Thursday, January 31, 2008

Where Are They Now: Guillermo Coria

Four years ago Guillermo Coria was poised to take the French Open after a steady rise up the ranks.

So this week, as Coria returned to the ATP Tour with a protected ranking just out of the top 100, you can't blame the Argentine for setting his hopes high. Though the former world no. 3 had once claimed tennis' best backhand, he'd fallen fast - and hard - with injuries, and, later a fight for his reputation after being accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Now, the '04 French Open runner-up has a chance to clear his name and resurrect a career that has crumbled before our eyes. Here's a glance at the final few games in which underdog Gaston Gaudio completed his come-from-behind win to beat clay king Coria in five sets:

Coria played in Vina del Mar along with Gaudio, both trying to make their comebacks onto the ATP Tour. With any luck, we might see both former top 5 players back in fine form.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tennis Chatter: The Hangover

It seems like it always takes a couple weeks to get fully re-oriented after the fervor a grand slam brings. I call this the "hangover." There have, although, been some developing stories this week along with the much-anticipated first round of Federation Cup play on the women's side while the men open play next week for Davis Cup.

The United States women are without the Williams sisters but have Lindsay Davenport leading the charge this weekend against Germany in a tie played in California. Barring a disastrous showing from Davenport and company (Granville, Harkleroad and Raymond), the Americans should move on from here. Check out the link above for a complete first-round preview.

There's been much abuzz about Novak Djokovic's major win at the Aussie on Sunday, and not just about the Serb himself. Tennis experts across the globe are declaring a three-way race for number one has begun featuring Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. If you remember, however, Fed has few points to defend at the Pacific Life and the Nasdaq (the "Canas weeks") while Nadal and Djokovic are the respective defenders of said titles.

Much excitement has occurred for me in the channel of fellow bloggers this week. My friend Erwin received some ink in Australia's Daily Telegraph for his coverage on everyone's favorite new eye candy, Novak Djokovic. Meanwhile, my fellow Montanan Matt debuted his brand-new line of Ranting Details t-shirts that are hot off the press. If you're looking for something stylish and simple, grab one for yourself!

The always-thoughtful Jon Wertheim gave us his thoughts through week one, but now I'm just waiting on the tournament wrap. If you haven't seen the "Mailbag" halftime version, check it out.

And finally, Christopher Clarey completed his refreshing coverage of the Australian Open with a piece on Djokovic and Maria Sharapova's hardships in reach the top of the tennis game.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Season Continues

The tennis season has just begun with the Aussie Open, not ended. I hope to be posting some of my post-tournament thoughts sometime this week, but here's a few nuggets.

To me, this Aussie was one of the best grand slams in recent history. There were plenty of entertaining matches, lots of dramatic ones, and a cast of characters that displayed a will to win through 14 days of tennis. There was something about the spirit of this tournament that has gone unmatched in tennis as of late. Perhaps it was just me feeling awe-inspired by the Aussies, but I feel that this major was a turning point in many ways.

Already, the ATP has weighed in on its site with the "Top 10 Memorable Melbourne Moments."

Turning to current tennis, the men are in action at Vina del Mar, the sole tournament on tap this week. Fernando Gonzalez is the top seed where he is joined by Juan Ignacio Chela, Juan Monaco and my favorite, Fernando Verdasco.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Djoko Wins AO

Tennis is looking a little more crowded at the top after the year's opening grand slam ran its course over the last two weeks.

Novak Djokovic continued his brilliant run with a four-set win over surprise finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to win his first grand slam title.

His elation following the win was apparent, as he played in a major final for the second straight time. This time, it was his tournament to win. I'm guessing we're going to see lots, lots more from this enjoyable youngster.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Motivations of a Runner-Up?

Ana Ivanovic didn't win in Australia yesterday, but don't think that's the last you'll see of the 20-year-old Serbian on the grand stage of major finals.

Ivanovic, who honed her game during the cold Eastern European winters in a pool-turned-tennis court, is just getting started as a mature WTA contender.

There was obviously no love lost between Ivanovic and her defeater, Maria Sharapova. The two barely touched hands at the net, while avoiding eye contact and making their way to their post-match stances. Furthermore, the stood awkwardly feet apart during the trophy ceremony before being called on stage, making zero effort to appear friends in any manner.

But for Ivanovic, this was her real arrival on the grand slam circuit. The French Open was her warm-up last year, when she froze her way to a dismal loss to Justine Henin but still grinned ear-to-ear at the chance of just being there. Yesterday, instead, she spoke of lost chances and frustration that she didn't capitalize when she could have. She even got a little emotional on the podium, saying that it all "meant a lot" to her.

The reason I point all this out is that I believe Ivanovic is the real deal. She has the game, the athleticism, the size. She's the complete package in the world of professional tennis, and the emotion and drive just make her more of a threat to win countless slams in her burgeoning career.

Her motivation is clear, so now for Ana, it's not if - it's when.

Queen Maria

She's three for four in grand slam finals.

Maria Sharapova outclassed Ana Ivanovic in the finals of the Australian Open on Saturday afternoon in Melbourne.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Serbian Slam?

We're two matches away from a Serbian slam. Could it really happen?

