Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Legs to Stand On

Growing up, I regularly attended high school basketball games. My four older siblings all played the winter sport, and it was a great distraction from the frighteningly cold winter weather in Montana. My sisters' teams were consistently bad - real bad. Year after year I would watch them have losing seasons, winning just a handful of games in each. I wondered what the problem was: the coaching? The players? The game plans?

As I got older and started to play basketball myself, I began to see that a good team took all of the aforementioned ingredients. You couldn't have a great team without good players, a knowledgeable coach and a solid game plan - it all had to come together at once. Great teams just didn't happen, they had to be carefully orchestrated. But above anything else, the talent had to be there. Talent is the legs that greatness stands on.

As the Tremendous Two has grown into the Ferocious Four, it's safe to say that the ATP has legs to stand on for the next few years - four pairs of sturdy, terribly talented legs.

(Photo by billybuck via flickr.)

Watching Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray (as they're ranked) each have their own, separate bursts of greatness this year has been nothing short of spectacular. These four men have captured my attention in a way like never before, and I've become interested in men's tennis on a genuine, true-fan level. I'm guessing that they - and I - will be sticking around for a while.

The frightening thing is that there are three more pairs of talented legs - Juan Martin del Potro, Gilles Simon and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - that are threatening to turn the Ferocious Four into the Scintillating Seven. These are all gentlemen who have shown flashes of their own brilliance this season (throughout the calendar year), and a group that the tour can look to in week two of Grand Slams not as darkhorses or outsiders, but actually as legitimate heavy weights who just haven't had their breakthrough yet.

Last week, I wrote about how increasingly interesting the men's tour was becoming, and how the women's tour was lacking any true rivalries or distinction. The thing is, even if the women's tour was bursting with talent and attracting me with new and different stars, it would take nothing away from the legitimacy of what a great group of men sit atop the ATP rankings.

For tennis to be interesting on both sides is nearly impossible. Very often, in fact, it's difficult for even one tour to be compelling. But we are ending a year on the ATP that showed us what brilliance can do when it's pitted again other brilliance, and that bodes well for 2009, even if their is off-court drama.

You can ask for well-rounded, attractive champions, but it's not often that you get a group of truly talented, just-short-of-spectacular champions all at once. Now that's a talent any season can build on.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Career Battle

Lately, I've felt like a Williams sister. No, I'm not taking New York by storm with incredible fashion, participating in photo shoots, starting my own design line, starring on TV and having paparazzi follow me all over the city (a boy can dream though, right?). Instead, I've been exploring my various interests in this new and different city, dipping my toes into a new cafe, playing volleyball, exploring the arts and getting lost on the subway.

So, as the season has come to an end and Venus captured her first-ever WTA Championships title, I haven't felt like blogging much. I'm wondering if I seek a career like the Williams sisters, where I blog now and then and save the good stuff for meaty, Grand Slam-like posts or that of Jelena Jankovic, where I'm blogging everyday, often times at a lower quality level, stretching my mind and imagination and failing to deliver when it matters most (like during the 5th biggest tournament of the year).

But like tennis, the nature of the blogging world is demanding. If you don't churn out consistent, good stuff, the critics will come calling - or, in this case - the readers will stop reading. It's a Catch 22 if there ever was one, and as much as I think I have good writing skills that can only get better, I'm no Venus or Serena.

In any case, as winter approaches and the tennis tour takes its short vacation, I see myself joining them for the most part. There are certainly a few topics I would like to write on over the next 6 weeks before 2009 begins, and I would like to resurrect the ever-popular video blogging.

I'll try to make that all happen soon, but for now I'm off to a photo shoot... oops, there I go thinking I'm a Williams sister again. Ah, the life!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Some of These Don't Belong

(WTA Tour photo screen grab.)

As the top women on the WTA Tour converge on Doha for the Season Ending Championships this week, there are a few things that still need to be worked on for some of the girls: their wardrobes.

Let's make this simple:
Jelena Jankovic: Let's bring back the 70s, baby!
Dinara Safina: Wait, this isn't the Wimbledon ball?
Serena Williams: As usual, I look waaaaaaaaay better than everyone else here.
Ana Ivanovic: I love that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry wears the Pirate shirt!
Elena Dementieva: Damn Ana and Serena, their black pants are shinier than mine!
Svetlana Kuznetsova: I'm ready for my first day of 9th grade!
Venus Williams: I save my fashion for the court, ladies.
Vera Zvonareva: I just used my hotel room curtains as an outfit, that's OK right?

A Change of Scenery

A few years ago, when Serena was making her way through the Serena Slam, Jennifer Capriati was still re-surging, the Belgium duo was just making their way up while the likes of Venus, Lindsay and Mary Pierce were a weekly tour of Big Babe tennis and a Swiss Miss named Martina was still a Top 5 power, women's tennis was riding high.

2008 has painted quite a different picture for the WTA: Capriati, Pierce, both Belgium girls and (mostly) Davenport are absent from the game, while the world's Number 1, Jelena Jankovic, has never won a slam, and half-hearted champion Maria Sharapova, topsy-turvy Ana Ivanovic and other newcomers make up what USA Today writer Doug Robson calls "the weakest top-10 ever".

Meanwhile, across the aisle in the Men's Room, the ATP (despite its internal conflicts) is on fire. The Big Two (Roger and Rafa) was extended to the Big Three after Novak Djokovic won the Australian Open to open the year, and rumors are now swirling about "the Big Four" following Andy Murray's run to the US Open final and his win at the Madrid Masters. Perhaps after this week in Paris, it may be considered the Big Five - we'll just have to see what Jo-Wilfried Tsonga does in Shanghai.

The thing is, the tours have done something of a flip-flop. Following 2003, Magnus Norman's career went to the crapper, but as he and other faux champions (see: "Andy Roddick" or "Juan Carlos Ferrero") have been pushed aside, a great wave of bona-fide champions has emerged. Federer has been the foremost of these, while Nadal is on his heels (and ahead of him, in some aspects) and players like Djokovic, Murray, Tsonga and others including Gilles Simon and Juan Martin del Potro are attempting to make this the hay-day of tennis (once again).

While players like Djokovic, Murray and Tsonga have proved their staying power, the WTA has little strength to rest on outside of the House of Williams. Ana Ivanovic was a dismal 5-6 in the four months following her maiden slam win in Paris, and Jankovic has yet to win a slam, herself. Up-and-comers like Nicole Vaidisova, Maria Kirilenko, Marion Bartoli, Sania Mirza and others have been much talked-about, but have yet to come up with the goods. Others like Alize Cornet and Caroline Wozniacki have appealing games, but have yet to prove themselves in the upper echelon of the game.

Recently, I can't help but follow the men a little more than the women. The rivalries are there, the passion is tangible, and the drama is saved for the court. The girls always provide the drama, but perhaps they need to change the scenery to between the lines to make things a little more appealing... or can we just never have the best of both worlds?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Next Big Thing

There have been plenty of tennis players that I've wished, dreamed and predicted big things of and for.

There was the resilient Mexican Melissa Torres who made noise at her home tournament over 18 months ago. Then there was Michelle Larcher de Brito, the young Portuguese star who was Jennifer Capriati, reincarnated at the Sony Ericcson Open last March.

