Monthly Archives: February 2007

2007 San Jose, Marseille, Costa do Sauipe picks

Things are almost back to normal here after moving to a new house. I still have no refrigerator, no cold water in the kitchen and I don’t know where all my clothes are. Still, I was all ready to get back to picking the draws for each week’s tournaments when changed the blogging software on me. I’m telling you, I spend more time catching up to new versions of software than I do actually turning out new work. Anyway here goes, and hang in there, the ATP website has mentioned the upcoming ATP fantasy tennis season so stay tuned.

All tournaments are single elimination this week but there are plenty of round-robins coming up and that brings us to one of the problems with the round-robin format. Xavier Malisse only needed to win one set to advance past Rainer Schuettler and get into the quarterfinals at Delray Beach. He didn’t have to win the match, in fact, he ended up losing it after taking the first set. “You win a set and what are you playing for, there’s nothing to it anymore,” he said.

This has already been a problem in the year-end championships which are round robin events. You can be sure a professional tennis player is not going to exert themselves any more than they have to because the next match is more important than the current dead rubber. If you’re new to tennis, a dead rubber is a match that doesn’t affect the final standings. The current solution is to pay the players for winning more matches but that doesn’t work because the goal is to get the title, not win a bit more money.

San Jose (indoor hard court)

San Jose is an indoor hard court event but it’s slower than the average indoor court. That should still be fast enough for Andy Roddick to get a lot of aces. James Blake won Stockholm and Bangkok indoors last year so Blake and Roddick should meet in the final assuming that Roddick takes Andy Murray out in the semis and Blake and Roddick can recover from Davis Cup jet lag.

The indoor court should also help our guy Benjamin Becker. In case you’re new here, Becker is our adopted son, we’ve been following him since he was playing challengers last year and we’re thrilled that he’s playing Davis Cup this weekend proud parents that we are. And since we are proud parents, time to complain to Germany’s Davis Cup captain. Why on earth is Becker having to play the meaningless dead rubber – Germany beat Croatia 3-1 – when he has a tournament to play in San Jose this week? Anyway, Becker’s strength is his first and second serve so if he can stay awake he should get to a quarterfinal matchup with Marat Safin.

The real story of this tournament is the rise of U.S. players.

Sam Querrey is all the way up to 89 and plays Paul Goldstein in the first round. Goldstein beat Querrey in their only meeting last year but they are two ships passing in the night. Querrey is moving along at a fast clip and Goldstein is standing still – he started 2006 at number 70 and is now at number 73. But that one meeting was late last year and this is almost a home tournament for Goldstein who lives San Francisco so I’m going with him.

Robert Kendrick is ranked a few points higher than Querrey at 85 and could get to the quarters if he gets past Hyung-Taik Lee, definitely possible. Even Vince Spadea is showing some life. He got to the semis last week at Delray Beach and got to the quarters in Adelaide. I have him in the quarters here too. Last but not least, Mardy Fish is up to number 25 and could be the fifth U.S. player in the quarters.

By the way, keep your eye out for Benjamin Becker’s fellow German and former teammate at Baylor University, Benedikt Dorsch. His ranking is only 225 but he meets Kendrick in the final today at the Dallas challenger. Dorsch won the NCAA title in 2005 the year after Becker won it.

Marseille (indoor hard court)

Matt Cronin of says that Davydenko is injured. I don’t have details and Davydenko plays as long as no one has dropped a bomb so I’m going to ignore it. Rafael Nadal would have been the top seed but he strained a thigh muscle in training. I’m not sure about this guy, is he built well enough to play his bruising style of tennis?

Sebastien Grosjean is falling off the map. He ended 2006 at number 28 and he’s already down to 45 and it only gets harder as he meets top twenty Jarkko Nieminen in the first round. Marseille is Grosjean’s home country but I have him losing.

Poor Thomas Johansson’s ranking has plunged since he was accidentally hit in the eye with a ball and suffered a detached retina. He was number thirteen when he was injured and now he’s all the way down to 93.

Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet, the future of French tennis, meet in the second round. Gasquet is still ahead of Monfils but Monfils may have more potential. On the other hand, Gasquet hasn’t gone past the second round of an indoor hard court event in the past year so I have Nikolay Davydenko beating him.

Marcos Baghdatis and Novak Djokovic, the future of ATP tennis, should meet in the quarterfinals. Djokovic was 11-4 on indoor hard court last year while Baghdatis was 1-3 so I’m picking Djokovic to move on and meet Ivan Ljubicic in the semis. I expect Djokovic to lose that match by a hair leaving Ljubicic and his good friend and fellow Croatian Ancic to meet in the final.

