really didn't care who won, I just wanted to see a good match. Instead I saw one man playing to win while the other was doing his best Caroline Wozniacki imitation and waiting for errors that were not coming.
The win gave Djokovic his second Australian Open and all I can say is that he was playing the best tennis in the second week.
Will he be able to win elsewhere? The American Spring hard court swing starts soon and there will be a lot of interest in how he performs at Indian Wells and Miami.
As for Murray maybe the lessening of pressure will be a boon for him. There are some people talking about Wimbledon but if he couldn't even rouse himself to be competitive in a Final tailor made for him what will he do when the draw may not do him any favors?
As for rankings the top three in the ATP stay the same for now. It should be noted that Federer has 7,965 points and that Djokovic has 7,880 points

For the WTA Wozniacki remains the computer ranked number 1 with 8,655 points. The new #2 Kim Clijsters has 8,515 points. She is followed by #3 Vera Zvonareva with 7,405 points. Francesca Schiavone with 5,055 points and Samantha Stosur with 4,862 points round out the top five.
It should be mentioned that the computer ranked #1 doubles pair of Flavia Pennetta and Gisela Dulko fought hard and won their first Grand Slam title.
Unfortunately there was only one bright spot for American tennis. Bob and Mike Bryan won the doubles crown. None of the highly touted men or women, let alone boys or girls, went deep in their respective draws.
Their accomplishments deserve high praise since they've been the only consistent Americans on either tour for a long time now. It still stank of desperation though when all of a sudden, after being after thoughts, they're being put on a pedestal by the American tennis establishment.
As with any Grand Slam there is the usual crap that goes on that makes you ask your self if they're kidding or not.
There are three incidents from the WTA that fall into, as Tina Fey would say, the Whuck Files.
It was obvious that Justine Henin had something wrong with her arm when she couldn't exercise whatever shot it was Carlos Rodriguez told her to hit. She kept shaking her arm as if it were numb, and she had a tape around the meaty part of the arm just before you hit the elbow going up from the wrist. Some found it odd that she would announce her retirement in the middle of the tournament. I didn't. It's what I expect from her and why I could never become a fan of hers. She could've waited until the tournament was over to make her announcement instead of trying to steal the thunder of the women who had moved on in the tournament. Then again she's never been a class act. Ask Amelie Mauresmo.
The second and third both involve Caroline Wozniacki. I'm not even going to get into Kangaroo-gate. That supposedly seasoned reporters accepted her story without fact checking speaks volumes about the tennis media. What really galled me was her fake injury time out during her match against Francesca Schiavone. I mean she's playing a woman who went almost five hours the day before against a determined opponent and who came out with one of her thighs heavily bandaged and SHE's the one who takes an injury time out and comes back with an almost identical wrap on her thigh? Granted it still would've been a miracle for Fran to win the match since it came hard on her win from the night before but that stoppage couldn't have helped matters. Then, to add insult to injury Wozniacki ripped the tape off and proceeded to play unencumbered. During her post match interview with Pam Shriver she was going on and on about how she played the match and Pam had to remind her that she was supposed to have been injured.
Then there was the Tweet she made just as the historic women's final began alerting the world that she and her family were at dinner or some such bullshit. I mean really Caroline? To their credit most of the tennis family on Twitter ignored her tweet although someone did mention the inappropriateness of it.
I don't think that there'll be a rush for Kim Clijster's Fila kit. I know it was meant as a tribute to Evonne Goolagong Cawley but the sweat patterns that emerged during the Final made her a trending topic on Twitter. Kim has also said that this year will be her last full year on tour thus prompting the echo chamber about how many more slams she'll win. The woman has won one Slam outside of the United States and already she's being touted as the next Queen of the Courts.
There was also a big hullabaloo over some Tweets made by Oracene Price that put Clijsters down. I've learned in my old age that when people say things like that there is something to it. The tennis media was in a tizzy about the comments though. They should've been looking out for those marauding marsupials that were attacking Danish female tennis players.


TennisX reports the following rumor re Venus Williams injury in the Australian Open:
Rumor overhear(d) in Melbourne — Venus William’s injury at the Australian Open was the result of not recovering enough after having a secret hip surgery late last year?…

The newly minted South African ATP tournament didn't attract the top of the heap this year. The organizers cite their inability to pay the appearance fees demanded by the big boys as part of the problem.

The South American clay court swing gets underway later today in Chile. Injured Fernando Gonzalez will not play. David Nalbandian is the top seed.

