Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Women: A 2008 Preview (Top Ten)

It's hard to believe, but if you include the Hopman Cup, the 2008 professional tennis season has already begun. For the women, the calendar officially begins on Monday with events at the Gold Coast, Australia and in Auckland, New Zealand. An impressive eight out of the top 20 women will compete at the Gold Coast, including a rested Amelie Mauresmo. Top seed in Auckland is Vera Zvonareva; Lindsay Davenport is also competing there.

My predictions for '08:
Justine Henin
World rank: 1 '07 record: 63-4 Highlight: Breaking out of her shell.
Had a spectacular 2007 season, where she won two out of three grand slams she played and captured ten WTA titles overall. To me, however, the bigger story was Justine coming out of her shell and showing the world that the girl with game also has a bit of personality, too.

So what does all that mean for Justine in 2008? Well, no doubt will she be back with her normal drive and fire, but will it be as intense as last year? She had lots to prove following her no-show at the Australian and did quite a pretty good job at winning a few matches. I think Justine's number one goal this year should be to win Wimbledon, the one major that has alluded her thus far in her career.

Prediction: Henin will hold on to No. 1 ranking while winning Wimbledon and garnering the silver in Beijing. She'll make the semifinals at the Aussie, fall early at the French and lose in the quarters at the USO.

Svetlana Kuznetsova
World rank: 2 '07 record: 55-20 Highlight: Reaching a third GS final.
The newest player in my "I Can't Stand Watching This Player She's So Boring!" category. The category was originated by Kim Clijsters and Daniela Hantuchova, but after her lackluster grand slam final appearance in New York this fall, I just can't help but be constantly frustrated by Svetlana and her inability to control her emotions.

And that's what I think it all comes down to for Sveta: she's just doesn't have a complete grasp on herself as an individual to maintain a certain control over her tennis game. Yes, she can play some good tennis, but I'm still baffled that she is the No. 2 player in the world, and that she ever even won a grand slam.

Prediction: She'll win lots of short, boring matches and lose a few that look more like train wrecks than tennis matches. She'll slip to No. 6 in the rankings with an early loss at the USO, but will go far at the French and Beijing.

Jelena Jankovic
World rank: 3 '07 record: 72-25 Highlight: Learned (hopefully) how to schedule herself properly.
The Serb is hands down my favorite player on tour right now. Her game, her personality, her looks: she is the complete player, and she adds a spice to the WTA line-up that can sometimes lack depth (see Hantuchova, Daniela).

As far as schedule management goes, Janky will have to tone it down this year after playing 28 tournaments in 2007. (That's as many as Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova played, combined!) Jankovic's fitness, strong baseline game and battle-tested toughness will no doubt keep her in the top five, but the true tests will come only in a handful of occassions during the year. Last year Jankovic was rather unimpressive in tight situations, something she'll have to work hard on this year.

Predicition: As soon as she wins the big one (and I mean a tight, late-round grand slam match against a top player) she'll flourish. The sooner this happens, the more we'll see Jelena Jankovic on the second weekend of majors.

Ana Ivanovic
World rank: 4 '07 record: 51-18 Highlight: French Open semifinal dismantling of Sharapova.
Ivanovic is slow, and as soon as opponents realize that, the Serbian might be in trouble. But Ivanovic proved in '07 that depth and pace can keep her out of a foot race, something she'll want to do consistently this year.

Prediction: I think that Ivanovic can only continue to mature, both mentally and tennis wise. Like Jankovic, this girl has a stupendous personality in her and she no doubt brings that on to the court as motivation. Clay is her best surface, but she proved last year that she can play well on both hardcourts and grass, too. I think Ivanovic will go far in most majors in '08 and keep her top 10 billing, but this (still) isn't her year for a slam.

Maria Sharapova
World rank: 5 '07 record: 40-11 Highlight: Playing the match of the year at the SEC against Henin.
Played one of the best matches of her career in the Season Ending Championships against Justine Henin. The match was by far Sharapova's best performance in 2007, following a frighteningly bad grand slam season, where she made just one final and lost a flurry of one-sided matches against supposed rivals.

If Maria has matured the way that I believe she has, '07 will only serve as a motivation and ground for growth. Her serve was nothing short of bipolar, but the Russian seemed to have solved that riddle (see the SEC final for proof) and her hunger for a third major (she hasn't won one since the USO in '06).

Prediction: If she stays healthy, Maria will capture at least one major and perhaps be crowned Queen of Beijing, too.

Anna Chakvetadze
World rank: 6 '07 record: 59-20 Highlight: USO semifinal appearance.
Joins Kuznetsova, Hantuchova and Clijsters on the ICSWTPSSB list. Yes, the Russian's rise up the rankings from No. 756 in 2002 to No. 6 last year was catastrophic, and her baseline game can be lethal, but Chakvetadze lacks any sort of major weapons that give me reason to think she's a threat to win any major titles. The Russian may have peaked, as well, seeing she finished the year 4-6 after making the semis at the US Open.

Prediction: She'll keep playing, and playing, and playing (and playing). Chakvetadze is 2008's Jelena Jankovic.

Serena Williams
World rank: 7 '07 record: 35-10 Highlight: Her ferocious Aussie Open run.
The younger Williams gets injured a lot, which couldn't be more frustrating for Serena, her fans, the media or the WTA institution itself. But where there's a will, there's a way, and this Williams has plenty of will.

Prediction: She'll take the cake at the French (gasp!), but will have a hard time with her two biggest opponents: staying healthy and Justine Henin.

Venus Williams
World rank: 8 '07 record: 50-10 Highlight: An inspiring fourth Wimbledon title.
Is probably the hardest tennis player - male or female - to give a prediction on in today's game. The V had a solid 2007, winning Wimbledon while re-entering the top 10 and playing nearly flawless tennis in her first five matches at the US Open. But that's just the thing about Venus: she's streaky. Her forehand can go and boy, can it go! She reminds me of Kim Clijsters in that way; her forehand can be traumatic to her opponent, or it can be their best friend - it just depends.

Prediction: Well, it's hard to say. But each year the Williams sisters claim that tennis has their fullest attention. However, this season I'm going to say Venus will be in and out, up and down. Perhaps a US Open crown to end the year? That would be fun.

Daniela Hantuchova.
World rank: 9 '07 record: 52-28 Highlight: Winning somewhere other than Indian Wells (in Linz, in October).
I think I just fell asleep typing her name.

Prediction: She'll keep whining, and losing matches she should've won (do you even have to guess where this link leads you?) and keep playing semi-decent tennis. Blah, blah, blah.

Marion Bartoli
World rank: 10 '07 record: 47-31 Highlight: Stunning Justine (and the world) at the semis of Wimbledon.
Who know that the "Girl Who Could Eat" could also be the "Girl Who Could Play Tennis"? Bartoli, with her Seles-esque two handed strokes on both sides, showed the tennis world that 2007 wasn't just about the Serbs. Though Marion has a tough time moving around the court, her mobility can surprise, as can the pace and punch of her shots. Like Ivanovic, Bartoli has to hone all the strengths of her game - her serve, groundstrokes, depth - and make sure that her weaknesses are kept at bay.

Prediction: There will be no Wimby repeat for Bartoli, but she'll stay inside the top 15 and wreak havoc now and then with those big strokes of hers.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bhutto Passes the Torch

The last 24 hours have been rather sad for me. At breakfast yesterday (which occurred around 11:30 a.m.), my dad started talking about "Bhutto this; Bhutto that." I didn't pay much attention, mostly because we had just seen Charlie Wilson's War the night before, a movie which talks about former Pakistani president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto quite extensively.

But it was a couple minutes before I realized that my dad wasn't talking about the senior Bhutto, but rather his daughter, Benazir. This past fall I had become quite the fan of Benazir Bhutto. I listened to her interview on the BBC upon returning to Pakistan in October and followed the rocky situation there closely in hopes for a better future.

So when the news of her assassination came yesterday, I was in as much shock as the rest of the western world. I cannot imagine the loss and agony that the people of Pakistan feel after seeing the possibility for a new day come January's parliamentary elections.