Even though Ancic beat Ljubicic here last year, I think Ljubicic is pissed off about his ranking dropping and will take the title.

Costa do Sauipe (clay)

The French Open clay court season doesn’t really start until after the Miami Masters event but all of the dedicated clay courters are hard at work.

Wow, Agustin Calleri’s ranking is all the way up to 28. Alberto Montanes has beaten him all three times they’ve met but that was before Calleri became big time so I’m picking Calleri.

Martin Vassallo Arguello got to the semis at Vina del Mar and Gaston Gaudio has been sinking so I have Vassallo Arguello over Gaudio in the second round. I’m a bit uncomfortable saying this but I also have Vassallo Arguello over Juan Carlos Ferrero and into the semis because Ferrero has been slipping on clay. Both Gaudio and Ferrero are on the downside of their careers but Ferrero is fighting it. He got to the final at the Cincinnati Masters last year.

Since coming back from a drug suspension, Willy Canas has won six of the nine challengers he entered. Unfortunately, he’ll get Luis Horna in the second round and Horna got the Vina del Mar title two weeks ago.

Nicolas Almagro and Filippo Volandri should meet in the quarterfinals and it’s a tossup. Almagro had a fantastic clay court season but ran out of gas later in the year. The only thing we can say for sure is that Almagro is on his way up and Volandri is not. Therefore, I’ll give it to Almagro and put him in the final against Calleri. I have Calleri taking home the title and that completes this week’s theme perfectly: players on the way up passing players on the way down. That’s the way it is in professional sports. You’re either getting better or you’re on the way down. It’s brutal but it’s not that much different than most of life. I’m getting older, not younger.

Zero Counter

Zero counter adds up the matches between players who’ve never met on the tour before. The zero counter figure highlights the diluted product that is professional tennis. There are too many tournaments at the same time in different parts of the world which results in too few rivalries. You can’t have rivalries if players never meet. Round robin tournaments are a good step in the right direction so we’ll see how it affects the counter as the year goes on.

Ridiculous zero counter match of the week: David Ferrer and Arnaud Clement have never met on the tour even though Ferrer has been on the tour six years and Clement ten years. Absurd! A very close second, Jarkko Nieminen and Ivan Ljubicic have never met. Oy!

Twenty percent of the matches this week will be zero counter matches according to my picks. That’s down from the average of 30% last year for International Series tournaments but part of that is because the ATP site now includes challenger and futures matchups in their head to head records. We’ll see if it goes down further as we go along.

To see all three draws and my picks in those draws, click here.

Lucie leaps in: the Gaz Open

Let me see now, we have Justine Henin (#l), Amelie Mauresmo, (#2), and Nadia Petrova (#4), all of whom made it to the semi-finals today in the Gaz Open from Paris. The fourth entrant was a bit of a surprise. Get used to seeing her though, Lucie Safarova is going to be making a dent in draws this year. Today, unseeded, she took out Henin in straight sets, 7-6, 6-4 (the divorce went through, now Henin needs no more hyphenation of her last name thank God).

I can’t ever remember a Lucie being on the WTA Tour before. Such a sweet name! And such a sweet game too, unless you happen to be her opponent. She has a big game, very reminiscent, in fact, of her boyfriend, Tomas Berdych. She even resembles him a bit: both are tall, pale and contained on court. Lucie can hit long deep shots off both sides, she has a big serve and pretty good court coverage for a big girl. Best of all, she has some nerves to go with her big game.

She’s a 20-year-old from the Czech Republic now ranked number 32 although she will be moving up into the top 20s. after reaching the final She has already won three titles and I would not bet against her tomorrow against Nadia Petrova who may be out of gas. Or gaz, if you prefer. Not bad for a player who came out of nowhere to upset Amelie Mauresmo in two surprisingly easy sets in the Round of 16 at the Australian Open last month. Safarova made it to the quarterfinals where Nicole Vaidisova ended her run in two sets.

In her post-match presser she gleaned what made her game so successful today against Justine Henin: “Every time I wasn’t in control of the point I lost it. I’d never played her and was surprised how much she was attacking at the beginning. Being aggressive was my only chance to push her from the first moment; it was the only way to win.”