Goran Ivanisevic will play doubles with Marin Cilic in Zagreb. Goran says his leg hurts but he's going to give it his best.

The women will be playing Fed Cup this weekend. Due to Henin's retirement junior An-Sophie Mestach will join the Belgian team.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Australian Open 2011 - Random Thoughts

by Savannah

The women's semi final between Li Na of China and, as Craig put it so well, the computer ranked WTA #1 Caroline Wozniacki was a tale of two matches.
The first match saw the "defensive minded" Caroline Wozniacki win the first set 6-3 over a Li Na who couldn't find the court. Li's groundstrokes were not sharp and her shot selection was suspect. The rout continued into the second set and for awhile it looked as if the WTA would get it's wish and have it's top ranked player reach a final to start off the year. Instead Na began to steady herself and hit winners forcing Wozniacki to have to play. At the end of the match there was no avoiding the fact that Li Na had 38 winners to Caroline Wozniacki's 10. That's ten winners in a three set match that lasted over two and a half hours. As one of the talking heads lamented "You can't expect to win a match with only ten winners". No you can't. There were a lot of posters on Twitter who were saying Wozniacki's career as a contender is over. I don't go that far. I think she'll continue to win lower level tournaments. Unless the draw breaks for her in a major she is always going to have problems in the later stages of a major. There is no getting around that.

The big win for the WTA was the focus on the personalities of WTA players we the public never hear from and rarely see. To say Li Na charmed the public after her win last night is putting it mildly. We got to know Francesca Schiavone through her on court play and saw potential stars of the future like Petra Kvitova . These women have handed the WTA the opportunity to change their marketing of the tour to focus on the players not an image.

The first men's semi final featured the bottom of the Draw and as usual would have given Roger Federer an extra days rest since the second semifinal will be played at 7:30p Saturday Melbourne time.
Do I have to say it again? A soft draw does not a champion make. I don't think Federer played a seed until he faced 19th seed Stanislas Wawrinka who played so poorly people were sarcastically asking how much Federer paid him to take a dive.
All humor aside Novak Djokovic will be getting that extra day of rest. He was not intimidated. He played solid, fully focused intelligent tennis throughout the match. When he overcame the 5-2 lead Federer had built in the second set there was no doubt that he would win the match. When it comes to the top ranks of the ATP tour no one is there who will play as if he's in awe of The Name as Marcos Baghdatis said by way of explaining his choke against Federer a few years back. Put simply Djokovic outthought and out played Federer.
Much was made of the possibility of Rafael Nadal holding all four Slam titles by the media. It was as if no one wanted to entertain the possibility that at the end of the day Roger Federer would not hold any. I watched the replay on Tennis Channel this morning and that fact was mentioned almost in passing by one of the talking heads.

I only made one prediction about the Australian Open and that was that Caroline Wozniacki would not go deep. She made the semifinals so I guess my prediction was off.

We won't know the second ATP finalist until later this morning on the Eastern coast of NY. Will Djokovic win his second title or will a new King of Melbourne be crowned? I call this match a toss up. If David Ferrer plays the way he did the other night against an uninjured Andy Murray things could be very interesting to say the least.

2011 Australian Open Women's Final

by Savannah

Kim Clijsters of Belgium will face Li Na of China in the women's final of the Australian Open.
Li defeated Clijsters in the final at Sydney. It should be an interesting match.

Meanwhile the men will play their first semifinal later this morning.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

No Doubt

by Savannah


There is no doubt. None whatsoever. It's cliche to talk about the train wreck you can't turn away from. Last night Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova played a match that will go down in the history of women's tennis not only for it's length but for the QUALITY of the tennis that was played right up until the end. I mean when is the last time you heard, let alone saw, women playing serve and volley and throwing up slice backhands? Certainly you haven't if all you know of women's tennis is, to steal Stephanie Myles phrase from a Twitter post last night, the "WTA's legion of identical ball-bashing 'bots" or top ranked players who simply push the ball over the net and hope their opponent self destructs. Last night tennis fans were treated to a real tennis match, a match with strategy, use of the entire court and shot making to put a 'bot to shame.

Neither Sveta or Fran are at the top of the WTA's must see list. Both women are veterans. Both could be described as underachievers based on their God given talent. But as another veteran, Venus Williams, showed the other night what they know about tennis and how they approach the game is more than any ephemeral number one will ever know.