Or more recently, Marina Erakovic, Laura Robson, Ernests Gulbis and a host of others.

So don't be surprised that I'm writing about a brand-new up-and-comer. And don't be surprised if she doesn't exactly win the US Open in the next two years, either. But the thing about sports writing is this: you must take chances on certain players. There will be future champions, there will be breakthrough stories. Perhaps today's qualifier is tomorrow's champion... you just never know.

The girl is Melanie Oudin. She's not much different from the rest of the players I've written about on here, except one minor detail: she's American. Actually, let's call that detail major, not minor. Why? You ask. This is why: separate from the Williams sisters, there have been zero American grand slam champions in the last five years. Yes, zero.

Oudin may not be Venus or Serena, but this past week she had her first big pro breakthrough, winning two matches at the Tier III Bell Challenge in Quebec City, which comes at the tail-end of a successful year for the 17-year-old.

(Oudin has a powerful baseline game. But what junior player doesn't these day? Photo by kpessa via Flickr.)

Successful may be an understatement, winning 28 matches - mostly at small, American challenger tournaments - and losing in the first round of just two pro events: Miami and the US Open. In this year, she's also won this country's most prestigious junior tournament, the Easter Bowl, and recorded wins over eight Top 200 players.

But what does all mean for Oudin? It means that she, along with US Open junior champion Coco Vandeweghe are the future of American girls tennis, at least for now. ESPN The Magazine made her a part of their NEXT campaign this past year, and she's one of a handful of players that the USTA has put mega bucks behind to help further her individual career.

But considering the Monique Vieles, Ashley Harkleroads, and Bethanie Matteks (who beat her this week) before her, it's unlikely that Oudin will have any sort of a lasting career - much less reach the No. 1 world ranking as she hopes to do. Sans the Williams sisters and Lindsay Davenport, just three Americans stand inside the Top 100 on this week's rankings, and at the US Open, (without the Williams and Davenport) the group of starts and stripes went a dismal 1-12.

So what makes Oudin different? Different than Alexa Glatch or Vania King or Ashe Rolle or Mashona Washington, you might wonder. It's her slow, steady, mature and calculated rise to the pro tennis ranks that gives her an edge. At the age of 17, she hasn't been catapulted onto the international stage, but rather allowed to take on each level of tennis - from regional to national to international - and let her game adjust. It's not a guarantee by any means, but it's an approach that could benefit in the long run.

You might call it the Anti-Williams approach, and though there have been endless critics of what the two sisters have done, they've made it all right. So is Oudin destined for a crash?

Or is she the next big thing?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Almost Club

I started to write a post yesterday about two girls that I'm really excited about on the WTA Tour: Laura Robson and Marina Erakovic.

Each of these two young women have showed great promise and poise in the last six months as they've made their own inroads on the pro tour, but I can't help but think of them as part of a club that I feel is growing and growing: The Almost Club.

The Almost Club grows in membership each year, but in the last two years I've noticed that the application process has sped up and the applicant line never gets too deep - they just hop right in. Over at On the Baseline, Aaress did a great post on "The Most Frustrating WTA Players" on tour right now.

For me, the list could go on and on, but more than anything, I worry for the next generation - for girls like Robson and Erakovic - that they'll always be Almosters... that they'll never achieve greatness.

Perhaps it's something that I shouldn't lose sleep over. Fact is, there are few Venus Williams-like players in the world, and not everyone is destined for greatness. While working with the Easter Bowl, I'm learning how far tennis can reach (over 600 American kids play this tournament every year!) and how selective it truly is.

When it comes to team sports, greatness can be passed around from position to position. But in tennis, there is only one position: on the court. If you're not on it, you're off it. And if you're off it, you're probably not winning very much.

It would take me weeks to talk about all the Almosters on the WTA Tour, so I'll just stick with Robson and Erakovic. For now, they both have their careers ahead of them, so it's unfair to put them in one category or another.

But truth is, they probably will become a part of the Club, because we all know how hard it is to get into that other one club: the Club of Champions.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Difference of Needs

Jelena Jankovic needed to lose this week, while Ana Ivanovic needed to win and Roger Federer just needed to play.

This week was one of a myriad of different needs for the top players in the world, but it marked the first week since the US Open that the world's best were on stage - this time at two different events, in Madrid and Zurich.

It has been a dismal run for Ivanovic since winning the French. She had just been 5-6 on tour, losing early at both Wimbledon and the USO and looking like a player who was scared to hit a tennis ball instead of the number one player in the world. But this week in Zurich proved to be the reprieve she needed, winning two matches* and fighting hard against Venus Williams in the semifinals.

Jankovic, on the other hand, had been on a hot streak since the Olympics, losing just one match in that time - to Serena in the Open finals - and winning three straight titles in the fall season. But with the Season Ending Championships lingering in the near future, Jankovic's win streak would have presented more of a liability than anything else going into Doha. Her back-to-earth loss to Flavia Pennetta this week in Zurich let's her re-charge her batteries and find some hunger for a SEC title.

Everyone was relieved to simply see Federer playing, and he looked good in his opening two matches. But his semifinal rematch with Andy Murray didn't go as planned, and the Brit put Federer out much to many people's surprise after the drubbing that occurred in New York just over a month ago. It again showed Federer is human, but more than that, showed that Murray is a force to be reckoned with to end the season strong.

While all three of these needy players have been part of the tennis gossip lately, they each have different needs on court as the fall comes to a close. It's up to each of them to make sure their number one need, come two weeks from now, is to win the last tournament of the year, and that's something you can be sure each of them want to do.

*This blog was published while the Ivanovic-Williams semifinal was still in progress.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Silencing Her Critics

For those of you who have been doubting Jelena Jankovic all this time, you may want to give that doubt a second thought.

Jankovic won her third tournament in a row (following a finals appearance at the US Open). It was the first time such a feat has been accomplished on the WTA Tour since 2005.

In that time, Jankovic lost just two sets while beating eight Top 20 players and six Top 10 players.

The weakest number one of all time? Let's see how she does in Zurich...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ash-ger Fed-ick-cher

You all remember Jennifer Potter, don't you? Or Justine Spears?

Well, this week, no tennis players were morphing into pop icons (or vice versa), but one pop icon was channeling a tennis player - or two - in a big way, so much that I had to do a double, no, triple take.

It's Ashton Kutcher as Roger Federer. Or does he look more like Andy Roddick? I can't decide which is which or who is who... but needless to say, if anyone in Hollywood ever wants to go big with a tennis movie (Wimbledon doesn't count), then you know who can play Rog - or A-Rod.

(Andy?)

(Ashton?)

(Or Roger?)

Whoever he actually is, the video is worth watching.

(Video screen grabs via YouTube.)

Tennis Chatter: Weekend Thoughts

I had a busy first week at my new job with Seena Hamilton & Associates, but I'm learning a ton while helping plan a great event - The Easter Bowl. This tournament is a stronghold in junior tennis - some (including Seena), call it the 'blockbuster of junior tennis' - and attracts players from all over the country to the Indian Wells area for an incredible week of springtime tennis. Needless to say, it's a storied event.