As for the other women’s semi-final between Nadia Petrova and Amelie Mauresmo, well, let’s just say that somebody finally won it. Thank God because for a while there it looked like we couldn’t give the damn thing away. Women’s tennis can sometimes get ugly and today was one of those days. Nifty shots followed God-awful ones. Mauresmo would win a few points and then go south mentally. Petrova held her own serve rather brilliantly but scarcely made inroads into Mauresmo’s serve. Until the very last point of the match when Mauresmo served a great first serve up the T that looked a sure winner only to have Petrova guess correctly and pass her cleanly on match point. The score was 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(7). The Parisian crowd seemed to enjoy the match but it became too mind-numbingly erratic for me to watch.

What’s with the décor at this stadium? The color scheme seemed hatched right out of Bed Bath And Beyond. Pastel purple running into pastel pink shading into darker purple. I guess the French have that thing going on too: blue is for boys, pink is for girls. Well, we got lots of nauseating pink here today, you’d think you’d stumbled onto a girly slumber party. But I was OK once I put my sunglasses on.

The French cheered long and lustily for Amelie trying to encourage her but to no avail today. They truly love this woman. Once again I find myself scratching my head over those French. Could we ever see a lesbian cheered so heartily in this country at a sporting event? One wonders. Didn’t seem to work for Billie Jean or Martina, who were never embraced the way the French have accepted Amelie. Both lost a lot of endorsement money when news of their private lives came out. Maybe someone new has to come along and test those waters.

In the meantime, GO LUCIE!

Listen In As We Pick Gasquet’s New Coach (Part 5)

(Part 5 of a conversation between Nina Rota and Pat Davis in which they pick a new coach for Richard Gasquet even though he doesn’t realize he needs one.)

Hi Pat,

O.k., we now have three coaches to choose from: my choice Jim Courier and your choices Mats Wilander and Paul Annacone. First of all, Gasquet can only have one coach so what’s up with choosing two for him? Can’t make up your mind? Come to think of it, Courier had two coaches, Brad Stine and Jose Higueras. It worked for him and I suppose it could work for Gasquet but it might be a bit expensive. He could just get the French tennis association to pay for it I suppose. “Look,” he could say, “the British tennis association is shelling out half a million pounds a year for Andy Murray so Brad Gilbert can be his coach. Why can’t you do that for me?”

By the way, after working with Courier, is it any wonder Higueras rolled his eyes when he was asked how it was to coach Guillermo Coria? Courier was one of the all time hard workers and Coria is a basket case. That relationship didn’t last very long.

The most obvious difference between Wilander and Annacone is coaching experience. Annacone has a lot of it and Wilander has very little. He coaches the Swedish Davis Cup team. On the other hand, that’s more experience than my choice, Jim Courier, who doesn’t coach anything or anyone. In Courier’s defense, Jimmy Connors didn’t coach before Andy Roddick called him up either.

Roddick was desperate and his desperation led him to make a bold choice in calling Connors. Are we both being uncreative, is there a bolder, more interesting choice that we’re missing? Unlike Amelie Mauresmo, I would not turn to Yannick Noah, even though he’s French and won the French Open. For advice maybe, for coaching, not likely. Henri Leconte got to the French Open final and also runs a tennis school but I don’t remember much about his game.

I’m not sure that matters. I don’t think the coach’s style of play matters as much as communication skills and strategical knowledge. Annacone could prove me wrong. He was a serve and volleyer and so was his long time charge Pete Sampras. Annacone currently coaches Henman who is also one of that dying breed.

By the way, I look at Gasquet as a power baseliner just like Courier. Gasquet might go to the net a bit more but he also blasts away from five or six feet behind the baseline when he plays on clay. When he beat Roger Federer at Hamburg in 2005, Gasquet was so far back he almost dropped off the television screen as he blasted that last backhand down the line and won the match.

Look at Connors and Roddick. Connors had a weak serve and his forehand was his weak side. Connors also excelled on all surfaces winning grand slam titles on grass, clay and hard court. Roddick has the fastest serve in the game, a good forehand and moves on clay as if it were sand.

I’m single and I complain all the time that I don’t have a lover. My friends ask me what I’m looking for and I tell them, “I’m looking for someone I connect with, there’s a spark, we get along well, we have a lot to talk about.” It’s the same thing for any relationship and when all is said and done, Gasquet will end up working with someone he connects with and, just as I don’t always like my friends’ choices in lovers, we may not agree with his choice. We’d be happy to advise you, though, Richard, if you asked us.