Someone had to lose. My daughter went down for the count around the three hour mark. The old bag stayed up until it was over. I hate to critique the match it was such a high quality affair but when you've had six match points and fail to convert one you rarely go on to win a match. Not that it was for lack of trying. There is a point when the brain begins to focus on something, anything, to avoid dealing with the pain it's in. Let's not forget the first two sets lasted 51' and 53' respectively. Sveta's feet were so heavily taped that I wondered if the shoe had been made that would fit over them.
Then there were the massages Fran was receiving. Since everyone Stateside was already sleep deprived can we be forgiven for wondering if ESPN2 usually turned into an adult channel during the early morning hours? But there was no whining, no racquet tossing, none of the shit that comes with a 'bot match. (I told Stephanie last night I was going to use her phrase and will continue to use it during the year when necessary. I may be using it a lot people.) There was Sveta's ongoing side conversation in Spanish with chair ump Enric Molina and Fran did protest a little about his enforcing the rule about not touching the net until the ball bounced twice but that was it for drama.
I hate that Sveta lost. I was happy that Fran won. I was glad that there was no dead fish hand shake at the net, that the two women embraced and that the celebration by the winner was understandably subdued.

A lot of people will say the beneficiary of this is Caroline Wozniacki who will face Fran next. The body needs at least forty eight hours to get rid of all the lactic acid build up in the muscles. I'm sure that the match will be a night match but will that be long enough for Fran to recover? We'll find out soon enough. The big winner in all of this however is the WTA. Sure they would've wanted one of their flaxen haired darlings to have played an historic match but let's be real. The only thing the new jacks know about serve and volley is what they've heard about from the old bags of tennis. They act as if their sense of entitlement is all it takes to be a tennis player. The WTA needed this match to show that there are women who can play tennis. They needed to show that mindless ball bashing or what is politely called "defensive tennis" is not the only way women can play. Last year I couldn't think of one women's match that grabbed me by the throat and wouldn't let go. I'm guessing that at the end of this year this match, Round 4 of the Australian Open, will still be the match everyone will have at the top of their year end list.

Congratulations to both Sveta and Fran for showing that tennis is more than a long blonde braid.

The Best of the Rest

There were other matches last night. After Venus Williams was forced by injury to retire from competition Maria Sharapova found herself facing Andrea Petkovic of Germany. Andrea is best known for her acerbic Twitter posts and the little dance she does after she wins a match. While the instant classic was taking place this match started. Of course people were reporting the scores and saw that Petkovic was ahead in the first set. No biggie. Maria would probably fight her way back and win in the third set. Not.
Instead it was Petkovic dancing her little jig after winning in straight sets over a remarkably subdued Sharapova. I don't mean she wasn't doing her Bansidhe routine and that she didn't put up a fight in the second set but it wasn't to be for her last night as she was defeated 6-2, 6-3.
Meanwhile Li Na defeated Victoria Azarenka (I don't have to say it do I?) 6-3, 6-3 and moved onto the next round. Karma is a bitch ain't it?
Fernando Verdasco played horribly against Tomas Berdych last night. He had his reasons. It turns out he's been fighting with a broken bone in either his foot or in his ankle and was trying to avoid having to have surgery to repair it. After watching him limp off the court last night I don't see how he can avoid it. I hope he's better soon.
This is Peter Lundgren. He is Stanislas Wawrinka's new coach. Since he's started working with Stan it seems he's cut his hair. Stan has kicked his wife and child to the curb. I guess sacrifice is relative huh?
Oh, by the way Stan defeated Andy Roddick. By doing so the last American standing is gone from the tournament. The Bryan twins are still playing doubles but that's it.

Of Kangaroos and the Hype Beast

So why did the Danish press understand that WTA #1 Caroline Wozniacki was joking when she spun her tale of being attacked by a killer 'roo? Maybe because Danish is her native tongue and they knew she was pulling their leg? Meanwhile the non Danish press posted the tale to Twitter as if it were gospel truth and it went viral so fast Ms Wozniacki had to do a second presser to explain that it was all a joke and that she was sorry she didn't yell "Psyche" before leaving the room. It's much ado about nothing actually except that the non Danish press is a little peeved at being the butt of a joke. Kind of like those commercials where lousy cell phone service causes you to be the last to know what's going on.

