Monthly Archives: May 2007

B**tch And Sing Dept: A Hero’s Return

Federer Resuscitates Himself, Just In Time

In film school they used to yak at us about the mythical structures that occur in films and novels. The story of the Hero is a primal one: he rises, he doubts, he sputters, pitfalls occur, he may lose faith and purpose, he may part with the trusted souls who have helped him to this point. Then he reemerges, reinvents himself and is reborn. I thought of all this ancient stuff when I saw Roger Federer really take it to Rafael Nadal on this Sunday past in Hamburg. He even baked the lad a bagel in the final set. I thought for sure I had woken up not only on the wrong side of the bed but on the wrong planet.

If any athlete approaches the heroic ideal these days, it would have to be Roger Federer. I might be inclined to add Tiger Woods to that, but golf for me is not a sport requiring the same athletic skills as tennis. It is still rather mind-boggling to contemplate what happened on Sunday, especially given how strong Nadal looked in roaring through the first set, 6-2. I had hoped Federer would carry with him the imprint of how he had played in the second part of his semifinal match against Carlos Moya. He finally got his serve going, his forehand started to motor, and the level of aggression in his game had picked up. If he comes out doing that against Nadal, I thought, he may have a chance. Well, a chance to get a set off him at least. That was the best the Number One could hope for.

Instead he came out and looked rather flat in the opening set against Nadal. None of those aforementioned shots were working in his game. Nothing had been really working in Federer’s game for a while. The week before in Rome he lost a dismal match to a player far down in the rankings. Before that Guillermo Canas had rung his bell twice on Roger’s favorite hard court surface. The locker room was suddenly awash in newly-confident guys who now thought they all had a shot against the world’s number one. It seemed that the only thing Roger hadn’t misplaced was his coach. He got fired him instead.

That dismissal probably roiled Federer up good inside. Who knows, with his clay court season plans fast disappearing up in smoke, he may have even wondered why he was playing Hamburg at all. Now he was faced with the prospect of a long afternoon, having just dropped the first set to Nadal and giving no signs he was going to recover from the drubbing.

How did he turn it around? My co-writer Nina Rota put it this way…..”Who else coulda hung in there emotionally well enough to let his game emerge like that…he must have a deep reservoir of self-awareness and confidence.” She adds, “When Federer does something like this I wish I was a much better writer because he is transcendent and exceptional in a way that I’m not sure I have the language for.” We are still inventing that language, Nina, hang in there!

Theories are circulating as to why Federer started playing better in Hamburg. One suggests that Federer’s separation from Roche triggered a kind of emotional release. He wanted to separate from his coach for a while and was uncertain how to go about doing that. The men were friends, after all, and it sounded to me like Roger was feeling a bit guilty about wanting to make a change. But he knew the change needed to be made, the question was when.

Filippo Volandri provided the impetus in his drubbing of Roger in Rome. Federer had to act immediately. The Roche Coach rolled away. Suddenly, it seemed someone had flung open a window for Federer. In his earlier matches his play, while not exactly sparkling, showed renewed signs of life. The feet were moving happily, his game slowly started coming together. He played his way out of his emotional morass on Sunday. Who knows, maybe Federer ended up playing exactly the way Rochie would have wanted him to play. Does this reflect discredit upon Roche? Not necessarily. Tony may be smiling to himself somewhere Down Under.

There should really be no secrets as to how players can go after Nadal. Good steady serving, at least one of your ground weapons working well and a decent dollop of aggression can get the job down. Nadal was probably quite sincere when he said after the match that, given his druthers if he had to lose, he would rather lose to the world’s number one. How bad would it be to pick up the papers and read how Nadal’s fabulous 81-match winning streak on clay came to an abrupt end because of – Lleyton Hewitt??? As the teenyboppers say, “EEeewwww!”

But it was probably the Hewitt match that took enough of the stuffing out of Nadal so Roger could maneuver his way in. Nadal did not look especially strong in his earlier matches and he came as close this week to looking a bit fatigued as we have ever seen him. Still, he showed up to play and he had no excuses, especially when he was so totally outplayed in the last two sets. When was the last time anyone bageled Nadal? On clay? I don’t think such a rarity has ever happened. Federer managed one in the first set at Wimbledon last year, but that was on grass. There’s always a first time we suppose.

