You don’t lose a good friend without wallowing in a few bouts of self-doubt and blame. Not if you’re human.

It’s been a disastrous start for a few players this week. Even though I picked him to improve on hard court this year, Rafael Nadal lost to Xavier Malisse at Chennai, in the semifinals no less. I suppose it could have been worse. David Nalbandian lost in the first round. I predicted that Nalbandian would continue his string of semifinals in slams and Masters Series events this year so I’m not doing so well either.

It’ll get worse for Nadal. His first round opponent in Sydney is Chris Guccione, the Australian wild card who went all the way to the final in Adelaide where he lost to Novak Djokovic. At least I got that right. I picked Djokovic to outperform all of the other young guns on the tour this year except for Andy Murray. If Nadal does get to the semis again, he could meet up with James Blake who has beaten Nadal in all three of their matches.

Nadal and Nalbandian might forget those losses pretty quickly but Lleyton Hewitt could have a headache for a while to come. Hewitt has a disease that’s fairly common on the tour. Andy Murray has it and Elena Dementieva has it too. When things aren’t going well on the court they yell abusively at themselves and, sometimes, at their support staff. Hewitt did it one too many times during his round robin loss to Igor Kunitsyn. His loyal coach Roger Rasheed decided he’d had enough and resigned. Hewitt was evidently stunned when Rasheed turned up at his house to announce his resignation. I have to admit that I’m pretty surprised too.

Rasheed is a pretty smart guy. Take a look at part of his press release regarding his resignation. He used the opportunity to advertise his services:

I have also thoroughly enjoyed my time on the road and even though my wife and I have just become parents, I wouldn’t hesitate to jump back into a similar role, as this is the easiest time to travel with a family.

In other words, “I want you all to know that I am now immediately available for any other coaching opportunity. My bags are packed and ready. Just ring me up. Really, I’m ready to go.”

Unbelievably, it gets worse for Hewitt too. He tore a calf muscle and won’t play in Sydney and could miss the Australian Open. Add this to tendonitis in this knees and the calf muscle injury last year and you have a crumbling career. Hewitt will turn 26 next month, a prime age for most tennis players, but he was number one when he was 19 years old and he’s pushed that tiny body of his very hard for a number of years. The last few against a barrage of big hitters. Maybe it’s like a car, when it starts to break down, it continues to break down.

Rasheed was Hewitt’s good friend. You don’t lose a good friend without wallowing in a few bouts of self-doubt and blame. Not if you’re human. So even if Hewitt can get himself physically straightened out, his confidence has to be affected.

If you looked at the Sydney and the Auckland draw, you might be wondering where all of the big boys are. Nikolay Davydenko, James Blake and Nadal are in Sydney and Tommy Robredo is in Auckland, but when will we see Roger Federer and Andy Roddick and how about Marat Safin? They are at an eight player exhibition event in at the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club in Melbourne, the site of the Australian Open before it moved to Melbourne Park in 1988. Andy Murray, Ivan Ljubicic, Tommy Haas, Nalbandian, and Radek Stepanek are there too. Each of the eight participants will play three matches over the four days of the tournament.

I have to say it one more time: scheduling a grand slam in the third week of the calendar is ridiculous. The players at the Kooyong event will have played three matches before the Open. I can’t blame them for sitting out last week either. That’s one way to extend the tiny off-season.

Last week a reader asked me why I wasn’t publishing my picks every week as I did last year. The short answer is that the ATP fantasy tennis season hasn’t started yet and that’s why I published my picks: to help people choose their weekly fantasy teams. The long answer is that I spent the off-season developing an automated method of gathering player statistics so I don’t have to slog through three or four webpages for every match I pick. Unfortunately that meant learning XSL and XML – programs designed to work with databases. The off-season is not only too short for tennis players, it was too short for me. I haven’t quite finished the whole XML/XSL thing yet but as soon as I do, whether the fantasy season has started or not, I’ll start picking draws again.

Speaking of which, the tennis fantasy world is proliferating. has a new tennis fantasy game. You get a budget of $15 million dollars to pick ten WTA players and another $15 million dollars to pick ten ATP players. You can trade players during the trading period each week. I was looking forward to trading players because I’ve read so much about fantasy baseball players trading their players within their fantasy leagues. I could see myself trading Amelie Mauresmo to some unsuspecting soul after I’d just gotten inside information that she’d sprained her ankle in a practice session and would miss the next slam.

I was disappointed on two accounts. First off all, you don’t trade with other people in the fantasy league. You can exchange any two players as long as you stay within your $15 million dollar budget. That’s too easy. I prefer the ATP version. Even though you pick new players every week in the ATP game, you’re only allowed to use the same player five times a year. Who did I choose as my top WTA player? Justine Henin-Hardenne who promptly announced that she’s skipping the Australian Open for personal reasons. The Belgian newspapers are reporting that she is separating from her husband.

Hopefully the season will improve for Hewiit, Nadal, Henin-Hardenne and me.

See also: 2007: ATP Players Predictions

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