The thing is Caroline has been wearing that bandage on her right shin for at least a couple of days. You mean to tell me no one in the press corps got around to asking her about it until yesterday (it was last night here. I have no idea what day it is at this point so forgive me)? I was wondering what had happened to her leg but it looked as if she had gashed her leg and I forgot about it until the killer 'roo story surfaced. As Caroline tells it the real story is that she lost her focus on a treadmill and ended up with a deep gash on her leg. No stitches she said. They glued it together. I'm not a doctor and I don't play one in this space. Since I've been forced to have intimate knowledge of stitches and not stitches I wonder what type of glue they used to close a wound that deep? If someone out there does have medical knowledge please post it here.

And press corps the next time a player tells you about killer 'roos or any other marauding marsupials please remember the Monty Python skit about the killer rabbit and do some fact checking? I'm just sayin'.

End Note

I'm going to miss part of the football playoffs tonight. That's tonight east coast of United States tonight. I know I have to get some sleep and that the tennis starts in Melbourne at 7p my time. The second playoff game starts at 6:30p. Tennis or football?
What do you guys think?

Friday, January 21, 2011

What A Day: 2011 Australian Open Day 5

by Savannah

For the first time in her career Venus Williams retired from a match. Some six minutes into the first set against Andrea Petkovic Venus said "no mas" and left the court. Her injury, diagnosed as a hip flexor, would've stopped lesser beings from even trying to play. The good I get from this is that for once Venus is listening to her body and will take the time needed for her hip to heal. This means she may be able to play later in the year. I'm sure she will want to play Wimbledon but if she's not able to I hope she doesn't. Venus you have nothing left to prove on a tennis court and there is no need to torture yourself at this stage of your career.
As for the low life's who booed when you retired they're nothing. Unfortunately I'm not surprised by their behavior. Australia is not a friendly place for people of color anyway so if they don't appreciate your valor so be it. I bet if Kim Clijsters had done the same thing they'd be cheering her effort at the top of their lungs.

When Pro's Comment and Analyze

It's a wonderful thing when professional athletes, in this case professional tennis players, are allowed to talk about the game they're watching without reading from a prepared script. Lindsay Davenport and Martina Navratilova had a conversation about women's tennis last night and outsiders were allowed to listen. I still don't know who the man was in the booth with Martina but after awhile he knew he needed to sit down and STFU. He limited himself to reporting the score, which was fine.

After years of listening to babble about Justine Henin and her powerful game it took a few simple words from Martina regarding her approach to shot making and why it throws opponents off to make me appreciate what she does on court. I'm not about to become a fan of hers but at least I saw what all the hype is about. Lindsay and Martina also gave us a Carlos Rodriguez moment showing him coaching from the stands. It was ironic that the camera showed him giving advice and that Justine didn't execute what he wanted her to.

The same two did the same thing during Caroline Wozniacki's match against Dominika Cibulkova who had beaten Caroline last week in Sydney. The comment that defined what Wozniacki does on court was made by Navratilova and I'm paraphrasing. "You have to play to win not play not to lose". She went on to point out that when Wozniacki plays the big girls, players who are not going to beat themselves she doesn't win because she basically just keeps the ball in play and isn't aggressive enough to hit winners on her own.

Don't get me wrong Martina Navratilova can be the biggest bitch on the block and has said some things that have caused me not to be a fan but listening to her talking with Lindsay and vice versa was a pleasure tennis heads should indulge in more than once.

Tricks of the Trade

Robin Haase tried. I mean he really tried. During the first set of his match against Andy Roddick Haase appeared to injure his foot so badly some thought he had retired from the match due to injury. Some were wrong. Haase got up from his chair and ran around like the energizer bunny winning the first set over Roddick who had to be stunned at his resurrection. At one point Roddick was so frustrated he aimed a shot right at Haase's head. Things calmed down though and Roddick won the next three sets.

Meanwhile in an all Serbian battle Viktor Troicki came down with an unknown ailment that was later called a stomach pull and retired from his match against Novak Djokovic. Troicki hasn't lived up to his Davis Cup heroics over a physically spent Michael Llodra. Djokovic was not going to lose that match. End of story.

Then there was the dead spot on Hisense Arena. Hisense has become, at least during this Australian Open, what the former Court 2 at Wimbledon was. Last evening in Melbourne it got even weirder. At some point during the warm up for Maria Sharapova's match against Julia Goerges a spot was discovered where the ball wouldn't bounce. The chair ump tried it and the bizarre sight of a ball sticking like glue to the court occurred. After determining there was an air bubble under the court a drill was used to let the air out. The ball bounced and all was fine. After Aggie Radwanska's racquet top being shorn off by a Kimiko Date Krumm return I didn't think there was anymore weird in this tournament. When during his post match interview on ESPN2 Andy Roddick was shown the scene and told that his former coach Brad Gilbert had suggested the solution Roddick turned to Gilbert and said "You can't fix breakfast but you can do this?"