Does this victory entirely restore Federer? Was he ever really that far off track? For the most part it does restore him, but the French will involve a five-set final if Federer makes it that far. Certainly a much bolder test. But bring it on, we can’t wait. And how about a really strange scenario: Roger wins the French, but Rafa takes Wimbledon?

Federer Ends the Funk and Beats Nadal, Finally

WE HAVE A RIVALRY!!!! Finally, thankfully, we have a rivalry on the ATP tour.

Tennis sicko that I am, I rolled out of bed and checked the tennis scores before I even had time for my first yawn and there it was: Roger Federer, a 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 winner over Rafael Nadal in the Masters Series Hamburg final.

Yep, that score is right. Federer beat Nadal for the first time on a clay court, ended Nadal’s record winning streak on clay at 81 matches, and pulled off the most surprising match of the year. That is if you don’t count his losses to Guillermo Canas and Filippo Volandri.

How did Federer do it? Somehow he found his forehand and his serve and his nerve all at once. If you remember last year’s French Open final against Nadal, Federer inexplicably decided to stay back on the baseline and incurred the derision of Mats Wilander, who famously questioned his cojones.

If staying back was Tony Roche’s idea, that may explain why he was fired as Federer’s coach last week. That may also explain why Federer gets the sometimes overused label tennis genius. He’s not only the number one ranked player in the world but he can strategize better than one of the best coaches. Left to his own devices, Federer managed to strike just the right balance of aggression: he served and volleyed, attacked Nadal’s second serve, and repeatedly hit wide to Nadal’s forehand then came into the net.

After losing his serve twice in the first set, things were looking bad for Federer. At 1-1 in the second set, Nadal ran from one side of the court to the other and curled a beautiful passing shot around Federer. After a mishit and a backhand error, Federer was down two more break points and I was ready to write the same boring column: Fed still in a funk.

Then his game turned on. A beautiful scoop volley, a forehand approach winner, one more volley and he had game point. Three straight trips to the net and the rout, believe it or not, was on. Nadal won exactly one more game. Federer had found his marvelous forehand and he hit it as hard as he could pinning Nadal behind the baseline and forcing him into short shots which Federer ate up at the net.

The funk had lifted. The switch he couldn’t find against Canas in Miami and the forehand he lost playing Volandri in Rome were back. He could elevate his game when he needed it and he needed it badly to have any chance at winning the French Open and getting a calendar grand slam.

As for Nadal, he was probably tired. He barely beat Lleyton Hewitt in the semifinals and he usually skips this tournament to rest for the French Open – he hasn’t played here since 2003. He was already angry at ATP CEO Etienne de Villiers for planning to reduce the number of Masters clay court events from three to two and now he’s probably even angrier. Nadal surely would not have played Hamburg if he hadn’t protested so loudly about de Villiers’ plans to downgrade the Masters Series status of both Monte Carlo and Hamburg. How could he put up a stink then not turn up?

If it was one too many tournaments for Nadal, it was just right for Federer. I don’t think anyone expected him to right himself emotionally in the space of one week. Here we all thought the pressure of the long run at the top had finally gotten to him and, instead, it was his relationship with Roche.

The French Open all of a sudden becomes ten times more exciting. Nadal will be fighting for his third straight title and Federer is desperate for the chance to win all four slams. Tighten your seat belts and consider this one last question:

Now that Federer has beaten Nadal on clay, who’ll win the French Open?

Poertschach and Dusseldorf: Picks and Previews

Everyone who lost early in Hamburg is in Poertschach or Dusseldorf for a few more clay court matches before the French Open starts next week.

Rear View Mirror: a look at last week’s picks

Carlos Moya and Lleyton Hewitt in the semifinals at Hamburg? Please, even a betting genius couldn’t have predicted that. By the way, check out this site:, the musings of a professional gambler who bets on tennis. This punter has great insight into the scope of knowledge and discipline necessary to make your livelihood from gambling. Punter, by the way, is a British term for a gambler.

Okay, so I was wrong, Rafael Nadal is still here in Hamburg – I said he’d find an excuse to stay home, and Guillermo Canas is not – he lost in the first round to Juan Ignacio Chela. I was right about Novak Djokovic though, I said he looked tired. He went out to Moya in the quarterfinals.

And I did have Roger Federer in the final. He looks to be about 80% of his old self which won’t be enough to beat Nadal, his opponent in the final. Think of it like this: if Federer is still the second ranked player on clay and he’s playing at about 80% of his clay court self, that makes Nadal 20% better than everyone else on clay at the moment.