One of the many things that my eyes were opened to this weekend is an individual known as Gene Scott. Among other things, Gene was the founder and editor at Tennis Week for many years, and was a pioneer in a variety of ways. When you start learning about an individual like Gene, it makes you look at tennis from a different angle. Such an angle might be that this is a 'lifetime game' or that tennis can teach us things we can't learn anywhere else.

My point is that Gene wasn't just a good tennis player, he was a stand-out human being. When he passed away unexpectedly in 2006, there was a great sense of loss in the tennis community. Who would come up with a "Vantage Point" similar to Gene's? Who would continue to criticize a game that he or she loved so much?

It makes me appreciate and respect players like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who take their celebrity status and positions in the game to do good - to improve tennis and the world around it. Players like these guys and others - Andre Agassi comes to mind - make this game so great. We must continue to self-criticize (as a sport) and not shy away from challenging who we are and what we are as an institution in order to move forward.

No, I don't think tennis is the platform to change the world, but it can be a platform. Martina Navratilova and Amelie Mauresmo did so when they came out, Agassi, Andy Roddick and others do so with their charities and non-profits, and Andrea Jaeger proved that the tennis afterlife could be more than just coaching clinics and commentating gigs.

That's a funny thing to think of - The Tennis Afterlife - isn't it? I look at players like Irina Spirlea or Richard Krajicek and can't really muster up any thoughts or feelings other than how oversized tennis clothes were in the mid-90s. No, not every player can be an Agassi on and off the court, but tennis is just a game - a game encompassed in a life that asks us to work together and for each other, not alone and against each other.

So maybe that's why so many tennis players are so socially awkward (myself included). We are taught to be tenacious, to go for it, to "Off with their heads!" on the court and then asked to be buddy buddy with our over-the-net foe when we're off. It's not an easy switch to turn on and off.

That's one reason why I love working for The Easter Bowl so far: this isn't a pro tennis tournament. This is a junior tournament, where American kids are bred to be champions but few - and fewer these days, right? - actually play competitive tennis past college. This is a junior tennis tournament where a future outside of tennis is likely for all, and a chance to do good in the world is only just beginning to form.

I think that's an idea Gene Scott would've liked.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Post on Pete's

I'm feeling like Friday on this Tuesday because my email to Peter Bodo, Senior Editor at TENNIS Magazine and blogger for the TennisWorld blog on Tennis.com, was published today.

I had wrote Pete about how I thought Jelena Jankovic was breaking out of her shell as the Gril Who Might Have Been and is becoming the girl who can (and eventually, will).

Click here to read my letter and read Pete's savvy response. Back with more later this week!

Monday, October 6, 2008

No-ho Video

I officially hate my camera.

One of my favorite parts of this past summer was getting the chance to do video posts for the blog about the goings on around tennis. It was fun, fresh and something that I truly enjoyed. And, beyond that, it was something that no one else in the (tennis) blogosphere was doing... therefore I was a total trendsetter, right?

But as I've started to re-boot the blog (and my life) over the last few weeks, my camera has been nothing short of impossible. One minute it won't turn on, the next it will - but only to die two seconds later. Then (after re-charging), it'll let me record a video, link up to my computer, only to crash when I try to import.

The moral of this story: my camera is old. Not old, old, but rather 21st-Century old. I've had it for over three years and it's given me a lot of good pictures and videos in that time... but shouldn't it be built to last?

I was hoping for the Martina Navratilova of cameras, but I ended up with Justine Henin instead. Pooey.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An Ernests Effort

You may be surprised to learn that one of the ATP's hottest up-and-comers, Ernests Gulbis, has a losing career record. At 34-36 (and 20-18 this season), Gulbis' record wouldn't necessarily impress anyone, but the just-turned 20-year-old from Latvia is turning plenty of heads in the world of tennis as of late, and impressing plenty.

After making noise at this year's French by flying into the quarterfinals before falling to Novak Djokovic, Gulbis has had disappointing draws at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, facing Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick in the second round of each tournament, respectively.

But just this week Gulbis has continued his meteoric rise in tennis, beating seeded Mario Ancic in Metz. His win over Ancic adds to the already long list of top players that Gulbis has conquered in his young career which includes James Blake (twice), Janko Tipsarevic, Tommy Robredo and Tim Henman, just to name a few.

(Photo by Web Del Tenis La Amistad via Flickr.com.)

Gulbis first garnered attention at the 2007 edition of the U.S. Open, when he advanced to the fourth round in his first Open appearance and third Grand Slam tournament. The run came after the Latvian had been winless all summer long (0-7), not winning a match since the first round at Roland Garros.

Gulbis validated his New York run by winning Mons (Switzerland) a few weeks after the Open, beating third-seeded Kristof Vliegen in the finals for his first ever ATP title. What was most impressive was that it was the first tournament he had not only been a seed, but the number one seed at that.

The most surprising and noteworthy, though, hasn't necessarily been Gulbis' wins (though those have helped, too), but instead his losses. Pushing Nadal and Roddick to four sets at the year's last two majors garnered plenty of attention for the world's 50th ranked player, and though he didn't reach the second week at the Open like last year, the Latvian has cemented himself as a part of the new generation of men's tennis.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Different Paths

Who would've have thought, just four short months ago in the French Open final that Dinara Safina and Ana Ivanovic would be in the places they are today? In this week's WTA Tour rankings, Safina sits sweetly at number three in the world, while Ivanovic, so briefly the world's number one, is now at number four.

It's the story of two completely different paths.

Since Ivanovic's maiden slam win over Safina at Roland Garros, the Serb has looked more like the crashing U.S. economy while Russian has likened, well, the petro-fueled Russian economy. Ivanovic is a dismal 5-5, losing in the third round of Wimbledon and the second round of the US Open. The nerves that Ivanovic showed in her first set of a slam final in 2007 against Justine Heninhave resurfaced again, but this time they've lasted for over three months - not just three sets.

A few days ago, Tennis.com's Peter Bodo gave credit where credit is due in writing about the ascension of Safina's star. Safina has, at the age of 22, suddenly placed herself in the upper echelon of the game after dabbling with the mid-majors for several years. Now it's up to Dinara if she can prove herself to be more steady than big brother Marat.

Head to head, Ivanovic still leads Safina in their overall career record. But as the season comes to a close, players around the globe are seeing the Russian as more of a threat for the Season Ending Championships than Ivanovic, and as the Australian Open looms a few months away - could one of them be listed with the favorites and the other not?

The fact is, if Safina were to - dare I say it? - win the SEC, perhaps she would cement her place as a viral threat for the next several years on the women's tour. But it only takes a look at one player to realize that no ranking or talent is safe for very long on the WTA Tour these days. Can you guess who that player is? I think her name might be Ana Ivanovic.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Little Inspiration

There are those people in life that are inspiring when you hear their stories. They inspire you with their hard work, or their triumph over tragedy, or simply because you've connected with them and they are impossible to not be inspired by.

Then there are those people who are inspiring just by being present. They have an air about them; an aura that can't really be explained; an energy that is well, contagious. I met one of those people today, and she's the reason I'm writing this blog post.

