Saturday, September 29, 2007

Link It Up

We started school this week in Seattle on Wednesday. It's my senior year of college, and as much as I was itching to get into the academic swing again, after collecting my three syllabi in the span on 24 hours, I'm ready for summer again.

One of my classes, taught by Sonora Jha, is an International Affairs writing class. During the quarter, each of us will follow a region of the world and become the bureau correspondents for the news out of our region.

It's a pretty exciting class, but it also got me thinking about how much information gets pumped into blogs - no to mention the internet - everyday. It also made me realize what a niche the tennis world is. When Sonora asked which of us had a blog and I raised my hand, saying I had a tennis one, I got blank stares from most of my classmates. So this is a shout out to my fellow bloggers, who are putting out incredible content on a daily (and sometimes hourly) as the tennis globe turns.

My fashion guru, Erwin. Always in the know about everyday popular (and un-popular) about tennis fashion.

Jeremy over at Grand Slam Tennis Tours has a great blog. He's been updating more often and has some fresh stuff. I just added this blog to my roll, too.

Tennis Planet is the Perez Hilton of tennis blogs. Always with the juice, and not necessarily just the tennis stuff.

Craig Hickman always has something to say. His lay out is terrific, too!

Everything WTA can be found at Inside WTA. Ladies, ladies and more ladies.

These are just a few of the dozens of tennis-specific blogs on the web. Check them out and support these bloggers are working hard day in and day out.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Tennis Chatter: TGIF!

The good news is it's Friday, the bad news has saved itself for tennis...well, the ATP:

Mercedes Benz is pulling its sponsorship from the ATP at the end of next year after a long and substantial relationship with the Tour. Who will Rafael Nadal get his free cars from now?

Maybe Ana Ivanovic can loan him a Verano?

Dmitry Tursonov is the new poster boy for ATP players who have received match-fixing offers. Is this just the tip of the iceberg?

Venus Williams is playing well in Korea this week and looking good too, writes Erwin on Tennis Served Fresh.

Roger Federer joins Maria Sharapova and Andy Roddick on the sidelines.

Venus Williams is playing well in Korea this week. And looking good, too, writes Erwin on Tennis Served Fresh.

A Dwindling Hate?

I have to admit it: I hate Daniela Hantuchova. I don't mean it in a personal way, I've never been a fan of the way she plays (BORING), the way she acts on court (POUTY), her flat personality (BORING, AGAIN) or her ability to look to her player box between every point (ANNOYING).

Yet Hantuchova may be moving out of the hate column in the near future, especially if she can continue to play solid tennis, and maybe beat some top players while doing it.

She gutted one out (rare for her) against Patty Schnyder on Friday in Luxembourg, sending herself to the semifinals.

If only she could go back in time and beam herself with some common sense to not hit the ball directly to Serena Williams at Wimbledon this year. Then I may have already removed her from the hate column.

But she remains there for now. Oh Dani girl...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Chinese Dynasty? Or Fluffery?

Two years ago I turned on the TV in the mid-summer for a little Acura Classic action. My favorite WTA Tour tournament was in full swing, and the '05 resurgence of Mary Pierce was on full display.

On this day, however, it was Kim Clijsters in the featured match, taking on a little-known Chinese player named Peng Shuai. Peng had been the shock of the tournament, beating Elena Dementieva and Dinara Safina on her way to the quarterfinals, where she faced Clijsters.

As the match began, I remember thinking what incredible power Peng had off of both sides. She hit the ball with two hands both on her forehand and her backhand, making her strokes lethal when she was in position for them. A short backswing made for an even more deadly pop when hit just right.

Peng wowed the San Diego local that night. I was pretty impressed too: she had beaten Clijsters in straight sets in a year that the Belgium baseliner was at her best.

(Peng Shuai in better times: the 2006 Strasbourg final. Photo by rAGEKID via flickr.)

Two years on, Peng Shuai sits one spot in the rankings behind her Acura Classic '05 spot: number 47. She is the second-highest ranked Chinese player behind Li Na, who is ranked 26th. Yan Zi is the only other Chinese woman in the Top 100 this week, however, sitting at a career high 72.

So are we in the age of a Chinese dynasty or fluffery?

That question is debateable, especially with the Beijing Olympics less than a year away. The development of many sports throughout the country of China at the turn of the century all was done with one goal in mind: high performance for the '08 Olympics.

Last year, the doubles team of Yan and Jie Zheng took two Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, cementing themselves among the game's elite doubles teams.

This year, however, the team wasn't able to defend either of their major titles, and the two women have dropped out of the Top Ten in the doubles rankings. Their once burgeoning confidence on the court has now dwindled as the Olympics grow nearer.

Though the rigid and straight-laced ways of the Chinese sports officials has helped get women's tennis this far, players like Li, who was the first Chinese player to make a Grand Slam quarterfinal in history, are beginning to realize that perhaps they can do things their own way.

In Guangzhou this week, Peng, a local favorite, was upset in prior to the quarterfinals of her home tournament - where no Chinese woman remains in the singles main draw.

Peng has seen mixed results since joining forces with Chinese-American Michael Chang midway through this summer. After beating Martina Hingis last week in Beijing to make the semifinals of the Tier II event, a letdown in Guangzhou has certainly sent shockwaves of disappointment through the Chinese sports world - but also shockwaves of truth.

The next year could prove pivotal for this country's future in women's tennis. Will a decade-long push for Olympic triumph be rewarded? Or have the Chinese women seen their stars come and go already, never to taste greatness again?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tennis Chatter

Andy Roddick withdrew from Bangkok today following the withdrawals of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. What do these guys think this is, the WTA? Not only did Roddick show up for the tournament, but his injury didn't occur until a practice session on Tuesday. At least his knees are skid-free, right?

Roddick's sometimes-rumored-girlfriend Maria Sharapova also used the W-word on Wednesday, pulling out of Stuttgart with a lingering shoulder injury. Maybe Maria saw the AIPT post of her winning zero games against Davenport in 2005 and she's now in hiding in her hotel room. Or her friend Paris called her and they're going to crash Octoberfest together.