Ana Ivanovic takes on Maria Sharapova while Novak Djokovic faces the unknown power of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in what promises to be a tremendous final weekend of what has already been an entertaining Australian Open.

Djokovic stunned us all with his decisive three-set win over tennis god Roger Federer and now takes on seed-killer Tsonga in the final. The two have never met on the pro tour or at the junior level.

Ivanovic escaped Daniela Hantuchova in the semifinals after a dismal start, winning the match 0-6 6-3 6-4. Hantuchova, true to form, literally crumbled before our eyes in the final set, reminiscent of her performance against an injured Serena at Wimbledon last year. Poor Dani. Poor, miserable Dani.

Watch here as Hantuchova misses one of the easiest volleys you'll ever see a pro tennis player miss:

My favorite of favorites, Mary Carillo, gives her take on Djoko's win over Federer:

Christopher Clarey writes a great preview for tomorrow (today's?) final between Ana and Maria.

Predictions: Sharapova defeats Ivanovic 6-3 7-6(2).
Djokovic defeats Tsonga 2-6 6-4 6-1 7-5.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

That's Tsonga. T-S-O-N-G-A

I promised myself that if Jo-Wilfried Tsonga did the unthinkable (beat Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of the Australian Open) that I would give the 38th-ranked Frenchman a tag on the blog.

Well, he's earned his due.

Tsonga literally couldn't miss in his three-set trump of Nadal, and that's just what he'll have to achieve on Sunday against Roger Federer or Novak DJokovic to walk away with the upset title of this decade. Tsonga's high level of play has been maintained for six impressive matches, making him the Marcos Baghdatis of 2008, a similar feat the Cypriot achieved here two years ago.

So does he have a chance in Sunday's final? I would've given him as much of a chance as I did to beat Nadal. But now, tag-and-all, Tsonga has all my respect. And, a little bit of a chance.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

School and Semis and Sickness! Oh My!

Well, the three things consuming most of my time right now in life are listed in the title of this post, but sadly I'll get to them in that order. School comes first (as usual), while the sickness just lingers in all that I do, making it nearly impossible to find any time for those precious semifinals.

But, alas, this is a tennis blog - so let's talk semis! As my good friend Troy pointed out, Serbia is SO the new Belgium. With the Serbian sweep of the Williams sisters, we have an interesting three matches remaining to determine who will walk away the women's title.

Semifinal one:
(5) Maria Sharapova versus (3) Jelena Jankovic Head-to-head: Sharapova leads 3-1.

Though Maria holds a 3-1 edge in their head-to-head record, the two have played just once in the last 30 months. That affair was won by Jankovic on grass 7-5 in the third. Needless to say, Maria has been rather on fire as of late. She brushed off Davenport in the second round like she was some desperate housewife, not a comeback player on a tear. From there on out it's been sheer brilliance, highlighted by her straight-set drubbing of Justine Henin.

If there was ever a model for tournament progression, however, Jelena Jankovic would be it. She struggled early, including her epic win over Tamira Paszek and then a rough-tumble-affair with Virginie Razzano. But the last three rounds have looked good from Janky, and her win over Serena will boost her confidence to new-found levels.

Prediction: I'm still sticking with Maria here, who will win her third slam and first Aussie after dispatching Jankovic 3-6 6-2 6-4 in the semifinals.

Semifinal two:
(4) Ana Ivanovic versus (9) Daniela Hantuchova Head to head: Ivanovic leads 2-1.

Could Daniela Hantuchova really make a grand slam final?

It's certainly a possibility, but the way Ivanovic is playing, it's a small one. I give Hantuchova a miniature chance for these two reasons: Ivanovic's nerves and Hantuchova's grit. Dani might be one of my least favorite players, but she can play out when she needs to. Therefore, if nerves sneak into Ivanovic's repertoire and she starts to spray, watch out for the Slovak.

Check out Ivanovic's power and precision (at the net, too!) against Venus in the quarters:

If you haven't noticed yet, I follow the women's tour a little more than the men's. It's nothing against the boys, I just think the girls play a more interesting game.

The semifinal match-up between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will be beyond interesting, however. Both men have been playing incredibly, with Fed overcoming Janko Tipsarevic in the third round before steam-rolling Tomas Berdych and James Blake on his way to the semis (See Blake clip below).

As much as I'd love to see the Djoker breakthrough here and win his maiden slam, it's extremely difficult to forecast a win for the Serb over the brilliance that is Federer. My prediction: Federer in four.

As far as Rafael Nadal is concerned, he has a hard-hitting Frenchman awaiting him in the semifinals. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga started this tournament with a bang and really hasn't stopped his drumbeat, beating three seeds in five matches while dropping just two sets while doing so.

Fairytale runs often see reality once again once the semifinals are set, and for Tsonga, his story ends here, against Nadal. Here's looking forward to a Fed-Nadal final and four great semifinal matches to come!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Day of 'Upsets'?

Maria Sharapova put an emphatic end to Justine Henin's 33-match winning streak with a 6-4 6-0 overwhelming of the top seed in the women's quarterfinals.

