Category Archives: AMS Canada

A Serbian Weekend in Tennis

The Serbs dominated professional tennis this weekend as Ana Ivanovic and Novak Djokovic both won titles.

Ana Ivanovic knew that Novak Djokovic had already beaten Roger Federer before she took the court for the final here at the East West Bank Classic just south of Los Angeles. “I was motivated to do the same thing,” she said and she did exactly that.

Except for failing to serve out the first set at 5-4, Ivanovic had few problems winning a straight set victory over Nadia Petrova, 7-5, 6-4. And so we came to the end of a Serbian Weekend.

In Montreal, Novak Djokovic edged his way into the Roger FedererRafael Nadal perennial two-step with a 7-6(2), 2-6, 7-6(2) victory for his second Masters Series title. Not only that but he beat Andy Roddick and Rafael Nadal along the way.

Ivanovic said she has known Djokovic since they were both 4 years old and they’re good friends:

As kids we would practice sometimes together and then go play hide and seek for the rest of the day. …It’s nice to know someone for so long and look back at your childhood… I love spending time with him.

The same is not true for Jelena Jankovic, the third member of the Serbian troika. She was not in the same age group as Ivanovic and they do not appear to be as friendly. The weekend started off with a semifinal between the two and it was a battle from beginning to end.

Jankovic was up a break in the first set and serving at 4-3 when Ana put her hand up for a timeout because the ball kids were rolling balls behind Jelena. Jelena stopped for half a second – essentially ignoring her – then went into her service motion. Ana mishit the return and stood there with her hands on her hips. She was not amused.

It was another one of those serving incidents that display gamesmanship. Jankovic should have waited until the ball kids were finished. She was clearly letting Ana know who was in charge.

Jelena was in charge and she stayed that way until Ivanovic pulled even with a break to go up 4-2 in the second set. Ivanovic had to fight off thee break points to serve out the set but she’d evened the match.

Jankovic got two match points with Ivanovic serving at 4-5 in the third set and though Ivanovic won the game, it looked like it was just a matter of time before Jankovic won the battle.

Then it happened:

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM. Five straight forehand winners from Ivanovic and she had the break she needed. Jankovic had run out of energy. She’d suffered through a case of the flu last week so she couldn’t practice and her conditioning failed her. Ivanovic won the battle, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Djokovic had his own battle with Federer. He fought off six set points to get to 6-6 in the first set then won the tiebreaker 7-2. He took the third set tiebreaker by the same score.

It’s been a historical day for Serbian tennis and now it’s time to ask if Serbia is prepared to win a U.S. Open title.

Renae Stubbs and Kveta Peschke came into the media room after they won the doubles title today and Stubbs gave us one of the answers. Stubbs is fantastic. They should put her in a commentator booth immediately.

In addition to an excellent comparison of Steffi Graf‘s and Ivanovic’s forehand*, she said that Ivanovic has the skills to win a slam but might not have the mentality yet.

Ivanovic may not be ready yet, but after today, Djokovic is.

*Ivanovic hits harder but then Graf didn’t have current racket technology and, by the way, Graf moved better.

Los Angeles, Montreal, Lego Man and Bud Collins

Is Sania Mirza a belly dancer? Can anyone win in Montreal? Who is the Lego man? And where did Bud Collins end up?

The big news here at the East West Bank Classic just south of Los Angeles is the flu. Jelena Jankovic just finished taking antibiotics last night but dispensed with Peng Shuai rather easily. Eleni Daniilidou has been sick for four days herself. She battled back from a break to get to a first set tiebreaker with Maria Sharapova then got up 3-0 in the tiebreaker before making a few errors and losing it 7-5. By the time she was down 1-3 in the second set, she was done, she couldn’t breathe any more.

Daniilidiou’s short media session was heartbreaking. She could barely answer the questions through her tears. She didn’t have to come to a media session; I think she just wanted us to know how badly she wanted to play Sharapova:

We are working for this kind of match, to play with top players and to play in such a good atmosphere. …I wanted to step on court and give my best.

I often complain about players reneging on commitments to tournaments at the last moment but this the other end of the spectrum. I have nothing but admiration for Daniilidou’s desire and her pride.

Sania the Belly Dancer

Yesterday was pretty exciting too. Maria Kirilenko beat number six seed Marion Bartoli and Sania Mirza beat number seven seed Martina Hingis.

I remember Hingis from her first swing around the tennis world when she won five slams before she took three years off to recover from foot problems. The early version of Martina was brash, brazen and, frankly, obnoxious. Her mouth was legendary.

After Amelie Mauresmo came out as a lesbian at the 1999 Australian Open, Hingis called her half a man. In 1998 she dissed Steffi Graf with the following: “She is old now. Her time has passed.” That was the year before Graf beat her in the final of the French Open.

