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.