Author Archives: pat davis

B**tch and Sing Dept: Springtime In Paris

No fun for Americans

We know it’s springtime in Paris, lots of American bodies are piling up on the red clay and it’s only Day 3. Gulp! Guess I had better be careful what I wish for next time. Around Monte Carlo, in a moment of realous gage, I seem to recall castigating the Americans for not showing up for the European clay season. A just punishment would be for all of them to lose their opening matches at Roland Garros, I wrote. Well, lo and behold, they have obliged us only too well.

This morning Andy Roddick led the way in losing to Igor Andreev in four sets, with James Blake following him in a four-set loss to big-serving Ivo Karlovic. The other Americans were not far behind: newcomer Sam Querry lost in five sets, Michael Russell lost in three, Amer Delic in four. Justin Gimelstob and Vince Spadea left the grounds also. The vote is still out on Ginepri: he is one set apiece against Diego Hartfield. Thank God for the Williams sisters, they’ll carry the banner now that the guys are nearly all dead.

We were backed up with rain delays the opening two days, with the net result being that 82 matches had to be played today, Tuesday. Yes, 82 matches. I went through the draw counting them, I could not believe there were so many.

Other upsets occurred today as well. Fernando Gonzalez had a tough opener against Radek Stepanek, but we would have expected Gonzo to find his way. He did not, and the Number 5 seed went out rather meekly in three sets. We looked forward to Del Potro maybe pushing Nadal a little, but only in the first set, which Nadal won 7-5 before closing it out in three. Hewitt continues to look good on clay, taking out Max Mirnyi in three sets. Baghdatis looked sharp in his three-set win over Grosjean, but another Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, got through another countryman in straight sets. The tall guy (Monfils) and the midget (Rochus, O.) put on a good five-set show before Monfils pulled it out.

On the women’s side, Nadia Petrova lost to the veteran doubles player Kveta Peschke. What has happened lately to Petrova? Ranked as high as Number 3 last spring, she has now dropped out of the Top Ten. Her back problem is still with her and her confidence seems shot. Jelena Jankovic and Nicole Vaidisova got through their first rounds easily, following Justine Henin and the Williams sisters yesterday. I want to feel some hope for them but it is too early to tell yet. Venus could likely run into Jankovic in the third round and in that case I would have to go with the Serb. She is exuding loads of confidence and might even be able to beat Henin if they see each other in the final, which could be likely.

But what about Roddick and Blake? When the draw came out I had a sinking feeling for Andy’s chances. Igor Andreev is not a guy Roddick would want to meet in the first round, especially on clay. The Russian Andreev can play well on this surface and he has beaten Roddick before on a hard surface at Indian Wells last year. Things looked good early for Roddick. He fought off three break points in Game 2 then another one in Game 5. With the confidence seemingly on his side, Roddick got the break himself for 5-3 then served the set out with an ace on set point. He got the early break in the second then had a chance to serve for a 5-3 lead. The wheels came off at this point: At 15-15 Igor whipped another massive forehand up the line for 15-30. Then, showing some nice touch, the Russian drew Roddick into net with a nifty dipping backhand slice then put away the forehand volley. Roddick made it 30-40 with a great second serve winner but the forehand of Andreev’s was really cranking now: the Russian unleashed another winner up the line and the score was now 4-4.

Andreev can be a cranky, volatile guy on court when things don’t go his way. He also gets really tight sometimes in the key moments. But his nerves held up today and the more he relaxed, the more he started making Roddick play his game. Andreev held serve at love for a 5-4 lead finishing with an ace of his own. Now it was Roddick’s turn to stay even. He dropped the first point then saw yet another Andreev forehand motor up yet another line and it was 0-30. Then Roddick dumped a silly backhand into the net. Just for variety he launched his own forehand way long and Andreev had the second set. That pretty much broke Roddick’s back and the Russian went on to win it in four sets.