Today, though, Hingis is one of the elders and she’s been absolutely delightful and engaging throughout this entire event. After Mirza beat her last night, Hingis walked up to the net and asked her how she hits such sharp angles with her strokes. In the media session afterwards, she jokingly theorized that Mirza must have studied belly dancing and developed those angles from the exotic wrist curls associated with the form.

Belly dancing has roots in India among other cultures and speaking of India, when I was at the ATP Los Angeles event, I interviewed Vijay Amitraj and asked him about the explosion of tennis in his home country. India now has two WTA and two ATP events and Bangalore recently bid on the WTA Championships.

Amritraj said the recent growth in the Indian economy was responsible for the tennis explosion. When I asked Mirza the same question, she had a slightly different answer.

I like to think I play a little part in that….I think if a girl from Hyderabad – where tennis is not the sport to be playing – comes up from there and is playing against the likes of Hingis and the Williamses and the Sharapovas, I think people start believing that they can do it as well.

Mr. Amritraj thinks it’s the economy and Sania thinks she plays a part in it. It’s the economy because big prize money is luring tournaments to Eastern Europe and Asia and now India. Countries around the world outsource call centers and software engineering to India and the country is developing a larger affluent class.

But Sania is part of it too. Last year when I visited the country for a few weeks, even the smallest villages had images of her in ads for the telephone company. And when more female tennis players from India come along, she can take more than a little part of the credit.

Those Montreal Picks

One word: atrocious. We all expected upsets at the ATP Masters Series event in Montreal because it’s the first hard court event after the clay court season for most European players and those players are dropping like flies. Gone already: Tomas Berdych, Andy Murray, Richard Gasquet, Tommy Robredo and Jarkko Nieminen, Europeans every one. Fernando Gonzalez lost too and James Blake is out with an abdominal muscle strain.

The U.S. Open Series has become an opportunity for the lower ranked U.S. players to fatten up on hard court events then watch as the Europeans turn up and take over the Masters events and the U.S. Open.

Instead of two Masters events in a row – the Cincinnati Masters follows next week – isn’t it time to move one of those events a few weeks earlier and establish some significance to the U.S. Open Series? That way those early losers in Montreal will drop in at Washington or Indianapolis or Los Angeles and play a few rounds.

By the way, I’ll go full bore on Cincinnati next week once the WTA event in Los Angeles is finished.

The Search for Lego Man

Last week I stopped off at Legoland on the way home from the Acura Classic. I was the only single adult I could see and now I’m wondering when U.S. entertainment conglomerates will start building theme parks for the elderly. Aren’t we this country’s fastest growing population and don’t we deserve some fun too?

This morning I see that an eight foot high Lego man washed up onto the shore at Zandvoort in Holland. The big guy has that gas can head, those c-clamp hands and the words “NO REAL THAN YOU ARE” etched on his belly. Unless mutant fish species are spawning Lego characters in the bottom of the North Sea, I think this might be an artist’s installation and I translate those awkward words to mean that Lego man is no more real, nor less, than you and I.

Bud Collins and ESPN

Bud Collins was unceremoniously fired by NBC at the end of Wimbledon after 35 years of loyal service. ESPN has been nice enough to hire him and that’s a smart thing. A lot of younger viewers don’t like Collins’ shtick, it looks a bit too much like country club silliness with his funny pants and quirky bits, but Collins brings tennis history with him and sports fans love to argue about who’s the best player of all time and figure out who was the last player to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same year four times in a row.*

Collins will cover the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon for ESPN2 and report tennis for SportsCenter and ESPN radio. I was on’s daily live radio show talking about tennis gambling last week and the wonderful host, Brandon Rosage, said this in his introduction: “We’re going to talk – yes! – tennis and I’ll explain why,” as if there needed to be an explanation. I, for one, will be happy to hear more tennis on radio. Welcome back Bud.

*The answer is no one. Roger Federer was the first to do it three times in a row.

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ATP Fantasy Tennis Picks: Montreal

We’re deep into the ATP Fantasy Tennis Season so check out my Fantasy Tennis Guide. You’ll find Fast Facts, Strategies, and Statistics to help you play the game.

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The deadline for picking your team this week is Sunday, August 5, 10am EST, 4pm CET.

Rear View Mirror – a look at last week’s pick

I’ve still got a chance to win Sopot with Tommy Robredo. I predicted that Nikolay Davydenko would break out of his slump. He did get out of the first round for the first time in his last four tournaments but even I could not have predicted that he’d become embroiled in a gambling controversy.

Gamblers on the British online site laid $7 million on Davydenko to lose his match against Martin Vassallo-Arguello AFTER Davydenko had already won the first set 6-2. You can read more about it here.

I’m all the way up to number 18 in the standings due to good U.S. Open picks but this week things could go topsy turvy because we have the Masters Series event at Montreal and the first prize is $400,000. Masters Series events are second only to the slams in prize money.