Notice how uncomfortable, annoyed and frustrated Henin looks in this clip. Embarrassment was something Henin probably felt in her first straight-set loss at a grand slam since the same player beat her in the 2006 US Open final.

Earlier in the day, Jelena Jankovic took advantage of poor serving and a barrage of unforced errors from defending champion Serena Williams on her way to a surprising 6-3 6-4 win.

It's hard for me to distinguish which is more surprising: that Serena lost, or that Jankovic won. At 4-5 serving in the second, Williams had a 40-15 lead to even things. But it wasn't to be as she netted a backhand and then felt the punish of one of Jankovic's trademark backhands down-the-line to send the game to deuce. From there, the match belonged to the Serb.

So now a Sharapova-Jankovic semi is set, a match few thought would occur. It's hard to call this one... Sharapova is playing hot, but as Jankovic showed against Serena, she really is the best retriever in the game. I'm going to give it to Sharapova in three: 3-6 6-2 6-4.

On the men's side, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga continued his baffling run by beating Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets while everyone's favorite fist pumper Rafael Nadal mirrored Tsonga's performance with a three-and-out win over Fin Jarkko Niemenen. Rafa should have his hands full with Tsonga in the semis, the winner to advance to his first-ever AO final.

Monday, January 21, 2008

MIA: Karolina Sprem

Am I the last in the world to realize that Karolina Sprem hasn't played a match since May?

The former Wimbledon quarterfinalist (you remember, "The Call") had fallen out of the top 50 in the last couple years, but still maintained her groundstrokes and guile. Even her web site is out of order.

Is her career over? Thoughts, news and opinions are welcome! I'm as curious as you!

She certainly looks healthy in this clip, from Rome last year, her final(?!) tournament.

The Latest Videos

In case you've missed the last couple days of tennis, here are some videos of the quality tennis that has been occurring.

Novak Djokovic spoils Lleyton Hewitt's run with a 7-5 6-3 6-3 fourth round win.

Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga keeps on rolling with a win over countryman Richard Gasquet to make his first-ever grand slam quarterfinal with a 6-2 6-7(5) 7-6(6) 6-3 win.

And Ms. Boring herself, Daniela Hantuchova played some quality tennis to oust Maria Kirilenko in her breakthrough slam performance. The Slovak won this one 1-6 6-4 6-4.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Halfway There: The Best Slam (Ever)?

Are we halfway done with the best grand slam in recent history? Ever?

It may seem so.

On the women's side, 37 of the completed 120 matches have gone to three sets (30.83%). Of those 37 three-setters, six of them have gone extra innings, including Jelena Jankovic's gripping 12-10 first round win over Tamira Paszek.

A quick glance at those matches that have gone the distance:
1. Su-Wei Hsieh def. Klara Zakopalova 2-6 6-4 8-6 (First round) 225 total points.
2. Jelena Jankovic (3) def. Tamira Paszek 2-6 6-2 12-10 (First round) 261 total points.
3. Casey Dellacqua def. Karin Knapp 4-6 6-3 8-6 (First round) 221 total points.
4. Katarina Srebotnik def. Lourdes Dominguez Lino 4-6 6-0 9-7 (First round) 212 total points.
5. Alisa Kleybanova def. Peng Shuai 7-5 4-6 9-7 (First round) 234 total points.
6. Casey Dellacqua def. Patty Schnyder (8) 4-6 7-5 8-6 (Second round) 221 total points.

While those were all thrilling encounters, upsets haven't riddled this year's AO like they have in the past. Six of the top eight women are through to the quarterfinals with 23 grand slam titles among them.

Phenomenal quarterfinal match ups include Justine Henin versus Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic taking on Serena Williams and Ana Ivanovic squaring off with her nemesis, Venus Williams.

This tournament has also been the home of a resurgent mother in Lindsay Davenport, who won her first grand slam match in over a year before falling to an on-fire Maria Sharapova in the second round.

Davenport hasn't been the only fairy tale of this fortnight. Australian Casey Dellacqua scored wins over Schnyder and Amelie Mauresmo on her way to the fourth round, her first appearance past the opening two days in six tries. Dellacqua, 22, will surge inside the top 50 when rankings come out in two weeks.

But while the women's tournament has been entertaining, the men's has been downright scintillating.

With just over 100 matches complete, the men have treated us to 19 five-setters, including four that have gone the distance.

Those matches were:
1. Juan Monaco (21) def. Amer Delic 6-3 7-6(6) 5-7 6-7(8) 8-6 (First round) 387 points.
2. Paul-Henri Mathieu (23) def. Stefan Koubek 4-6 7-6(4) 2-6 7-5 8-6 (Third round) 366 total points.
3. Philipp Kohlschrieber (29) def. Andy Roddick (6) 6-4 3-6 7-6(9) 6-7 (3) 8-6 (Third round)
4. Roger Federer (1) def. Janko Tipsarevic 6-7(5) 7-6(1) 5-7 6-1 10-8 (Third round) 375 total points.

Those last two matches, featuring Roddick and Federer, have been much of the talk in the last few days. Roddick's inability to overcome an impressive challenge from Kohlschrieber and Federer's triumph over Tipsarevic shows just how different of paths the two have taken since they both won their first grand slams in 2003.