In tennis terms, there's only one individual who comes close to being the pioneer that Ms. Bhutto was. That individual would be Sania Mirza, the 21-year-old Indian who has made as many headlines for her fashion as her forehand. If there's one positive that can come from Ms. Bhutto's death, it's that young Muslim girls throughout the world will look to her as a heroine, as someone to be emulated.

I've written quite extensively over that last year or so on Mirza. To me, she's a player with all the right ingredients: a strong build, a fierce groundstroke game, a level head on her shoulders and a nation (and world region) cheering her on. In a lot of ways, Mirza is strikingly similar to Bhutto: both raised in upper-class families that encouraged them to do whatever they pleased.

For Sania, the baseline has been her stage to the world as the podium platform was for Bhutto. Mirza's recent signing with adidas shows that the tennis world believes that the youngster is ready for the big time. And as Tennis Served Fresh blogger Erwin put it, it's time for Mirza to step up, as well.

Like Bhutto's self-imposed exile over much of the last decade, Mirza, too, must manage her schedule wisely. A 13-5 run during the summer showed us just how good Mirza can be, but her 0-3 finish to the season also proves that she just hasn't reached the level of global power that she can.

A new year always brings new challenges, new beginnings. No doubt the new year will hold both of those and more for the country of Pakistan, but so too, will it for Sania Mirza. And if she does her job right, the torch won't be dropped, and both the tennis world and the political world can call her a new heroine.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Bring Me a Trophy, Santa

I love Christmas. Really, I do. I can't help but love it. The romantic idea that this is the season when families come together and share what is most important in their lives: each other. Though I partly believe that Christmas has become anything but that, the few weeks at the end of the year between "Happy Thanksgiving!" and "Happy New Year!" are some of my favorite.

One tennis player that will be celebrating with a larger family this year is Lindsay Davenport, the WTA's new cover girl in its I-Can-Give-Birth-And-Play-Tennis-Too Campaign.

Though some are critical of Davenport and her recent return, I am rather tickled by her decision to return to the tour. Not only does Davenport demonstrate a passion and elegance of an era gone by, but I think she believes - truly believes - that she has some top quality tennis left in her.

That's one thing many players on the woman's tour struggle with today: belief. It was evident in Kim Clijsters, who knew she was good, knew she was great, but couldn't quite muster up the courage to believe in her ability to be the best. The result? A one slam wonder.

And it's the complete opposite problem for Clijsters' countrywoman Justine Henin, who couldn't believe in herself more. Henin not only believes she can conquer the tennis world, she knows that she can. It's this sort of attitude that has gotten Henin in trouble with the press in the past because such a disposition comes off as arrogant and cocky.

But Davenport is anything but arrogant and cocky. For so long, the Girl Next Door has been American tennis' favorite daughter. Sure, there are the Williams sisters, and Jennifer Capriati and Monica Seles. But none of them possess the charm - the "it" factor - that Davenport does.

So last week, when Davenport announced that she was going full-throttle in 2008 by playing at least three of four grand slams (she'll probably skip the French Open) I couldn't help but be overjoyed. The end of '07 proved that Davenport still has that "it" factor everyone - including her - is inspired by.

There are two images seared in my brain of Davenport: the first is the post-pudgy Lindsay, at the 1998 US Open, lumbering towards the net to run down a Martina Hingis drop shot before plowing the ball past her Swiss opponent for her first grand slam title. She raises her arms mostly in triumph, but more in sheer disbelief.

The second is a somewhat unattached Lindsay, rocking back and forth behind the baseline, waiting to return a Venus Williams serve on championship point at Wimbledon in 2005. It was a moment that I wish Davenport would have seized better, and I would guess she feels the same way.

But I think those are the images that keep Davenport herself out on the court everyday, with husband Rick Leach as a hitting partner and son Jagger as a courtside constant. Lindsay still has something to prove of the champion she was in 1998 and 2005, and, hopefully still is in 2008.

So to a Merry Christmas for Lindsay and company, who are no doubt enjoying themselves in Southern California before boarding a plane for Australia, home of the Easter Bunny. If there's another family Lindsay would like to help grow in the year to come, it'd be her grand slam trophy family. That's one Christmas wish Santa (and Lindsay) may deliver on.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Pasta, Pasta, Penalties

A couple weeks ago, the New York Times did a piece on the flagging country that is Italy. Minus the world's adoration for their food and unique not-so-modern way of life, the small boot on the Mediterranean Sea needs a kick in the ass.

So as tennis suffers through one of the most embarrassing and far-reaching scandals its ever known, two Italians have been thrust into the spotlight for their involvement.

Potito Starace and Daniele Bracciali are certainly no household names in America, but their involvement in tennis' betting catastrophe has cost the two men a combined $50,000 and nearly five months off the tour. Italian tennis officials call it "injustice."

Welcome, tennis fans, to the new America.

Following their Davis Cup win earlier this month, the Stateside boys have officials lifted themselves out of the cellar of the tennis world. Yes, the cellar. Who cares that there are two top-ten men in Andy Roddick and James Blake, and that the Bryan brothers are arguable the best doubles team on the tour today. America was in a funk.

But now that funk has been passed on, and while many countries could run and catch the flying piece of embarrassing hardware that such a label might be represented by, Italy has taken the new gold medal: king of crap.

The thing is, it shouldn't be this way. As of late, Italy has experienced something of a tennis renaissance. At year's end, five players are in the top 100 (including Starace) and there are 28 Italian in the top 500.

But, as life and sport go, scandal always overrides achievement.

While a country like Russia may suffer from the centerfold of aforementioned scandal (Nicolay Davydenko), the Russians' ability to boast numerous personalities (Safin, Tursonov, etc.) and produce high-quality tennis exempts them from falling to the depths of tennis hell.

So one question comes about: can tennis (and Italy) escape this sea of ugly with lessons learned? Or will accusations continue to be flung in every direction, fingers thrust at chest after chest and "injustice" claimed with each penalty?

It's hard to say. And as for Italy, their poster boy and a journeyman are rank with wrong doing. Maybe a bath in tomato sauce and some of that pasta will wash them clean? But I highly doubt it.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Setbacks and Sugarplums

It's Christmas in Montana. The high today was 27 degrees, and tonight calls for a low of 11 - with the windchill probably dipping below zero. Whether we'll get a white Christmas or not is still up in the air, as some meteorologists call for mere flurries and others saying that we'll get inches over the next few days.

When I was younger, I used to play winter tennis on my favorite surface: snow-packed ice. It sounds crazy, but it was during my wall-hitting days, when I would go out to the alley behind our house and bang the tennis ball against a plaster wall of an old barn that our neighbors had.

The bounce was slicker and lower than any off of a grass court (so I would assume) and in my always-adventurous imagination, I was a professional playing at the "Denver Ice Open", held at Mile High Stadium. The alley had many surfaces: hard (no improv needed), clay (I would use our giant broom to spread the dirt out and sidewalk chalk to draw lines) and classics like snow-packed ice and muddy-puddle court that forced me to avoid the potholes in the alley with every stroke.

The off-season can be as slippery for professional tennis players as my snow-packed icy court was for me, especially for players who are trying to find their footing again. Mark Philippoussis and Jelena Dokic are two players that attempted in this last week to find their stride again, only to face setbacks much worse than any winter wind.

It's been a long and frustrating run for both Aussies. Philippoussis had his brief fling with fame this past year during the showing of NBC's reality show "Age of Love" while Dokic continues to be a tennis tabloid favorite by making grand claims and having a family life more problematic than those Spears folks from Louisiana.

Both Philippousis and Dokic came up limping at an AO wild card tournament in Australia this past week, and while Dokic will seek an entry through qualifying instead of a wild card, this might be the end of the line for the Big Scud, who's seen more setbacks and delays than JFK on a holiday travel weekend.

And then there are those who dance through the off-season with ease, like sugarplums in a dream. Though Roger Federer and Justine Henin each fell short of being named Associated Press athlete of the year, they still garnered accolades from TENNIS Magazine and from their respective tours.