As I watched the match, it seemed that Roddick’s serve was coming back an awful lot off Andreev’s racquet. The guy only had to block it back to get himself into the point. When Roddick served the kicker out wide he had better luck. Too many players seem able to read his serve too much of the time now. His return game still needs improvement too. Roddick could show a lot more aggression on his returns and get them deeper than he is. But the main trouble is still the attitude: Roddick perpetually gets into situations where he needs to play well on a few key points and he can’t deliver the goods. Does his concentration disappear? All it takes is a moment or two and the match is over and gone. Mentally he just can’t keep it together for the short length of time it takes to win those big points.

A disappointing day for Roddick and for Coach Connors, who was in attendance today and not looking very happy. As for James Blake, there were no answers when Ivo Karlovic starts serving well and steadily. Blake couldn’t move the big guy around enough to maneuver his own way into points. If anyone is dying to see the end of clay, it must be James. He tried to play his way into a fifth set but couldn’t do it. Hey, at least he wasn’t confronted with the prospect of trying to win another five-setter. James is 0-9 in those.

Welcome to the red clay, everyone!

See also:
Serena, Roger and Posh Spice
Familiar Final at the French Open (French Open preview)

B**tch And Sing Dept: A Hero’s Return

Federer Resuscitates Himself, Just In Time

In film school they used to yak at us about the mythical structures that occur in films and novels. The story of the Hero is a primal one: he rises, he doubts, he sputters, pitfalls occur, he may lose faith and purpose, he may part with the trusted souls who have helped him to this point. Then he reemerges, reinvents himself and is reborn. I thought of all this ancient stuff when I saw Roger Federer really take it to Rafael Nadal on this Sunday past in Hamburg. He even baked the lad a bagel in the final set. I thought for sure I had woken up not only on the wrong side of the bed but on the wrong planet.

If any athlete approaches the heroic ideal these days, it would have to be Roger Federer. I might be inclined to add Tiger Woods to that, but golf for me is not a sport requiring the same athletic skills as tennis. It is still rather mind-boggling to contemplate what happened on Sunday, especially given how strong Nadal looked in roaring through the first set, 6-2. I had hoped Federer would carry with him the imprint of how he had played in the second part of his semifinal match against Carlos Moya. He finally got his serve going, his forehand started to motor, and the level of aggression in his game had picked up. If he comes out doing that against Nadal, I thought, he may have a chance. Well, a chance to get a set off him at least. That was the best the Number One could hope for.

Instead he came out and looked rather flat in the opening set against Nadal. None of those aforementioned shots were working in his game. Nothing had been really working in Federer’s game for a while. The week before in Rome he lost a dismal match to a player far down in the rankings. Before that Guillermo Canas had rung his bell twice on Roger’s favorite hard court surface. The locker room was suddenly awash in newly-confident guys who now thought they all had a shot against the world’s number one. It seemed that the only thing Roger hadn’t misplaced was his coach. He got fired him instead.

That dismissal probably roiled Federer up good inside. Who knows, with his clay court season plans fast disappearing up in smoke, he may have even wondered why he was playing Hamburg at all. Now he was faced with the prospect of a long afternoon, having just dropped the first set to Nadal and giving no signs he was going to recover from the drubbing.

How did he turn it around? My co-writer Nina Rota put it this way…..”Who else coulda hung in there emotionally well enough to let his game emerge like that…he must have a deep reservoir of self-awareness and confidence.” She adds, “When Federer does something like this I wish I was a much better writer because he is transcendent and exceptional in a way that I’m not sure I have the language for.” We are still inventing that language, Nina, hang in there!

Theories are circulating as to why Federer started playing better in Hamburg. One suggests that Federer’s separation from Roche triggered a kind of emotional release. He wanted to separate from his coach for a while and was uncertain how to go about doing that. The men were friends, after all, and it sounded to me like Roger was feeling a bit guilty about wanting to make a change. But he knew the change needed to be made, the question was when.

Filippo Volandri provided the impetus in his drubbing of Roger in Rome. Federer had to act immediately. The Roche Coach rolled away. Suddenly, it seemed someone had flung open a window for Federer. In his earlier matches his play, while not exactly sparkling, showed renewed signs of life. The feet were moving happily, his game slowly started coming together. He played his way out of his emotional morass on Sunday. Who knows, maybe Federer ended up playing exactly the way Rochie would have wanted him to play. Does this reflect discredit upon Roche? Not necessarily. Tony may be smiling to himself somewhere Down Under.

