Monthly Archives: January 25, 2022

Could Nadal be more like Borg than we thought?

There are four players left in the draw at the Masters Series event in Cincinnati but it seems rather empty because Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are gone. Federer forgot to show up for his second round match against Andy Murray and now Rafael Nadal is gone. Quick, guess who beat Nadal…. Nope, you’re wrong, it wasn’t Federer and it wasn’t Tomas Berdych and it wasn’t James Blake. It was Juan Carlos Ferrero.

I told you last week how to beat Nadal after Berdych beat him in Toronto. Ferrero is not as tall as Berdych – Berdych is 6’5″ which makes Nadal’s high kicking balls less of a problem – but he got the two most important parts of the strategy correct: 1. stay up on the baseline 2. attack, attack, attack.

Ferrero didn’t attack the net but when he had an opening he flattened out his stroke and hit the ball as hard as he could. If you rush Nadal you can force him into errors because it takes him time to wind-up for those big topspin shots.

Nadal made a very un-Nadal like mistake: he played the big points badly. Up 6-5 in the first set, he missed a swinging volley that would have given him a break point. In the first set tiebreak he double faulted to go down 0-4 and double faulted again to give Ferrero set point. In the second set tiebreak, yes it was that close, Ferrero helped himself with a service winner and an ace but Nadal made two big ground stroke errors. Ferrero was into the semifinals with a 7-6(2), 7-6(3) win.

Could Nadal be more like Borg than we thought? Borg won six French Opens and five Wimbledons but never managed to win a hard court US Open. Nadal got to the final at Wimbledon this year after winning the French Open but he’s inconsistent on hard courts. Last year Nadal won a Masters Series event on hard court in Montreal and the Madrid Masters Series event on the faster indoor court but he hasn’t reached the final in any of the four hard court Masters Series events this year.

On grass you have to come to the net and Nadal did that at Wimbledon but he hasn’t yet figured out how aggressive he needs to be on hard court. He came to the net three times in the first set today, not nearly enough. He let Ferrero dictate the points.

Borg had the game to win the US Open, that wasn’t the problem. He hated the U.S. Open because he didn’t like to play under the lights and he also thought the U.S. Open organizers gave the U.S. players favorable scheduling. They did. Despite Borg’s protests, they scheduled him against U.S. players at night.

So the Borg-Nadal comparison doesn’t hold. Borg had the game to win the U.S. Open and Nadal will probably figure out how to play hard courts. But that doesn’t mean Nadal will win a U.S. Open. He may not because the competition is greater. There aren’t many players who play well on grass but there are a number who excel on hard court.

Federer sounded like he was protecting his ranking points in Cincinnati. He said that “it’s just basically something of the impossible” to win consecutive Masters Series events because you play twelve matches in thirteen days. His goal was to win a few early rounds. You lose ranking points if you go out earlier in a tournament than you did the year before but Federer didn’t play this event last year so his early loss didn’t cost him anything. He couldn’t stay home without incurring a large fine since Masters Series events are mandatory. Maria Sharapova skipped the women’s event in Montreal this week because she said she was tired and got a $150, 000 fine. She should have done the same thing as Federer, turn up with few expectations, lose early then go home.

Federer and Nadal may still be tired from reaching the finals at the French Open and Wimbledon but Borg won the French Open and Wimbledon back to back three times so what’s their problem? Borg had it easier. He only played the Australian Open once, he lost in the third round, and he didn’t have to play consecutive Masters Series events against most of the top ten players three times a year. Federer won Indian Wells and Miami back to back this year and last year but they are two week Masters Series events so you get twice as much rest. Toronto and Cincinnati are one week events.

After the 2008 Olympics, the ATP schedule will be revamped and the Masters Series format will change. As I’ve said many times, they should keep these events because all of the top players turn up, they just need to get rid of the consecutive one week version.

“Once you get on there, friendship ceases and, really, afterwords it’s really the same.”

Two weeks ago Jimmy Connors, Andy Roddick’s new coach, was interviewed by Jim Rome on Rome’s radio show. Connors was his usual combative self. He complained about the media’s treatment of Roddick. He said that the media builds players up then tears them down just as quickly the moment they falter. “I’m tired of seeing him get hit with a heavy sledgehammer all the time, ” were Connors’ exact words. Roddick is getting criticism because his ranking has fallen and he hasn’t won a tournament this year.