Doubles specialist Marcelo Melo was banned for two months from the ATP Tour for a doping violation. Melo plans to take the two months to hang out with good friend Mariano Puerta.

Joel Drucker puts in his two cents on how to improve player development in the U.S. My advice? Bring back the Cap.

Look for an upcoming special on Chinese women's tennis one year before the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Clip of the Week: Davenport Bagels Maria FLASHBACK!

While perusing my favorite tennis blogs the other day, I found this post on TennisPlanet. Completely random and totally off topic, I found the post rather intriguing.

Lindsay Davenport's smackdown of Maria Sharapova at Indian Wells 2005 was one for the ages. It was Sharapova's only double-bagel loss of her career.

The sheer similarity of the two baseliner's games was what stunned me most of the lopsided score. Both Davenport and Sharapova had their strokes honed by Robert Lansdorp, but on this day it was the American's driving balls that sent Sharapova packing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Portland to Host Davis Cup Final

Portland is officially hosting the Davis Cup final the first weekend of December. Will I be there?!? I sure hope so!

(This is June 2006 me - in Portland - hoping that November 2007 me will get to go to the Davis Cup final. AIPT photo.)

Players Have Pages, Too

I forget that pro tennis players have their own Web sites sometimes. It just slips my mind that I might actually find something worth reading on a player's page instead of from a news or specialty site. My site roll on my Internet Explorer consists of several such pages, none of which I frequent for some reason. So, with a persistent Seattle rain falling outside today I decided I should do some page shopping and see what I find.

It seems that Ana Ivanovic might be one of the most marketable athletes in pro sports today. She's talented, young, beautiful, has a great personality and has made a meteoric rise up the WTA rankings sheet. Ana blogs weekly on her site, and, from what I can tell, she can put together some intriguing thoughts.

Andy Roddick is one of the most free-spirited and down-to-earth guys on the tennis tour, but his Web site couldn't be more clean cut and professional. DimensionMedia maintains the site which is always up to date with the latest Roddick happenings. Just today the Roddick news ticker had five new stories to post, plus the photo gallery was updated with Davis Cup photos.

Kim Clijsters frightens me. So does her Web site. So does the idea of Kim's Land.

For a long time now, Rafael Nadal's personal site has been on my site roll as a must-see. Not only does this site have tons of pictures, but Nadal's team does a great job of keeping it updated with a lot of what Rafa is doing off the court. Since Nadal is Federer Junior in the sense that we know what he's doing on the court, I like to get the off-court scoop. Especially if it's shirtless.

Finally, one of my favorite vintage players, Monica Seles has a great site run by a couple of die hard fans. If anyone could have an incredible fan-run site, it's Seles. Not only do these guys update news on Monica, but they have a great collection of pictures and videos - both pre- and post-stabbing.

Should Tennis Go Green?

When I was back in Montana for a few weeks recently, I found myself frustrated with the golfing culture that surrounds my family. My dad always has been a consistent (and talented golfer) and has passed on his passion for the game to my mom, my siblings and other family members.

For some reason I've always had a bad taste for golf in my mouth. I took lessons as a kid and - if I would've put forth an effort - probably could've been pretty decent. Yet every time the discussion turns to golf I can't help picture the thousands upon thousands of acres each golf course spans, and how each of these precious acres is well-groomed and manicured, and, in turn, a guzzler of more water than you and I can imagine.

I once heard that if the US golf industry donated a year's worth of profits to an effort to feed the hungry, our world would be fed for 20 years. That might be a little off, but the point is, why do we allow ourselves such luxuries when others suffer through such struggles?

Yesterday, at the United Nation General Assembly, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon stood up to the world (and to the US) and said: we must stop global warming. It's something most of us have known for a long time now, but to hear it from the mouth of the U.N. is another story.

So as I sat here thinking about how the wastefulness of golf frustrated me, I had to turn the tables on my own anger and look at tennis, too. It seems that professional sport is a wasteful culture in general, as is the first world lifestyle as we know it today.

In tennis, however, the culture of waste is rather extreme. Think about all the resources we go through both as a professional sport and as recreational players: balls, cans, shoes, racquets, string, courts, nets, clothing, water bottles...the list goes on and on. My biggest concern upon reading this list is that the main ingredient in all of these items is plastic. That scary, detrimental, we-used-to-think-it-miraculous plastic.

(Is the sun setting on global tennis as we know it? Photo by Jack Pearce via flickr.)

Instead of trying to tackle tennis as a recreational sport (I've considered quitting playing because of how guilty I feel cracking open a new can of balls or getting my racquet re-strung), let's take a look at the pro tennis tour and how it can become a little more environmentally friendly in response to the ever-deteriorating state of our globe.

First, along with their effort to re-vamp the schedule, the pawn-movers of tennis should focus on region-izing the game. This would mean that players would stay in one part of the world for each season, instead of continent-hopping from week to week. While this happens for the most part, my biggest concern is the fall season, which has players going from Asia to Europe to North America and back to Asia. Cutting down on air travel would mean less oil used by the pro tour and less dependency we would have on a non-renewable resource.

Taking the Little Steps
How much would I love to see a player drinking out of a re-usable water bottle instead of one of those nasty Evian or Aquafina bottles during matches? It would be great to see players take these little steps (like using their own water bottles) to make the game more green. How about not throwing away racquets during matches, tournaments and practice sessions and re-using them throughout an entire year, or (gasp!), several years. Tennis players can also cut back by using practice balls for more than just one hitting session, making sure they eat with china and not paper or plastic, and do their best to curb a consumer mentality by re-using and reducing as much as they can.

Making a Statement
Have tennis players noticed that they have the media at their fingertips? Yes, I understand that it can get ugly if professional athletes try to doddle into politics. But this isn't a political statement they're making - it's an environmental statement! Players have the resources and ability to research what global warming means to them as individuals and speak out on how they want changes to occur and also on what they are going to do about it.

(This picture shows tennis balls being recycled. Another way to curb the tennis footprint on our globe. Photo by yingyang via flickr.)

