Thursday, May 31, 2007

Early Encounter

What a third-round match up.

Venus Williams, arguably one of the most talented women players of all time, takes on up-and-comer Jelena Jankovic, the Serb seeded fourth, who seems poised to make her first bold statement at a major.

Such a match-up could mean both things for these two women: a chance at re-claiming glory for Venus and the opportunity to strike Grand Slam gold for Jankovic.

The last time these two met in the third-round of a slam was just last year, when Jankovic de-throned Ms. Williams as defending Wimbledon champion. This time around? I'm sticking with J-squared here, she's my pick to win the whole thing.

The reason I like Jankovic over Venus at this point is not only her relentless consistency, but her ability to play the entire court so well. She weathered an incredible Venus storm in Charleston. If anything, fast forward to the last two minutes of this video, it's great women's tennis:

They're up first on Chatrier. Hopefully the French will arrive early to see such a show.

Clip of the Week: Table Work

Table tennis is always a game I've admired. Never one I've been able to play.

This rally is Federer-Nadal-esque. I love the cartwheel mid-way through one player's scrambling. Classic.

And the First to Five Is...

The first woman to win five matches at this year's French Open is Ioana Raluca Olaru.

Yes. The famous IRO.

Miss Olaru came through the qualifying tournament, dropping just one set in three matches to draw Julia Vukalenko, the 30th seed, in the opening round.

Olaru would down Vukalenko in straights, and followed that win up with another - her fifth of the tournament - a 6-3 6-0 drubbing of Tatiana Poutcheck.

The 18-year-old is from Romania. She reached her highest career ranking this past week, topping out at 122 in the world. Olaru has already been to two WTA semifinal this year, breaking through at Memphis in February (losing to Venus in the semis) and then again in Fes just a few weeks ago. She came through the qualies at both those events.

A semifinal here, too? She'll have to get through Ivanovic next.

Any relation?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ouch (To the 8th Power)

It was a blue day for the American men on the red stuff.

My favorite part is James Blake's optimism:
"It's no secret we haven't done that great on clay this year," Blake said, "but I think we have the ability."

A for ability James. F for follow-through on the ability.

Until next year Yanks, au revior!


Another early exit for Andy.

On to Wimbledon, right?

Dirt-y Questions (Part Three): The Back Story...Is it Always This Dramatic?

Ashley Harkleroad.

Who knew a girl could dig up so much drama?

After a successful 2003 campaign (at the age of 18), Harkleroad has teetered between top-50 greatness and mid-100s journeywoman. But the back story is what keeps this girl interesting.

I wonder, is there something about the game of tennis - the way youngsters (especially girls) are pushed so hard to be so competitive at a young age? We saw it with Patty Schnyder: after a tremendous 1998, Schnyder sort of fell off her rocker, dumping her coach and dating/training with a so-called guru.

Is there a pattern here?

Perhaps Harkleroad is just finding her way. But, for all intents and purposes, dating a coach probably isn't the best idea. Dating your coach certainly isn't, either.

Oh yeah, and Harkleroad plays Venus in round two. Any boyfriend advice there?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The French Open Series

I do like the humor that people have.

A comedic start to what should be a fun French.

Early Start, Little Progress

Not much tennis was played on Day One of the French Open.

Rain halted many matches and forced tournament organizers to push first-round matches to Monday.

Justine Henin, Marat Safin and Serena Williams were among those who were able to sneak their way past not only Mother Nature, but pesky opponents to book their places in round two of the year's second major.

Williams, opening play against Tsvetana Pironkova, the teenager who stunned sister Venus in the first round of last year's Australian Open, struggled to a 5-7 6-1 6-1 win.

If anything, both Justine and Serena will build on their wins. The rest of the field must wait another day to get their feet dirty.

Safin's opening-day victory is something I'm not too surprised by. I see the Russian going far in this tournament. He's (as usual) had some up and down results as of late, but was instrumental in the Russian Davis Cup win a month ago (a confidence builder) and no doubt will gain momentum (mentally and physically) as he racks up the Ws.

Greg Garber had this interesting take on the contemporary Marat.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Here Goes Nothing...

The French is just hours away.

Let's hope my picks aren't way off.



Drawn Together

The Serena Williams-Justine Henin saga continues.

After the release of the French Open draws late this week, the two grand slam champs are scheduled to meet in the quarterfinals of the year's second major.

Both players have had quite the year - Serena winning at the Aussie and Nasdaq 100, Justine making her surge later in the year and claiming three titles. Their only meeting this year didn't disappoint, as Williams came back (via a friendly net cord) to win the Nasdaq 0-6 7-5 6-3 in dramatic fashion.

The rivalry continues.