I’m happy to see Connors go to bat for his boy but I was even more interested in something he said later in the interview:

There’s still a little bit of something maybe that I can give to him that was a big part of what I did.That kill-or-be-killed attitude …was something that I took onto the court with me and I left the court with that too. …Once you get on there, friendship ceases and, really, afterwards it’s really the same. It’s tough just to throw that away and say, o.k., every thing’s fine now.

Connors took his tennis matches personally and he took that attitude off the court and into the locker room. He had few friends on the tour outside of his very small entourage. Today’s ATP tour is different. It’s a point of pride with Federer that he’s friendly with all of the players. Lleyton’s Hewitt’s combative behavior is viewed as abnormal. Roddick takes pride in his sportsmanship. In the 2005 Rome Masters tournament, he had triple match point against Fernando Verdasco when Verdasco hit a double fault. Roddick said that the serve had been good and refused to accept the point. Verdasco saved his serve and went on the win the match.

However, Roddick is an emotional guy and he will get into it with players on occasion. In the first set of his quarterfinal match with Andy Murray last night, both players hit balls at each other early in the first set. After Roddick ducked Murray’s missile, he pointed his finger up to indicate that Murray’s ball was out, an obvious attempt to get under Murray’s skin. Later in the set, Roddick ran down a Murray lob, turned on it and hit a blistering forehand past Murray at the net then put his finger up again to add a bit more attitude to the mix.

I like this. Roddick plays better when he’s emotional and aggressive and we can assume that Connors gets some of the credit for the attitude adjustment. Roddick’s overall game is more aggressive. He stays on the baseline instead of miles behind it and he continues to come to the net no matter how awkward it has looked at times. In the second set, Roddick rumbled up to the net grunting like a rooting pig to get to a drop shot. Not pretty, but it worked. He put the shot behind an approaching Murray and got a break point.

Roddick won the match, 6-3, 6-4. He had some luck because Murray was exhausted from playing too many matches. But sometimes you need a break to turn things around and when it arrives, you’d better take advantage of it.

There’ve been more than a few breaks this week. A Federer loss, a Nadal loss, an exhausted Murray. Let’s see who else takes advantage.

You can read How To Beat Rafael Nadal here.
You can read about the Roddick and Connors partnership here.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 276 user reviews.

Instant replay has come to the US Open Series and last week in Los Angeles, Xavier Malisse embraced it. He used his first challenge in the fourth game of his first round match against Andre Agassi last week. Malisse had hit a backhand down the line that had been called out. Everyone in my section stood up, turned around and looked at the screen to see if the challenge would be upheld. It’s a cool thing, the challenge, because the crowd gets into it. Malisse won his challenge and broke Agassi in that game.

He gave the break right back in the next game but he had something better up his sleeve.

Agassi was up 6-4 in the first set tiebreaker, it was set point. He hit a hard forehand down the line and Malisse responded with a backhand that was called long. Agassi walked off the court, the set was over. Except that it wasn’t. Malisse challenged the call and won the challenge. What had been a 7-4 score was now 6-5. Agassi finally won the tiebreaker, 12-10, but not until (yuck) Malisse had had two set points of his own.

Malisse lost the second set 6-0. (check this). The moral of the story? [blockquote]You can win a challenge that saves a set but you can still lose your mind. I suppose Malisse’s meltdown came from the disappointment of having snatched a set point away from Agassi, getting two of his own set points, and still not being able to win the set.

And here is the problem with instant replay. It gives you a great deal of satisfaction if you win a challenge but it doesn’t pump you up anywhere near as much as arguing a line call. You can psyche yourself up and your opponent out by making a big deal out of line calls. John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors made an art out of it. Arguing about a line call was the prime method of unnerving an opponent who had somehow managed to snatch the momentum of the match. First of all you can delay the game to stall your opponent’s momentum. And if you’re very good, you can piss them off and take them out of their game. [blockquote]You don’t think McEnroe or Connors really thought those balls were out, do you?

Not that instant replay stops everyone from arguing. Marat Safin hit a ball that was called good in his (first round?) match with Mardy Fish in Los Angeles. Fish challenged the call but the replay screen wasn’t working. The Hawkeye booth confirmed that the original call was correct and Fish lost his challenge [include image of Fish arguing here] but Fish wasn’t having it. If he couldn’t see it, it didn’t happen. (who won the match? If Fish was losing, maybe he was trying to psyche himself up).