Tour Involvement
The WTA and ATP Tours should take the first step in making their tours more green. By encouraging players to be more eco-friendly and doing their best to make their tournaments so, the Tours can set an example for what green tennis can look like. Perhaps by donating money to certain research and green-advocacy groups, the Tours can take necessary steps to make tennis player, fan and earth friendly.

Perhaps the tennis world is too far removed from the rest of the globe, but if global warming continues at the pace we're seeing it right now, there won't be a tennis tour in the not-too-distant future.

Monday, September 24, 2007

At Last, A Winning Farewell From All England

Tim Henman finally got to walk away from the All England Club a winner. After 15 years of brutal battles in front of a nation starved for a tennis hero, Henman can smile and waive, knowing that he gave his all for the people of Great Britain.

(Tim Henman waives good-bye to tennis after two Davis Cup wins in Southwest London this past weekend. Photo by pinkfeatherboa via flickr.)

Even though Henman never won his nation's coveted Slam, the Brit gave his home fans a lot to cheer about. Even this year, in winning just one match, Henman made week one of Wimbledon a delight - and for many - a memory worth bringing up time and time again.

Clip of the Week: It's Raining (DC) Men!

In my last post, I talked about how my love for the fall tennis season was rekindled with the flurry of action around the world this past weekend. With three competitive women's tournaments taking place and a handful of Davis Cup ties taking place, I felt (for the first time in years) that the tennis season continued following the annual trip to Flushing Meadows.

I thought I would put some of that tennis on display for you all, seeing that I talk about tennis more than I watch it these days. Here are several clips from Davis Cup ties around the world.

Clip One: Semifinal Wrap
Highlights of the USA vs. Sweden and Germany vs. Russia ties

Clip Two: Djokovic and Tipsarevic thank their fans
Novak and Janko lay a Serbian flag in a heart-shaped clay tribute to their Serbian fans after their 4-1 defeat of Australian. Short, but sweet clip.

Clip Three: Israel stuns Chile
Dudi Sela, ranked 105th in the world, knocks out Fernando Gonzalez in the fifth set to give Israel a shocking 3-1, insurmountable lead over Chile.

Clip Four: Pero beats Belarus
Luis Horna does the trick over Max Mirnyi for the Peruvian win.

Clip Five: Szavay is Comeback Queen (of the week) in Beijing
One clip of the ladies! Agnes the Great pulls out a title win in Beijing after being down a set and 1-5. Jelena will be thinking about this one for a while.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

And Then the Picks Got Tough...

Sometimes being a blogger is painful. You'll sit there staring at the screen hoping and wishing that something your readers would eat up would just pop into your head. I think that's what the problem is with a lot of literature out there today - none of it is worth our time. And sure, I may write some stuff that is useless to many every now and then, but I promise you that there's always a thought process behind what shows up on the page, or screen for that matter.

This weekend has been a rather blessed one in the world of tennis content. Over the past two weeks I felt like I was dragging my heals along with the rest of the tennis kingdom. The US Open was done and over, and though Lindsay Davenport was making her inspired return in Bali, I felt more like throwing mud on the screen and calling it a post than actually putting up stuff people might enjoy.

With the Davis Cup weekend done and over, I find myself extremely thankful for this Cup that many have come to forget. Perhaps it's because the Americans are in the title match for the first time since 2004, or maybe it's just because good tennis was happening all over the world, not just in one place. Roger Federer was being proved human in Prague while Tim Henman had a true champions farewell at Wimbledon.

While those were just two of many Davis Cup stories, the flurry of news surrounding the weekend gives me the same feeling I had when reading Jon McEnroe's "You Cannot Be Serious" when he spoke about playing for your country and the swelling of pride and competitive drive players felt. And if players are getting this pumped up about doubles, I'm all about making the ATP schedule more conducive for top players to represent their home countries.

Andy Roddick has repeatedly said how important winning a Davis Cup title is to him, and though for a while I thought that was Roddick copping out of talk of him winning another Major, I do understand how much he wants such an honor, especially after he (and the Bryan Bros.) carried the American team on their shoulders this past weekend.

While the global reach of tennis was being flexed by the men, a few new faces popped up on the women's scene this weekend, giving us more evidence that this game can be played people other than the white and the privileged.

Agnes Szavay continued her incredible late-summer/early-fall run on the WTA Tour. Following her appearance in the Pilot Pen final prior to the US Open, Szavay marched her way to the quarterfinals of the final Major of the year before many tennis fans took notice of Hungarian. This week her raw talent was on full display as she marched through the Beijing field, including a set-and-1-5-down comeback against Jelena Jankovic in the final.

Joining Szavay in the win column this week were Maria Kirilenko and Tatiana Golovin, two mid-major youngsters who have proven themselves capable of - but not consistent in - beating Top 20 players. Another virtual unknown, Mariya Koryttseva was Kirilenko's challenger in the finals of Kolkata.

If the entire fall is this interesting, I might turn into a proponent for keeping a year-long schedule...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sportingo Success

A couple months ago I joined Sportingo as a fan writer. I promised myself that I'd write one story per week to keep myself working hard toward a goal I've had for many years: become a tennis journalist.

In a lot of senses, blogging makes me feel like I've already entered the realm of tennis reporting. Perhaps I have, but in today's world, the difference between being a blogger and a journalist is tremendous, and the next 12 months in my life are when I hope to close that gap.

My work at Sportingo has been well received. I've been criticized on a few of my articles and praised for others. It's all part of the process in getting to where I want to be. With nine Sportingo articles under my belt, I'm still considered a "Rookie", but know that each post means I'm taking another step forward.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Tennis Chatter

Radek Stepanek is wearing the single most disgusting tennis outfit of all time for the Czech's Davis Cup tie against Switzerland. It's reported that they used Bethanie Mattek as a fashion consultant. Surprise, surprise!

Erwin's on fire today with these Davis Cup pictures. Here's a classy one of Novak Djokovic semi-shirtless and completely headless. Djoko is always good for a laugh, especially off the court.

Corina Morariu calls it quits from the WTA Tour on her own terms. What an inspirational story to all of us. And with the company she kept on tour (Davenport, etc.) you know Morariu will be an incredible mother and do-gooder for the rest of her life. Good luck, Corina!