Seena Hamilton has been a fixture on the tennis (and marketing and public relations and writing and radio and philanthropy and travel and social) scene(s) for over 40 years now. 17 years prior to my birth and seven years before my parents even met, Seena was making waves as a professional in whatever she chose to dip her toes into.

Basically, she's a pretty big deal.

The sad thing is, even as an avid tennis fan, player and enthusiast of the game, I had no idea who Ms. Hamilton was until two weeks ago. Her sudden arrival in my life has reminded me that there is a reason why we are passionate about things in life, and that passion has been re-ignited and might become one of the fall season's most dangerous wildfire.

You can consider this my official return to the blog. You'll hear plenty more about Ms. Hamilton, and a little more about me, too. I'm in New York City now, living and - apparently - being inspired.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Out of Blogness

It has been so great getting back into the blogging world this summer. From the French to Wimbledon to the US Open Series, all of it has been so much fun!

More than anything, I've enjoyed starting up my video posts, complete with off-color commentary and my attempt to sound smart on screen.

But, separate from the blogging (and vlogging) world, there's this thing called my life out there that I have to tend to. Over the next seven weeks, I will be dotting the globe with friends and family enjoying their company and celebrating my graduation from college.

I will be moving to New York City in late September, and hope to have the blog back up (in some form) come early/mid October.

Keep your eyes open around then, and check back in here every once in a while - I might just putting up some random stuff!

All my thanks for you who stopped by for a first, second or thousandth time.

Cheers,
Nick

Monday, August 4, 2008

Roger That: Technical Difficulties

Seems as though Roger Federer isn't the only one experiencing technical difficulties these days. I did a video for you guys last night and have tried several times to put it up today, but my camera just won't cooperate! Boo :(

In the meanwhile, here's the surprisingly competitive draw for the men's tourney down in L.A. this week, in which those non-Olympians are playing in.

More soon... I hope!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Yee Haw, Y'All!

I went to the rodeo this weekend. There, I said it. The rodeo. And me. Together, in one place.

I'd never been to a rodeo before. Although I was raised in Montana, we were a sports family growing up, so our nights and weekends were taken up by YMCA soccer and basketball games and every other sport imaginable.

So on Friday night, when I ventured to the Broadway County Fair in Townsend, Montana, it was not only my first time at the rodeo, but my first time writing it, too. My local paper asked me to do a little coverage for them of the event because they're short staffed, so I put my tennis slash soccer slash general sports knowledge to the test and went where no queer Seattle reporter has gone before... at least, not that I know of.

(Photo by Amdanda Determan, the Helena IR.)

Check out what came of the article here.

If you think that tennis is that far removed from the rodeo, then you better think again. This summer, a bunch of tennis vigilantes have been taking over both tours, ravaging the draws in US Open Series events and making the top players saddle up their games before the Olympics and the US Open are upon us.

Roger Federer has been the biggest cowboy to go down, but Andy Roddick, the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic haven't been far behind.

Watching Rafael Nadal and Jankovic vault their way to the top of the game has been exciting, but nothing like an 8-second bull ride. Shouldn't there be a rule in place that if a player doesn't win a tournament, he or she can't be number one the following week? What a weird feeling that must be for Jankovic, especially.

On the cowboy's side, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are each having a pretty good summer, and they'll meet today for the title in Cincy. Behind Nadal, these are the two hottest players on the men's tour. A new trivalry? Maybe.

Meanwhile, Sharapova is out of the US Open, and the women's tour continues to suffer from its own faults.

Video post soon, y'all! Cowboy's promise!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Behind the Story

A couple of weeks ago, after my first of several articles ran in my local paper, I had a family friend tell my in utter surprise how impressed he was with my writing. He meant it as a compliment and I took it as so, but I told him that the last four years of my life had been spent working on my writing, so hopefully I'm pretty good at it, right?

It was more of a joke than anything else, but as I look back at my few weeks spent in Montana this summer I will be thankful for many things. But one thing that will stand out is the opportunity to tell a few incredible stories to the community that I was raised in. So often the media gets branded as a fishing entity, one that only stirs up controversy and finds the worst in others.

Well, much of that is true, but on the same token, there are good stories to be told out there... actually, there are good stories that need to be told out there - because they're newsworthy.

Over the last eight days, my life has centered around soccer for the first time in 15 years. I had the incredible opportunity of witnessing recent high school graduates giving a clinic for at-risk youth, kids who suffer from all sorts of mental and emotional trauma.

I think we, as a society, oftentimes forget how impressionable other are. We take simple interactions for granted, never pausing to think how we impact one another. The impact on that morning was visible and nothing short of inspiring. Who knew that 30 minutes could make a week? Or, by god, a life?

This week, I got to spend time with a friend that I grew up with, talking with him and his family about his upcoming adventure to Africa, to work with the non-profit Grassroot Soccer. This is a humble, down-to-earth individual who genuinely cares about others not only in his immediate world, but in the global sense, too.

The story behind the story here is simple: this kid is the real deal. So often we are limited in writing by cliches and simple language, but to know and understand an individual and his or her 'cause' is to see them in their true light. His light will shine on others... how's that for cliche?

My hope is that these stories exist in the tennis world, as well. That stories like James Blake and his father, Andre Agassi and his school and Ana Ivanovic learning to play tennis in a pool don't have to be anomalies, but rather the fabric that makes up the world of tennis. Yes, you must find the good ones to make them worth writing (and reading) about, but they're there, it's just a matter of finding them.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tennis Chatter: Mid-Week Report

What a difference 10 days makes.

10 days ago Andy Roddick had seemingly already proclaimed himself US Open champion, Roger Federer was about to vault his "comeback" and everyone wanted to see how Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic would play after their polar opposite experiences at the All England Club.

But now:
--Roddick is out with injury... and questionable for the USO? He's also 8-4 in his last twelve matches. Has Andy REALLY lost his mo-jo?

--Federer shocked us all with his implosion again Gilles Simon in Toronto, then almost did the same against American Robby Ginepri in his opener at Cincy. Is the two-points-from-defeat win over Ginepri a sign that he's back in form. Maybe. Or maybe not.

--Novak has been mediocre to say the least, with his departure to Murray in Toronto and he's currently entangled in a first-set breaker with Italian Simone Bolleli.

--And Rafa, well, Rafa is the bomb. He continues to prove us all wrong by winning everything in sight. Is this kid more of a craftsman than we think?

While the women's tour might (emphasis on might) heat up in Montreal this week, one player who has taken to the summer hardcourt season with a fury is up-and-comer Michelle Larcher de Brito. She flew to the second round at the Bank of the West (through qualifying) and gave Serena quite a scare, and now in Montreal has again come through qualifying and won two main draw matches.

Watch out for this girl, she's living up to her (commercial) billing:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Video Post: Rollin' Rafa

Enjoy the video post, everyone. I'll be back with more stuff later in the week from Montreal and Cincy. Can Rafa keep rolling?