To say that either current world number one shouldn't expect a great year would be preposterous. Federer won three slams in 2007, and showed ruthless resolve in beating his likely challengers (minus a resurgent David Nalbandian) late in the year. As is the case for Henin, who won two of four slams (the Williams family grabbed the other two) and won the "Match of the Year" over a faltering Maria Sharapova at the Season Ending Championships.

And what about so many of those other tennis names with all the talent in the world and the chance to challenge such mighty champions? Venus and Serena. Andy Roddick and James Blake fresh off their Davis Cup win. And what about Rafael Nadal? Such a cast of tennis secondaries could certainly make 2008 an interesting year, but only if they've used their break more for tennis and training rather than setbacks and sugarplums.

So while I'm eating peppermint ice cream and crossing my fingers for a bit of that white stuff to re-create my favorite alley-court surface, the tennis world is gearing up for another year. And while controversy will leave some players to find lumps of coal in their Christmas stockings, other shall feast big and train hard for a year that won't feature the Denver Ice Open, but hopefully will feature some high-quality tennis elsewhere.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

All Tied Up

So why did Anna Chakvetadze have $106,000 in her house - in cash?!?

A. Because she "loves to shop!"
B. She wants to buy extensions for her already-too-long ponytail.
C. She's part of the tennis betting scam and ships cool $100 bills in the mails to betters that give her an edge of my favorite, Akgul.
D. She finally realized she's a one-year wonder and cashed everything out because '08 is going to rough on the tennis court for her.

We can only wonder...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mactastic

Thanks to the constant encouragement from my good friend Matt, I finally caved and purchased a Mac.

So now that my credit card limit is just dollars away and the holidays are around the quarter, I better get to making some money!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Seles Return?

Though I'm taking the month off from blogging, I'm still doing a bit of writing. Here's my latest post over at Sportingo, about the possibility of Monica Seles returning to the WTA Tour.

Enjoy!

Friday, December 7, 2007

New Layout. You Like?

Housekeeping here.

Yes, I'm still on my sabbatical from blogging per se, but I wanted to try out this new layout. For those of you who might just be passing by, what do you think?

Let me know in the comments section! 18 DAYS until Christmas! Consume, consume, consume :)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Disconnected

Over the last few weeks I've been experiencing difficulties with my laptop. It was running slower than usual (which is already slow enough), and a couple times the screen just went blank - minor heart attacks on the way to the big one.

So yesterday, when I plunked myself down in the library to do research on the state of the field of Public Relations in contemporary Japan, I wasn't too surprised when my laptop let out a pitiful sigh before turning itself off for what I believe is the last time.

I have an appointment on Monday to see if a revival is possible, but it looks like I'll be in the market for a new computer over the next month. Any suggestions?

With finals approaching (they're 9 days away), I got anxious while lying in bed last night trying to figure out in my head what I was going to do sans a computer. The important stuff - all my Word documents - are on a USB drive and easily transferable.

But while I was thinking about school, my computer and the like, I couldn't help but feel anxious, empty and scared. Am I that connected to my computer? Do I really rely on it that much? I had this same feeling when I lost my phone early in the summer in New York, and it just feels gross to me.

How human am I if part of me exists in a computer?

As cliche as that sounds, I completely and utterly mean it. For all intents and purposes, I'm trying to live a simple life that is centered around family, community, hope and faith, not keyboards, URLs and mousepads.

So with the weight of school on my shoulder and a computer in the waste bin, I've decided to take a little blog break. I'll be out of commission for most of the rest of the year, focusing on school and other important things while gearing up for the 2008 tennis season.

Thanks to all of you who have been reading over the last 11 months - especially to you lurkers who don't comment much - and I look forward to being back in action come January 1.

Cheers,
Nick

Clean Sweep

Pull out the brooms, go start the bus, pop open the champagne.

The American men have easily defeated their Russian opponents in the finals of the Davis Cup today in Portland with a win by the Bryan brothers in the doubles rubber.

Congrats guys. Job well done.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Andy Up, Computer Down

Well, it looks like Andy Roddick is just about to close out Dmitry Tursunov in the first rubber to give the Americans a 1-0 lead over Russia in the Davis Cup finals.

It isn't surprising that Roddick has put the U.S. up, but it is rather impressive the way he did it. In their three previous match-ups, the pair had tight battles, including the instant classic 17-15 fifth set Davis Cup win for Tursunov last year in the semifinals and a 7-6 in-the-third win for Roddick at Indianapolis in 2005.

If this sets any tone for this tie, it's that the Americans are here to play. Can James Blake answer with a win over Youzhny? History favors Russia, again...

Meanwhile, my computer made a sad sighing noise before turning itself off this afternoon. Was that the last of its seven lives? I think so. And what perfect timing! Finals in two weeks :)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

WoDaCu

I wish WoDaCu was the name of a new tennis wonder; a 13-year-old Nigerian girl who weighed just 95 pounds but hit a down-the-line backhand at 100 miles per hour.

But, instead it's my acronym-infused shortening for: Weekend of Davis Cup, which is as (or, more, depending on how you see it) exciting as a Nigerian child prodigy.

For all of you hoping for the dramatics of a typical U.S.-Russia DC tie, you're in for a treat. I'm hoping that the tennis is as good as the theatrics, and that Mr. James Blake can win his first big Davis Cup rubber, ever.

For now, I'll leave you with my new closest friend, Sweety. Here, Sweety auditions for American Idol, but is successful as Daniela Hantuchova was in attempting to beat a hobbled Serena Williams at Wimbledon this year (aka NOT successful). Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Power of a Mission Statement

As much as it pained Martina Hingis to lose, she couldn't help but do so sometimes. Especially late in her career(s), losing was something that came along with her game. The problem for Hingis, however, was that her mission statement was too short, too simple. The abridged version read something like this: "Win tennis matches."

Hingis' statement is similar to many top-tier players. Actually, it would be hard to find a tennis player at any level that didn't have "winning" somewhere in their mission statement. For the most part, that word would land in sentence one or two, as the forefront goal of a player.

The important part of any mission statement - whether its for a corporation, non-profit, stay-at-home mom or professional athlete - isn't about the end goal, but the process it takes to reach that goal. How, exactly, are you going to reach this stated goal? How are you going to achieve your mission?

If you were to read the unabridged version of Hingis' game, it might go like this: "Win tennis matches by out-thinking opponents." Okay, that's a little better, but still, where is the fuel that feeds the fire?

Let's take men's tennis current number one, Roger Federer. Federer's mission statement might read: "Win tennis matches by out-thinking opponents with the use of tactical slice, a powerful serve, cat-like movement and defense that looks like offense. Achieve this by surrounding myself with positive, confident people who boost my morale, but also keep me grounded. Train under a regimented schedule that challenges both my tennis game and my physique, especially focusing on long-term conditioning."

Federer's mission statement is obviously more detailed, and more goal-oriented. The problem with Hingis throughout her career was that she stuck to her simple mission statement, instead of being willing to change it up with an off-court conditioning program or a beefy serve.

History shows that those willing to re-write their mission statements have been most successful. In 2001, Jennifer Capriati entered the Australian Open shedding her old mission statement ("Hit every ball as hard as possible") with a new one: "Hit every ball as hard as possible and run down every ball hit to me. Do this with a stringent off-court training schedule."

Looking at the players of today, I see mission statement as brilliant as Federer's and as ignorant as Hingis'. The point is, unless there is context behind a great player, they no longer will be able to find success like great champions once did.

Just last week, Pete Sampras, during his well-documented tour with Roger Federer, said that the serve-and-volley game was extinct, and that players were now being taught to hit the ball as hard as they could, simply put.

While Sampras' words ring true, he may want to look at the track record of the last two years in tennis, when players liked Federer, Justine Henin, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams ruled. Sure, they all hit the ball hard, but it's the substance in their strokes - and their statements - that give them the edge to be the best.

Another Bird Lost

Thousands, maybe millions, of birds lost their lives this past week so America could chow down on the sacred day we know as Thanksgiving. It was my first go-around at the gorge fest as a vegetarian, and surprisingly, I did okay.