Wertheim has a great mailbag up at SI right now. Check it out. Who knew we would be adding Helga Masthoff to the list of Comeback Queens for this fall?!

My friend Matt has been exploding with good content over at Ranting Details lately. And though that doesn't fall under the category of 'Tennis Chatter', this is, after all, my blog!

Another good friend of mine, Troy, has been blogging up a storm from across the pond in France. Troy and I interned at TENNIS together this summer, and along with being a diehard Daniela Hantuchova fan, he's a pretty dang good tennis player himself, too.

After Igor Andreev (looking quite good, I might add) embarrassed Tommy Haas in the Germany-Russia tie, Philipp Kohlschreiber somehow beat Nicolay Davydenko to draw even after day one. There's a reason to love Davis Cup.

Can A Dying Flame Be Re-Kindled?

When Martina Hingis announced in the fall of 2005 that she was making a comeback to women's tennis, the sports world (or at least tennis enthusiasts within the sports world) exploded with excitement.

Hingis, who had held the number one ranking in women's tennis for multiple years, was a both a crafty player and a fiery personality; it seemed she would breathe new life into a tennis game that had lost a little of its fire.

If you remember the US Open in 2005, it featured two stars doing battle in the women's final. Mary Pierce was having a resurgent year, while Kim Clijsters had just claimed her maiden (and what would turn out to be only) Slam. Both these players' successes gave Hingis hope, and when she held her press conference letting us know she was back, she was grinning ear to ear.

(Hingis sure wasn't a tennis fasionista in the late '90s, but she didn't need to be. Her game spoke the loudest (and sometimes her attitude). Photo by Globi via Flickr.)

And everything seemed to fall in place at the 2006 Australian Open when Hingis made her re-debut. She sparkled with nearly flawless in her first few matches, before falling to Kim Clijsters in the quarterfinals.

Hingis walked away from the tournament quite satisfied, but her loss to Clijsters was foreshadowing for what was to come: defeat at the hands of the bigger ball.

You see, Martina had left the game because it was getting too overwhelming for her, the power was too much. Sure, she said her feet had been hurting, but her forearms and leg muscles ached much more from trying to play backboard tennis against the most powerful women in the world.

Minus quarterfinal performances at the '06 and '07 Australian along with the quarters at last year's French, Hingis has posted just a 7-4 record at the Slams, including two third-round losses at Wimbledon and the USO this year.

In 2001, the year before she retired, Hingis went 60-15 and won three tournaments. 12 of her 15 losses were to players named Capriati, Davenport, Williams, Seles, Clijsters or Mauresmo (a team of 32 Slams).

This year, the Swiss star is just 24-13, with no titles and losses to names like Radwanska, Granville, Mirza, Azarenka and Shuai (0 Slams). It just doesn't look the same.

(Hingis is searching for answers she can't find in her stings: her confidence is waning. Photo by Nineeighteen via flickr.)

Martina's fitness is something that came into question in the late years of her first "career", but Hingis has vowed that she has kept in tip-top shape since being back on the tour, something her physique testifies to.

So why the downfall of the woman who once lost 29 sets in an entire year?

It's first and foremost in the confidence. Hingis' swagger once gave her as much as a set and a half off of opponents just for showing up. But now the 27-year-old is realizing something she never had to question during her early years on tour: she is indeed human.

Secondly, it's in Hingis' inability to change her game. Yes, she did breathe fresh air into a power-laden tour when she returned last year. She did not, however, fix the things that made her game so vulnerably. A weak and spotty serve being the first and the habit of banging from the baseline being the second. In order to execute a game plan, you have to stick to it.

I almost wish that Martina Hingis wouldn't have even tried a comeback whatsoever. I do understand, however, that she had to do it for herself - to see what she could accomplish. Yet it's painful to watch a former champ remain just that, a former champ.

Will she ever return to the status we once marveled (and hated her) for?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Davis Cup Weekend: Remembering Marat

Marat Safin has certainly had an up-and-down career.

Last year in Davis Cup, he pulled out the heroics for the Russians against Argentina to give his home country a Cup title. This year, the Russian team is pitted against Germany in the semifinals, sans Safin.

While Safin is out with a pick in his hand instead of a racquet, the Russian team of Igor Andreev and Nicolay Davydenko will have to go head-to-head with Tommy Haas, a formidable opponent that will try to single-handidly try to upstage the defending champs.

The Falling Star of Martina Hingis

Martina Hingis suffered another setback in what we're still calling a "comeback" two years into her born-again career.

Look for a in-depth report this weekend on why Hingis has stumbled and if she can climb back into the Top 10.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It's Already Wednesday?

I'm getting a little scared for school to roll around. In just one week we start up fall quarter, and after a terrific summer at TENNIS that included blogging up a storm, I'm wondering if I can keep up with the pace both in the real world and the blogosphere.

My two best friends are visiting from Seattle before we head back for school, and yesterday we ventured to land I usually leave untouched: the Helena Valley. Now, Helena is a gorgeous town, one that I'm very thankful that I grew up in. My house is centrally located, however, so trips out to the Valley are few and far between; I prefer the downtown area with its old charm and pedestrian-only outdoor shopping mall.

(The view from Mt. Helena. Love it. Photo by Jon_Marshall via Flickr.)

But we were on a mission at Hasting's (think Barnes and Noble) to find the October issue of TENNIS Magazine. This month's issue of TENNIS is a double feature in the McCarvel category: my name is on the masthead again (am I bragging here?) and on page 66 you can find a yours truly demonstrating a workout for all our avid readers.

Sure, I'm tooting my own horn here, but it's rare to have the opportunity to work at a magazine...but to also have your picture in it? That's something I'll toot about.

(Ivanovic looks oh so good on the cover. AIPT photo.)

Meanwhile, I did a little scoping of the AOL sports section online today and was bitterly disappointed. I'm always trying to find new sources of news when it comes to tennis, and AOL quickly earned itself a "I'll-Never-Check-This-Site" label. Not only was "Davenport into Bali final" the main headline (which was from five days ago), Roger Federer holding his USO trophy was their second story (a ten-day old headline). The tennis person at AOL is AWOL.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tennis Chatter: Men Play Tennis, Too

With all my discussion of the women's tennis tour lately, you'd think the ATP had halted its season following the US Open. The men are still playing folks, and Fernando Gonzalez was victorious in Beijing this week to end an ugly summer slump in style.