DRAWS
Men | Cincinnati
Women | Montreal

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Playing "Journalist" for the Weekend

Well, I did stay up last night pretty late to preview my articles, neither of which ended up on the front page. But, I did land on B1 and C1, so I can't really complain, can I? The feature I wrote (much more interesting), can be found here. The other article was for the game I'm covering right now, a simple preview.

Playing journalist for the weekend has been extremely fun, and it feels pretty incredible to have the opportunity to write for the local paper like this... on such a short notice I mean. In one case, this is an invaluable experience for me learning wise, but it also serves as a tremendous resume booster, too, right?

This week on the tennis tour, two players are attempting to claim the title of "number one in the world" each in their own right. Jelena Jankovic is trying to do it in a technical manner, and if she wins tonight against Dinara Safina she'll be one match from such an accomplishment. The thing is, however, Jelena has never even been to a Slam final, so it will be quite interesting to see how she's received on tour as the "number one" player... especially heading into the Olympics and the US Open.

Rafael Nadal is through to the finals of the Rogers Cup in Toronto where he'll play German veteran Nicolas Kiefer. Many have already named Rafa as the unofficial numero uno after his epic win at SW19, but the Spaniard remains behind in points to Roger Federer.

If Nadal wins here, however, I believe that he'll solidify himself as the number one player in the world in the minds of tennis fans and players alike. Hard courts have continuously been his weakness, and he's struggled during the summer season over the last couple of years. But to win in Toronto would give him a big boost in confidence, but also intimidate much of the rest of the tour.

Can Kiefer stop the Rafa roll? History says no.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Tennis Chatter: Head Above the Crowd

Well, I'm sitting here at my computer waiting for the clock to strike midnight (it's 10:40) to see what my first ever front-page article will look like. Last week both stories I did got B1 (Sports) billing, but I have a hunch that the piece I did might make section A... so I'm waiting for the web site to re-boot at midnight so I can check it out!

Meanwhile, I thought it might be good to get in here and update all of you on what's going on in the world of tennis (as if you don't know).

Here's one thing you might not be tuned into: a friend of mine that I just graduated from college with is interning down in SoCal with The Press Enterprise in Riverside. He emailed me late today to let me know he was on assignment at the East West Bank Classic, telling me that it was "my first time shooting tennis, too bad the tournament turned out to be kinda lame." I think that Joey is right, the EWBC has turned out to be quite lame so far this year, but let's hope that Jelena can make a run into the finals and start her summer right. I'd love to see her win the US Open, wouldn't you guys?

The link to Joey's (Joey Anchondo, if you're wondering) EWBC photos is here.

And while we're on the topic of the women, let's talk about their summer season for a minute. So far they've played Stanford and now LA, two tournaments that have turned into complete jokes on the women's schedule. Remember when playing during the summer was important to WTA players? When playing outside of the slams for that reason was important?

Well, the girls certainly don't care now. It's really, really heart breaking to watch these tournaments come up with Aleksandra Wozniak (no offense Al, but my favorite Wozy on tour is Caroline... you just don't cut it!) and Bethanie Mattek (sorry to you, too, BM, but you're just not the player I want to see in the semis!) as premiere players?!? Perhaps the WTA needs to re-think that brilliant Roadmap of theirs and figure out how to get top players to play, and play often.

I know that was a poor attempt at a rant... but the last 18 hours have been rough... so take it easy on me, okay?

Let's talk about how Rafael Nadal continues to prove why he's so much better than the entire rest of the ATP tour. Nadal has advanced to the semifinals in Toronto by beating Richard Gasquet in three sets, and will take on Andy Murray, who has arguably had the second best summer on the tour.

With all that's happened at the Rogers (and I'm sure will happen over the next couple of days), it's sure to say one thing: the top of the men's game is very unsure right now. Federer, Roddick, Djokovic... they all lost to opponents they could have and should have beat, all saying that they needed to "play their way into the tournament" or something of the like.

So what's their excuse going to be when they fall at the US Open? Can't wait to hear those.

Oh, and video post this weekend... I PROMISE!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

OK... "I Told You So"

Now I can say it: I told you so.

The Elect Andy TOOTB campaign train came to a screeching halt Thursday at the Rogers Cup when he lost in three sets to Marin Cilic (yes, Marin Cilic) 6-4 4-6 6-4.

A couple of days ago I wrote about how Andy was doing his best to convince everyone (including himself) that he's one of the top three players in the world. With Roger Federer bowing out yesterday, you think that Roddick might have slipped a couple of confidence ballots in his own box, but that did not appear to be the case.

My point in the "Elect Andy" post was this: Roddick can talk (and he's good at that) all he want, but he must play his way to the top. He didn't do that today, losing to Cilic, a Croatian teenager who is ranked 44th in the world (I know, I was surprised too) and made the fourth round at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

Cilic isn't a nobody, but he certainly isn't a somebody. His ballot was most important today, and, in turn, Andy Roddick is out in Toronto.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Advantage, Roddick

Gilles Simon did Andy Roddick a huge favor today at the Rogers Cup in Toronto.

Simon beat top-seed Roger Federer in the opening round to pave the way for Roddick to the semifinals, if the American can keep his TOOTB campaign on the right track.

Now, I won't say "I told you so," because I didn't. But I did say, and I quote: "[Federer v. Simon] could be quite an interesting match..." on my last video post.

Back with a new video tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Campaign Trail: Elect Andy in '08

Andy Roddick began his campaign for 2008 US Open champion with quite the advertising campaign. There's the Canadian commercial where Roddick is plastered on a billboard, his I'm-as-confident-as-ever interview for the hardcourt season and a press corps that's eating it all up.

Sound familiar?

Roddick is doing his best to campaign for a slot that he lost at this tournament last year: The Office of Third Best (TOOTB). You all remember that it was Novak Djokovic who stole that title from Andy, beating him in the quarterfinals of the Rogers Cup and then proceeded to beat Nadal and Federer for the title.

(Jimmy Connors couldn't cut it as Andy's campaign manager. Photo by Arch Noble via Flickr.)

But Andy wants you, and all of tennis, to believe that he is indeed still holds TOOTB. That he, Andy Roddick, can not only campaign to be TOOTB, but also have a chance to win the election everyone is gunning for this summer: US Open champion.

Roddick has made one smart decision: he's not going to Beijing. That's right, Andy is staying in the Good Ol' US of A to do his campaigning, to make sure that everyone puts him in the running for the title, and that maybe, just maybe, he can win his first slam in five long years.

A few days ago, Matt and I attempted to talk about this very topic: is it fair to put players like James Blake and Andy Roddick on the same level as Federer, Nadal and Djokovic?

Andy has become somewhat of an outsider over the last few years, and his campaign to reassert himself is just more evidence of such a downward progression. When it all comes down to it, it depends on how Roddick can play on the court, and he didn't play so well today ... maybe doing too many interviews, Andy?

If he wants to win over votes, perhaps he should try it on the court a little more, right? That's where the election is won and lost. And can he ever get past being TOOTB? Now that would be a miracle.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tennis Chatter

A year ago Virginie Razzano had the week of her career in LA. This week, she won just six games in a first-round drubbing against lucky loser Melinda Czink.