Some people weren’t argumentative enough. Fernando Gonzalez and Andre Agassi were on serve at 3-2 in the second set of their third round match in Los Angeles (fix this because everything but Goldstein is in LA). Gonzalez was up 40-0 when he hit a forehand that was called out but it clearly landed on the line. If he’d challenged it, he could have won the game. But he didn’t and he ended up getting broken. He won the match but it took him three sets to do it. It was 110 degrees on the court, he might have saved the second set and a lot of his energy if he’d used that challenge. The next day(?) he lost to Dmitri Tursunov(?). Maybe he was tired, who knows.

So here are the two aspects of instant replay that need attention. One: who is allowed to say whether it’s out or not? Can the coach signal it? Can the players ask the umpire his opinion? Two: if the chair umpire knows that Hawk Eye messed up – the image is rotated for instance – they should then be able to make take that into consideration and make the correct call.

Edit this with Terry and submit to
Just because you win a challenge doesn’t mean you can’t throw a tantrum. In the doubles finals at Indianapolis two weeks ago, Paul Goldstein and Jim Thomas challenged a call out in their doubles final against Andy Roddick and Bobby Reynolds. They won the challenge but Goldstein was not at all happy because the chair umpire ruled that the point should be replayed because the linesperson made the call early preventing the opposing player from playing the ball. Goldstein was irate because the ball was clearly out of reach. He chopped the net with his racket and kicked the base of the umpire’s chair. If it had been Xavier Malisse or Marat Safin, the chair umpire would have docked them a point for chair umpire abuse. Goldstein’s such a nice guy that he got away with it.

Does instant replay take the tension out of the game? Would we prefer to see Jimmy Connors yell and scream. It does affects players psyche. Then, with online coaching, is more tension gone or added? First we take away an opportunity to be irate and get yourself going then we bring down a coach so you are less likely to throw away a second set at 6-0 because you wer…

We’re slowly draining tension out of the game. What will players do to regain it. Take baiting(?) lessons from Marco Materazzi… You do realize that we could be encouraging much worse behavior by taking away arguing over a line call. Players might have to resort to harrassment or inciting fans to throw … I hesitate to mention this because it’s disgusting but soccer fans evidently pee into empty beer cups (the men presumably though I did once ride the Green Tortoise[link?] – a hippie bus – from Boston to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and used a funnel at the front of the bus for emergency peeing) and throw piss bombs on opposing players as they run into their locker room.

Don’t worry though, because Hawkeye doesn’t always work.

In the first set of the Bryan brothers semifinal match, they challenged a call and it took so long to come up on the screen that they said, forget about it, we’ll just move on. And they did.

During a quarterfinal match between Robbie Ginepri and Dominik Hrbaty, Hrbaty had a fault called on him and he challenged it. The replay verified that the ball was good, it was not a fault. But Ginepri complained because the image on the screen was flipped 180 degrees. That made the ball look like it was good even though it was actually out if the image had been oriented correctly. Unbelievably, the umpire upheld Hrbaty. Ginepri was not amused. He got to the tiebreaker in the set but lost it badly (7-0?) and never recovered. I guess arguing has its limits. [do I have an image of Ginepri arguing?]

This week’s instant replay stats as of 5-4 in the first set of the final (check my record of the match to see if there were challenges in the rest of the match). 70 challenges, 32 overturned calls, 45% overturn rate.

During the week in Los Angeles, players won challenges about 45% of the time so they were right almost half the time. Next week in Los Angeles players were winning only 33% of their challenges by the time the semifinal rolled around. Not that it stopped Marat Safin or Arnaud Clement from challenging calls. They both challenged calls in the first set and won on balls that barely grazed the baseline.

That must have emboldened Safin and Clement because they got into the habit of holding long investigations aftern any call that was questionable. After Safin walked up and aligned himself along the service line to decide whether to challenge a Clement serve that was called good, the chair umpire, Jake Garner, who looked like he could still have been in his teens, warned Safin about delaying the match.

Safin was pissed off. Never one to miss anything, he asked the young-looking man how many matches he’d umpired. Garner refused to take the bait but a little while later Safin complained to an ATP official sitting alongside the court. Safin reasoned that he had 30 seconds to make his challenge since players are given 30 seconds between points but Darby said the umpire was correct, you are supposed to make challenge immediately.