Gilles Simon beat Victor Hanescu in Romania. Oh, I'm sorry...did you just fall asleep reading that? I fell asleep typing it. Yawn, yawn, yawn.

One kid who didn't do much yawning this week was Jagger Leach (Davenport). Lindsay's son was so bedazzled with his mom's tennis that reports say his face was in a permanent "o" shape all week.

Jagger isn't playing tennis...just yet.

Russians Win Fed Cup Title

I just submitted this article to Sportingo for immediate release. Hopefully you can see it there soon, too.

Last year, the Fed Cup was all about Francesca Schiavone. This year, it was Svetlana Kuznetsova.

The second-ranked Russian won both her singles matches in impressive fashion, including a nail-biting, match-point-saving win over Schiavone on the second day of action to give Russia an insurmountable 3-0 in the best-of-five ties Fed Cup Final.

In a battle between the two countries that have won the last three Fed Cup titles, Russia hosted a determined Italian team who had pulled out all the stops in July to beat a more formidable French team 3-2 in the semifinals.

But this time, with Kuznetsova leading the way and Maria Sharapova as a (gasp!) practice partner, the Russians flourished with their experience in front of red, white and blue crowds in Moscow.

Anna Chakvetadze started the weekend out right for the host country, extending Schiavone to three sets and pulling it out. It was a surprising falter for Schiavone, who has been known in the past for her heroics - especially in Fed Cup ties. In the aforementioned tie against France in July, Shiavone fought back from 1-5 down in the third set to not only beat Tatiana Golovin, but clinched the Italians a chance to play for the finals.

It was a different story this weekend in Moscow, however, as Chakvetadze built off her US Open semifinal appearance by appearing the more calm and collected player in the third set, even when she was down.

Kuznetsova looked more determined to forget her US Open experience than to build on it. Her embarrassing final loss to Justine Henin left her with her tail between her legs as she left New York City. But from the onset of her match against Mara Santagelo, Kuznetsova looked in form and in control.

The same couldn't go for Saturday, when Russia led 2-0 following Chakvetadze and Kuznetsova's win. Italy was desperate for a point on the board, and Schiavone had taken the first set 6-4 and had two match points in the second-set tie-breaker to give her nation a chance at a come-from-behind win.

Yet Kuznetsova dug deep, winning the breaker and then coming back from 1-4 down to win the match in a close three sets, 7-5 in the third.

With players like Nadia Petrova, Elena Vesnina and Sharapova on the sidelines, Russia clinched its role as the single most powerful nation in women's tennis today. Though no Russian won a Slam in singles this year, Sharapova reached a final and a semifinal, while Kuznetsova was also a finalist and Chakvetadze a semifinalist. There are now 11 Russian women in the top 100.

And if Sharapova's precense is any indicator of a mended relationship between her and coach Shamil Tarpishchev, the Russians can only expect not only to be back in the title tie next year, but a fourth title in five years.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Working Girls

The girls of the WTA Tour have gone from drama queens to world savors in the blink of an eye! Who knew they could be so kind?

Six months after Maria Sharapova started her work as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN, the Serbian duo of Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic have taken a step in the same direction.

Jankovic is working with UNICEF, as is Ivanovic. I'm not sure if Jelena looks too happy about her new position. Nor does that painting of her look anywhere near my third grade artwork (of stick figures and head-as-bodies people...).

Meanwhile, Ivanovic was all smiles when she was inaugurated as an ambassador for UNICEF. Perhaps because she was in the comfort of her own country? Or maybe it's the fact that she didn't get tromped by Momma Comeback.

Maria for President, anyone?

Summer is Winding Down

The past few weeks in Montana have completed what has been an incredible summer of 2007. I began my journey as a wide-eyed Montana boy in Manhattan, and am ending it over the next few days with my two best friends visiting me in Helena before we head back to Seattle for our senior year of college.

Thinking that I'm a senior (senior!) is so intimidating. Everyone here in Helena (and I mean everyone - this town is so Stars Hollow-esque) keeps asking me: "So what are you going to do after graduation?"

Four years ago, as a high school senior, I felt like I faced that question every day. Though I had many answers throughout the year (college in Massachusetts, then Seattle; AmeriCorps; staying in Helena), I never knew exactly what I was going to do until late May, when my scholarships lined up at SU.

So instead of throwing out the answer of the day, I've told most people that I have 'no clue' what I'm going to be doing in a year. Seattle is a possibility, as is Portland, or Helena, or New York...or anywhere for that matter.

I do know that I want to be doing something that I'm passionate about. In a lot of ways, I hope that includes tennis, but if it doesn't, then so be it.

For now, I'll enjoy my last few days of freedom before I find myself wedged between paper deadlines and work schedules. On goes my life (and the blog!).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Comeback Queens

The US Open always makes me nostalgic. Every year brings its thrilling matches (though fewer this year than others) along with plenty of drama and sometimes - if we're lucky - outright cattiness.

Back in 1995, when I was just 9 years old, I remember sitting in front of our TV at home in Montana watching Monica Seles, dressed in a plaid skirt with a tight-pulled ponytail, belting balls back and forth with world number one Steffi Graf.

Seles had just returned from over two years off the tour following the horrific stabbing in Hamburg, Germany in April of 1993. She had gone through rounds of physical battles over the 27 months, but it was the mental climb (helped in part by her attacker being sentenced to absolutely no time in jail) that took her the longest to make.

When Seles came back, however, she was the darling of the tennis tour. Over the next eight year, Monica would show us flashes of brilliance that she demonstrated in the early 90s. She was the original Comeback Queen.

Six years after Seles' triumphant return, Jennifer Capriati made a run at the Australian Open that shook the tennis world to the core. Since her Slam debut at the 1990 French Open (at age 14), JCap had been christened the darling (and future) of tennis.

(Capriati at Wimbledon in 1989, just months after turning pro and still a tennis princess. Photo by jacdupree via flickr.)