What is it that makes tennis so mental? So stringy? Players are hot for a few points, or games, or weeks or months, and then they disappear into the oblivion? I know that's a rather general statement, and that every sport has its ups and downs, but to watch mid-majors like Razzano, Maria Kirilenko, Marion Bartoli, or, on the guy's side Janko Tipsarevic or Radek Stepanek have such talent but not always be able to execute it is baffling to me. Is it mental?

Last week, Aleksandra Wozniak gave Canada something to cheer about by coming out of nowhere to win the Bank of the West Classic.

This week, however, my favorite Canadian takes center stage in the friendly confines of Toronto. Frank Dancevic began his dream run in 2007 in Indianapolis and continued it here at the Rogers Cup. This year Dancevic didn't fare as well in Indiana, but the hometown boy won his opening match last night against Mario Ancic in straight sets, and now gets a tall order tonight: defending champion Novak Djokovic.

Doug Robson, a freelance writer who does lots of tennis for USA Today, posted this item on his blog about an OUT Magazine article featuring a gay tennis player. Robson dismisses Rodriguez's coming out, saying it will take a "much higher profile retired player" to make any waves in tennis, but it's still an interesting read.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Video Post: Roger's Week?

The men are in Toronto for the Rogers Cup, the first ATP Masters Series event of the summer.

Though Novak Djokovic is the defending champion, the last time this event was held in Toronto, it was Roger Federer who took the title. Federer won four straight three-set matches to win the tournament, beating Richard Gasquet in the final.

Is it his year again? There are a few guys standing in his way.



(Correction: The WTA heads to the Rogers Cup next week, not to San Diego as mentioned in the video.)

Tennis Chatter: The Sunday Scramble

I feel as though I have a lot of catching up to do on here and in the tennis world in general, but as I surfed the web this morning checking out the latest scores and story lines, I realized that I really didn't miss that much over the last ten days.

As I promised, here is the second feature story I've done for our local paper, The Independent Record. It's been quite the learning experience for me over the last week to write these two stories. Though they dealt with the same event, they were vastly different in subject matter and leg work.

The first I had six days to work on, get interviews for, re-think and edit over and over again, but yesterday had me at the pole vault event for four-plus hours before heading home and hunkering down in my basement to crank out an equally-long story. I felt a bit of pressure, but lucky the words came off the keyboard with relative ease, which is always any writer's hope. I could tell you the dozen or so little things I found in the two stories that I was self-critical about, but instead I'm going to see these last seven days as a learning experience. What else could it be?

This next week, I'm doing two pieces (again, one feature, one "game-day") on the Shodair Soccer Classic happening here in Helena. I'm pretty pumped about being a part of the Shodair festivities this summer as my older brother was a participant years ago went the event was just getting off the ground. I know there will be some great stories to tell, I'll just have to dig deep to find them.

Being around pole vault reminded me of one thing yesterday: tennis really is a niche sport. As much as I think we all want tennis to succeed on a global stage, it is, and will always be, for us tennis enthusiasts. Yes, there will be times when the world's eyes are on our sport (think Wimbledon 2008), but for the most part, we bask in the quietness and uniqueness of this sport.

Such is the same in pole vault, which in and of itself is its own sport within track and field, but inspires such a niche and often cult-like following that it's pointless to ever try to make pole vault mainstream. You can't kick around the pole vault in the back yard or hit it against the wall, can you? It's always going to exist as it does: a sport that few love and are passionate about, but most have no idea what the hell is going on.

That's the thing I get most often when talking about tennis to others: I just don't get how it works. Yes, tennis scoring is beyond confusing, which I think plays a big role in why we will never be a football, soccer or basketball. And I'm not saying tennis should just hang out with its five fans and be happy for the rest of its existence, but there needs to be a realization on a bigger level that this kind of sport can only be so big, just like pole vault.

Perhaps I am speaking from a naive point of view. No, I wasn't alive when John McEnroe was America's bad boy and tennis stars were like rock stars. But our world has vastly changed since then ... it's hard to think tennis could ever have that status again.

With all that said, I think what Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have done for the sport is spectacular. As we head into the meat of the US Open Series schedule, I will be interested to watch just how things shape up. This past weekend was a blow to American tennis: Serena pulled out at the BOTW, Blake and Querrey both lost their semis at Indy, and Venus and Lindsay both pulled out of LA before they even hit a ball. Will these American tournaments live and die by the American participation? It's hard to tell.

It isn't hard to tell, however, that the entire tennis world - not just Americans - will be a little less interested in the Simon-Tursonov and Wozniak-Bartoli finals than had those aforementioned players won their matches yesterday. Will it be another USOS plagued by injuries and pull outs? I sure hope not.

But then, there's those things call the Olympics, too...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Does This Look Familiar?

(WNBA.com photo screen grab.)

Recognize this scene? Well, it's mostly familiar to us, but instead of Serena or Roger hitting on Ashe Stadium, the women of the WNBA played an outdoor game tonight. Pretty cool stuff here, so check out the photo blog on their site.

I'm just finishing up my second of two articles that I've done for the local paper here this past week. I'll post the link to that one tomorrow (Sunday).

If your Wimbledon hangover has started to subside, then you've probably kept track of what's gone this past week as the US Open Series has commenced. It was a disappointing day in Indianapolis for the Americans, both Sam Querrey and James Blake lost 6-4 in the third. Meanwhile, across the country, Serena fell in her semi after pulling out with an injury. Is this an omen for the rest of the summer?

Guess we'll wait and see.

Published (In the Paper)

It's one thing to get published on the internet, but quite different in these days to see your work in print. Over the last couple of years I've been lucky enough to do a lot of publishing through this blog, and even nab a couple freelance jobs on "real" web sites.

But this morning, I had my first-ever I'm-a-professional story printed in my local paper. As some of you know, I'm home for the summer in Montana and interviewed with our paper, the Independent Record, to do some sports freelancing while I'm here.

This week, I was lucky enough to tell the incredible story of Patrick Kelly. Patrick is a young man who passed away two years ago unexpectedly, and his story of life and the way he lived it is simply inspiring. I feel blessed and humbled to have told this story.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Video Post: The Boys Talk Tennis

Well, as I said in my last post, things have been more than hectic around here. I've been working 30-plus hours a week at the cafe that always is gracious enough to let me put in a few hours when I'm back in Montana on top of writing two feature stories for this weekend's local paper and entertaining a rather pesky guest, Mr. Matt Murphy.

Matt and I always have a blast together, so we've spent the last couple of days exploring Helena. We've had some ridiculously good local food (No Sweat | Donut Hole | Karmadillo's), played with my adorable niece, Sammie, and took in Matt's sister's incredible tap/modern dance at the Myrna Loy Theatre tonight.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to keep up with everything that is happening in the tennis world. The men and women are finally back here in the States on the first leg of the US Open Series. What a big win by Serena Williams today over up-and-comer Michelle Larcher de Brito, right? It just goes to show you that LdB has lots of talent and is slowly progressing toward the top 100, while Serena is still trying to shake an ultimately disappointing Wimbledon.

As much as Matt and I have been having fun, we also have been writing in every spare moment. We had to take a little break though to film a little video post for you guys, addressing this question, posed by reader TroyCHooks: Why does everyone continue to make Roddick and Blake seem even remotely in the same level as Nadal and Ferderer?