Though I picked Jankovic to win the open (she'll have to get through Venus in the 3rd round to do so) it will be a battle of confidence among these three women to see who can come out on top.

Serena has a difficult opening couple of rounds, but if she can get through those and find herself in the final eight, she is as good as anyone - including Justine - even on clay.

And for the petite Belgium it is not only time to defend her crown, but to establish herself as a force on the women's tour this year. She missed out on the Aussie due to personal conflict, and is certainly as hungry as anyone to win the title.

Another hand incident? Hostile crowd? Maybe not.

But the drama will sure be there, let's hope the high-quality tennis is, too.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Clip of the Week

The French Open has always had its fair share of drama.

This has to be one of my favorite moments, with Martina Hingis on the cusp of finally winning the major we all thought she'd win first, she absolutely implodes.

From the moment she challenges the line call at 6-4, 2-0, it's downhill from there.

If you watch closely, however, it doesn't look like the line woman and chair judge are sure which mark actually is Hingis'. And, the instant reply (though blurry) seems to put the ball closer to the mark Hingis was arguing.

Hmmm, it would've been great to have Hawkeye in '99, right?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Fairy Tale Continues

Remember this?

It's Melissa Torres. The woman of the week at Acapulco in late February. It seems as though her fortunes have continued and her confidence is soaring.

Since her run to the quarterfinals at the Tier III, Torres has racked up a 10-4 record and has jumped to 235 in the rankings this week - her highest ever.

Playing tennis growing up, I would hit against the wall in our alley and my favorite storyline always went like this:

Hometown guy (or gal), given a wildcard, made his way through the opening match against a drastically higher ranked player in three sets only to roll out win after win after win in dramatic fashion (usually involving tie-breaks aplenty and overruled line calls).

That's what I like about Melissa Torres. She has the fairy tale storyline. Too bad Mexico doesn't host a Slam, right?

Foreseeing the French

The draws aren't out yet, but I'm ready to make my calls.

Roger Federer - After his win in Hamburg last week, the Mighty Fed just may be the hottest player on tour. Yes, he was in somewhat of a 'slump' prior to the Masters win, but his confidence must be booming after scrapping his way into the finals and destroying Rafael Nadal and his 81-match winning streak.

The past four years have been a growing period for Federer, especially at Roland Garros. He's gone from pretender to contender on the red stuff, and you have to credit his all-court game and steady head for such a drastic improvement.

Translation: it's time for that final breakthrough in Federer's career. Grand Slam for 2007 possible? I'm thinking so.

Jelena Jankovic - The Serb has solidly worked her way up the rankings to a career-high number 4 in this week's rankings. What's more impressive than her game lately has been her level of play. After winning titles in Auckland and Charleston, Jankovic was stellar in Berlin last week, taking out five quality opponents in five matches for her third title of the season.

This year alone, Jankovic has lost three times to Justine Henin 6-4 in the third. While many of us remember her meltdown in the semifinals of the USO last fall, a maturation has occurred this year for the 22-year-old that has allowed her to raise her game to another level. This slam is a turning point for Jelena: she'll win her maiden major while defeating Justine (in the semis or finals) for the first time.

Then it's on to Wimbledon.

Meanwhile, here's what TENNIS Magazine is thinking about the women.

Dirt-y Questions (Part Two): Last Minute Preps

It always puzzles me when top-ranked players choose to play the warm-up events the week prior to a major.

This week there are two case in points: Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova. While the two have raised eyebrows off the court with their rumored relationship, neither have done much on their respective tours over the past few months.

April and May have never been the kindest of months to Mr. Roddick. Following his win in Houston in 2005, Roddick is just 9-7 on the red stuff. This year, he's 2-1 (counting his win yesterday), and with the French looming just days away, Andy is hoping to hone his clay skills just in time for his most hated major of the year.

To put Roddick on the same page as Federer and Nadal on the red stuff would be an outright joke. However, the effort of the American to pick up the slack when it comes to European tennis can certainly be admired. At least he's making an effort.

We can't say the same about the clay boys and grass, right?

Meanwhile, Maria Sharapova has had a little more success on clay than Roddick, but as of late, she's more worried about pain in her shoulder than dirt on her dresses.

Yet Sharapova is in action this week, winning her opening match in Istanbul.

It was the first on-tour win for the Russian since her 6-1, 6-1 thrashing via Serena Williams at the Nasdaq in March.

Not only is Sharapova fighting injury, but recently she has begun to fight the media's doubt (and her own) in her serve, and therefore, her entire game.

So while most top players avoid the week-before tourneys, Roddick and Sharapova look to capitalize off of the match play. And just maybe we'll see some of the benefits of that game plan in week two at Roland Garros. But that's a big maybe.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Clip of the Week

This past week I went home to visit family, hang out for the weekend and see my dear mom for Mother's Day. Along the way, I got to watch some pretty spectacular high school tennis. Though Montana isn't a tennis hotbed, I saw some quality matches from some quality players.