Yet the child prodigy from Florida would fizzle instead of flourish, falling off the map in 1994 after less-than-hoped-for results on the tour. In 2001, technically five years into her 'comeback', Capriati re-committed herself to the game she had played since a toddler and won her first Grand Slam ten long years after everyone thought she would.

Martina Hingis was much like Seles and Capriati: a teen upstart with an sassy attitude and the game to match. In 1997, the then 16 year old won three of the four Majors and was the number one player in the world. Five years later she was a bitter middleweight, and left the tour due to 'foot problems'.

Though Hingis was driven away not by a knife or the lure of normalcy, the same call that Seles and Capriati heard beckoned the Swiss Miss back to the WTA in 2006, where she made a triumphant return into the Top 10.

Though Hingis has not produced a Slam in her second go as a pro, the verdict is still out on whether or not she indeed can be christened a Comeback Queen. As is the verdict on Lindsay Davenport, who is just one tournament (in singles) and a handful matches into her trial as touring mother.

Davenport's comeback comes under much different circumstnces than the three former teen queens, yet the goal is the same: win a Slam and get back to the top of the game. The Californian's strokes have always been some of the cleanest and most effective on tour, but will her once-scrutinized limited movement become a liability again?

It's hard to tell so soon, but it's easy to see that Davenport would like to join the distinguished of both the past (the aforementioned Queens) and the present (Henin, Williams and co.). Does she have what it takes?

If becoming a mom can teach Davenport one thing, perhaps it is how to handle her mood swings on the court. For much of her career, the American struggled with negativity on the court. With slumping shoulders and a moping attitude, Davenport lost many matches that - if she had the fighting spirit of a Serena Williams - she might have been able to have pulled out.

So if Jagger has taught Lindsay any lessons yet, they might give his mom an idea of how to become a Comeback Queen.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Clip of the Week

Monica Seles will forever be my favorite player. Here is a great look at a fit and trim (and possibly returning?) Seles from last week at the US Open.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tennis Chatter

Lindsay Davenport is undefeated in her singles career as a mother. She next takes on Julie Ditty, an American journeywoman.

Roger Federer looked pretty good for his US Open trophy photo shoot. Justine Henin, on the other hand, did not.

The TENNIS WEEK Web site still looks like it was designed (and has never been chance since) the late 90s. Aren't they supposed to have a new, cutting-edge image in tennis?

Svetlana Kuznetsova is the number two player in the world?!? Whhhhhhattt? This girl just got a tag on my blog two days ago. Man, the WTA really is struggling...

Monday, September 10, 2007

She's Baaack!

Lindsay Davenport is officially un-retired.

The former world number one and three-time Slam champ will return to a mostly-full schedule in 2008, but not before she knocks a few balls off her strings in Bali.

She's ranked number 112 right now. Can she make a charge for the YEC's? I'd love to see that!

(Just please tell me she'll leave the Davapants at home. Photo by Derek Holtham via flickr.)

Blah Blah Blogs

I was telling one of my good friends last night how taxing blogging can be. When I first started to blog in January, I thought that it would be easy to put up content everyday that got reader's attention.

The ideas and execution take a lot of effort, I soon realized, and everyday blogging was as difficult as everyday working out. Over the past two weeks I did my best to keep up with the Open and all its goings on, but sometimes life calls in other ways.

TENNIS Magazine still churns out what I think is the best blog in the biz: Peter Bodo's TENNIS WORLD. Bodo himself posts intriguing and thoughtful entries about every two to three days, while 'TW Tribe Members' help with posting week in and week out.

I also want to give a shout out to Erwin Ong, over at Tennis Served Fresh. Erwin was a blogging maniac when it came to the US Open this year, keeping us all up to date on who looked best on the court and who just shouldn't have shown up (Bethanie Mattek, anyone?). Erwin's efforts earned him some recognition in a recent SacBee article, too.

And while talking about the blog arena, I can't help but mention Jon Wertheim, over at SI. Though Wertheim doesn't have what would be technically be called a blog, he does great tennis coverage, especially during Slam time. His mailbag at the end of each Major is always fun to read - check that out early this week.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

King Fed

Roger Federer is the King of Tennis.

Undisputed. King. Of. Tennis.

Can the rest of the court ever match the Mighty Fed?

Sorry Slams


That's how many games the four runners up could muster this year in women Grand Slam finals.

First there was Serena Williams' drubbing of Maria Sharapova. Then Ana Ivanovic's nerve-fest against Justine Henin at the French. Venus followed that up by humbling a bouncy Marion Bartoli on the grass before Henin capped off the year by destroying Svetlana Kuznetsova.

The future of women's tennis can find solice in the fact that it had seven marquee players in four finals, Henin being the only to make two appearances. The lack of quality play late in Slams has to worry insiders and fans alike. In fact, Bartoli's win over Henin at Wimbledon and Kuznetsova's defeat of Chakvetadze just this past week were the only two three-set semifinals out of eight this year. 2 of 8? That's not exciting tennis.

I don't want to take away from the brilliance of Serena's comeback at the Aussie, or the fact that Henin won both the French and the US Open without dropping a set, or the sheer dominance that Venus captured the All England Club with this year, but it's the lack of competitive women's tennis in the late stages of said tournaments that worries me.

Where's the classic Seles-Graf or Navratilova-Evert battles? No two women will stand out of this generation with the distinction that those past champion do; they do, however, have the chance to be known for competitive and inspiring tennis. To watch such white washes is discouraging, especially knowing that the talent in the women's game has only improved over the last decade.

Ten years ago a bright-eyed Martina Hingis defeated a beaded Venus Williams 6-0, 6-4 in the finals of the Open. Though that wasn't a particularly compelling match, Venus had just come out of a nail-biting semifinal win over Irina Spirlea. Including that final, absolutely NONE of the last eleven US Open women's finals have gone three sets. Last year's title bought between Henin and Maria Sharapova was one of the more closely fought matches.

Such Grand Slam finals as Wimbledon 2006 between Henin and Amelie Mauresmo or the '05 Championships featuring Venus and Lindsay Davenport certainly can't happen every time, but it would certainly be nice to watch some competitive tennis, especially when the biggest titles of the tour are on the line.