Lleyton Hewitt has become somewhat of a local hero again, vaulting himself into the fourth round after a couple of difficult victories. Most notable is his five-set win over Marcos Baghdatis, the 2006 finalist. Hewitt won that match just before 5 a.m. a couple of days ago, and finds his path only more difficult with a fourth-round encounter with Novak Djokovic.

Roddick hasn't been the only upset of the tournament. The other Andy, England's Andy Murray crashed out in the first round after making a quick start to the year by winning Doha. Murray found success here last year, making the quarterfinals and co=authoring a masterpiece of a match with Rafael Nadal.

So if the second seven days are anything like the first, we're in for quite the end to the 2008 Australian Open. And by then we'll figured out just how good this slam has been this year.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tennis Chatter: Lazy Saturday

It's Saturday. And it's very gray in Seattle. And I'm still in bed... with a terrible head ache and a sore throat (no, I didn't go out last night... I have a cold!). I am going to be a man of few words tonight, but I would like to say that my prediction for the Tipsarevic-Federer affair wasn't too far off, right? Okay, that's enough horn-tooting for now.

James Blake saves the American flag with a remarkable come-from-behind win to beat Sebastian Grosjean in the third round. Way to go James! Another five-set win for you.

Meanwhile, the Fed outlasted my favorite Serb, Janko Tipsarevic in five thrilling sets last night as well, showing some of his vulnerability. Roger Federer now faces Tomas Berdych in the fourth round. Here are post-match comments from Tipso:

If you missed this piece by Joel Drucker over at ESPN, check it out. It's the top five women's matches at the Aussie over time, which pits the 2002 final between Jennifer Capriati and Martina Hingis at the top (which I whole-heartedly agree with).

And I also wanted to put up a better, longer clip of the Andy Roddick rage that occurred a couple nights ago. This is from ESPN, so it might get taken down in the near future. It has Roddick screaming at the umpire, the written text of what he's saying and the always-reliable Cliff Drysdale keeping us updated on what's "really" happening.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Andy Goes AWOL (And Loses)

Andy Roddick got mad last night at the Australian Open. Real mad.

During his five-set loss to German Philipp Kohlschreiber, Roddick accused chair umpire Emmanuel Joseph of being an "idiot."

Pardon the poor video quality, but I think you'll enjoy this little clip of madness:

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A King's Path

Things couldn't have been easier yesterday for Roger Federer as he rolled past junk-master Fabrice Santoro in three quick and painfully lopsided sets in the second round of the Australian Open 6-1 6-2 6-0.

It was an especially daunting win by Federer, the world no. 1, after Santoro had much hoopla about his chances to beat the Swiss to the press. But the game of slice, dice and a little bit of luck was no match for Federer, who hit 53 winners in the 81 minute affair.

I usually try to steer away from writing about the Fed because of the frightening amount of coverage the King receives by today's media. He is a global super star in every way, a diplomat of the sport both socially and politically. When I interned at TENNIS Magazine last summer, Online Editor Kamakshi Tandon told me that anything they put up on Federer was sure to be gold. In other words, he is tennis' ultra superstar.

But with two rounds complete and just six games lost, Federer has been both brilliant and boring in his dominance of the Aussie thus far. In round three, however, the King's Path gets a bit rocky.

In the round of 32, Federer has a date with the Prince of Serbia - Janko Tipsarevic. Tipso's surge into the top 50 has been overshadowed by the rage that is Novak Djokovic, but the 23-year-old had a breakout tournament at Wimbledon last year, and has established himself as a dangerous floater here.

Though it's rather doubtful that Tipsarevic could actually pull the upset on the Mighty Fed, it wouldn't be too far fetched to say that the Serb may take a set - or two - from the man with 12 grand slams.

From there on out, things only get more difficult for the defending champ. In the fourth round, a possible match-up with Czech Tomas Berdych looms. Berdych hasn't lost a set in his first two matches, and has been broken just three times in six sets played. Their one meeting on hard courts, back at the Olympics in '04, was won by Berdych in three tight sets.

In the quarters Fed could take on James Blake (who's 0-7 lifetime against the world no. 1) or Fernando Gonzalez, who won the last match-up between the two players at Shanghai. Needless to say, Federer has his work cut out for him to get to the semifinals. But if history is any sort of predictor, the Fed will have his way not only with these players, but with the entire draw.

And for any of you who missed the delightful five-setter last night between Marcos Baghdatis and Marat Safin, catch it here:

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Showdown: Maria Victorious

Maria Sharapova was firing on all cylinders last night in her 6-1 6-3 win over a resurgent Lindsay Davenport.

See the last two games here:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

From the Betting Scandal to Pepper Spray

First fixed matches, now this?

If you look closely, you can see the police officer in the background spraying the crowd with pepper spray:

And in case you haven't noticed, Patty Schnyder loves extra-inning matches. The Swiss was again extended the long route at a grand slam, the 13th time she's been involved in a match that's gone past the traditional 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 etc., score in the final set.