Listen In As We Pick Gasquet’s New Coach (Part 4)

We are lately debating the merits of Richard Gasquet acquiring a new coach. Nina, I am glad you agree that Gasquet needs a coach who is outside of the French federation. I’m sure Gasquet has seen enough of himself at a tender age on the cover of the French tennis magazines. He’d probably like to track down all copies and burn them. All of which leads me to conclude that tennis matters a lot more in Europe, Russia and South America than it does here in the States. In fact it’s probably slipped here since ten years ago when Sampras and Agassi made life interesting for us stateside.

If you want to grow up anonymously as a tennis player, it would be good if you were an American. You won’t find the same pressure from your countrymen the way Amelie Mauresmo and Richard Gasquet do. Not surprisingly, both players now reside in Switzerland, Land of the Ultimate Cool and Restraint. It’s the home of Federer, after all. They are really blase now, those Swiss. Perfect place to live! Ain’t neutrality grand? I’m surprised that half the French tennis crowd hasn’t moved there yet.

Nina, you ask whether players today are afraid of the treadmill. I think they are even though players are a lot fitter today. I would not say Gasquet is one of them. So his coach’s first order of business should be a solid training program. Then the fine tuning can begin.

Should Gasquet go for what Nina terms “a hard line” coach? I don’t think we want someone who would brutalize Gasquet the teddy bear, but certainly someone who possesses a strong work ethic, and who can recognize that it all starts with physical conditioning.

The key is not how well a coach can run poor Gasquet around, but how well he can communicate. Your hunch about Pete Sampras’ unsuitability as a coach may be correct; I think Pete can analyze well but his verbal fluency isn’t that great. I don’t see him entering the coaching arena at all, and probably not the commentary booth too much either.

Of course there is the other extreme and that’s where I would place Brad Gilbert. He is a coach who provides nearly non-stop verbal patter to his players. The man can’t stop communicating. This is his great strength, I would argue, but his style may be too “in your face” for some people. Ditto John McEnroe, a great player but one who is probably so idiosyncratic that he won’t find a good way to distill his experiences and pass them along. Actually his brother Patrick would make a better coach, and has. He couldn’t play nearly as well, but he can analyze and communicate more effectively than John.

Which raises an interesting point about coaches: does a great player necessarily make a good coach? Not at all, unless the player can step outside himself and see what he’s doing on the court. Some great players know how to do what they do instinctively but they may not be able to teach it or even recognize it themselves. A great player may not know how to make other players great.

When I was working with actors, our coach would stress that you need to communicate clearly and simply what you want from them. For some reason it feels very appropriate in this case too. He used to tell us to talk to actors until the light comes on in their eyes and then shut up. I always thought that was pithy, useful advice.

One of our readers this morning threw in the name of Mats Wilander. This is one of my two choices to coach Gasquet. The other would be Paul Annacone. Annacone’s claim to fame was his long-time association with Pete Sampras. Now he works part-time with Tim Henman. Annacone was not a great player by any stretch, but he has morphed into a really good coach with a calm, analytical style that also appears low-key. The question would be, however, does he want to move on after Henman retires and coach someone new like Gasquet?

Wilander is interesting because he was a great player who can analyze well and he has a style of game that can connect with Gasquet’s all-court play. Wilander won Slams on all four surfaces (he won the Australian Open when it was still played on grass). Mentally, Wilander was very very strong as a player. He is also hard-nosed. I heard his comments last year about Federer losing to Nadal in the Rome final. They were rather brutal, albeit true. It’s the way Mats said it that offended a number of people, but I recognize that sometimes you have to talk tough truth to power. I said that Roger took his foot off the gas at the crucial moment in that match; Wilander accused Federer of lacking balls. Same meaning in the end, but one came out a lot harsher. Does Gasquet need to be talked to in such a strong fashion? Maybe he does. Wilander’s Swedish matter-of-factness may be very good for someone like Gasquet.

Nina, I like the idea of Courier a lot too. He is a Francophile, but he is not part of the French system. The best of both worlds there. He’s got a good head and a steady game. But he may be so thrilled to have landed Sampras on his Seniors Tour that his time and energies may really want to go there.

Besides, the thing I wonder about Courier as Gasquet’s coach is this: Does a player need to have a coach who plays a nearly identical game? Or can they be miles apart? Should they be miles apart? Courier’s game is much more a power baseline game, while Gasquet is more about finesse and all-court play.

What says you, Nina?