There was plenty of good food to eat at my friend's parent's house in Portland. Delicious mashed potatoes, incredible green beans, vegetarian stuffing and yams. Part of me missed the turkey, while another part was proud of sticking to my guns.

While I may have saved a bird (or half a bird, or just a few pieces of a bird), the game of tennis has claimed its fair share of the feathered creatures over the year. Once, in high school, a teammate of mine hit a serve that hit a trotting bird against the fence and ended its life.

In this video, too, a bird can't escape the giant green bullet moving at it with great speed. As sad as it is, enjoy the light moment toward the end. And, make sure to watch is super-slow motion so you know just what happened.

Miss Multi Talented

Who is tennis's ultimate girlfriend slash coach slash manager slash agent slash publicist slash match-watcher slash buffet champion slash fan?

Do you even have to guess?

I'm so proud. But still curious about what was on her Thanksgiving menu. I NEED TO KNOW!

All in the Family

(Photo by Paul Ruhter of the Bilings Gazette.)

So, this is pretty cool.

My Grandpa - and all 90 years of him - is on the front page of Montana's biggest newspaper, the Billings Gazette, today. A Basque that honed his pilot skills during WWII, Grandpa Gene is still flying every now and then, over 50 years after the war.

Check out the article, you'll be glad you did.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Beach Ball

As the rain continues to fall in Seattle, I wish I was on a warm, crisp beach somewhere chasing down this gorgeously green tennis ball.

(Photo by Jon Hawkins via flickr.)

I, however, am sitting in my living room with two pairs of pants on, a hooded sweatshirt and a wool scarf while drinking tea. It's 59 degrees in my house. Yes, I know, but, we're college students; and, for that matter, stewards of the environment.

For all of you wondering where this post is going, this is your friendly reminder about The Chatters. My amazing year-end awards post will feature the best and worst of the tennis world in 2007. Don't miss it on December 14th!

Fan Favorites Crowned on TTC

Recently on Open Access, one of The Tennis Channel's regular segments hosted by Murphy Jensen, the TV channel revealed the most popular tennis players in the history of the game via an audience vote.

While the cheesiness is oozing from this segment, you have to love that Murphy and producers embraced the comedy of it all by awarding the "Fan Favorites" with "Golden Fans".

Who was the #1 man and woman? Check out the video below.



(Story via the Monica Seles Site.)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

In Case You Missed It...

The PSRF tour is the talk of tennis. Well, that and this other news story. But really, who's paying attention anyway?

For a video on the happier of those two news items, see below.



Oh, and welcome back to reality - it's MONDAY!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Tennis Chatter: Side Dish

While I'm guessing your plate was, is or will be quite full, I thought I'd give you a side dish of entertainment. I was hoping to post some absurd YouTube video featuring turkeys playing tennis or something of the like. But, alas, no such video exists, which is certainly disappointing.

I did, however, gather a few fast facts to fill your tennis hunger for the day.

Happy Thanksgiving all!

--TENNIS online editor Kamakshi Tandon has compiled the key stats from this past year's WTA Tour.

--Jon Wertheim discusses Davis Cup and much, much more in his latest MailBag.

--Can Vaidisova cool down her temper to heat up her results? Ravi Ubha weighs in on ESPN.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving in Portland: A Week Too Early

As we made our way into Portland last night on I-5, I couldn't help but wish that the holiday was a week later this year. What an event it would've been: the Russians stomping into America on Thanksgiving weekend to play Roddick and company on American turf. What theatre it would've been!

Yet, in many ways, tennis has had its share of theatrics over the past eleven months, and more than anything, it would be great to end the season with something every true tennis fan loves: captivating tennis.

Sure, the drama is always compelling - especially when it comes to Davis and Fed Cup - but wouldn't it be great to watch James Blake gut it out in five sets to break a 2-2 tie and win the Americans their first Cup in this new millennium? I sure would love that.

If you've forgot about Mr. Sampras cramping twelve short years ago in the Davis Cup final, there's a comprehensive list of American-Russian battles up on the DC web site. Included is last year's semifinal, where Dmitry Tursunov beat Andy Roddick 17-15 in the fifth to give the Russians the edge.

And if there hasn't been enough to talk about with the claims of Tommy Haas being poisoned in the semifinals, or if Roddick will be healthy enough to play at all, it sure would be nice to see some terrific stuff played at the Rose Garden - even if I can't see it live.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Book of Face

Facebook has no doubt become an international phenomenon - and not just in the academic world. Tennis Chatter has joined the masses with my very own account.

Check it out and click the "Add" button if you so choose. Included are my posts from here, plus lots of fun updates, like my current one: "Tennis Chatter is wondering what Mirka is eating for Thanksgiving."

Really, what is Mirka eating? I'm SO curious!

The "Retired" Issue

Well, that was anti-climatic. But did you really expect anything else?

Monica chats it up with Tennis Week. The funny thing is though, they asked her everything but what we wanted to know: when is she coming back?!?

Jennifer Capriati? M.I.A.

Maybe we should all just realize that American tennis now consists of a cocky Texas boy wearing French clothing and two sisters that care more about glam that grit.

Too bold? You tell me. I wonder when we'll (and "we" includes "me") stop wishing our yesterday's champions back and just be content with what we have today...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Still Sad (About Martina)

Ten years ago, Martina Hingis had launched herself to the top of women's tennis. She was a bratty 17-year-old with cat-like quickness and a feline personality to match. She was tennis' ultimate diva arriving at the cusp of the millennium.

For everything that she was, I hated Martina. I thought her game was boring, her attitude disrespectful and her confidence cocky. She epitomized the exact reason I disliked tennis sometimes: arrogance.

But Martina was the best, and above everything else, that's probably why I hated her so. She ruled in '97, and carried her swagger into the '98 and '99 by retaining the world No. 1 ranking, winning two more slams and becoming a dominant force in the doubles game.

Ten years later, however, she's retired a second time - and this one just may be for good.

(Hingis could almost always find a way to win on the court, but finding happiness has been another thing. Photo by anam1973 via flickr.)

No one could have predicted what Hingis would face during the decade after she crashed onto the scene in '97 while winning three of four majors. She was the Queen of Cry at the '99 French, then the Princess of Puff when the Williams sisters arrived with their games of power in the early 2000s.

Martina was always somewhat disinterested in tennis, though her craftiness and passion we just as evident. She was born and bred an athlete, but unsure if that's really what she was supposed to be doing with her life.

But ten years and two retirements down the road, I'm still sad about Martina. I went from hating her, to being indifferent, to wanting her back, loving her return and being frustrated with her lack of results.

Now, I'm just plain sad. Wondering if the woman who looked so comfortable on any spot of a tennis court can figure out where she feels comfortable in life. I hope she does it. She certainly deserves to.

Tennis Chatter

There are plenty of advantages waiting up north for Jesse Levine, but the question is: will he go for it? There's no doubt that a 'notable' athlete in the States would be considered a super star in Canadian sports. Example: Frank Dancevic. (via ZooTennis)

Which was the better SEC? The men or the women? Justine and Maria put on an epic show to cap off the year, but Roger Federer is epic every time he steps on the court. Women's wrap. Men's wrap. Let us know which tour went out with a bigger bang.

Is there really competition between Roger Federer, the most genius and athletically sound tennis player on the earth right now and Pete Sampras, the former great who hasn't played a pro match in over two years? Koreans will decide that this week when the two go head-to-head in an exhibtion.

Oh yeah, and for winning the Masters Cup, Fed got another trophy. I wonder where he puts those things?

You do have to love Andy Roddick and the stuff he says in the interview room, even if his tennis is less-than-exciting sometimes.

And no matter who wins the battle of the GOATs, Rog and Pete will still be friends.

If you thought Novak Djokovic played bad last week, look how terrible the Shanghai crowd is in attempting to play some 'giant tennis'. Yikes.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Flawless Federer

Well, Roger Federer won today in Shanghai. No surprise that the Mighty Fed ended his year the way he started (and continued through) it. The question now is, who had the better year: Justine Henin or Roger Federer?