This time it was hometown favorite Casey Dellacqua beating the no. 15 seed 4-6 7-5 8-6 in the second round. Dellacqua hit 50 winners during the two=plus hour match and wound up with one more point than Schnyder, 111-110. The last time Schnyder bowed out of a major in such dramatic fashion was at last year's French against Maria Sharapova.

The Djoker Doesn't Stop

Novak Djokovic loves doing impersonations. And the fans love watching. Check out his latest (this one of Maria Sharapova) from after his first-round win yesterday at the Aussie.

Day Two: The Mighty Fall (More Often)

Marion Bartoli. Lucie Safarova. Agnes Szavay. What do all three of these women have in common? They all had a fantastic 2007 season (going 133-62 collectively).

After day two of the Australian Open, however, they now have another thing in common: they all crashed out in the first round.

Bartoli and Szavay both lost three-set affairs, while Safarova was dominated in straight sets. While Bartoli's slayer was more well-known Swede Sofia Arvidsson, who's lingered inside the top 100 for the last few years, Szavay lost to Ekaterina Makarova (just her fourth grand slam match, ever) and Safarova fell to Catalina Castano (currently ranked 139).

All three women have come to find much more notoriety and expectation over the last year - especially Bartoli, who was a finalist at Wimbledon just six months ago. But the Australian summer sun and the weight of grand slam expectation seemed to weigh to heavy on the shoulders of these women, all who are in their early 20s.

Here are the final few games of Bartoli-Arvidsson, in which the Swede won 6-7 6-4 6-3.

The loss was particularly stinging for Safarova, who beat then-defending champion Amelie Mauresmo here last year on her way to her first-ever grand slam quarterfinal appearance. Safarova even defeated Justine Henin last year at the Paris Indoors, before struggling for the rest of the season with injury and consistency. Here are highlights from her '07 win in Paris:

The three women were the highest seeds to fall in the tournament thus far.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Day One Videos

One feature that I'm adding into the blog this year is a more consistent posting of tennis videos. For all of us - whether we have ESPN, The Tennis Channel, Versus or none of the above - tennis is a hard sport to find on the tube. More importantly, producers aren't always interested in what is sometime the most compelling tennis (rather than watching Federer close out a 6-0 6-0 6-0 win). Therefore, I'm going to be combing sites like YouTube and DailyMotion in hopes of finding some great snippets that we would otherwise not be able to find.

Day one featured that stunning match of Jelena Jankovic and Tamira Paszek. Though's Tom Perrotta wasn't a big fan of this match, the final point shows just how much emotion was thrown into this three-plus-hour match. Perrotta also takes issue with the speed of the courts, but I'm more worried about the color: blue just isn't the same as that classy Aussie green!

Keeping on subject of court surface and the Australian Open, here's a video from way back when the Aussie was played on grass. It features the 1975 men's final between John Newcombe and Jimmy Connors. Newcombe, the Aussie, won the match in four sets 7-5 3-6 6-4 7-6 (7).

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Davenport Squeaks By, Too

Lindsay Davenport joined Jelena Jankovic in the "just barely" column today by beating unknown Italian Sara Errani 6-2 3-6 7-5 in the first round.

The last time Davenport was stretched to such great lengths in a first-round match at the Aussie was in 1994, when she beat Canadian star Patricia Hy-Boulais 3-6 6-2 7-5. Davenport would go on to the quarterfinals of that tournament, losing to world no. 1 Steffi Graf in straight sets.

The American has a potential match-up with Maria Sharapova in the second round, a bit harder than her '94 second round opponent: Wiltrud Probst.

My favorite Canadian (no, not Hy-Boulais) Frank Dancevic fell in five sets in his first match while the American trio of Mardy Fish, Jesse Levine and Andy Roddick are all through to round two.

If you're not in an Aussie mood yet, maybe this commercial will get you there:

Day One: Janky is Through, Just Barely

Jelena Jankovic is through to the second round of the Australian Open after an excrutiating battle with Austrian up-and-comer Tamira Paszek. Jankovic won the match 2-6 6-2 12-10.

After an extensive 2007 season, Jankovic has cemented herself inside the top 10 of women's tennis, and has even given some of us valid reason to believe she might be a slam contender. But her shaky start to the '08 Aussie tells the rest of the field that her fragile shell is undoubtedly crackable.

Not to take anything away from Paszek, who was a success story in '07 and will continue to make waives in 2008. It would've been a grand upset for the 41st ranked Austrian. She served for the match at 9-8 in the third set, but lost four of the last five games.

In a tournament that has already seen Serena Williams and Justine Henin breeze past their opening-round opponents, perhaps we can look forward to some lengthy and competitive battles on the women's side.

Aussie Open: Here We Go!

Believe it or not, the first slam of the year is nearly underway! has pulled out all the stops for the Aussie Open coverage.

The official AO web site also always has great material including video, audio and pictures. I love their live scoreboard and radio, both of which I use extensively since I'm a TV-less college student.

Erwin at Tennis Served Fresh. always has tremendous stuff on the slams (particularly the fashion, of course) and will bring in a contributor or two to give some different perspectives.

And don't forget the tour's official web sites (men's and women's).

Oh, and this is one of a few stories that the NYT is doing surrounding the tournament, as well.