Serving with ad point at 5-6, Safin was successful on another amazingly close challenge when his serve was called out. That didn’t stop Clement from arguing that the ball mark showed the ball out. Evidently he didn’t realize that you can challenge a challenge. The point was replayed but, incredibly enough, Safin’s next serve was called out too and he won his third challenge of the day. This was the closest call of all and it got him into the first set tiebreaker. Safin lost.

In Toronto, Rafael Nadal hit a wicked inside out forehand in the first game of his match with Tomas Berdych. The ball was called out but it actually landed inside the baseline. Nadal didn’t challenge it. That wasn’t the reason, of course, be he lost the match. Later that day, Dmitri Tursunov was angry about a challenge he lost in a loss to Roger Federer. He insisted that Federer’s ball was out no matter what Hawkeye said because the ball mark was outside the line.

Maybe there is an exception to the rule that you cannot coach from the sidelines. After Andy Murray challenged a call in the second set, Brad Gilbert yelled “No!” from the stands. The next time Murray considered challenging a call, he looked up at Gilbert for advice. Gilbert pointed his finger up to indicate that the ball was out and Murray should not challenge the call. Is this exception in the ATP rulebook I wonder?

Gilbert did it again in Murray’s improbably victory over Federer. He put his hand down to indicate that a ball was good and should be challenged by Murray but the ball was out. Federer has already complained about Rafael Nadal’s coach, his Uncle Toni, coaching from the sidelines. [look at asapsports transcript, did Fed say anything about it.] He was probably too unhappy about the end of his [??] winning streak on hard court but I would hope someone challenges Gilbert.

Let’s check in on the women. This goes under the same category as the Paul Goldstein thing. Instant replay doesn’t solve every problem, thankfully for those players who like to argue which includes most players. Elena Dementieva was facing break point in her semifinal match against Maria Sharapova at the JP Morgan Chase open when Sharapova hit a forehand down the line that was called out. Sharapova challenged to call and walked off the court.

This is a new way to show up your opponent. Walk off the court under the assumption that you could not possibly be wrong. It wasn’t quite over, though. The chair umpire wanted to have the point replayed but appeared to change her mind after a discussion with Sharapova. Now Dementieva was pissed off and some fans were booing. A WTA official came out and cleared the matter up and the Sharapova kept her challenge and won the game.

The coach is not supposed the coach the player but how about the chair umpire. Roddick was up a break on Andy Murray at Cincinnati when one of his shots was called wide. The linesman hesitated for a microsecond so Roddick considered challenging the call. But Murray signaled that it was out then the chair umpire, Carlos Bernardes(sp?), smiled and said, “Don’t do it, don’t do it.” Roddick, of course, challenged. Hawk Eye(is there a hyphen?) showed that it was clearly out. Murray might have been bamboozling Roddick but why would the chair umpire steer him wrong?

Francesco Schiavone against Lindsay Davenport in the second(?) round of the Penn Pilot tournament. She wanted to remind the chair umpire that just because there is instant replay doesn’t mean that they can’t overrule. This does bring up the issue – has anyone looked at whether the number of overrules is now reduced because chair umpires know that players can challenge the call? Also, it’s bad enough when a linesperson gets a call wrong but if a chair umpire overrules a call then the players challenges that, it looks even worse. I imagine it does effect the chair umpires actions this way (yuck).

There is one elephant in the closet (is there such a term) remaining: is Hawk Eye 100% correct. Well, we know it’s not 100% correct, the USTA came up with a (what was the %?). You saw it when players pointed to a ball mark that clearly showed the ball out. [blockquote]Hawk Eye is not always correct but we are much more comfortable with a digital error than human error because it has a quantifiable cause, maybe the humidity affected the hard disks in the computer or a ufo passed by quickly and interfered with the wireless signals …. whatever the reason, it’s not personal, it’s not like the lineperson making a home call in the Davis Cup finals.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 244 user reviews.

Blake lost to Juan Carlos Ferrero, which is surprising and troubling. Federer lost to Andy Murray. That was shocking but not particularly troubling.

Roger Federer and James Blake must have had breakfast at the Waffle House this morning. They were both flat as a pancake in their matches at Cincinnati today. Blake lost to Juan Carlos Ferrero, which is surprising and troubling. Federer lost to Andy Murray. That was shocking but not particularly troubling.