Perhaps the LOSER at the Australian Open next January could win 15 games in one match? Now I'd love to see that.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Justine, Warrior Princes

Justine Henin proves time and time again that she's the best player in women's tennis. Hands down.

I'm sick of all the TV commentators talking about Venus and Serena and how they'll determine the outcome of each match they play with Henin. I'm pretty sure both Williams sisters played some pretty good tennis in their four matches in majors against Henin this year. And guess what? They didn't win any.

Though I'm not the biggest Henin fan, I'm a huge fan of a competitor - actually, a warrior - who can play with the big guns and use tiny ammunition and be so effective. Justine weathered Venus' brilliant streak late in the first set, then did the same in the second when Williams had broken back and was serving to stay in the match. It was again Justine's time.

I'm guessing tomorrow night (Sat.) that Justine will do much the same against Svetlana Kuznetsova. In all honesty, she deserves it.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Clip of the Week

Though Roger Federer and Andy Roddick put on an incredible show at the US Open last night, I can't help but still feel the sting of James Blake's 4th round loss to Tommy Haas a little. Poor Blake, always the fifth set, always oh-so close.

This clip features the best point of the break, and no doubt gives an idea of what New York tennis at the US Open can be when it's at its best. James Blake certainly gave his all, and so did the crowd.

What If Mary Was One of Us?

Troy Venechanos was my fellow intern at TENNIS Magazine this past summer, and we had a great time together following the daily happenings of the men's and women's tours. The editors would always walk by our desks laughing because Troy and I had constant banter going on: he loved Hantuchova, I love to make fun of her. He worshipped the Williams sisters, I liked to tear them down. On and on.

Troy got quite talented on his fancy Mac toward the end of our internship at working on Photoshop. He created the lovable Federbear and Roger Federer's 2007 Christmas card, featuring my fave: Mirka.

Yet I had to save his best for last. Troy emailed me just yesterday, saying that he was doing well in France (where he's studying abroad and stalking Richard Gasquet). He informed me that (finally) he had started a blog. I saw it as the perfect opportunity to put up his masterpiece he calls "What If Mary Pierce Was One of Us?"

Mary Pierce is one of my favorite players on the women's tour. Along with Capriati and Seles, I'd really like to see the former champ return to play. Lately, however, I've heard she's turned to prayer and meditation to help her comeback, and thus, this picture:

(I always thought Mary Pierce was holy - it's in the eyes. This picture proves it. Illustration by Troy Venechanos.)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

On Tonight's Menu: Cooked Roddick

Andy Roddick just had his butt handed to him on a platter by Roger Federer. Cooked medium, served with a side of you-played-good-but-not-good-enough.

Good try, Andy. Does that come with fries?

Ferrer Stuns Nadal

Just call David Ferrer Mikhail Youzhny.

The Spaniard pulled a Youzhny-like upset Wednesday morning at the US Open, saluting the second-seeded Nadal out of the tournament in four sets.

It was a disappointing loss for Nadal, who had advance to the finals of both the French and Wimbledon and had hopes of making a run to his first-ever Open title. His countryman Ferrer had a different idea, however, running down every ball Nadal sent to him and taking the match 6-7(3), 6-4, 7-6(4), 6-2.

Last year, it was Youzhny who pulled a similar upset over Nadal, beating the French champ in the fourth round and making his way to the semifinals before losing to Andy Roddick. While Youzhny crashed out in the 2nd round this year, Ferrer has built on a strong summer in which he's had wins over Roddick, Almagro, Isner (twice) and Stepanek. But none of those wins could compare to the 15th-seed's win over Nadal in the night session Tuesday.

(Ferrer's fitness gave him an upper hand in his win over Nadal at the USO. Photo by clareperretta via flickr.)

The draw now opens up a bit for Novak Djokovic, who faces another Spaniard - Carlos Moya - in the quarterfinals. It was Ferrer's persistent speed, consistency and determination that was the downfall of Nadal, who has been battling tendinitis in his knees throughout the summer. Ferrer finished the match with 48 winners and 38 unforced errors.

Ferrer has now won as many matches this year - four - as he ever has at the US Open, advancing to the quarterfinals for the first time. His match-up with fellow clay-courter Juan Ignacio Chela would be more suiting for the courts of Roland Garros, but they play for the right in the US Open semifinals, and a shot for their first Grand Slam title each.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

LIVE Blog: US Open Night Session

Welcome to the live blog of the US Open. It's week two of the year's last Major and not only has the day session extended itself into the night, but dreamy Novak Djokovic is on Arthur Ashe for our viewing pleasure.

7:00 -- I turn on the TV to watch Juan Monaco force Djokovic into a third-set tie breaker. Monaco goes up 5-3 before a ball falls out of his pocket, forcing him to lose the point due to the fact he was warned for the same infraction earlier. Monaco still fights off a match point to force a fourth set.

7:05 -- I run upstairs to shower following an afternoon of tennis and working out.

7:15 -- Djokovic is up 3-1 in the fourth. He's just got to hold out from here and he's in the quarters.

7:18 -- The ING monster commercial comes on. That's number one. (My guess is at least 19 times tonight; plus the McEnroe AmEx commercial I'm sure I'll be seeing at least a dozen times. Though this is fun from the AmEx Website.)

7:34 -- Djokovic closes out Monaco 6-1 in the fourth and gives an angry "I'm so frustrated with how I played but so relieved that I won" look to his box. He's into the quarters. I was hoping for a celebratory shirt removal, but no luck.

7:49 -- USA runs a Serena-Justine preview sequence with only Justine voiceovers. No Serena? Maybe she was busy making her PC commercial. Lackluster preview to say the least.

7:51 -- The McEnroe AmEx commercial runs for a second time this hour (or maybe I missed a couple). I think they had a great idea in the Dispute Resolution ads, I just wish they would've done three or four different takes with McEnroe, so it doesn't have the Genworth Financial effect.

8:00 -- Federer is interviewed in the USA studios. Roger is boring/candid as usual. His answers are always just so predictable. He did say maybe stake or Italian for dinner...I'm sure Mirka will make that decision, though.