While Matt and I attempted to address the question, we distracted each other most of the time. In any case, enjoy this post:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Little Busy

Who knew summer could be so busy?!?

I'm working hard on two articles for my local paper (yes, I'll link when they're up!) and have a visitor in town! My friend Matt has journeyed to Montana from The Big City (NYC, of course) and is hanging out for a few days before he heads over to Missoula to see his family.

Check out the terrific post he put up this morning, and we'll be sure to have a video post up for you guys this evening or tomorrow! Cheers :)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tennis Chatter: A Week Later

Well, we're just now a week removed from that epic final that had all of us stirring for days and that we will no doubt be thinking about and re-analyzing for weeks, months and perhaps years to come! I've spent this last week working and hanging out with family, and also had the pleasure of playing my first USTA tournament in over three years. All in all, it was a good weekend (and I'll just leave it at that!).

With all this "de-throning" and "changing of the guard" talk on the men's side, I wanted to touch a bit on what the last few weeks have meant for women's tennis. In my post on Wednesday, I mentioned that a few journalists had made this point themselves, and so I thought it would be fun to speak a bit about it in my next video post. My good friend Kelsey joined in for the convo, and though she's no tennis buff, she knows a thing or two about longevity and burnout.



Over the next week, I'm working furiously on two feature articles that are to be printed in my hometown paper, the Independent Record. I'm pretty stoked to be doing some freelance while in Montana, and hope that I'll be able to cover all my ground and write some kick-ass stuff. I've got this blog thing down pretty good, but writing features for the local paper is a little bit different.

While I'm researching, transcribing interviews and writing, the men and women of the professional tennis tour officially kick off the US Open Series with the ladies at the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford and the guys playing in Indianapolis.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wimbledon: My Favorite Things


Random musings from a Wimbledon we won't soon forget:

As I mentioned in the video post, Alexandra Stevenson has a new blog up on ESPN.com. Is this finally her time to come back? Or was she ever really a legitimate player to begin with? It'll be interesting to see just how far she goes (and how healthy she stays).

Laura Robson is the FairyTale Princess of The Championships 2008. This is a story I just can't resist, especially because growing up, I would play tennis in my back alley and always concoct some sort of darkhorse who at the French was French or at Wimbledon was British and he or should would caption the nation's heart with out-of-this-world tennis.

Robson certainly did that in the last two weeks, winning her home title as a darkhouse and as a player who really played like she was from a different world. Robson's win was a legitimate one, beating the 1st, 9th and 3rd seeds along her way.

How special would it be to see this girl in the main draw next year? Only the next 12 months can show us what she's learned at the Girl's Champion.

Marina Erakovic is my new favorite women's player. Don't know her? Read up!

What a tournament for Andy Murray (and Jie Zheng and Marat Safin and Elena Dementieva, too!)! Murray's fourth-round conquering of Richard Gasquet was his proclamation to the tennis world: I have arrived.

Murray was overwhelmed in the quarters by Kingdom of Clay-Grass King Rafael Nadal, but his consistent effort at the All England Club show me that he is making headway each year, and continuing to improve in surprising ways. This kid will win WImbledon some day, that is no doubt. Even Tim Henman thinks so.

And, before I pay homage to Mr. Nadal himself, I want to thank William C. Rhoden of The New York Times for his thoughtful and dead-on column on the legacy of the Williams sisters. They certainly don't get enough credit for what they've done for the game, and Saturday's final is another example.

So at last we come to Rafa. This is what I'll say: the kid didn't miss. All in all, he dug deep, ran everything down, hit the ball as hard as he could, and - most importantly - didn't miss. Yes, Federer made a few errors, but it was all about the human boomerang on Sunday: everything Fed threw at Nadal, the Spaniard threw right back, and with a little more zip and curve than the five-time champ.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Life With the Paps

Rafael Nadal was already talking about the paparazzi hounding him the night before his Wimbledon win, so how do you think the guy feels now?

"One thing that did surprise me yesterday was the eight paparazzi waiting for me at a restaurant. I didn't tell anyone I was going out and when I arrived they sort of attacked me. I don't know if this is the right word, but believe me it was strange. Too much. I am a person that always works with media, does interviews with them, works closely with them, but I don't find it fair that when I have a few hours free, with my family, simply going for dinner, they persecute me and get those pictures that they sell. I am a public figure, I understand, but I don't live off publicity. I live off what I do on-court. I work there."
-Rafael Nadal on his blog, July 5th, 2008

This shows just another reason why I love this guy: oh so humble, and doing it for all the right reasons.

Champion's Art

This is a sampling of art packages used by some of the internet's most visited web sites after Rafael Nadal's Wimbledon win yesterday.

(The ATP tour's official web site.)

(The New York Times featured the match on its front page for much of Sunday and early Monday morning. It can now be found in the sports section, along with an archive of Wimbledon articles from Times writer Christopher Clarey.)

(Less than 24 hours after the match, the story is hard to find on The London Sun's web site. The Sun is one of London's ultimate tabloid papers.)

(ESPN.com still has the story on its front page a day after the title match. This is the graphic they have used, which is linked to a plethora of ESPN-written stories about the future of the men's game.)

(ESPN goes with a little different look on its TENNIS page. The "Simply Smashing" text focuses more on Nadal's performance on Sunday.)

(This graphic comes from TENNIS.com. TENNIS links to its bloggers and AP articles below the graphic, and also has put up a photo gallery of the Championships.)

(TENNIS WEEK gives weak play to the epic moment with a simple headshot of Nadal. The magazine's web site, however, has been a leader in featured video since its revival earlier this year.)

(CNNSI.com packages this graphic with lots of content from its main tennis guy, Jon Wertheim. Also featured are photos and video, plus an SI article from the "vault" following McEnroe's win over Borg in 1981.)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

UPDATE: Changing of the Guard

Wow. That was incredible.

Tonight and tomorrow from Tennis Chatter:

-Video post



-Match analysis

Well, it's hard to break down a match like this and place its outcome on a few points, or just one factor or another. If there is one thing to say, it would be that Rafael Nadal was just better, and more consistent. In this match, that translates to: "Rafael Nadal didn't miss a freaking shot in five hours of tennis."

But, in all my amateur ways, let me at least a few things about why Roger Federer wasn't able to win his sixth-straight Wimbledon crown:

Federer, who went 42 of 75 (56%) at the net for the match, wasn't the better volleyer. Yes, the Swiss won more points than Rafa at net, but Nadal was 22 of 31 (71%), finding a much better success rate. To me this speaks volumes of Nadal's passing ability, but also shows that if Federer is going to approach the net 75 times in a match, his shot selection needs to be more fine-tuned. Many times Federer reached for a ball her could've stepped toward or chose to take a ball out of the air instead of scooping it off the turf.

Secondly, Rafa's fitness proved to be too much for Fed, showing that athleticism has as much of a place at Wimbledon as anywhere else. In the third set, Federer his 16 unforced errors to Nadal's 7. Most of these errors came off of the Mighty Fed's spectacular forehand, a shot that become more of a liability than a weapon in the final few games.