While Federer has been much more of a fan and media favorite, there is no denying that Henin has been as or more dominant than her No. 1 counterpart.

Federer took the title in Australia while Henin settled personal issues after divorcing husband Pierre Yves. Henin caught up at one slam a piece when she won at the French. The Fed would win the next two of the year, while Justine ran into a large-and-in-charge Marion Bartoli to fall short of her maiden title at Wimbledon.

While that one hiccup may have robbed Henin of claiming a better season, the petite Belgium did go 25-0 following that loss, while Federer went a decent 30-4 in the same span.

For me, the verdict is still out. If Henin remains healthy, she may become one of the most dominant player in the sport - male or female - ever. Federer, too, is etching himself into the stone of history with each passing year, as he will be sure to do in 2008, as well.

So, who do you think is better? I'm still undecided.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Back in Blogness

So after a minor brush with death (AKA my computer crashing), my computer is back up and running (for now).

It's funny how things can get so turned upside down when we become clipped from certain 'necessities' in our lives. During my first weekend in New York for my internship this summer, I lost my phone and felt - well, completely disconnected.

I certainly am a 21st Century adult: completely reliant on my technological devices. As much as I want to be simple, down to earth and free from any sort of attachment to material, instances such as losing my phone or being without a working computer for 24 hours have shown me that isn't necessarily the case.

Perhaps I need to go cold turkey and just wipe it all out of my life? But, in the society that we live in today, that's nearly impossible. As a university student, I'm told (and feel like I need) to check my e-mail daily for campus announcements, etc. And my phone is always on my hip, or in my bag...or palm for that matter.

Is there something wrong with that?

In a lot of ways, I would say yes, that there is something wrong with that. Just like I feel disconnected from the sport I love when it goes into its short but painful hiatus for 6 weeks, being without my technology is as hard as differing between decaf coffee and regular: it's not easy to do.

Yet this time around, I did my best to apply my most recent don't-freak-out-technique: deep breaths. They seem to work pretty well, and I went an entire day at work, school and through meetings without checking my e-mail, worrying about the blog (okay, only for a second) and thinking of another reason why I needed to 'Google' something.

I did, however, miss this girl. Listen and love, that's all I can say.

Through all of that processing, I'm not sure where I've arrived in this post or how I feel about possessions (especially technological ones) in my life. I guess it just take re-evaluating every now and then to know why we do what we do, and what it's all for.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Crashing

Looks like school has taken its toll both on my and my computer, which died twice last night.

Let's just hope I can revive it for enough time to transfer everything to an external hard drive, right?

Meanwhile, posts will be slow throughout the weekend. But enjoy the last few days of men's tennis until '08! Should be a dandy.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Kelly Concert Review; A-Train Rolls

Today, my good friend Matt Murphy over at Ranting Details put up my Kelly Clarkson concert review. One of the topics I discuss in the review is the diverse fan base that Clarkson has supporting her at concerts. I would argue that point for tennis, as well. Though long known as a "country club" sport, I think tennis has really internationalized and, over time, become more of a people's sport.

While the popular reach of tennis may be minute compared to the American past time of baseball and the global of phenomenon of soccer, the rise of non-American stars has no doubt helped the game go global and be available for a larger fan base, which I think we are all thankful for.

While Kelly was great on her third time around, Andy Roddick was just as good on his second. The American, who beat Nicolay Davydenko in three sets in his opening round robin match dispatched Fernando "Federer Beater" Gonzalez 6-1 6-4 to secure the first semifinal spot at the season ending championships in Shanghai.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tennis Chatter: Serbian Slump and More

Novak Djokovic is pulling a Jelena Jankovic in Shanghai this week. Jankovic tanked at the WTA Championships, losing every one of her matches and pulling out due to illness. The Djoker might being feeling a bit of the same fatigue after such an active year for him, as well.

Justine Henin beats Maria Sharapova in a long final at Madrid. Highlights are below.


Meanwhile, the men's No. 1 couldn't quite pull it off against his challenger.


Martina Hingis is waiting to see if the WTA will get involved in her drug case. Miss Hingis is most interested in clearing her name, and hopes that the WTA can help her do so.

If the WTA does clear Hingis' name, I have a question: will she un-retire? After realizing that she won't be remembered with the all-time greats, Hingis looks to have set her eyes on a new prize: the player who retired the most times. Current count is two, and I'm hoping that she retires at least four times!

Thought band-aids were out? You were so wrong.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Kelly Bound

I'm off to a Kelly Clarkson concert in an hour!

Hopefully I'll have video, pictures and all sorts of commentary sometime later this week.

Between KC, the boys of Shanghai and those things called school and work, I'll be pretty busy!

Shanghai Produces Opening-Round Surprises

Roger Federer's bumpy fall continued in Shanghai last night, where he lost to Fernando Gonzalez in his opening match of the year end championships.

It was an opposite performance than that of Federer's counterpart on the women's tour, Justine Henin, who beat Maria Sharapova in a thrilling Madrid final.

Gonzalez, the underdog, beat Federer to hand the Swiss No. 1 his first back-to-back losses since the spring of 2003, when he lost in the third round of Berlin and then the first round of the French.

Wouldn't it be a shocker if Mr. Fed was to go down in the Round Robin section of this tournament? It would be an unlikely end to a stellar year for Federer, but with all the scandal and upsets that have gone on in tennis this fall, it certainly would fall into the pattern of craziness.

That pattern was avoided by Rafael Nadal in his opening match, as he beat Richard Gasquet in three sets in Shanghai. Novak Djokovic, on the other hand, wasn't as lucky. The Serb lost to grinder David Ferrer, who beat Nadal at the US Open, 6-4 6-4.

The "Warriors" continue round robin play throughout the week before semifinals and finals are played over the weekend.

(The ATP players and their ATP Terracotta Warrior statues. Photo by mikehayes19 via flickr.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Justine is Queen; Maria on Upswing

Justine Henin crowned herself the Queen of Tennis this weekend, but Maria Sharapova isn't too disappointed to take the title of Princess.

Henin, the world No. 1 and undisputed Roger Federer of women's tennis proved this weekend that she may not need the aforementioned title comparing her to Federer - perhaps the Swiss is the Justine Henin of men's tennis?

Nonetheless, Henin ended the year 63-4, including winning her last 25 straight matches. Her last loss came at the hands of baby-eater Marion Bartoli at Wimbledon. Henin took revenge upon Bartoli this week while on her way to the Madrid title by double-donuting the Frenchwomen 6-0 6-0 in round robin play.

Yet it was the brilliance of Maria Sharapova that shocked both the crowd and the resurgent Russian this week. After a dismal season in Sharapova terms (she was 36-10 prior to Madrid and had four dismal losses at the majors), Sharapova rolled through her round robin matches and then dispatched Serbian Ana Ivanovic in the semifinals in straight sets.

The final, in which Henin won in 3 hours and 24 minutes after a 5-7 7-5 6-3 battle, was nothing short of epic. Henin's sheer resilience and consistency in the tight second set and her ability to close out the title in the third proved again to everyone how dominant the Belgian is in this global women's sport.

No doubt 2008 will bring more great tennis from both of these women after such an incredible end to the season. With the prospect of a healthy Serena Williams, a resurgent Jelena Jankovic and the returns of Lindsay Davenport and Amelie Mauresmo (remember her?), the tennis season should be a competitive.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Man With a (Movie) Plan

(Photo by Lindsay Beyerstein via flickr.)

This is Brad Pitt.

Click here to find out which tennis star thinks Mr. Pitt would be suitable to portray him in a movie of the tennis player's life.

Hmmm, really?

And who would play the girlfriend?

It Won't Stop

It won't stop until the Tours do something about all of this.

But will they ever?

I would argue no, but both chiefs - Scott and de Villiers - have shown that they can take a firm stance on the podium, but what about putting their foot down and really sending a clear and crisp message to players about certain behavior?

Or, as I said yesterday, are we all loving this attention?