Montreal (hard court, $400,000)

First the no-brainers: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Nadal won this event in 2005 and he won the Masters hard court event in Indian Wells. Andy Roddick has also won this tournament and falls in to the category of no-brainer. We need eight players for our team, two from each quarter, so let’s see who the other five players will be.

Roger Federer’s Quarter

Andy Murray is the wild card because he hasn’t played since the middle of May when he hurt his wrist in Hamburg. It probably doesn’t matter because he’d meet Federer in the third round and that saves us a tough decision. Murray did beat Federer at Cincinnati last year but it’s hard to believe Murray’s in shape to do it again.

The top 23 players in the world are here and that’s why only Lleyton Hewitt, Juan Carlos Ferrero, James Blake or Tommy Robredo will make it to the quarterfinals. None of them has gone past the quarterfinals so we’re left with a tough decision because we need one more player from this quarter.

I’m going to forget about Blake because he’s had average hard court results this year. Robredo has been a bit more consistent than Ferrero and Hewitt on hard courts so I’m going with him.

Fernando Gonzalez’ Quarter

Mikhail Youzhny could easily lose to Hyung-Taik Lee so I’m picking Jarrko Nieminen as one of the players from this section. At least he got to the quarterfinals last year.

This is a crappy quarter because it’s full of clay court players and inconsistent players. Fernando Gonzalez is the only one who’s had good results here. He got to the semifinals last year but he’s had miserable hard court results except for the Australian Open and he lost in the first round two weeks ago in Los Angeles, of all places.

Haas is fighting against Radek Stepanek and Gonzalez to get to the quarterfinals and this is the toughest decision in the draw. Neither Haas nor Stepanek have good results here (clearly this is the theme this week) but Haas steps up in bigger tournaments so I’m dropping the inconsistent Gonzalez and playing wait and see on Stepanek.

Novak Djokovic’s Quarter

Roddick has to get past Tomas Berdych to get to the quarterfinals and Berdych beat Nadal here last year. But Roddick has played two hard court events already and he’s had a win and two finals here so I’m sticking with him.

Djokovic doesn’t have much competition in his section so he should meet Roddick in the quarterfinals.

Rafael Nadal’s Quarter

Richard Gasquet doesn’t have a lot of competition in his section either and he reached the final last year so he should be able to get to the quarterfinals and he has a good shot at beating Nadal. They played in a challenger back in 2003 for their only hard court meeting and Gasquet won it.

Mario Ancic is back after recovering from mononucleosis but this is his first tournament since February. The only person who could threaten Nadal before he gets to Gasquet is Guillermo Canas. Canas won this tournament but it was long ago in 2002.

Montreal draw


Here’s my team: Federer, Robredo, Nieminen, Haas, Roddick, Djokovic, Gasquet, and Nadal.

Happy fantasies!

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Check out our picks last week to see how we did: ATP Fantasy Tennis Picks: Sopot and Washington

Monte Carlo, Madrid and Musical Chairs

Madrid will replace Hamburg, Shanghai will replace Madrid, and Monte Carlo will be left out.

I assume everyone here knows the game musical chairs. If not, just think of it like this: someone starts up the music and a bunch of people walk around a collection of chairs. As soon as the music stops, everyone has to find a chair to sit on. Problem is, there’s one less chair than there are people so someone ends up on the floor.

In the musical chairs game that comprises the 2009 ATP schedule, Monte Carlo found a chair but could still end up on their butt.

When the ATP settled its suit with Monte Carlo last week, they allowed it to keep its Masters Series designation – Masters 1000 as it will be called – but removed it as a required tournament.

Madrid will move from the fall indoor season to the spring clay court season. This is important because the sneak-peek 2009 calendar I’ve seen puts Madrid into Hamburg’s slot and since Monte Carlo is no longer a required event, people like Roger Federer will probably play Rome, skip a week then play Madrid, then rest one week before playing Roland Garros.

Rafael Nadal usually plays Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome before resting up for Roland Garros. This year he played Hamburg too and lost because he was tired. Nadal will surely play Barcelona and Madrid as he is a Spanish player and that means he will likely skip Monte Carlo because that will be one tournament too many.

A lot of other Spanish players will do the same thing and clearly the hard court players won’t waste their time in Monte Carlo if they don’t have too. No one cares about the hard court players but the Kings of Clay come from Spain so Monte Carlo will be left with a bunch of second tier players trying to make Masters Series money.

By they way, completing our game of musical chairs, Shanghai will get a new Masters 1000 event and take over for Madrid. That means we now have eight required Masters 1000 events instead of nine and that was the point.

Here they are: Indian Wells, Miami, Rome, Madrid, Canada, Cincinnati, Shanghai, Paris.

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