Those are the sites I will be frequently, along with wherever the mouse might take me. Any other suggestions?

Friday, January 11, 2008

TGIF: Tennis Chatter

Justine Henin just keeps winning tennis matches. The world no. 1 beat Ana Ivanovic in a hotly contested three-set match in the semifinals at Sydney to extend her winning streak to 27 matches. The last player to beat Henin? WTA resident cafeteria expert Marion Bartoli.

Chris Guccione is the Marina Erakovic of the week at Sydney. Man, I love these Cinderella stories. Hopefully, we'll see a few at the big show in Melbourne next week.

Did you expect anything different from the DUD?

The men's draw is up for the Aussie. Federer has Verdasco, Isner and Tipsarevic early - is he ready for that?

Meanwhile, the women are all drawn up, too. All eyes are on: a Sharapova-Davenport second-round showdown. Winner gets Justine in the quarters.

Speaking of that match-up, here's Davenport's frighteningly bad finish to the Wimbledon 2004 semifinals.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

DUD: Down Under Dokic (And Why She's Done)

I'm so done with Jelena Dokic.

Living alone in Seattle has taught me one important lesson: be prepared. Be prepared for bad weather; be prepared when you leave the house for a 12-hour day; be prepared that things might not go the way you hoped they would; be prepared to miss that bus - and be okay with it.

While I respect - and often admire - the comeback athlete, Jelena Dokic's comeback has run its course time and time again. There's a time to say that enough is enough and hang up your string dampeners and grip tape. But it's not because I don't like Jelena, it's because she just hasn't been prepared.

In 2004, Dokic began suffering from a right elbow injury that would eventually contribute to her fall out of the top 100 in the rankings. Now, four years later, the 24-year-old has been knocked down yet again by injury - this time to her ankle - and finds herself in doubtful shape to qualify for the Australian Open.

The Dokic story has always been a little topsy-turvy, with a publicly high-tempered father and a tennis diva attitude to match. After her incredible breakthrough onto the tennis scene at Wimbledon in 1999, when she beat world no. 1 Martina Hingis in straight sets on her way to the quarterfinals, Dokic became a regular inside the top 20, and even parked herself comfortable in the top 10 for much of 2002.

But injury and fatigue would get the best of Dokic, and she finished 2006 ranked outside the top 500 for the first time in her career, reduced to playing satellite and challenger tournaments just to make it.

Yet it wasn't because of a lack of talent in Dokic, that was something she always had. Rather, it was Dokic's lack of preparation that has gotten her in trouble. And now, in turn, her career has run its course because of it.

Repeated attempts back onto the WTA Tour over the last three years have been wildly unsuccessful for Jelena. Throughout these trials, Dokic has been said to be out of shape, emotionally unstable on court and constantly battling injury.

Whether or not Jelena has taken the necessary precautions to make a full-fledged return on the tour is something I'm not sure of. But the evidence leads to little preparation, and a more "Let's dive in head first" attitude than anything else.

So now, at 24, it's time for Jelena to take her goals elsewhere. Her tennis script has come to a close.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Tennis Chatter

A video has finally surfaced on the Tube of Youness of Na's win over Victoria Azarenka at the Gold Coast. Check out the last game here.

An inside source tells me that Maria Sharapova lost her bags en route from Singapore to Australia. The Russian, who played an exhibition in Singapore before heading down to Australia for AO preparations, blamed the airlines for losing her luggage. Hopefully Maria can overcome this hiccup to give us a little better of a performance in Melbourne than last year.

If you like Andy Roddick, then you'll love this clip of him on the Weakest Link a couple years ago. He's his usual, sarcastic self.

And in case you missed it, tennis' favorite clay courter, Gustavo Kuerten, is calling it quits after the 2008 season. How cool would it be to see Guga go out with another Roland Garros title? A boy can dream.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Week One Wrap; Videos

Believe it or not, the first week of the 2008 tennis season is over. It always shocks me how fast time can move, and the tennis world is always a prime example of that. The season's end turns into exhibition season which turns into the holidays and before we know it, the Australian Open is just a week away.

No one has made more of the last three months in tennis than Lindsay Davenport. The American has stormed back onto the tour and has looked better than ever. Her victory in Auckland this week may go unnoticed by the big shots in tennis, but Davenport has made on thing clear: she's back compete, not just to play. Davenport beat up-and-comer Tamira Paszek in the semifinals before dismissing Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai for her 54th career title. Video to come.

Meanwhile, China's top woman, Li Na, made her comeback to the tennis tour with a win in Gold Coast. Na is China's only hope for an Olympic run. The 25-year-old is China's highest ranked player, and with a lethal baseline game - including a massive forehand - Na can only improve before Shanghai. Video to come.

Rafael Nadal won a Spanish battle in India, saving four match points to beat Carlos Moya in the semifinals at Chennai. Can Moya have another stellar year? It's certainly possible. If you want to be wowed, watch the highlights below.

And for your enjoyment, the always-entertaining Novak Djokovic with countrywoman Jelena Jankovic at the Hopman Cup. Can anyone see these two playing mixed in the majors? I would love that!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Underdogs Version: Men and Women

Now that the tennis year is in full swing, I thought it might be time to do something a little less predictable; something other than the top 10. 2007 was full of breakout artists: Ivanovic, Jankovic, Djokovic...and those are just the Serbs that caught our attention!