How To Seduce the Press
If you follow some of the big tennis writers on Twitter you know who called Caroline Wozniacki's pressers boring so I don't need to name names here. I guess the man involved didn't realize that this is the internet age where any and everything goes viral. A Danish news outlet printed the writer's comments and needless to say Clan Wozniacki found out about them. Wozniacki entered her post match presser by commenting on the "boring" thing saying that if you get asked the same questions over and over there are only so many ways to answer them before you start repeating yourself. She then answered all or most of the questions she gets asked all the time much to the amusement of those present. I wasn't there so I don't know how the experienced press corps members took it. The online press seems to have lapped it up and are falling all over themselves to declare Ms Wozniacki brilliant. It was cute, but pulling a stunt like that won't make the questions go away. If anyone other than Wozniacki had tried that I don't think the press would be swooning.
Staying with Wozniacki this man has caused some of her fans to flip out. Who is he? He's a famous International poker player named Gus Hansen. He's Danish. He's 37 years old. He is known to love to bet on sports (something that is legal in Europe). He is going to be featured in a show on Tennis Channel that deals with celebrity tennis players. He has also been reported to be Caroline Wozniacki's boyfriend. Reports are that Fred Stolle and Hungarian sources have said he is Caroline's boyfriend. Todd Woodbridge mentioned it during his coverage last night. It's now being said that he's a friend of Caroline's family and that they often socialize together in Monaco, Caroline's official residence. There was also a remark made in passing that he is not allowed to sit in the Wozniacki family box at this time. A lot of fan reaction has been "He's too old for her". I don't really care about all that. What I do care about is why the Wozniacki family would have a close friendship with a professional gambler. I still remember Piotr's instructions to his daughter during that match last year IIRC when he basically told her to throw the match thus making bettors who understood what he said millions. I can just imagine the uproar if either Venus or Serena Williams kept company of any kind with a professional gambler.

If you think I've got gambling on the brain here's a story that will make you shake your head in wonder. During his post match presser Roger Federer, President of the ATP Player Council, was told of an investigation by the Tennis Integrity Unit involving a match last year between Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia and Filippo Volandri of Italy in St. Petersburg, Russia. The match is said to have been deemed suspicious. According to the report by Richard Evans of Fox News the story broke yesterday morning on the website of Italian journalist Ubaldo Scanagatta. I'm sure many of you will remember that several Italian players, including Volandri were cited for placing small bets among themselves and suspended. Evan's reports that the biggest threat seems to come from betting syndicates inside Russia. Federer's statement was short, sweet and to the point.

"I do not know whether to get more angry or more disappointed. I think it's just unacceptable when athletes or players try to do things like this or play with the integrity of the sport. It is a just a pity to a game that has given us everything. Why would you want to play with that? You're not only taking a chance for yourself but for so many others to harm the sport. That's why it's disappointing to hear those sort of things."

There is nothing else to say. The ITF is waiting for the TIU to finish it's investigation before beginning one of it's own.

End Notes

Juan Martin del Potro was sent home by Marcos Baghdatis in the third round of the Australian Open.

Marion Bartoli tore a calf muscle and will be out at least six weeks.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is playing himself into shape in Melbourne. His reactions are still a tad slow but he's improving.

So far there hasn't been any fan rioting. Let's keep it that way.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It's A Matter Of Heart

by Savannah

There are some things that can't be coached. I'm sure others will find reason to find the extraordinary in other matches last night but in the final analysis there was only one real story.
I thought I had seen Sandra Zahlavova play before. I hadn't. Straight from the Michelle Larcher de Brito school of on court decorum I'm sure there were calls made to emergency services reporting that someone was being slaughtered. Venus Williams is known for being vocal on court (she's not in the league of de Brito or Victoria Azarenka though) so things were pretty loud on court. It says something when a long time tennis viewer like me can actually tune out the audio and watch the tennis.
Despite that my head snapped up when the unmistakeable sound of someone screaming in pain hit my ears. I saw Venus grab her lower right groin and my jaw dropped. "Not again," I said to myself remembering Venus had had a serious groin tear a few years ago, one that hampered her play - she did continue to play for awhile - for quite some time. Watching her limp off the court in agony I thought to myself that there was no way she would continue. And of course I was wrong.
I'm old enough to remember Willis Reed of the New York Knicks walking onto the court at Madison Square Garden with both knees taped to the max to tumultuous applause. That was how I felt when Venus not only walked back on court but picked up her racquet and resumed playing. She then proceeded to put on a tennis clinic. Visibly in pain she proceeded, not with flash, but with skill and knowledge to dismantle her upstart opponent who won the first set in a tiebreak that ended with Venus injury. Showing why she has won seven slam titles and playing with passion unseen for quite some time Venus won the second set 6-0.
The final score was 6-7(6), 6-0, 6-4. Don't believe any bullshit you will hear or read about what happened last night. Venus trended worldwide on Twitter because of the dress. In the end the dress was a secondary story. The big story was that Venus started a match and she was going to finish it. Kind of makes that "tummy ache" from a few years ago laughable doesn't it?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This and That - Melbourne 2011