There should really be no secrets as to how players can go after Nadal. Good steady serving, at least one of your ground weapons working well and a decent dollop of aggression can get the job down. Nadal was probably quite sincere when he said after the match that, given his druthers if he had to lose, he would rather lose to the world’s number one. How bad would it be to pick up the papers and read how Nadal’s fabulous 81-match winning streak on clay came to an abrupt end because of – Lleyton Hewitt??? As the teenyboppers say, “EEeewwww!”

But it was probably the Hewitt match that took enough of the stuffing out of Nadal so Roger could maneuver his way in. Nadal did not look especially strong in his earlier matches and he came as close this week to looking a bit fatigued as we have ever seen him. Still, he showed up to play and he had no excuses, especially when he was so totally outplayed in the last two sets. When was the last time anyone bageled Nadal? On clay? I don’t think such a rarity has ever happened. Federer managed one in the first set at Wimbledon last year, but that was on grass. There’s always a first time we suppose.

Does this victory entirely restore Federer? Was he ever really that far off track? For the most part it does restore him, but the French will involve a five-set final if Federer makes it that far. Certainly a much bolder test. But bring it on, we can’t wait. And how about a really strange scenario: Roger wins the French, but Rafa takes Wimbledon?

B**tch and Sing Dept: Got Coach?

Another screwy week in tennis, but tasty tidbits abound.

It’s up to the northern climes this week on the ATP Tour, we’ve abandoned the sunshine of Rome for the dour look of Hamburg. And dour it is. We know we’re in Germany because the weather is off and on, the people look cold and bundled, and the men are all running around in jeans. Some of them actually look good enough to be seen in jeans. Gone are the colorful styles and warmth and crazy crowds that inhabit Rome. Sniff sniff.

Yesterday saw one interesting upset in Hamburg, Chela took out Canas in three strangely scored sets, 6-1, 4-6, 6-1. My co-writer Nina and I joke about looking at the weekly draws and finding out where Canas is placed so he can bother Roger. He’s located on the far side of the draw from Federer, so they would not have chanced to meet unless it were the final. Contrary to earlier rumors, Federer and Nadal are both here, and so far give no sign of bailing out.

By now everyone on the planet of tennis, if not indeed THE planet itself, knows that Roger Federer is coachless. Tony Roche got the sack over the weekend, although the official word was that the parting was amicable on both sides. Well, ok, take that one with a good dollop of salt. Roger needed to do something different and new, I just didn’t think he would take this step quite so soon. Hell, for all we know the roller coaster ride is just beginning. Before he’s done he’ll probably dump Mirka, dye his hair blond (again), and convert to Islam. “That’s tennis,” Roger would say.

The AP reports him saying, “I‘m definitely not going to take a coach for the French Open and Wimbledon because I know what it takes and I don‘t want anybody interfering with my preparation and with my tournaments.”

Touchy touchy! Keep your arms away from the cage, please, the lion is restless right now.

“Maybe down the road I’m going to look again for someone who’s going to be able to help me out for practicing.”

Practicing, he calls it. Biff bam socko! I kind of like his man-against-the-wilderness attitude. After all he was coachless for quite a long spell, he can do it again until he lands the proper man. It will be fascinating to see who he picks, and why.

Roger’s situation was one of the many interesting tidbits to emerge out of the week in Rome. Here are a few of the others….