Here's a short list of players I think will make big noise in '08:
Lindsay Davenport
World rank: 72 '07 record: 13-1 Highlight: Winning two of three tournaments in her baby-in-tow return.

Lindsay Davenport was the feel-good story of the fall while the tennis world was engulfed in a storm of scandal that included the on-going betting scandal, Martina Hingis' bizarre re-retirement and speculation of a fixed exhibition series between the two GOATs.

Davenport's return isn't all about feeling good, however, it's about feeling great. The new mother blazed to a 13-1 record while collecting two titles and announcing a powerful return to the tour. The Californian has already committed to a full slam schedule (minus the French, of course) and has opened '08 with two wins already.

Prediction: It's hard to put Davenport up there with Henin (who she always struggled against), the Williamses and others. I think she'll no doubt make some noise at the slams, and may garner a runner-up trophy or two...but nothing more.

Tamira Pazsek
World rank: 41 '07 record: 33-18 Highlight: Making the 4th round at the USO (and beating Schnyder along the way).

Tamira Pazsek is the full package. The 17-year-old Austrian made the 4th round at both Wimbledon and the US Open on her way to finishing the year ranked 41st in the world. Her strong backcourt game was groomed for much of the year by Larry Passos, the former coach of Gustavo Kuerten. Though Passos and Pazsek have gone separate ways, the teen will certainly be a top 20 player by the end of the year.

Prediction: Top 20 by year's end along with a grand slam quarterfinal appearance (or two). In '09 she'll join Ivanovic, Jankovic and company in the "Slam Contender" category.

Agnes Szavay
World rank: 20 '07 record: 56-14 Highlight: Rising nearly 200 spots in the rankings in one calendar year.

Szavay won her first WTA title in Beijing this past fall, beating Jankovic in the final as the sixth seed. Her victory capped off what was an extremely impressive year for the Hungarian, who finished the year at No. 20 in the rankings following an impressive run to the quarters at the US Open.

Prediction: Szavay will continue her run up the rankings, but not quite at the pace she did in 2007. She doesn't have many points to defend early in the year, and could climb into the top 15 before the French. Expect her to hover there for the next year or so, before breaking in to the top 10 in '09 or '10.

Julie Ditty
World rank: 101 '07 record: 49-25 Highlight: Winning six matches at Quebec and making her first ever WTA semifinal
Vanderbilt grad Julie Ditty continued her steady rise up the rankings in 2007 with a flurry of wins on the ITF tour. Her best results, however, came on the WTA circuit in late fall, when she qualified for four straight tournaments including Quebec, where she made the semifinals.

Prediction: The lefty has the chance to climb up the rankings (much like Szavay) early in the year. She'll be top 80 by the end of the year.

Janko Tipsarevic
World rank: 52 '07 record: 19-22 Highlight: His 8-6 in-the-fifth win over Fernando Gonzalez at Wimbledon.

Tipsarevic, the Prince of Serbian Tennis, made his mark on the ATP Tour last year by going 6-4 in the majors, including a dazzling performance at the All England Club. He won three straight five-set matches to advance to the 4th round before falling to a red-hot Juan Carlos Ferrero.

Prediction: Janko's cooky playing style, partnered with his speed and grit, will keep him in the top 50 this year. If he can stay healthy, and continue to feed off the positive energy of countryman Novak Djokovic, we could see him as a seeded player at Wimbledon and the USO.

Frank Dancevic
World rank: 72 '07 record: 18-19 Highlight: The quarterfinals at AMS Canada.

Frank Dancevic had quite the summer, where he went 7-2 and scored wins over Andy Roddick and Fernando Verdasco. After making the finals at Indianapolis, Dancevic wowed his hometown crowd in Canada by taking Rafael Nadal to three sets in the quarterfinals.

Prediction: The Canadian will continue to win matches with his rifle serve and dangerous one-handed backhand. He'll be top 50 by year's end, if not before.

Fernando Verdasco
World rank: 26 '07 record: 34-28 Highlight: Advancing to the 4th round at RG after seven straight losses.

This is the year for Fernando Verdasco. At least, that's what I say. After demonstrating so much talent and so little execution over the last few years, Verdasco, now 24, should solidify his place inside the top 20 in 2008. The success of Rafael Nadal has no doubt motivated his fellow Spaniards, and Verdasco, along with Feliciano Lopez should benefit from Nadal's success this year with some of his own.

Prediction: Top 20. Semifinals at the French.

The Men: A 2008 Preview (Top Ten)

I just finished reading an incredible article by James Martin about tennis players becoming less and less political. As Martin suggests, tennis is a political sport, a game that stretches around the globe and includes dozens (if not hundreds) of nations. Yet, without pioneers like Arthur Ashe to push the envelope, tennis players today are more likely to take cash for play.