by Savannah

Someone Tweeted last night that it was amazing how the Australian Open got all of it's first round play over in two days as opposed to the three day format used by some Grand Slams. I had never thought about it but the person was right. The AO may last into the rush hour here on the east coast of the United States (The Lleyton Hewitt/David Nalbandian match ended sometime after 8a this morning) but no one can say that they were totally bored by the tennis. If a match made you reach for your stimulant of choice there was another one available online for your viewing pleasure. If your ISP provider doesn't make ESPN360 available to you there are live streams available of varying quality. I have noticed that the quality of the stream on ESPN360 does tend to decay, something I don't remember it doing before. The buffering, yes. I'm not sure why this is happening but it is annoying. So far the Eurosport based streams are the best. So is the commentary.

If you have HDTV watching is a joy. It truly is the closest thing to being there. ESPN2, and from what I can see Eurosport as well, are broadcasting in full HD. It's as if you can reach out and touch the players. Technology in this case is a beautiful thing.

The star of last nights play is undoubtedly Agnieszka Radwanska. Sure she defeated 40 year old Kimiko Date-Krumm in three hard fought sets but what happened to her in the third set is what tennis fans will remember all season. After banging her racquet on the ground and committing what would be felony assault if she had treated a human being like that Aggie set herself to receive Kimiko's ball. Apparently the racquet was a Cee-Lo fan as it took it's "Fuck You" moment and broke into two pieces. The head of the racquet flew into the crowd leaving Aggie holding what looked like a shake weight. Her expression is priceless. This happened to Anna Lena Groenefeld a couple of years ago but this break took place on world wide television. I'm sure Babolat was not amused.

Okay back to real tennis.

The match between resurrecting favorite Ana Ivanovic and relatively unknown Ekaterina Makarova was quite exciting. Forget that neither one could figure out how to close out the match. It's the WTA. What do you expect? It was totally up in the air as to who would win. On the way there were rally's and great groundies from both women.
Someone in Ana's camp should really talk to her about her celebrations after each point won. At one point I was multi tasking (sounds better than saying I was doing something else right?) and heard a squeal and looked up to see a celebration worthy of someone winning the match. I was confused since it seemed that the match wasn't over. It wasn't. Those of us who tend to multitask don't like surprises.
Other than that Ana actually didn't play badly. Even her ball toss was better (it varied but on the whole it was better).
But the real news was Ekaterina Makarova. She kept her wits about her and pulled off the upset. The match was quite a nice diversion.

I'll stick with the WTA for now. I have to wonder why the women coming out of the States are all diminutive.Lauren Davis looked to be barely five feet tall (she is listed as 5'2") and at seventeen is very slight. She played on Rod Laver Arena against Samantha Stosur. At one point they zoomed in for a close up of Lauren. Deer in headlights. I felt sorry for the young woman. As the ESPN commentators are fond of saying she'll always remember she played on Rod Laver Arena in 2011 against Samantha Stosur.

Pam Shriver got sent out to give American's a look at Melanie Oudin, another short woman. She's now out of singles. It was a brief look since she was on a non television court.

Coco Vandeweghe lost to Alize Cornet 2-6, 1-6.

The United States did have something to cheer about though. Ryan Sweeting moved into the second round with his win last night over Daniel Gimeno-Traver in straight sets. Sweeting was born in Nassau, Bahamas but has trained in the States since he was twelve.

The other big winner on the men's side was Michael Russell who defeated highly touted Australian Matthew Ebden in four sets, winning the final set tie break 11-9.

John Isner also won his match.