I’d like to tell you that the Murray-Federer match had scintillating play and gave us fascinating insight on how to beat the unbeatable but it wasn’t and it didn’t. It told you how to play Federer when Federer was off, so completely off I wondered if maybe his girlfriend had told him she was leaving him this morning or something equally desperate. That’s useful if you happen to play him the one time every two years that happens – the 2004 Olympics was the last time he went out in the second round. Today was that day and Murray was ready.

If you looked at Murray’s statistics in the first set, you’d think Murray was the one in trouble. His first serve percentage was an abysmal 34% and he lost his serve three times. But Federer’s serve percentage was also under 50% and he lost his serve four times, twice on double faults. Balls were twanging off the frame of his racket and going long.

Worse than that, except for an extremely unusual show of temper, Federer rocketed a ball out of the stadium and got a ball abuse warning for it, Federer was subdued for most of the match. He had no fire.

Set two was another breakathon. Federer was broken three times and Murray twice which means that Federer held serve a grand total of four times in two sets.

So how do you beat Federer on one of his exceptionally rare off days? You stay within yourself and play your game. Easier said than done. One of the biggest reasons players lose important matches is the “Alex Rodriguez Syndrome.” So called because Rodriguez puts too much pressure on himself and doesn’t produce in the playoffs.

Here is an example. When Murray was asked if he had a chance to beat Federer he said: “I’m gonna have to play the best match of my life to have a chance of winning.” That’s what gets you into trouble. If you put pressure on yourself to play the best you’ve ever played, you end up playing worse than usual.

To Murray’s credit, he didn’t try to play a perfect game. When Federer pulled him wide, Murray was satisfied to get the ball back into play; when Federer hit a short shot, Murray hit a good slice approach and anticipated well at the net. Basic, solid tennis.

Credit Brad Gilbert. Is that guy magic or what? Murray is 10-2 under his tutelage. Murray was lucky to find Federer on a bad day but 10-2 is no accident. Gilbert has to learn to keep his mouth shut a bit more. Murray complained out loud during the match about Gilbert’s worried looks whenever Murray hit a bad shot on an important point and Gilbert is not supposed to signal Murray when to challenge a call or not. But if Murray is smart, he’ll ride Gilbert all the way to a few slam wins.

The entire match was so quiet, Federer was submissive and Murray was his usual hangdog self, that I wondered if maybe I’d been hanging out in a parallel universe for a few hours and Federer had actually won the match. I found it so hard to believe that he’d actually lost. I left the room and returned to make sure I wasn’t seeing things and, yes, it was true, the score was still 7-5, 6-4 for Murray and Federer’s streak of seventeen consecutive finals was broken.

Blake isn’t the bigger story here but he’s the one I worry about. He completely tanked the last two sets to Max Mirnyi at Wimbledon and today he went down tamely. His ground strokes weren’t working and he failed to get a break point on Ferrero. Players expect bad days but Blake seems to disappear in matches at times. If he doesn’t do well at New Haven next week, a tournament he won last year, the US Open might be another early exit for Blake.

As for Federer, this is a blip on the screen. My money is still on him for the US Open.

You can read about Federer’s last loss on hard court here.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 195 user reviews.

So this is the week in which Fantasy Tennis players can sign up to win megabucks in the ATP Tour Sweepstakes from Cincinnati. Just pick all the winners through the final this week and you earn a cool million. Flies have flown into my ointment though, and my chance is probably already gone, thanks to Nikolay Davydenko. He had the unmitigated gall to drop his opening match yesterday to Juan Ignacio Chela. My co-writer was correct when she advised everyone to think twice about betting on the Russian against Chela. So off to the Gulag with him, I say.

The interesting news from the men’s field in Toronto last week was that Roger Federer won a nice-looking final and it wasn’t against Rafael Nadal. Three challengers came forward to ruffle the feathers of the Fed in consecutive matches that all went three sets. Tursunov, Malisse and Gonzalez had a go at the man on top. Gonzalez’ raging forehand especially got under Federer’s skin; it is not very often that we see a look of fear and nerves cross Roger’s face like it did during this match. He is human, he does sweat on occasion.