-Tournament wrap
-What this means for men's - and all of - tennis

Congratulations, Rafael Nadal.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Video Post: Wimbledon Weekend (Pt 1)

Here's a summary of Venus' "W" at the W over little sis, Serena, along with talk about the men's finals and the surprisingly arrival of Miss Laura Robson.



Oh, and you can see Laura's post-match interview here.

The Williams Way

Watching Venus take out Serena this morning was quite enjoyable. It was tennis' ultimate stage hosting the game's ultimate women competitors of the last decade in a battle that may have only been two sets, but was all the makings of a Wimbledon classic.

When I wrote yesterday about being plain excited for this weekend, my focus was on the personalities featured over these two days, but this morning Venus and Serena reminded me: it's all about the tennis.

The two women produced tremendous tennis this morning, especially Venus, who belted away and capitalized on her opportunities to win the match 7-5 6-4.

While Mary Carillo blabbed away during the match, what transpired on my TV screen was a high-quality game of grass court tennis that featured strong serving, incredible baseline exchanges, terrific net play and tremendous movement. Venus proved - surprisingly - to be the more consistent sister and to capitalize on her chances. That stat, break point conversions, proved to be the title clincher.

On the girl's side of things, it was no epic sister battle, but instead, a bright 14-year-old British girl winning the title. Laura Robson beat Thailand's Noppawan Lertcheewakarn 6-3 3-6 6-1. Robson, unseeded and ranked 36th, beat the girl's number one seed in the second round of this tournament, hadn't played a junior grand slam draw ever, as far as I can tell.

More on that story as it develops. But England may have just found its counterpart to Andy Murray in the next generation of British tennis.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Cordless in (Almost) Canada

Well, I'm just a few miles from the Canada border this weekend spending time with family celebrating the 4th. Meanwhile, I was all excited to get out of the hot weather and do a video for you guys in some AC this afternoon when I realized the cord I use to hook up my camera to my laptop somehow didn't make the trip to Northeastern Montana. Therefore, no video post tonight.

But, I would like to write a bit on what an inspiring weekend this promises to be for tennis. Seeing champions like Venus, Serena, Roger and Rafa come through upset-laden draws was really impressive, and it'll be fun to see them on tennis' biggest stage no matter how they play. Sure, it would be great if the tennis was competitive, but we have four future Hall of Famers playing for the greatest title in tennis - that has to make a lot of people pretty happy.

One tournament that always comes to mind when the domino effect starts rolling through a draw is the 2004 women's French Open. Mauresmo, Davenport and the Williams sisters all crashed out in the quarterfinals, leaving a resurgent Jennifer Capriati to hold up the trophy. But alas, Jenny came out flat, and that soon-forgotten (and now mother?!?) Anastasia Myskina was crowned champion.

To many of you, that may seem like an obscure recollection, but my point is that Slams can become Slums in just a matter of a couple of days. Day three of this Championships we lost Roddick, Sharapova and Djokovic; soon thereafter Jankovic and Ivanovic were out, too. However, these four champions that have maintained their grit and game through it all deserve to be rewarded this weekend whether they produce the top of their games or not.

Too much the big names in tennis are celebrated, making it hard for new stars to breakthrough. For the next 48 hours, however, I see it entirely appropriate to celebrate these big names and to make sure that they stay engaged in the game that we love watching them play. They certainly owe it to the sport, and in a lot of ways, the sport owes it to them.

Dream Finals

It's hard to imagine that tournament referree Andrew Jarrett could be more happy than to enforce the rules upon these four finalists at this year's Championships.

As wacky as week one was in London, the tournament mostly followed form in week two, and we're into the final weekend with four storied champions looking to add a Wimbledon title to his or her resume.

I'll have a video post up later today, but I'm enjoying family time in Glasgow (yes, Glasgow), Montana right now, so it might be a bit later!

Predictions:
Women: Venus 1-6, 6-3, 6-4
Men: Nadal 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(9), 6-3

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Video Post: Now It's Getting Good

Really, I mean Wimbledon is so exciting this year that I'm actually into the men's draw - that never happens!

Here are my thoughts on yesterday, today, tomorrow and nothing more:

LIVE BLOG: Quarterfinal Day

8:30 AM - Well, folks, my ESPN2 coverage has cut out and NBC will run tape delay starting in 90 minutes. Dementieva and Petrova are still fighting each other on who can lose to whom. I'll be back later tonight with a video post on all today's action!

7:48 AM - Williams defeats Tanasugarn 6-4, 6-3. I really wanted to see Venus serve it out, but she's through to the semifinals without facing a Top 50 player on her way. Has this ever happened before? This tournament has had a lot of firsts, so I'll have to do a little digging on this one. Meanwhile, Dementieva lost the second in the breaker, but leads 2-0, 30-0 in the third.

7:41 AM - Venus just hit an abysmal forehand long (or, as Pam Shriver called it, a "fearhand") to keep Tanasugarn in this set, 4-3. Meanwhile, Elena is pulling the ultimate choke job after leaded 6-1, 5-1 and is now at 5-6 in the second set against Petrova.

7:25 AM - Venus has continued to play mediocre tennis in this second set. She's 8-0 on service points, but her groundstrokes continue to spray long. Elena Dementieva is crawling toward the finish line against Nadia Petrova. The two winners will meet in the semis.

7:08 AM - First set to V, 6-4. Some quality and exciting tennis to close the first set. It will be interesting to see if Tanasugarn keeps fighting in set two the way she did in the first or she go away rather silently, as she has in the past.

6:55 AM - Great point at 3-5, 30-all for Tammy. Venus' backhand has been more problematic in this first set than I would have thought, showing that her first four matches against lower-ranked players don't have her playing at her best level. Two backhand errors give Tsquared - who has struggled to close out games - the game for 4-5.

6:46 AM - This match has been more of a seesaw battle since Venus broke. V has certainly struggled on her serve, but so has Tsquared. Williams saved six break points in her last service games, which may become a stat that tells the story of this match. After a few hiccups for both players, they each hold to go to 4-3, first set.

6:24 AM - Venus holds and then breaks for 2-1. As James Martin talked about a few days ago over at TENNIS.com, these commentators really are running their mouths. But it's good to be in front of the tube watching some live tennis, I haven't done that in who knows how long. And for Tsquared, it feels good for her to be here, too.

6:14 AM - Good morning, everyone! Already Venus and Tamarine Tanasugarn are on the court and Tanasugarn has taken the first game of the match and leads, 1-0. Tanasugarn started the match out well before two straight double faults. It's windy down there, too. Advantage Tsquared?

Monday, June 30, 2008

LIVE BLOG: Tuesday, July 1st

I'm ringing in the new month and celebrating Ladies' Day (all four women's quarters will be played Tuesday) by doing a LIVE blog from 6 AM to 9 AM Mountain Time. Yes, my friends, I'm in the metropolitan known as Helena, Montana watching lots and lots of tennis.

You know you are jealous.

Swing by on your lunch break (East Coast), or breakfast (West), or perhaps dinner (London)!

Oh, and I'll have a video up tomorrow, too :)