Now for what can be called the marquee matches. Once again a Frenchman led the list. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga looked done and dusted after dropping the first two sets against Philipp Petzschner . When I checked the scores this morning I saw that not only did Tsonga take it five sets but that he won 4-6, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.
With French fans singing La Marseillaise cheering him on how could he not come back?
When draws are released there are always one or two matches that you just know will be cake walks. When I saw that Juan Martin del Potro would face Dudi Sela in the first round I rolled my eyes. I mean Delpo is twice Sela's height at least so how could this not be a very quick match including a breadstick or two. Well Sela decided he wasn't going out like a bitch and fought Delpo with all the cunning and shot making in his body. Sure Delpo won in straight sets but he had to survive a first set tiebreak that went to 15-13. Delpo won the other two sets 4 and 4 but it was definitely not a boring match.
The match everyone wanted to see was the "grudge" match between Lleyton Hewitt and David Nalbandian. Since everyone wanted to see it of course the match was set for the last of the day on Rod Laver. I didn't get to see any of it. From what I hear it was a thrilling affair with Nalbandian pulling it out in five sets 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(1), 9-7.
As I said before Nalbandian is fit for his body type.

End Note

The commentary was much, much better last night. If you don't like what you're hearing do as TennisAce suggested and Tweet your displeasure. It works.

Monday, January 17, 2011

There Was Something About Mary

by Savannah

Let's get this out of the way. Day 1 and the following seeds are out: Aravane Rezai, Nicolas Davydenko, Daniela Hantuchova and Sam Querrey. A lot of hope rested on the shoulders of both Querrey and Ryan Harrison. Harrison, who was unseeded but had had a good run at the US Open crashed out early as well. I don't know if any of you watched ESPN2's coverage last night but there was something very curious about it.

While Gael Monfils was staging his comeback from two sets and 2-5 down and WTA #1 Caroline Wozniacki was playing her first match against the tricky Gisela Dulko the most important match for American viewers was the one between Sam Querrey and Lukas Kubot. I've criticized ESPN2's coverage here before but even I was surprised not only that the match was featured but at the level of what passed for commentary during it.

I understand that the American tennis establishment wants to profile it's players, the people they hope will bring the United States back to prominence in the tennis world but really? I mean really people? There was no commentary. It was a group of people sitting around trying to will Querrey over the finish line. They talked about what he should be doing, not what he was doing and why. The demeaned his opponent, someone they apparently thought had just dropped in from Mars (they treated Lukas Lacko so badly people Tweeted about it but that's another story), and in the end Querrey lost. Yes he took five sets and if his opponent had more experience on the main tour it may have lasted one less set, but the problem is to a casual viewer Querrey's loss would've seemed as if a top seed had fallen.

Which brings me to the case of the missing Mary Carillo. I have never been a big fan of Mary's. I have to state that up front because while some knew Carillo had left ESPN during last years US Open many didn't. Thanks to an article brought to my attention on Twitter by tennishead GVGirl more details are available about why she left and the noxious brew that is tennis coverage in the United States.

I have said it before and I'll keep saying it. Mary Jo Fernandez has no business interviewing Roger Federer. Her husband is his agent. She's been photographed standing with his family right after matches. She and Mirka shop together. In fact she has no business in the broadcast booth calling matches or doing interviews.
I say this every year but what I say doesn't matter. I'm not connected to any of the powers that be in tennis so I am free to say what I want.

The article by Richard Deitsch for Sports Illustrated goes right to the heart of what's wrong with tennis coverage in the U S of A.

It doesn't take a leap to surmise that the philosophical difference rested in Carillo believing the tone and tenor of ESPN's coverage was closer to cheerleading than reporting. Sources told that Carillo was distressed by a culture that frowned on critical analysis of the top players on tour, particularly American stars.

Deitsch also touches on the conflicts of interest in the broadcast booth naming names.

No sport does conflicts quite like tennis, dating to former agent Donald Dell, who provided commentary of matches involving players he represented and tournaments his firm owned and managed. That's morphed today into ESPN's Mary Joe Fernandez interviewing a player (Roger Federer) represented by her IMG agent husband. The affable Fernandez also draws a salary from being Fed Cup captain, where the Williams sisters' commitment is often the key to winning or losing. Patrick McEnroe, who this column enjoys as a broadcaster, makes a six-figure salary from the USTA, which puts him in a tricky situation when questions come up yearly about the U.S. Open scheduling and the stadium's need for a roof.