Friday, November 9, 2007

SOS: State of (Women's) Sports

I had a disturbing realization while reading the New York Times this morning in my living room, Harvey Araton is absolutely right.

For a bit I felt rather embarrassed for the fact that I, as much as the next fan, always love a little scandal in women's sports. Tennis is chalk full of it over the last five years: the women - and girls - of the tour are able to make things dramatic while the tennis may lack in quality.

So does that make me less of a fan? Because I divulge in the cries of bad over-rules, the cat calls, the scandals - do I not respect women in sport as much as I should?

And, along the same lines, is that why women's tennis has been so successful as an international game? Many have argued that women's tennis is the single most popular women's global sport in the world. And while that fact is encouraging, does that popularity stem from the drama that seems to circle the tour with a constant buzz?

Did Big Babe tennis also bring about Cry Baby tennis? Are these pre-Madonnas so wrapped up in their own worlds that they can't see that they're not just playing a game - that they're professional athletes, too?

Maria Sharapova is the latest example of the glitzy girl: smiling for the cameras and keeping her off-court schedule busy while garnering a global fan base. So is the issue with players like Sharapova, who are well-rounded, out-going individuals? Or is it with someone like Justine Henin, who has thrown all of her petite being into being the best tennis player in the world?

Scandals and drama always take a catalyst, and often times that catalyst can be a single individual. So what sort of individual do we - the fans of women's tennis - want in order to fully enjoy the sport we claim to love?

Or, is it even fair for us to demand a certain type of athlete while enjoying so much of what happens after the end of the point? Are we truly "fans" in the purist sense when we smile a little to ourselves when Serena Williams goes bananas on a chair umpire, or Martina Hingis pouts and cries on her mother's shoulder?

My initial reaction is to say that "it all just comes with the territory." But does it? Are we able to be fans of those points - and just the points - without all the thrills and frills that come separate from them?

I want so badly to be a sincere fan, but my insatiable appetite for such drama no doubt wins out sometimes.

Between athlete and fan, there must be a balance. We must be okay with athletes being people - and, especially, women - and that sport comes with something more than just a game.

I just wish the headlines from Madrid were a little bigger this weekend than those out of the Hingis press conference last week. I fear, however, they won't be.

But does that really disappoint me? I'm still unsure...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Clip of the Week: See It, Believe It

Anna Chakvetadze somehow pulled out a three-set win over Jelena Jankovic to be the fourth semifinalist at the YEC in Madrid today.

Chakvetadze joins Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin and Ana Ivanovic in the semis. Doesn't it seem like this tournament just started? Crazy!

If you can see through your I-can't-believe-Serena-withdrew tears (Troy!), then here's a little tidbit of info you might enjoy: tennis on the internet.

I love the blogosphere for many reasons, but one of them is that information can be passed around so easily. Now, sometimes that might be a negative thing, but in the case of enabling those of us who do not own TVs to watch some high-quality tennis on the web, I'm all for it.

I did, finally, find some YEC videos on YouTube.


Oh, and in case you didn't see this score, be ready to feel really, really bad for Marion Bartoli. At least the holidays are coming up for Mari, she loves feasting with Mirka!

To rant for a minute, what a disappointing end to the season for Jelena Jankovic. I really feel that Jankovic didn't live up to her billing this year. Maybe that's unfair to say, but the Serb didn't win any big matches that proved to me she truly is a top-tier player. She still hasn't solved the Henin riddle (though few have), and her inability to win key matches (such as the one against Chakvetadze today) shows me that she isn't among the best in the game.

Now don't get me wrong, Jankovic is my favorite player on tour right now, and I admire so much of her game. But for her to be a threat in 2008, she needs to pull her game - and her head - together to make a run at some major titles.

Is Bigger Better?

We're trying out this new, bigger font.

Like it? Don't like it? Let us know.

The Ghost of Madrid

So this post is part Tennis Chatter, part gossip, part rant and part promotion.

First off, the whole "Ghost of Madrid" title is because of this: I can't find ANY videos on YouTube. I've put in every player's name, including Madrid, tennis and every possible tagging word I can think of. So, are they really playing tennis across the Atlantic? Or is it all just a ploy?

A few weeks ago, I purchased a T-shirt from an adorable online clothing company called Stick It Wear. I had discovered the company from Erwin, and had decided to check out the site for myself. Upon browsing their awesome tennis-inspired tees, I just had to have one. After ordering the "Clay Warrior" a few weeks ago, I was curious to why I hadn't received a package wrapping my stick-figured goodness yet. After a few email exchanges, a kind SIW employee named Joe informed that they had run out of the Warrior and were a little back logged. He promised me that the shirt was on its way, and that a second, complimentary shirt was included for my patience. So, in part, this is to tell you about an awesome T-shirt company...but it's also a bit of a pay-it-forward gesture. So check them out.

Jelena Jankovic is blogging this week from Madrid, while Serena Williams has just announced her withdrawal from the tournament.

No doubt Serena is hugely disappointed for having to leave the YEC without a title in her hand. I do, however, believe that this will be extremely motivating for Serena to make 2008 her year. 2007 was the year we saw Serena return to her championship form, but her "rivalry" with Justine Henin has taken a Federer-Roddick turn. JH owns Serena, winning their last three matches (all at majors) and losing just one set along the way. Sure, this is a sad departure for Serena, but I have no doubt that she'll be back to prove her "critics" wrong and make a charge for the No. 1 ranking in the world.

Meanwhile, looking ahead to next week, the groups have been laid out for the ATP Championships. Check them out.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

MIT: Matt's in Town!

Greetings all! Matt is in town this week from New York and we're doing our best to conquer Seattle in three days.

Check out all his posts of what we're up to day-to-day. I'll do a post sometime this weekend to summarize it all.

I'll do my best to keep up with the YEC in Madrid this week, too. Today, Serena delivered a bombshell, and it wasn't in the W column.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Birthday Thriller: Ivanovic Wins in Madrid

Ana Ivanovic matured in many ways yesterday in Madrid: the Serb left behind her teen years, turning the big 2-0 while winning her first year-end championship match in dramatic fashion, beating Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1 4-6 7-5.

The win gave Ivanovic a 1-0 record in the Red Group, where she and Kuznetsova will battle with Maria Sharapova and Daniela Hantuchova for a spot in the semifinals. The French Open finalist ran her record to 3-0 against the Russian this year and 4-1 overall. All three of their meetings this year have gone three sets, with Ivanovic winning two of them in extra innings.

Though Ivanovic has a winning record against the Kuz, it certainly was seen as an upset that the 20-year-old was able to beat the No. 2 seed here. Not only will this now make the Red Group more interesting, but it also puts Sharapova in more of an advantageous place after her opening-day win over Daniela Hantuchova. All together, the four women have played 31 times, so the fierce competition in the Red Group will no doubt surface over the next few days.

(Ivanovic was all smiles on a day when she took out the world No. 2. Photo by fred8912026 via flikr.)

No Ditty Dally

(Ditty at the 2007 US Open qualies - where she lost in the third round. Photo by robbiesaurus via flickr.)

Julie Ditty has taken her time to get into the Top 100 on the WTA Tour. Her run to the semifinals of the Bell Challenge in Quebec City last year was her first-ever appearance in a WTA semifinal after six seasons on tour.

Bonnie D. Ford has a terrific piece on the Vanderbilt grad over at ESPN. Check it out.

Honorable Mention

Ed McGrogan gave Honorable Mention to Lindsay Davenport and David Nalbandian yesterday on Peter Bodo's TENNISWORLD, saying that if the two were playing in their respective YECs they'd make some noise.

So if you had the chance to give Honorable Mention to one man and one woman on tour - who would it be?

Contribute to the Chatter -- TELL US!

Halloween, A Week Late

While play is already under way in Madrid (Hey! That rhymes!), there's something still Halloween-esque in the air.

Troy and I spent quite the summer at TENNIS Magazine. While in title, we were just lowly interns sent on various tasks (like fetching manikin legs), we certainly were professionals in other realms.