It was funny watching the matches for me. In one boy's match, I saw two talented players go toe-to-toe in a three setter. I sat there wondering if I was at that level in high school too. It's hard to measure our games on and off the court, especially as spectators.

I'm pretty sure that none of us can quite play at this level, but it sure is fun to watch though, right?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

WTA: What Tennis, Anyway?

Recently I've found myself completely uninterested in the goings-on of the WTA Tour.

Lack of Maria?

European swing?

I can't put my finger on it. But I hope the tour heats up just in time for the French. Justine's getting her swing on again and I'd like to see Amelie make a charge again in front of the (always critical) home crowd.

Disappointingly, both Sharapova and Hingis withdrew from this week's Italian Open in Rome. The WTA is continuously having to deal with late withdrawals from top players, something that strips their top events of their star-power and makes for bad PR. Not to mention Kim Clijsters' retirement this past week.

What is encouraging to me is the play Ana Ivanovic, the Serb who took the Berlin title this last week. Two years ago I listened to the French Open radio broadcast of Ivanovic upsetting Mauresmo in the third round. I remember Matt Cronin talking about how big this girl's forehand was. Now that the rest of her game has rounded out, Ivanovic has reached the Top 10 and certainly is a title threat in Paris.

Kuznetsova? Vaidasova? Who else will make a run? Hopefully this can only get more interesting.

Dirt-y Questions (Part One)

Rafael Nadal has won 76(!) straight clay court matches following his victory this week in Rome. Can anyone stop this racehorse on the dirty stuff?

Answer: I think yes, but it'll take a lot - from both sides - for it to happen. First, Nadal must be off, way off. The guy has such great presence on clay. He's at home, this is the stuff that he was raised on, that his game was honed for. He's like a kid in the sandbox: comfortably moving from side to side through the puddles, cracks and volcanoes. Yet, if a giant-killer has his A-game gripped tightly with his racket, we've seen a vulnerable Nadal on any surface.

What Federer and the rest of the field must remember is that Nadal thrives on the dramatic points - the points where he can grind, scramble and get a little dirty before fist-pumping and knee-kicking his way to the changeover. Neutralizing Nadal is the key.

How is this done? The serve certainly has to go off for Rafa, and that backhand (which can yip at times) has to be a little off. From there on out it's up to the fellow on the other side of the net. As of no surprise today, Gonzalez didn't even make a dent in Nadal's clay armor. Gonzo shows us what sort of game doesn't work against the two-time French winner.

But now the rest of the tour is wondering: what does work?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Clip of the Week: King Doubt

Roger Federer has gone from King of Tennis to King Doubt in the matter of a couple months.

Following his shocking back-to-back losses to Guillermo Canas at the two hardcourt swings in the US this spring, Federer fell to Nadal in the Monte Carlo final two weeks again and then today against an unknown qualifier in Rome.

All of the sudden the King is looking vulnerable, and now the question is not only will he be able to survive two weeks on the dirt at Roland Garros, but can he continue his mastery of Wimbledon and the USO?

Certainly the other top men are licking their chops: this is what they've all been waiting for. Nadal is aiming for a third-straight French, while everyone else has securely aimed their arrows at the bulls-eye on his back.

So much for trouble on a two-surface court, Roger has to figure out how to win on one.

Monday, May 7, 2007


Thank you, Kim. We'll miss you...but not your drawn-out farewell.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Wacky...What Day?

I was ready to call this post 'Wacky Wednesday', and then I realized that it's not Wednesday - that's how tired I am.

School and Search both have me worn down. The retreat is this weekend and I'm looking forward to going through all of it once again. This is my 6th now and it never gets old. Never.

One thing that does get old is a drug-out, lackluster farewell tour. Now yes, I understand that I've had choice words for Kim Clijsters and her pitiful departure from the tour, but this is getting disgusting.

A reader had something to say to me last time I posted about Kim, but I think this topic deserves more discussion: there are certain ways to do things in life, appropriate ways. In sport, retiring can be a tricky practice. Professionals are faced with many options:
1. Abrupt announcement of said departure (See: Lindsay Davenport).
2. Announcement of final few tournaments (See: Andre Agassi).
3. "Retiring" while everyone knows you'll return (See: Martina Hingis).
4. Going out after one final bang (See: Pete Sampras).

I was hoping that Clijsters would join the latter group, perhaps claiming Wimbledon with her lethal groundstrokes and a second USO title after a late-summer wedding. But this will not be the case. Instead we will watch a player full of could-have-beens go out just as that, a could-have-been.