This is why many tennis fans prefer the commentary of people like Robbie Koenig and Jason Goodall who usually call Masters 1000 events for Tennis Channel over Patrick McEnroe and his merry band on ESPN2. Martina Navratilova and Lindsay Davenport also break the mold, Davenport calling her matches fairly despite being American. She was never a fave of the establishment though and still tends to call 'em as she sees 'em. Sure Koenig and Goodall have their fanboy moments but in between them you get tennis ANALYSIS not cheerleading. It's painful to hear American commentators repeat the same talking points - Mardy Fish's weight loss, the divorce of Rafael Nadal's parents over and over again ad nauseam. And who can forget Serena Williams being in the booth during last years US Open during one of Rafael Nadal's matches. She would stop answering some inane question to actually talk about what was happening on the court as it related to the techniques of playing tennis. Best five minutes of US Open coverage last year.

Perhaps Mary's flame throwing stemmed from her frustration with what passes for tennis commentary here. As Deitsch points out in his article

The sport's television entities have long fostered a climate where players are subjected to questions about as soft as a Francesca Schiavone drop shot. It's hard to believe such flagrant conflicts would be permitted in other sports.

I wonder how tonight will go in terms of commentary and coverage? Will this article make a difference? Probably not. He who pays the piper calls the tune. Right now the United States tennis establishment is getting exactly what it pays for.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Winners

by Savannah

The final between David Ferrer and David Nalbandian at Auckland was one of the most anticipated on the Road to the Australian Open. Ferrer is known as a pit bull on the court and Nalbandian, looking Nalbandian fit, had been playing very well of late. Instead of a knock down drag out brawl on the court Ferrer routined Nalbandian in straight sets 6-3, 6-2. Nalbandian still goes into Melbourne as one of the dark horses and is expected to go deep.
Althought it's "only an exhibition" Kooyong has long been a feather in a players cap and is one of the favorite stops on the way to Melbourne. This years final was between Lleyton Hewitt and Gael Monfils. In the end it was Hewitt who defeated Monfils. Monfils had both knees taped. Does Hewitt have it in him to get to the second week at Melbourne? Like Andy Roddick in the United States Hewitt is carrying Australian men's tennis on his shoulders. To say the Aussies would be ecstatic if he has a good showing is putting it mildly.
The other reason for cautious optimism among the Australian tennis establishment is the maturation of Jarmila Groth. I saw most of her match with American Bethanie Mattek-Sands who now, thanks to Alicia Molik, has a bulls eye on her back. Mattek-Sands could not handle the wind at Hobart though and it was Groth who held up the trophy in the end. Groth looked like a world beater but Bethanie was hardly in the match. Both women are expected to do well in Melbourne.
Guy Forget was second and third guessed about his choice of player for the fifth and deciding rubber in Serbia during the Davis Cup final in December. He's going to have to answer more questions after last nights final at Sydney. Gilles Simon defeated an emotional Viktor Troicki 7-5, 7-6(4) coming back in both sets. Simon was down a break in the first set, down a double break (0-3) in the second and was broken at 5-5 and still won in straight sets.
The news from this final was not only the win by Simon.
On the way to defeat Troicki broke his racquet, kicked the net and abused a lineswoman for calling a foot fault on him. He's seen above mocking the woman by offering to shake her hand. I apologize but I couldn't wait up for this match. The stream was taking a long time to load and I threw in the towel. The amazing thing about Troicki's little tantrum is that he wasn't given a penalty for any of it. Steve Ulrich called the match and I guess he was into a "boys will be boys" frame of mind. It remains to be seen if any fines will be levied against Troicki.

Doubles Results
The team of Marcel Granollers and Tommy Robredo defeated the team of Johan Brunstom and Stephen Huss at Auckland 6-4, 7-6(6).
At Sydney Lukas Dlouhy and Paul Hanley defeated Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan 6-7(6), 6-3, 10-5.
On the women's side the team of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci defeated Kateryna Bondarenko and Laura Dekmijere 6-3, 7-5 at Hobart.

Congratulations to all the winners.

In a change some are saying is long overdue Maria Sharapova announced that Michael Joyce is no longer part of her team. She will play Melbourne under the guidance of Thomas Hogstedt. Joyce had been Maria's coach for 6 1/2 years but after Auckland it was decided that they needed a "break" from each other. Players rarely shake up their teams leading into a Slam and this split, sorry, break, comes on the eve of the beginning of play in Melbourne.
If nothing else it shows that Sharapova wants to be a contender in week two.