Those realms included (but were not limited to):
1. Banter.
2. Fighting about who got to marry Akgul first.
3. Arguing over whether Daniela had eaten 3 or 2 crackers during the year.
4. Lunch breaks in the park (Shakey! Shakey! FRIDAY!)
5. Troy knowing how to do everything and me knowing how to...well, do nothing.

One of those things that Troy was so well-versed on was photoshop. One afternoon I hunkered down next to him in his cubicle and he enlightened me on the world or re-sizing and cutting and pasting. While the words were coming out of his mouth at a slow and intentional pace (so as not to lose me), I felt like Charlie Brown in the fourth row. "Wah wah, wah wah, waaah."

So all of this chatter is leading somewhere, I promise. A few weeks ago, I emailed Troy and told him that I needed his mastery photoshop skills for a blog project (bloject?). Halloween was fast approaching, and I knew that the same hand that crafted FederBear, Mirkadeer and Holy Mother Mary would craft something grand and ghostly for the fall's best holiday.

Alas, Troy delivered. And though I'm a few days late in putting these up, I think that they're well worth the gander.

First, we have Serendaleezza Rice. After a strong 2007, Serena decided to give up tennis - and acting - and go into politics. Currently, she's lobbying for the Bush Administration to make Aneres, her clothing line, the official wear of all government officials.


Second (and last, for now), we have Justine Spears. Justine, too, was so over tennis. Instead of going the way of the law, Justine decided to try her luck in music. Her first hit, "Hand in The Air" was a flop though. Good try JuJu! At least she looks bomb on stage, right?


Troy Venechanos illustrations.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Tennis Chatter

The WTA Tour Championships get underway tomorrow, but the women have already been in action, doing a photo shoot for publicity. Check out the video of all the (photography) shots.

Martina Hingis' scandalous retirement announcement has already been made page 2 news, even on tennis-only sites like the Tennis Channel. Are we already over the Swiss Miss and her departure? Perhaps. But Steve Tignor did have some nice thoughts about the former No. 1 in his latest post on TENNIS.com.

How did I miss this awkward picture? Or is this a photo illustration? I'm so confused! Either way, David Nalbandian looks rather uncomfortable.

Erwin is back in action over at TennisServedFresh. As always, the popular Trophy Watch kicks off his Monday.

But wait, Hingis will fight the allegations? Okay...so does that mean she hasn't actually retired? So confused....

Finals Videos

Paris Masters Series - Paris, FRA
David Nalbandian defeats Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-0.


Bell Challenge - Quebec City, CAN
Lindsay Davenport defeats Julia Vakulenko 6-4, 6-1.

...I know that Canadians do things a little differently, but does NO ONE in that country have a video camera?!? I mean, I know I'm asking a lot to have a video up the day after the final - but what's the deal, eh?

Because of the lack of a Quebec video, I decided to include this vintage match between Davenport and Monica Seles from 10 years ago(!), 1997. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

WTA Championships

The draw is up.

Serena is smiling.

Play begins Tuesday.

A Tale of Two Comebacks

Lindsay Davenport and David Nalbandian have both worked off their respective 'guts' in the past few months and the results are speaking for themselves.

The American, back from semi-retirement and giving birth to her first child, and the Argentine, back from a sluggish year and a brief dis-interest in his career path, have both claimed two titles this fall to the shock and surprise of the tennis world.

Davenport, following her September win in Bali, cleaned up in Quebec this week, beating Julia Vakulenko in the final of the Bell Challenge 6-4, 6-1.

It was the second title in three tournaments for the new mom, who returned to the tour a year after leaving. With the win, Davenport finishes 2007 13-1 and should move into the Top 100.

Meanwhile, Nalbandian captured two more prestigious tournaments this week, winning at the Madrid Masters two weeks again and claiming the Paris Masters this week in France.

The Argentine, a former Top 5 player who currently sits at No. 21 in the ATP - thanks in part to his win in Madrid - beat Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-0 for a comfortable win in Paris.

Salvaging a rather ugly 2007, Nalbandian has set himself up - along with Davenport - to be a major force on the tour in 2008.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Paris Masters: To Mt. Olympus and Back

Saturday greetings all! My parents and I are enjoying Seattle this weekend together, so I don't think I'll have much going on, unless Troy continues to shower me with incredible posts.

Today Mr. Venechanos has a special behind-the-scenes treat for us, with video to boot! Check out his posts over on Steve Tignor's Concrete Elbow blog on TENNIS.com. ("Wild Fires" and "Halloween in Paris".)

I am typing write now in the press tribune at the Palais Omnisports overlooking Center Court. There are no players on court yet. Instead, there are about eight Asian power drummers doing a really loud tribal song. Yesterday there was a group of Cirque de Soleil-esque dancers rolling around in hula hoops to Enya. But stranger things have happened on this court in the last couple of days.

This is the court where Nicolay Davydenko forgot how to serve. It's the court where Richard Gasquet took yet another unlikely win. And it's the court where I sat two rows behind Mirka.

I know, you're in shock. I am too. I probably will be for a while. But let me take you back to the beginning, to a time before I tasted the ambrosia of the tennis gods.

As you already know and will be reminded of for the last time, my friend Will is close with Eric 'Booty' Butorac. Booty lost in the second a couple of days ago in straight sets to the Czech duo of Dlouhy and Vizner. After his loss, we met up with Booty. He is an incredibly nice guy, your typical, down to Earth doubles player. Although, this might just be because he's from the Midwest. I think it's a genetic
impossibility to be from the Midwest and not be nice. Unless you're Ed Gein. Although as far as serial killers go, I think he was pretty nice - human skin lampshades aside.

Where was I? Ah yes, Booty. After his loss, he went back to the hotel to shower and eat. In the mean time, he gave Will a ticket to get into the Player's Lounge. This ticket would become my golden chariot. Will got into the player's lounge and I got my own pass and met him in there. It wasn't my first time in the lounge. My first time was uneventful; I saw a few notable players and had an awkward bro-like conversation with Mardy Fish on how Ana Ivanovic is a pretty girl. And yes, he used the term 'pretty girl' rather than 'hot chick.'

This second time was a completely different experience. Over the course of an hour, I saw every player in the ATP Top 20, excluding Federer. Nadal was canoodling with his girlfriend (also a 'pretty girl'). Nalbandian was playing games with a toddler (unsure of the relation). Brad Gilbert was talking with Anne Murray while waiting for Andy. Brad was talking about a Chinese Embassy - conversation which is now null
and void.

The French players were out in force as well. Grosjean, Llodra, Clement and Tsonga were all sitting in the same area watching a weird, dubbed movie with Pierce Brosnan. What is it with French players and Pierce Brosnan? Gasquet made a few appearances, he was constantly talkingwith his coach in preparation for his Round of 16 match with James Blake. Although at one point, Gasquet and Baghdatis were chatting. It turns out Marcos speaks great French, a fact I had forgotten.

The precious few Americans left in the tournament also hung out in a group. Once Booty returned, he lunched with the Bryans and even greeted Brad Gilbert. In case you ever run into him, call him 'BG' - it's what his bros call him. Yes, I thought I had made it. This player-saturated lounge was the real deal, the summit of every tennis fan's Mt. Olympus. It turns out it was just base camp.

Will had to leave early to catch an evening flight to Dublin. We said our goodbyes and he gave me the ticket that Booty had given him. It was the same kind of ticket that any member of a player's entourage would get. The same ticket as, dare I say, Mirka would get. I decided to wait until the evening session to use my ticket and in the meantime I enjoyed the Gasquet/Blake match as well as an all-French doubles match. I decided to get to that night's marquis match (Nalbandian vs. Federer)
slightly early because I knew seats would be in high demand - in the player's box that is.

I picked a great seat in the third row up. Great view, aisle seat, relatively little obstruction from the protective net - it was a good choice. Soon the entourages started to pour in. Nalbandian's coach and family filed into the front row. French tennis icons like Guy Forget took their seats as well. Still no sign of the courtside icon, Ms. Vavrinec.