In the final things got even tighter when Federer ran into Frenchman Richard Gasquet. He really made a dent, at least in a brilliant first set of play. Roger asserted himself finally to win the match in three, but after this week it looks very good to see guys trying to make life a little interesting for Roger Federer, and for us. Credit to Gasquet, whose game certainly mirrors a lot of Federer’s. He will nail the Fed at some point, as he did last year in Monte Carlo.

Women’s tennis began the week with everyone interested in whether Sharapova’s game could stay steady after her first win over Kim Clijsters in the Carlsbad final the week before, and whether Serena Williams could even stay around in the draw after a lengthy lay-off due to her chronic knee problem.

But we ended up talking about the combative skill on display in the final between Elena Dementieva and Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, who put on a great show for a good-sized crowd in Carson, California at the JPMorgan Chase Open. Every so often the women play a final that’s right up there with the men, that deserves equal pay. I think we got that on Sunday. A little surprising it wasn’t between Sharapova and Williams, but in the end I like to think no one really missed them. We had enough of a feast as it was, in this 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 battle that Dementieva finally won.

What a breath of fresh air Jankovic appears to be! I love her attitude on court, especially on change-overs. Instead of hunkering down in her chair in a pose of morbid contemplation, Jelena is looking around at the crowd with a bemused expression. She notices what is going on, she reacts to it, she smiles at the camera as it tries to catch kissing spectators in the act. If this is her way of dealing with nerves, it’s a good one, but the girl seems to be without nerves.

She is an interesting looking girl, with a long wide face and planes that seem lifted from a woman in a painting by Modigliani. Fairly tall, fairly thin, moves well and seems to understand positioning on court. Her mom is a plumpish bottle blonde who travels with her on tour. Jelena doesn’t seem to resemble her at all. Her family life sounds consistent and normal.

Jelena reads books too, and attends college courses when she can, because a tennis career is “way too short, ” as she puts it, and she’d like to line up a few skills for down the road after tennis. She is, as she puts it humorously, one of the few women players who has seen the inside of a classroom of higher learning.

This past Sunday’s event will register as a defining moment in her young career, and she is clearly ready for more.

“I really enjoy my time on court, ” says Jelena. That is the first thing out of her mouth, and obviously it ranks high on her motivation list. “I can do a lot of damage at the Open. I showed I can beat all these players. I believe in myself. I have big potential.”

She whacked Serena Williams around for two sets in the semi-finals, showed she could handle her power and gave no sign of nerves that could have turned a two-setter into three. At one point Jelena knocked a ball across the net toward the ball boy, but it nailed Serena accidentally. They had a brief discussion over that at match’s end, but even that got cleared up. Jankovic appears to be a class act who can handle herself well.

She was ranked 28th in the world going into the final, now she moves up to 21st.

Out of curiosity, I went to her stats and noticed that she’s had a rocky start to the first part of this year. She won her first match of the year, an opening rounder at the Australian Open against the very fit American veteran, Jill Craybas. But then she proceeded to drop ten matches in a row before she got on track at the Italian Open, where she lost in three sets to Venus Williams in the fourth round. Venus Williams again came along to form a high point of Jankovic’s year, this time in the third round at Wimbledon, where Jankovic beat her in three sets.

Why such a poor start to her year? Apparently an odd virus hit her, sounding akin to what Justine Henin-Hardenne went through. It sapped Jelena Jankovic’s strength to the point where she was thinking about giving up the game altogether at the end of last year. Being sick is never fun, and being able to have fun is what Jankovic really likes to have.

Jankovic’s shots were strong and deep off both wings, she seems to have no problem going for them. Or for her serves. If her game had a weakness Sunday, it was in her failure to move forward enough. She attempted a few forays early in the match, but ended up dumping shots into the net. That scared her off coming in again, until well into the third set, when the necessity of being down 5-0 forced her in. When she got there, she showed she could win a few points.

At the start of the third, Jelena pulls out a nifty drop shot winner, then blows a kiss to the appreciative crowd.

Her game is basically a strong baseline game, but because of her powerful shots she should be playing more at net. She is going to force a lot of weak replies from opponents, that is the time she should be moving forward, to pick off those wounded ducks in mid-air. If she needs to play more doubles to learn net skills, she should play doubles then.