  • Good Boys, Bad Boys: Gasquet, Berdych, Djokovic and Gonzalez started off in Rome looking good in their early matches. Then Gasquet and Berdych ran into Volandri and the upstart had his way with both of them, with a tasty slice of Fed beef in between. What’s with the young lions that they play well on a Monday and then just vanish in their next round? Djokovic and Gonzalez had a great week in Rome also, yet both must feel rather letdown that their games didn’t have enough left for Nadal. They failed to make what they would probably consider a decent showing against the world’s number two.
  • The second best thing I will take out of the Rome event was the intelligent play of Nikolay Davydenko in the semi-finals against Rafael Nadal. That match should have been the final. Who would have thunk it that Nadal could be pushed around by Davydenko and his uncanny ability to hit the ball so early? What a great tactic against the Spaniard! Everyone thinks in terms of hitting big forehands out wide to him, or even just up the middle, and of course serving well on first serves especially. But not enough praise is sung for those early strikers of the ball. Quite a tactic to use on Nadal, and hopefully one that will be tried again. It’s just not enough players seem able to do what Davydenko did. Maybe hitting early is one of those skills you either have naturally or you don’t. You have to see the ball so well so early to play like this. It may be nearly impossible to teach. Most guys (and girls) seem content to let the ball roll into their comfort zone a little more, whereas Nikolay moves out to greet it. Necessity imposes this style upon him: he is neither very tall nor very strong and he has no capacity for thunderous shots. But just by stepping in and lasering a ball he had Nadal scrambling for his life. By far this was the most entertaining match of the week. Good to see the Russian getting back into form, he’s had a tough opener to his year what with injuries and inconsistency.
  • The highlight of the week has to be the play of Filippo Volandri, number 53 in the world, a clay court player of decent strength who put together a fantastic week for himself. He beat Gasquet, Federer and Berdych before going rather quietly at the hands of Fernando Gonzalez. His play was all heart, all crowd-driven. Don’t you love the names those Italian moms give their kids, like Potito and Daniele and Filippo? With a name like Filippo Volandri, no wonder this guy was flying high. He comes with wings! He has a so-so forehand, and an even more so-so serve, but they both were firing away with remarkable pace and consistency. He wailed repeatedly on a lovely one-handed backhand that seemed hit with so much joy and confidence. God, I want to kiss the man, but I suppose I have to wait in line. They should make a bust of him and put it on the grounds of the Foro Italico, to join the other gods. He certainly played like one. In a week where one of the big sporting idols in Italy, cyclist Ivan Basso, was embroiled in further doping headlines, the inspired play of Volandri probably came at just the right time. Good fortune continues to smile on him into this week. He suffered a miserable first set at the hands of Andy Murray today in Hamburg, only to find himself getting the win anyway after Murray tweaked his wrist and had to retire.
  • Most luscious sighting of the week: Ana Ivanovic’s mom watching her equally beautiful daughter win a juicy WTA title in Berlin. On Mother’s Day we like to thank moms for being supportive, for being good cooks and housekeepers and whatnot, but how about thanking them for just looking absolutely HOT! in a cream-colored jacket and top with a lovely matching choker, streaked blonde hair and dark shades.
  • Even in Rome, she would have stood out like a sore thumb. Happy Mother’s Day!

B**tch and Sing Dept: Early Rounds in Rome

When the draw came out this weekend for the ATP Masters event in Rome, several matches leaped out right away from the opening round as promising good battles. Roger Federer faced Nicholas Almagro, a Spaniard with a pretty huge forehand and a good record on clay. Ivan Ljubicic got to see another huge guy in his opener, Jose Acasuso of Argentina. Marat Safin faced a younger version of himself in Amer Delic, formerly of Bosnia, now a U.S. citizen. Tommy Haas faced off against the crafty Radek Stepanek. Marcos Baghdatis got Carlos Moya. Richard Gasquet drew Fernando Verdasco and James Blake faced off against Frenchman Gael Monfils.

It never occurred to anyone, certainly not to me, that Andy Murray would be the one who ended up in a barrel of trouble against Gilles Simon, or that Lleyton Hewitt would go out against Oscar Hernandez. Their matches looked relatively easy. But unfortunately the one bad day of weather – the opening day – saw sun, then clouds, then rain and delays affect play. After dropping the first set, Murray grabbed the second 6-1 and had the momentum then the rain delay came. He could not keep it going and Simon ran away with the third set, 6-3. Goodbye, Mr. Murray. He arrived in the Top Ten just recently only to lose his first match here. A poor omen, no? So far the only changes he seems to be showing in his game are that he’s incorporating more black into his wardrobe. Brad Gilbert would hope he incorporates a little more. It has not been an auspicious start to his year.