8:09 -- Serena is interviewed in the tunnel and looks cool, calm and collected. Justine comes around the corner and is surprisingly talkative. Plus, she smiles - TWICE!

8:23 -- Serena is down a break early, 2-0.

8:30 -- The camera pans the stars in the crowd: Tony Bennett, Monica Seles, Martina Navratilova and Mayor Dinkins.

8:38 -- Marie Callendar puts together the most frightening commercial EVER featuring chicken pot pies.

8:43 -- Serena misses another swinging volley to go down 2-4.

8:53 -- Serena holds for 4-5.

9:00 -- Serena breaks for 5-all.

9:14 -- Justine plays a superior tiebreak after saving a set point at 5-6 to win the first set, 7-6.

9:23 -- Michael Barkamp interviews Monica Seles, who hints she might be back on the pro tour in the near future.

9:24 to 9:50 -- Justine Henin kicks Serena's butt. Over and over again.

9:53 -- USA shows clip after clip of Carlos Rodriguez coaching Justine from throughout the match. Bananagate anyone?

9:58 -- Justine is your victor, 7-6, 6-1.

And while I want to stick around for Michael Barkamp's always-compelling interviews, I have clicked the TV off and am ready for a Tuesday night milkshake. Venus or Janky everyone? I'm hoping for the V-factor.

Tonight: LIVE Blogging from the USO

No, I'm not in New York anymore, but I still can be a part of the US Open.

Thanks to the inspiration and creativity of Matt at Ranting Details (check out Matt's Live Blog on the "So You Think You Can Dance" season finale), I'll be watching USA's coverage of tonight's matches featuring Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal and blogging it all minute by minute from the tube.

Tune in and enjoy!

The Bump, Revisited

Perhaps Irina Spirlea would like to re-think her changeover tactics from her famous 1997 US Open semifinal with Venus Williams. The Romanian was the higher-ranked player with a more consistent game and the experience to boot. So why did she feel the need to physically run into Williams just to get noticed?

It was a bizarre move in a bizarre match, which went 7-6 in the third set to Miss Williams, giving the 66th-ranked American her first shot at a Major title. Back in '97 Venus Williams wasn't Venus Williams yet. She, instead, was a gangly teenager with beaded hair attempting to live up to the hype that her father had been brewing for years.

So when The Bump occurred, it was Spirlea's desperate attempt to get noticed, as she would say later. Spirlea's act of desperation would only buy her the second set before she fell in the third-set breaker to Williams. And, of course, controversy followed in the form of a war of words between Spirlea and Richard Williams. She called Venus "the fucking Venus Williams" and Williams retorted by calling Spirlea a "big white turkey."

Racism aside, it was an ugly moment for women's tennis, but one that few can forget. It would be our first glimpse at America's new tennis family and, in a lot of ways, our last look at Irina Spirlea, a player with plenty of capability but - as she proved on Ashe that day - little maturity and resolve. Her career fizzled over the next three years, and at the tender age of 26 in 2000, she retired.

First The Bump, then The Hand. I wonder what the Williams sisters can involve themselves in during this Grand Slam...?

In case you're interested, here's the third-set breaker:

Monday, September 3, 2007

Tennis Chatter: Week Two Begins

After having a successful 2007, the Bryan Brothers couldn't keep their momentum going, falling in straight sets in the quarterfinals of the doubles draw.

Kudos to Americans John Isner and Donald Young. Isner won two well-played matches before giving Roger Federer a run for his money in the third round. Young posted his first-ever slam win before benefiting from a walkover against Richard Gasquet in the second round.

Anna Chakvetadze advanced to the quarterfinals at the Open for her first time, beating Monica Seles look-alike Tamira Paszek. Gustavo Kuerten was in Paszek's box, as Larry Passos, Kuerten former coach is now working with Paszek. Pasos couldn't make the trip to NYC, so Kuerten sat in for support of the Austrian who went 7-2 in the second two Majors of the year.

WOB: Wide-Open Bottom (Half of the Draw)

When the draw came out for this year's US Open, the powerhouses of women's tennis were stacked were stacked on the top half of the draw: both the Williams sisters, Justine Henin, Serbs Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic. It seemed as though the champion of the year's final Slam would come from said half of the draw, and few could have any say about it.

Yet looming at the bottom were a few familiar ladies. Maria Sharapova for one, the defending champion and one of the tour's biggest hitters. Sharapova had just played one event all summer, but she had come away from it victorious and had every right to believe the strokes that garnered her a title here in '06 would do the same trick this year as well.

Martina Hingis resided on the bottom side too. Though her comeback has been less than she had hoped it would be, the five-time Major winner is always a threat, no matter what her recent track record shows.

But as this year's Open has progressed, Hingis and Sharapova have fallen, as has Nicole Vaidisova (a two-time Slam semifinalist). So leaves first-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist Agnes Svazay along with Svetlana Kuznetsova (the '04 Open champ) and Shahar Peer - Vaidisova's victor.

And while the Williams sisters will battle time-tested foes in Henin and Jankovic, Kuznetsova will deal with lower-ranked opponents. It's always the case at the slams, that anything can happen. With the surprising draw and the stunning upsets that have followed it, what can we expect in the second week of the open? If anything, hopefully some good tennis to round it out.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Time? There's Never Any Time!

These last few days have been absolutely hectic. Since being back in Montana, I've taken to working as much as possible (seeing that New York had stripped me of all financial dignity) and have been putting in 10-plus hour days.

It's 5:30-11 at the coffee house, and then 11:15-4 at the taco shop. My favorite is when people come in for coffee in the morning, and then happen to stumble into my second job location for lunch. They get this look on their face like, "Haven't we done this before?" Hey, it's Helena...and this happens a lot.

The US Open has continued and as much as I would've liked to have two weeks to beach myself on the couch and watch countless hours of tennis it just can't happen. This weekend I'm in Missoula with my good friend Matt and his family, attending a wedding and soaking up the last bits of Montana summer.

I hope everyone has a fabulous weekend and if you don't recognize that quote in my title, here's a little video to jog your memory.