Category Archives: Tennis General

This week I’m attending the ATP event in San Jose, California, and thank God the end is in sight. Never having covered a live tennis event before, I am learning a few things. Like how to stretch yourself over a week-long event and knowing how much tennis you should be watching and how much you should be writing. It’s very easy to get swept up doing the former and neglecting the latter. Covering a two-week slam event must be a real bastard. If I ever reach that point, I will go into training for it first. Whatever training one needs. Stamina for sure.

But now we’re down to business again. This afternoon two of the quarterfinals concluded, and the results left the crowd groaning. Clearly they were for Mardy Fish, one of three Americans left so far, besides Roddick and Spadea, who play each other tonight. Fish got bombed, literally, by big-serving Ivo Karlovic of Croatia.

What can we say about Dr. Evil as he is affectionately referred to on occasion? He certainly looks like he’s 6’10” tall but his serve was surprisingly varied. Not quite the steady blasts of hugeness I was expecting. I kept turning to the radar gun to see the speed and was surprised to find he often serves closer to 130 than 140 mph. For some reason the ball flies off his racquet as if it were steadily over 140. The sound is different as it comes off his racquet. Kind of a rumble. From the jungle. Ooohhh. Scary noises! Fish consistently threw in serves close to 140, in fact he kept serve consistently with Karlovic, but his sounds lighter. Maybe we can say he’s a tenor while Ivo is a baritone. Fish was serving sharp cracks; Karlovic’s serve sounds like heavy artillery. Blake talked in his presser last night about how impossible the serve was to read because it is coming at you from a higher up angle than the other guys on tour. It gave Blake fits and today it was Fish’s turn.

Watching this match was like watching a lot of NBA games. You can hit the snooze alarm and go back to sleep until the last five minutes – or the tiebreak as we call it in tennis – because nothing of import really happens until then, sorry to say. This is the lot of the huge servers. Not many people think they have much of a game beyond their serve.

But Karlovic does. We saw a few actual rallies. I was betting we would not see too many rallies where the ball crossed the net more than three times. We got a few more than that. Dr. Evil held his own off the ground better than Marat Safin did in the following match. He can move pretty decently for a tall tall guy, and he has nice low volleys that skim the net with a firm pace. You don’t want to see this guy get into a groove on his serve, which happened here in the semi-finals, his first signs of real life on the tour after a while off due to a knee injury. His serve is getting more honed in the further he goes.

Fish had his chances. His serve held out well, that wasn’t the problem. A few key points did him in. At 5-4 in the first set he had several chances. Karlovic threw in his first double fault of the match for 0-15, then Fish dumped a good return at Ivo’s feet that he netted. But on the next point Karlovic came to net and Fish decided he wanted to try a lob. Poor shot selection there. I thought for sure he would go up the line to Karlovic’s backhand. Not many lobs get over guys this tall, and Karlovic put it away easily. Then a moment later Fish got a rare gift: a second serve out to his forehand, but he netted it. Karlovic held on to his serve, and into the tiebreak they went. Here Fish’s backhand let him down, he knocked one long and another into the net. His serve was fine, it was the ground game that let him down. Ivo grabbed the tiebreak 7-2.

In the second set a few moments early on caused Fish to give up the break. “It’s not over yet, ” yelled a woman in the stands. Oh yes it is, said I to myself. Ivo kept motoring along with those powerful serves and nobody was going to make a dent in them on this day. 7-6(2), 6-4 was the final score.

Ivo Karlovic’s opponent in tomorrow’s semi-final will be a good-serving guy as opposed to a huge-serving guy, Benjamin Becker. Becker handled Marat Safin pretty handily. The crowd wanted Safin for sure, this was his first trip to the bay area and people hoped the experience was such that further trips might be forthcoming. We hope so but not a good day for the big Russian, who looks surprisingly less hunky in person than he does on TV. Nice legs, dude. Oh Pat, they ALL have nice legs, just stop, will you woman?

In the middle part of the first set you could feel Becker was going to have his way with the big Russian. Both men served well, but as far as his ground game went, it was Safin the Here One Minute Gone The Next guy who materialized. Karlovic played better from the baseline than Safin, who had too many errors to have a chance at the win. You could sense Safin was not fully focused somehow into the match, and that if Becker could hold his own halfway the match would be his.

Both men held serve until 5-4 in the first set. Serving to even the match, Safin knocked a backhand long for 15-40 on his serve setting up set points for Becker. The Russian erased one but then netted another shot and Becker had the break and the set, 6-4.

Becker had moments where he could have gone off the track, like in the first game of the second set when he threw in two double faults in a row. I like his calm, capable approach toward the game. He is learning very quickly how to step it up at the big points, decide on the right shot, and then carry it through. He was not rattled at all like he was in the previous match with countryman Bjorn Phau. His serve was seriously in danger of breaking down, and so was his normally very steady and positive attitude on the court.

Here he did everything he needed to do to hold serve, and Safin could not pick up his ground game. Becker broke him for a 3-1 lead and that was all he needed. Pretty neat win in one hour and one minute, 6-4, 6-4. It may look like a surprising win on paper, even if Becker was seeded here and Safin was not. But if you were there you could see Safin was just not quite there. Becker was going to have his day.

Because it’s the quarters now, they held post match interviews during the day events. Becker spoke very positively about his college experience at Baylor which he credits, in particular, for accentuating the importance to his career of proper intense weight training regimes. It also provided him with a very good education, and that, smiles Becker, was really what he went there for. In Europe you go to school to study, period. If you want sports you go another route. So Becker felt the American college experience would be much more appropriate for him as a person and a player.

It’s been a pleasure following his growth as a new player coming onto the scene. He comes over as a reasonable human being.

For a tennis player.

Go Beni!

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 263 user reviews.

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 mvn.com 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 tennisreporters.net 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.

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 255 user reviews.

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!

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 158 user reviews.

(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.

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 263 user reviews.

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?

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 159 user reviews.