This is a girl who has discovered the thrill of being aggressive, and that is probably the best way to play someone like Elena Dementieva. What about Dementieva’s game on Sunday? And what about that…that…serve, shall we call it? Well, that serve. She’s trying. Actually it was one of Dementieva’s better serving days. She kept the double faults to a minimum, although toward the end of the match she reverted under pressure to that sidearm delivery. For a few moments there I thought we were witnessing the reincarnation of Dodgers’ pitcher Don Drysdale.

To Dementieva’s credit though, her obnoxious-looking serve has forced her to nail down tight the rest of her game. She is unbelievably steady now from anywhere else on court, except in the server’s stance. She knows she probably got a bit lucky on Sunday, and her experience helped her out. She ran out to a 5-0 lead only to see it melt a bit in the face of Jankovic’s persistent play.

Of Jankovic’s game Dementieva says, “She is very unpredictable.”

Indeed. And a lot of fun to watch. Good things do happen in women’s tennis sometimes, and this week it was Jelena Jankovic who happened.

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

Do you happen to need a million dollars? If so, pick every winner in the draw at this week’s Cincinnati Masters Event and your need is fulfilled. The contest is called the Penn Pick’em Contest and you can enter here.

Be advised that only those in certain geographical areas can enter – New Yorkers and Floridians do not qualify for some reason – and it’s kinda, sorta, one million dollars. The winner gets $25, 000 a year for forty years. Tell me what $25, 000 will buy you in 2046 compared to today. That is if you’re still alive. I imagine many people bought a house for $25, 000 forty years ago. In my neighborhood, $25, 000 wouldn’t buy the windows.

In a previous column I mentioned that God watches over the stupid. While there is truth to that, it only goes so far. Previously I stupidly chose Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal the week after they’d played a five hour final on clay. Obviously they withdrew. Last week I picked the draw for Toronto, went off to the Hollywood Bowl with my picnic basket to enjoy a staged reading of Sunset Blvd., and … FORGOT TO SUBMIT MY FANTASY TEAM!$%^@#!!!! Andy Murray helped a bit and Nadal lost early which held off the Federer-Nadal pickers, but I left over $400, 000 on the table.

Yes, it’s the second Masters Event in a row and the winner gets $400, 000 again. The ATP has said that it plans to dismantle the Masters Series format but I think that’s a bad idea. Last week’s event had nine of the top ten players and Cincinnati is scheduled to have eight of the top ten. The women’s event in Montreal, on the other hand, has four of their top ten players, a miserable showing and patently unfair to the tournament and its fans. Scheduling consecutive Masters Series events – the ATP does this three times each year – is too much, but keep the format else the ATP might start to look like the no-show WTA.

I expect that Nadal will be mad about his early exit to Tomas Berdych last week and will make the final in Cincinnati. James Blake has been a little up and down lately so, even though he is 2-0 over Nadal and has the flat strokes to beat Nadal – as does Berdych, I have Nadal over Blake if Blake gets that far. I’m concerned about Blake. He’s number six in the world but his mild manner worries me. Does he have enough desire to stay at number six or win a slam? I’m not sure.

The first round match between David Ferrer and Carlos Moya is very hard to pick because Moya is 5-0 over Ferrer, but Moya is aging quickly this year and Ferrer is playing sporadically well. I have Ferrer in the quarters.

Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt and Guillermo Coria have pulled out.

Beware of Davydenko again. Juan Ignacio Chela has a 4-0 record over him.

Fernando Gonzalez has been playing well and David Nalbandian has not. Nalbandian hasn’t been paying attention since the World Cup. Is he tired of tennis or still bothered by an injury to his abdominals? I have Gonzalez in the semifinals.

Roddick is also recovering from a muscle pull but I have him in the semis because he has a weak draw. Could be wishful thinking on my part since I’d like to get the most out of him in the hard court season. He doesn’t have a good indoor record.

I expect Baghdatis to go down early since this not a slam. That leaves David Ferrer, Marat Safin, and Thomas Johansson to see who falls down first before they lose to Gonzalez.

I would not pick Richard Gasquet despite the fact that he got to this week’s final and won the title at Gstaad. His conditioning has been suspect and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pull out. If he does play, I don’t expect him to last.

My quarterfinalists are: Federer, Roddick, Gonzalez, Ferrer, Malisse, Ljubicic, Blake, and Nadal. And good luck with the not-adjusted-for-inflation million dollars.

You can read last week’s picks here if you want to see whether I know what I’m talking about.

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