Hewitt should have handled Hernandez even though Oscar has been showing up in the later rounds lately and we are starting to remember his name. It was fun to see Hernandez play for the first time. He’s got a quaint roly-poly windup on his forehand and his backhand, but he hits through the ball well and kept Hewitt pinned behind the baseline. The rain delay compromised Hewitt too. He never found his rhythm. The upshot of these upsets is that Tommy Robredo, the top seed in this portion of the draw, has a better road ahead of him. Now he only has to worry about Guillermo Canas, who blistered his way through another qualifying round and found himself in Robredo’s section. They could meet in the Round of 16.

Ljubicic had a few decent results last year on clay but Acasuso is more comfortable on this surface. Ivan had an off day serving and was not nearly aggressive enough against the big-hitting Argentinian. Acasuso kept his nerve and his serve and closed Ljubicic out in two sets. Thank you, Comcast, for cutting away to your monthly testing of the emergency response system right when Acasuso had two match points on Ljubicic’s serve. I don’t know which one he closed on, but he had two chances. Sigh. At least I am safe in my bed!

Haas against Stepanek promised an interesting battle of experienced hands at the all-court play but Haas’ problems continue. After a good start early in the year, Tommy is now taking two steps backward. Injuries are creeping in and today he retired with a shoulder problem after dropping the first set. Carlos Moya is another veteran on the clay but today Baghdatis kept his mental house in order and offed the Mallorcan in two brisk sets.

James Blake against Gael Monfils should have gladdened our hearts – had they met a year ago when both were doing better. Now they look as shaky as lambs off to slaughter. Lucky for James he ran into a guy today who is even more of a Head Case than he is right now. Monfils has lost six times in a row in the first round of the tournaments he has played. Blake closed it out relatively easily in two sets.

One of the more entertaining matches featured Safin against Delic. Both are big guys with smooth deep strokes and powerful serves. Today it was a battle to see which forehand would head south first. Delic impressively captured the first set then saw his forehand nearly break down completely in the second. In the third he lost the break early to Safin but showed some fortitude in preventing any more hemorrhaging of games. Safin kept it together when he needed to and squeaked out the victory, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. Next up for Safin is countryman Davydenko and considering how erratic both have played this year, I would not want to call this match. I hope it’s Safin but don’t bet anything because we never know which Safin will show up.

Richard Gasquet continues to improve this spring on the clay. His match against another big clay court hitter, Fernando Verdasco, could have slipped away from him in the second set tiebreak and spilled over into a third set. Such as what happened in their marathon meeting a few weeks ago in Monte Carlo when Gasquet was stretched to three sets. He seems more aggressive now in recognizing when he needs to close things out, pack his bags up and head back to the hotel. The man who sits next to him in the draw, Tomas Berdych, had an easy time of it too, quietly moving through Jarkko Nieminen in straight sets. Gasquet will most likely meet Federer in the Round of 16 then Federer would have Berdych in the quarterfinals. While they don’t have winning records against the world’s number one – after all, who does except you know who – both youngsters have the games to bother Federer. I look forward to those encounters here.

As for Federer’s play today against big hitter Nicholas Almagro, we can say only one thing: Where were you hiding it, Roger? We should have seen this play in Monte Carlo. He served well, got the first serve in, and had an even better percentage (74% vs. 70%) on winning points off his second serve. The forehand showed a lot of confidence: he ran around it several times to attack Almagro’s big weapon, his forehand. But what impressed me most was that Roger seemed engagé, as the French like to say. He seemed energized and ready to rumble. A few more forays into net and he’ll be just about perfect.

OK, I stick my neck out for no man, but for you, Roger, I’ll say: Play like this on Sunday and you might actually beat that bum-picking, bottle-sorting, line-sweeping, time-eater Nadal.

My picks:
Quarters: Federer-Berdych, Roddick-Blake, Canas-Safin, Djokovic-Nadal.