Martin points out Amelie Mauresmo, the two-time slam winner. Mauresmo has been vocal about her support for tournaments in the Middle East, where the society is openly homophobic. It disappoints me that Mauresmo, as a strong-hearted lesbian, doesn't speak up more about issues like this. And where are the other gay tennis players? We all know that they're out there, both men and women. Why aren't these contemporary athletes speaking their minds and being true to who they are?

The point is, has cash continued its dominance over conscience in the world of tennis?

In any case, 2008 will prove to be a delicious year of tennis. Now that my predictions are in for the women, let's talk about the men:

Roger Federer
World rank: 1 '07 record: 68-9 Highlight: Capturing his fifth-straight Wimbledon in a hard-fought match over Rafael Nadal.

It's hard not to say a lot of good things about Roger Federer. The man is arguably the Greatest Of All Time and has his way with every opponent on the ATP when he's on his game. So after another banner year in 2007, I'm expecting more of the same from the man from Switzerland.

Prediction: Another three-peat for Roger. He'll take the cake at the Aussie, Wimbledon and the US Open, but still won't be able to break the clay-court spell of Rafael Nadal.

Rafael Nadal
World rank: 2 '07 record: 70-15 Highlight: Continuing his clay-court supremacy.

I can't help but love the speedster from Spain. Nadal has all the charisma you could want from a young tennis champion, and his style of play is something I tried (emphasis on tried) to emulate when I was playing competitive tennis. Nadal, however, has continued to struggle in proving himself as a versatile tennis player. Yes, he had a triumphant run at Wimbledon, where he battled rain, opponents and everything in between to make a run at Roger Federer and the All England title. But his record on hardcourts was 31-12 compared to 31-1 on clay, keeping his confidence at bay while continue to be the prince to King Federer.

Prediction: Another title in Paris, but won't repeat his All England magic.

Novak Djokovic
World rank: 3 '07 record: 68-19 Highlight: Establishing his place with the game's elite.

What a year 2007 was for Novak Djokovic. Like Jankovic, Djokovic has garnered my "Favorite" player title on the men's side. Like his personality, Djokovic's game grew in '07, and it will only continue to blossom in 2008.

Prediction: Djokovic will continue to win titles, just not slams...yet.

Nicolay Davydenko
World rank: 4 '07 record: 53-31 Lowlight: Will he ever give us the straight story on this scandal?

Cheater. Cheater. Cheater.

Prediction: I'm so fed up with Davydenko that I'm not even going to grant him the right to a prediction.

David Ferrer
World rank: 5 '07 record: 61-23 Highlight: Making the USO semifinals and compiling a 9-7 record against top 10 players.

Ferrer was simply fun to watch this season, especially during his run at the US Open. He lacks the weapons we all love to watch: the big gun that ends point with a bang. But Ferrer's grind, his speed and his tenacity certainly make him an enjoyable player to watch and a threat to any man opposite the net from him.

Prediction: I'm not quite sure if Ferrer can continue such a hot streak in 2008. The 25 year old has been a late bloomer, however, and has only improved each year on the tour since turning pro in 2001. Another top 10 finish certainly isn't out of the picture.

Andy Roddick
World rank: 6 '07 record: 54-16 Highlight: Leading the U.S. Davis Cup team to its first title since '95.

I'm not sure if there's a harder player to pinpoint than Andy Roddick right now. After achieving what he's worked so hard for this past month in winning the Davis Cup, it will be interesting to see whether Roddick can come out of the winter with the same work ethic he usually does.

Prediction: I can't help but think that 2008 will be much the same as '07. Roddick will linger with the likes of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, but won't be a threat at the majors like he once was.

Fernando Gonzalez
World rank: 7 '07 record: 37-24 Highlight: His awe-inspiring run to the Aussie final.

After the Aussie, Gonzalez went 31-23 on the year, and without Beijing and Rome, he would've been 23-21.

Prediction: Will slip out of the top 10, most likely back to the 20s or 30s.

Richard Gasquet
World rank: 8 '07 rank: 49-24 Highlight: His 8-6 in-the-fifth win over Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon
Gasquet had an up and down year, culminating at Wimbledon. After Wimbledon and through the USO, Gasquet went 3-4 before salvaging his year with a strong fall (including qualifying for Shanghai). Gasquet battled an injury, and still seems to be growing into his game - both mentally and physically.

Prediction: It's always hard to tell with Gasquet. But like Djokovic, I think this will be another year of maturation for the Frenchman. Perhaps he will go far for the first time at his home slam (perhaps the quarters or semis) and make a final at Wimbledon or the US Open.

David Nalbandian
World rank: 9 '07 record: 31-18 Highlight: A triumphant return to the upper echelon of tennis with two wins over Federer this fall (and two TMS titles to go along).

Is back. And seems poised to stay.

Prediction: If he's healthy, Nalbandian can play with the best. But if that gut re-appears, he'll once again slip into the oblivian of the 30s to 80s.

Tommy Robredo
World rank: 10 '07 record: 49-26 Highlight: Being consistent.

I have to admit that I didn't pay much attention to Tommy Robredo this last season. He's a seasoned player and has continued to be consistent, landing him inside the top ten for the second straight season.

Prediction: If he continues to do what he did this last year, including capturing two titles, I think Robredo might be a top 20 staple for a few years to come.