Listen in as we pick Gasquet’s new coach (part 3)

(Part 3 of a conversation between Nina Rota and Pat Davis in which they pick a new coach for Richard Gasquet even though he doesn’t realize he needs one.)

Hi Pat,

I agree that Gasquet needs a new coach and though I don’t know enough about the French psyche to agree or disagree that the French players are too obedient, I also think his new coach should be outside the French tennis association. Every time Gasquet appears on television they show the French magazine cover he appeared on when he was 9 years old. A lot has been expected of him for many years and unhooking himself from the French tennis association might help relieve some of the pressure from those expectations.

As for Gasquet’s conditioning, physical that is, the two strongest images I have of the 2006 U.S. Open have a lot of cramping in them. First, the younger and much healthier Marcos Baghdatis cramps up in his marathon loss to the old man Andre Agassi. Then Gasquet, cramping so badly you can see his thigh muscles twitching, somehow manages to hobble over to a Lleyton Hewitt shot and hit the ball past Hewitt and down the line through a window that was a foot wide at best.

During the New York marathon this year, the New York Times ran an article about medical research related to cramping during physical exercise. Players often say that they have to be sure to hydrate themselves before a match in hot temperatures to make sure they don’t cramp up, but this research discounted the effect of dehydration on cramping and said that cramping was due to one, and only one, thing: poor conditioning. What’s up with these youngsters, are they afraid of the treadmill? How good could Gasquet be if he were stronger and fitter?

Yes, we both agree that he needs a new coach and now to your question: who should it be?

You wondered earlier, Pat, whether Gasquet would benefit from a hard line coach because he’s such a teddy bear. Honestly, is there a more affectionate ATP player out there than Gasquet? He always pats his opponent and makes physical contact some way or other. A hard line coach for a teddy bear? Bad idea. A marine drill sergeant could help a wayward, undisciplined soul but would probably just create resistance in a gentle soul. Besides, Jimmy Connors is already taken.

This is the era of superstar coaches getting upwards of a millions dollars a year – Brad Gilbert gets that anyway – so Gasquet should have a superstar coach too. Problem is, they’re all taken. So, in addition to telling Gasquet he needs a new coach even though he’s not looking for one, we may be picking a coach who doesn’t realize that he should be a coach.

But first, let’s look at established coaches. The best coach out there is probably the least known. Robert Landsdorp helped develop Tracy Austin, Pete Sampras and Lindsay Davenport and was, until he got tired of her father’s antics, Maria Sharapova’s coach. Really, Yuri Sharapov could have at least stayed on the court until the awards ceremony was over in the Australian Open this year even though his daughter lost badly to Serena Williams. He could have given Serena the respect she deserved.

Lansdorp, though, is not a traveling coach and he’s probably better at developing players than coaching an established player. He’s also an outspoken guy. He’s not in the least bit shy about calling out his players or their fathers and Gasquet might prefer someone more low key.

Now let’s look at retired tennis players. This could be a problem because Andre Agassi has better things to do than traipse all over the world following Richard Gasquet around. Brad Gilbert was a good ATP player but he was no superstar and anyone that was a superstar doesn’t need the money or fame that coaching would bring. Jimmy Connors is an exception but then he has a mandate. Besides supporting U.S. tennis by restoring Andy Roddick’s confidence, he’d like to pass on what his beloved mother, Gloria, taught him. He loved and revered his mother to a fault. I’ve had tennis coaches tell me that they helped Jimmy make changes in his game only to hear Jimmy credit his mother with the change.

John McEnroe is an absolute no no. A short stint as the Davis Cup captain was more than enough evidence. You can’t publicly browbeat modern tennis professionals into playing Davis Cup. They have way too much power.

Pete Sampras? He played by feel, he’d work his way into a tournament. Clearly you don’t win 14 grand slams without good strategical skills and he may be a good communicator but I haven’t seen it yet and there are ex-superstar players out there who have demonstrated that they are good communicators.

Which brings us to my choice: Jim Courier. Here are his credentials:

1. He reached the number one ranking in the world.
2. He won four slams, two at the French Open.
3. He had a French girlfriend.
4. He celebrated his 1992 French Open title by giving an acceptance speech in French (quick reminder, Gasquet is French).
5. He’s a soft spoken, intelligent guy with strong analytical skills that are very evident in his job as a television commentator.

Does he want to coach? Dunno. But he has said that he’d like to captain the Davis Cup team whenever Patrick McEnroe is ready to give up the job so there’s hope.

Okay, back to you Pat. Agree or disagree with my choice? If not, what you got?