(I totally agree with my co-writer Nina Rota about the bottom half of Federer’s side. It’s a total mess. Now that David Ferrer was outed today in straight sets by Igor Andreev, I am actually looking at the chances of the Yanks Roddick and Blake. This isn’t patriotism talking, it’s just that Gonzalez is so fragile right now).

Semis: Federer-Roddick, Canas-Nadal
Final: Roger Roger Over And Out

B**tch And Sing Dept: It’s Nadal…Again

Are We Snoring Yet?

Seems like only yesterday when tennis fans were complaining that Roger Federer won too much on every surface except clay. This week we can point the finger of blame at Rafael Nadal, who has ended up dominating on clay this season. And the season is barely under way. He snagged the Monte Carlo crown against Federer last weekend, and followed that up with his 72nd win on clay in Barcelona over Guillermo Canas this past Sunday. The score was 6-3, 6-4.

Nadal has run away with the clay. No other man has even – ever – come close. Now only one woman stands in his way. The Iron Maiden herself, Chris Evert, had a 125 match winning streak on clay. Nothing to sneeze at, that record. But right now Nadal looks like he’s ready for a good sneezing attack. Anything is possible with this kid. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we are seeing the two best players EVER, Nadal on clay, and Roger on everything but clay? But is this going to make any of us very happy?

If it’s not good for Federer to hold sway completely, is it any better that Nadal runs through everyone on clay? Probably not. This pair of ne’er-do-wells are staging their own private parties and they aren’t sharing the loot. It’s not nice when people don’t want to share. Shame on you guys we say.

Some people suggest the level of their competition may be lacking. But when you consider that guys like Roddick, Blake, Davydenko, Ljubicic and Robredo have been camped out in the Top Ten for a while, such is probably not the case. And now a whole new flock of people are looking to muscle their way into the party. Novak Djokovic has reached Number 5 in the world, and while his game certainly looks very steady we need to give him a little more time to see if he can consolidate his rise. Ditto Andy Murray, who is hanging on to #10 but lately has had a back injury.

There are a ton of guys who can go out and dominate other top players on a particular day. The problem lies in what they do the day after. Can they back it up? Not many of them can. It’s a hit and miss affair. Which leaves the accomplishments of Mssrs. Federer and Nadal looking even more amazing. Because they do back it up. And we end up being both amazed – and a little bored. I don’t know about you guys, but I am entering the Love/Hate stage of my relationship with Rafa and Roger.

I was really hoping Canas could have turned that around on Sunday. Each time I see him play the memory of that drug suspension fades. He asserts himself more strongly in the consciousness of tennis fans. I like the brass of this guy. Even when he’s pulled wide on a shot he’s able to return the ball, and with mustard on it. Were Nadal not around, Canas would probably be the most consistent retriever in the game today. He had problems earlier in the tournament with hand cramping and foot problems, so for him to show up was a good thing; for him to play at the level he did was a really good thing. But it still wasn’t enough. Nadal was just too dominant.

Canas should not feel discouraged at all by his showing. He knows now he can create chances for himself. Like in the opening game alone, when he had two break points against Nadal. He has to get better at closing the deal when he gets opportunities like that. He also has to make sure his serving game stays firmer. A 57% first serve ratio is not going to get the job done. Unfortunately he also came to realize – doesn’t everyone – that his chances would be better if he weren’t so attached to the baseline game. So Canas started to be more aggressive in the second set. Not exactly serving and volleying, but moving forward once he got a ball that wasn’t already half-way down his throat. The problem was that this tactic is not a comfortable choice for him, it exudes a bit of desperation, and by the time he used it the match was running out fast.

Maybe next time he meets the lad from Majorca Canas will begin the match playing aggressively, rather than relying on that tactic to bail him out when it’s too late.

A quick note: As if to remind everyone on the planet of tennis that they are the two hottest players since sliced bread hit the toasters, this week Roger and Rafa are playing in a hybrid sort of exhibition match on the island of Majorca. Half the court will be grass, the other half clay. So we presume Roger wins nearly all the points on the grass side while Rafa gets the clay ones. And the rest of the guys are left holding the bag.

Are they like rubbing it in, or what?