<blockquote><strong> Yes it’s time for the Tennis Channel Open and the craziness that is Vegas. A racket stringing contest, paddleball matches, table hockey, a shotgun 21 tournament, shootings at a strip joint – no, wait, that’s the NBA All Star game.</strong></blockquote>
Martin Verkerk is popping up everywhere. He had a wild card in Rotterdam last week and now he’s in the main draw at Indian Wells and Miami. His ranking is 1538 and here’s the explanation: if a player drops off the tour due to injury for more than six months, he can petition to keep a ranking equal to his average ATP ranking during the first three months of his injury and use this ranking for his first eight tournaments back on the tour. Verkerk injured his shoulder in 2004 and his ranking was 39 at that time.

The court in Memphis last week was wicked fast. According to <a href=”http://www.tennisinsight.com”>tennisinsight.com’s</a> court speed rankings, there was a jump of 15% in the court speed relative to 2006. That’s a big jump and no doubt it helped Ivo Karlovic and his huge serve get to the final. It also makes Andy Murray’s victory in the final look that much better. He was the only one who could return Karlovic’s serves.

We’re in an era where a big weapon isn’t as important as being able to defuse the other guy’s big weapon. Murray isn’t a weak player, he can whack the ball when he wants to and Roger Federer has an exceptional forehand, but they’re exceptional players because they can break down their opponent’s games and that’s how you win tournaments today.

<strong>Dubai</strong> (outdoor hard court)

Half of the top ten is in Dubai. It’s gotta be the prize money – or appearance money in the case of Nadal and Federer – because everyone has to turn around and fly back to the west coast of the U.S. for Indian Wells next week. I will be at Indian Wells, by the way, in the media center looking out over the main stadium, so be sure to check in.

This is a pretty juicy draw. Marcos Baghdatis and Rafael Nadal play in the first round because Baghdatis didn’t defend his final at the Australian Open and he’s now down to a ranking of 17. Nadal has beaten him on grass and hard court so I have to go with Nadal but you never know when Baghdatis will wake up and go on a big run.

Tommy Haas has been tearing up the circuit but I think it’s time for him to lose to Nikolay Davydenko.

Robin Soderling keeps beating good players and losing to bad players. This year he’s beaten Richard Gasquet, Nikolay Davydenko and Baghdatis and lost to Alexander Peya and Florian Mayer. He has a 2-0 record against Tommy Robredo so I’m picking him to make it 3-0.

I’d like to get excited about a Federer-Haas semifinal but I can’t. Haas hasn’t beaten him in an ATP main draw since 2002. I’m not just saying this because I want to see Nadal-Federer X, but Nadal and Federer should meet again in the final with Fed taking the title this year instead of Nadal.

On last note about Dubai. Read <a href=”http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/more/02/21/qatar0226/index.html”>this</a> excellent article in Sports Illustrated by Jeff MacGregor about the Asian Games. The Games were held in Doha in December and if Dubai is the Las Vegas of the Arab world, then surely Doha is next in line. Doha put on a spectacular event with new buildings and sports venues designed to position them as a 2016 Olympics contender.

Both Dubai and Doha host ATP events. We complained last year that you won’t get into Dubai with an Israeli passport and now this from the Sports Illustrated article:

<em>Country by country the athletes are introduced. The host nation receives the greatest ovation during the alphabetical parade, from Afghanistan through Yemen. Folks from the, um, Axis of Evil, however, run a close second. Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Syria all walk in to lusty applause. Israel’s invitation probably got lost in the mail.</em>

I don’t like invoking the term “axis of evil” even if you qualify it with an “um” because it just continues the ideological war of words. But the Olympic Committee of Asia, which controls the Games, excluded Israel and asked it to join the European Olympic group and now it wants to host the Olympics? Okay, fine, then let Israel compete in the Asian Games and hold an event that lets sports do its job: bringing people together from all over the world to engage with each other in a majestic and exciting competition.

<strong>Las Vegas</strong> (outdoor hard)

Yes it’s time for the Tennis Channel Open and the craziness that is Vegas. A racket stringing contest, paddleball matches, table hockey, a shotgun 21 tournament, shootings at a strip joint – no, wait, that’s the NBA All Star game. Anyway, it’s not your usual tennis tournament and it also happens to be this week’s version of the funky hybrid round robin format.

In the hybrid format, the main draw elimination round starts before qualifying ends and round robin matches start before the elimination round ends. That means we don’t know the identity of one third of the players in the round robin groups because they come from the winners of the elimination round. See why this format has to go away?

We do know that Benjamin Becker and Robbie Ginepri will play each other in round robin play. Ginepri dropped from number 21 down to the 40’s after the US Open while Becker is climbing up the rankings at a breakneck speed – he jumped from 421 to 58 last year. They’re both in the mid-forties at the moment and I’m thinking that Ginepri will stagnate and Becker will keep rising.

The only player in the top ten here is James Blake. Lleyton Hewitt is ranked number 20 but that’s misleading, he hasn’t beaten anyone of consequence since last year. You could switch around the players in the bottom half of the finals round and it shouldn’t matter, Blake should be able to repeat as the winner.

<strong>Acapulco</strong> (clay court)

Acapulco has not posted its draw yet but it looks like all of the players from Buenos Aires will trudge right over to Acapulco. It’s hard to pick a winner after what happened in Buenos Aires. Look at three of the semifinalists: Alession Di Mauro, Juan Monaco and Diego Hartfield. Monaco beat Nicolas Almagro and will meet Di Mauro in the final.

<strong>Never-Mets</strong>

Never-mets are matches between players who’ve never played before. There are too many tournaments and not enough top players available to enter them. This week, for instance, there are three tournaments on three different continents. As a result, players don’t play each other often enough and rivalries don’t develop.

Almost one third of the matches at Las Vegas are never-mets and that’s because they have only one top ten player. Dubai has five top ten players and there are only two never-mets. Not only that but two sets of players who played each other in Rotterdam last week will meet in the first round at Dubai. Imagine that!

To see the draws and my picks in those draws, click <a href=”http://ninarota.com/fantasytennisguide/?p=3″>here</a>

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