Then I heard the clomping of expensive boots behind me. There she was, Mirka, in all her glory. She was extremely tall (not just because of her boots). Her hair was perfectly done and she clutched her ever-present purse in front of her as she chatted with another ever-present girlfriend. I was blinded for a second by her "I love you very much ring." At a few points, we made eye contact. Soon the match
started and her boyfriend started to battle it out with his new Argentine rival.

I had a great view of the match and it was a very entertaining one at that. I forgot what the following match up on Center Court would be and I asked the person in front of me what the next match would be. "Haas vs. Youzhny," he answered, "you might want to look next to you." Sure enough, sitting right next to me was the German wonder himself, Tommy Haas.

I decided to get concrete evidence of this event - a way of electronically pinching myself to make sure this wasn't a dream. As you can see in this video, Nalbandian's coach is to the left. I zoomed in on Mirka, although her radiance cannot be captured on film. If you look closely, I zoom across as Tommy is sitting next to me. I thought it would be socially uncomfortable to zoom in on him as he sat next to me.



As the match drew to an end, Tommy left to get suited up for his match. In his vacant seat sat Cedric Pioline's wife who brought along their adorable son. There wasn't very much room, so the kid and share seat space between his mother and I. I knew I was on Mt. Olympus when I had a Pioline on my lap.

We all know how the match ended; Zeus was dethroned. As I made my way slowly down the hallowed peaks of the tennis world, I hope I will come back soon. If not, Mirka and I will always have Paris...

-Troy Venechanos

Friday, November 2, 2007

Tennis Chatter: Hingis Update, etc.

While I was (not) going to class yesterday and picking up my parents at the airport, Martina Hingis was retiring from professional tennis.

The "breaking news" that I thought surfaced this morning was a nearly a day old - so is the life of a student blogger, right?

Lindsay Davenport - officially un-retired and cocaine free - continued her assault on the women's tennis tour, belting her way into the quarterfinals of Quebec, where she's a wildcard. Two titles in three tries for the California mom? It's looking that way.

Want to hear what Roger Federer had to say after his loss to Nalbandian yesterday? Click here.

Speaking of Hingis, the WTA issued this statement from Larry Scott.

Hingis' full statement can be found on Peter Bodo's TennisWorld.

And the video (for the emotion, not the words):

Breaking News: Hingis Retires

Martina Hingis has announced her retirement from professional tennis for a second time - but this one might be a bit more permanent.

The 27-year-old Swiss player announced that she tested positive for cocaine at Wimbledon this year and chose to retire because she does not want to fight a legal battle with the WTA for the ensuing two years.

More of this story as we get details.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Nalbandian Stuns Federer

David Nalbandian has pulled a Guillermo Canas.

Short of doing it in back-to-back weeks, Nalbandian has defeated Roger Federer at the Paris Masters Series event for his second win over the world's number one player in as many meetings.

The Argentine, who beat Federer at the finals of the Madrid Masters Series ten days ago, scored an impressive 6-4, 7-6(3) win over the Swiss.

We'll have in-depth coverage of this shocking upset and the following development of the Paris draw from Mr. Troy Venechanos himself. Stay tuned!

A Year Later: Mary Pierce Falls in Linz (COTW)

Just over a year ago, Mary Pierce suffered a horrific fall in Linz during a match with Vera Zvonareva.

The French veteran, who had a resurgent 2005 in reaching the finals of both the French and US Opens, was sidelined again with a torn ligament in her leg.

For much of 2007, Pierce has made sure the public knows that she'll be back. She was a socialite at the French, attending parties and doing commentary before helping present the trophies in a cream-colored frump gown...I mean, dress.

(Mary Pierce making a fashion "statement" at the '07 French Trophy presentation. Photo by Maria Victoria via Flickr.)

A call is in at the WTA about Mary's return. Any one have any info? For now, check out the fall itself - and hope that Mary is back in full health - and better attire - in 2008.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Feeling Childish: Candy in Paris

"Where is Zone 1?"

This should be a basic question for any security personnel, anywhere. There is always a Zone 1. It's the same in English as it is en Francais. Zone. 1.

My friend Will, a Minnesota native, is close friends with Eric 'Booty' Butorac - the doubles sensation famous for winning three titles with and later being dumped by, Jamie 'Stretch' Murray. Booty called (haha) and put some tickets on hold for Will at will call (hahaha). The tickets were for Zone 1. Because I am important, I could go pretty much go wherever I wanted besides Gasquet's box - but more on that later. Will's ticket however, had many more limitations. Somehow one ticket could get you into the luxury lounge but still ban you from the elevator. We spent a good portion of the morning testing these boundaries.


But when it came time to actually finding his seats, we learned that Zone 1 will join 'The Twilight Zone' and 'The Zone Diet' on a long list of unsolved Zone mysteries. Every time we asked the personnel where the Zone 1 seats were, we got a different answer. Take the stairs up. Take the elevator down. They're behind the player seats. They are the player seats.

One hour later we found our Zone 1 seats, they were behind the player seats.

We made it just in time to see Djokovic get thoroughly owned by the pastel-clad, suicide inducing (see Marat Safin) Fabrice Santoro. Djokovic looked sluggish on court and indifferent to close calls and great shots. His demeanor during his press conference was actually much improved. He was in good spirits. He admitted he was only at 30% and was still recovering from wisdom tooth surgery. Perhaps the most entertaining part of the conference was the fact that he was wearing a Chicago Bulls sweatshirt.


Nadal followed Djokovic with a routine win over Filippo Volandri. The big event of the day (following Fabri's big upset) was the clash of the French titans: Gasquet versus Tsonga. I was surprised at how fresh Gasquet was on court. He admitted after his loss in Lyon that he probably wouldn't be ready to play in Paris. But he pulled out a great match against Tsonga and seems like a convincing contender for at least a quarterfinal berth. At his press conference, he was flanked by radio press and later bombarded with questions from the French press.


At one point, we made eye contact for what seemed to be eternity. I saw stars, the room got foggy and I swear I heard a Celine Dion song playing in the distance.


But our moment was soon over and I had bigger and better people to investigate, like Mirka. Mirka was in top form tonight. She was talking to her friends, texting on her pink cellphone, flaunting her "I love you very much" ring and simultaneously ignored her boyfriend's match. Her status as a courstide remains intact, fear not.


Then her boyfriend won and said some words.


Although it didn't feel like Halloween, at the end of the night I still felt like the lucky kid with a pillowcase full of candy.

Post and photos by Troy Venechanos.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Day One at Paris

It was my first full day at the BNP Paribas Masters and what a day it was. It was a day of the usual monotonous first round play as well as some doubles disappointments. First up on the chopping block: Janko Tipsarevic. Our favorite 'other Serbian' gave Tommy Haas all he could handle. Unfortunately, it was not enough to throw the German off course for a Shanghai berth. I will give the Serbian the advantage for edgy, borderline-Clement eye wear though.



Our favorite 'other brothers' were playing doubles together. They brought out the best in one another. Jamie played incredible and quick points at the net when it mattered. His older brother showed off his knack for choking. Andy squandered two match points, including a double fault on one.


The most interesting part about their doubles loss was the press conference. Andy was in a foul, borderline rude mood. He started the press conference with a scowl and short answers. He mentioned a car accident briefly and a few questions for specifics followed. Then talk continued about Davis Cup and both of their plans for the rest of their seasons. However brief the discussion of his car accident was, the press jumped on it and created headlines. For some reason, English people in Parisian car accidents just grab attention. (Yes, I went there).


Fernando Verdasco, the 'other finalist' from this weekend, played a strong two sets against Dr. Ivo in his first round match. Karlovic held serve in standard fashion and Verdasco made two flagrant unforced errors to give Karlovic a third set break and eventually the match. A fitting end of a streaky season for the Spaniard.


Rafael Nadal, the 'other major name' to bow out in doubles, also lost in a decisive tie-break with his compatriot Feliciano Lopez. The Spanish duo played their usual brand of 'stay back, attack only when convenient' tennis but managed to pull off several great points, not to mention matching outfits. Because we all know, Rafa will not play doubles with you unless you dress up like him.


Happy Halloween!

Photos and post by:
Troy Venechanos