Check out the bottom quarter of this draw, it looks like the misfits’ happy hour. Andy Roddick, Sam Querrey and Hyung-Taik Lee are fast court lovers while Gael Monfils has lost his way to the point that he is now playing challengers. I read a rumor that Monfils has signed with Renaissance Management, the tennis group coached by Tarik Benhabiles. Tennis is so conservative these days that one of it’s most demonstrative and distinctive young talents – Mr. Monfils – can’t seem to find a coaching situation that accommodates his unusual talent. That’s too bad because he has exceptional physical skills and we need a personality like him in the regular draw.

Hyung-Taik Lee could survive the misfits’ quarter and meet Lleyton Hewitt in a semifinal.

Nikolay Davydenko is the defending champion but I’m gonna say that Juan Monaco beats him then loses to Ivan Ljubicic in the semifinals because Monaco put up a good fight against Federer in Hamburg and made it to the quarterfinals here last year.

That puts Ljubicic and Hewitt in the final. Hewitt fought Nadal to 5-5 in the third set in Hamburg before finally succumbing, believe it or not. Hewitt will be back up to a ranking of #16 after this week and he’s had two quarterfinal appearances at Roland Garros so it’s not that far fetched.

Poertschach draw

Quarterfinalists: Davydenko, Monaco, Ljubicic, Albert Montanes, Stanislas Wawrinka, Hewitt, Lee, Roddick
Semifinalists: Monaco, Ljubicic, Hewitt, Lee
Finalists: Ljubicic, Hewitt
Winner: Hewitt


Dusseldorf hosts the World Team Cup which is basically an excuse to have another tournament in Germany. The eight best tennis countries in the world judged by ATP year end rankings break into two groups and play that dreaded round robin format that caused so many problems earlier this year.

There’ll be no problem here because the results don’t count in the rankings. Why bother to play then, you ask? Because players know they won’t lose in the first round since it’s round robin and they can count on three or four clay court matches to warm up for the French Open.

Each country plays two singles matches and one doubles match against another country and I’m obviously not going to look at all of those matches so let’s just look at the strongest countries and leave it that.

Argentina is bringing Juan Ignacio Chela, Agustin Calleri and Jose Acasuso and they look the strongest. Spain is bringing David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro and they look good too. Almagro had a good match in Hamburg against Tommy Robredo then lost to Acasuso and Ferrer lasted until he met Federer. Those two countries should be in the final.

Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu will play for Chile and should come in third and Germany might manage fourth place with Philipp Kohlschreiber, Florian Mayer and Benjamin Becker if they’re lucky.

Take it easy this week and rest up for the second grand slam of the year and those long, long five set matches at the French Open.

See you then.

B**tch and Sing Dept: Got Coach?

Another screwy week in tennis, but tasty tidbits abound.

It’s up to the northern climes this week on the ATP Tour, we’ve abandoned the sunshine of Rome for the dour look of Hamburg. And dour it is. We know we’re in Germany because the weather is off and on, the people look cold and bundled, and the men are all running around in jeans. Some of them actually look good enough to be seen in jeans. Gone are the colorful styles and warmth and crazy crowds that inhabit Rome. Sniff sniff.

Yesterday saw one interesting upset in Hamburg, Chela took out Canas in three strangely scored sets, 6-1, 4-6, 6-1. My co-writer Nina and I joke about looking at the weekly draws and finding out where Canas is placed so he can bother Roger. He’s located on the far side of the draw from Federer, so they would not have chanced to meet unless it were the final. Contrary to earlier rumors, Federer and Nadal are both here, and so far give no sign of bailing out.

By now everyone on the planet of tennis, if not indeed THE planet itself, knows that Roger Federer is coachless. Tony Roche got the sack over the weekend, although the official word was that the parting was amicable on both sides. Well, ok, take that one with a good dollop of salt. Roger needed to do something different and new, I just didn’t think he would take this step quite so soon. Hell, for all we know the roller coaster ride is just beginning. Before he’s done he’ll probably dump Mirka, dye his hair blond (again), and convert to Islam. “That’s tennis,” Roger would say.

The AP reports him saying, “I‘m definitely not going to take a coach for the French Open and Wimbledon because I know what it takes and I don‘t want anybody interfering with my preparation and with my tournaments.”

Touchy touchy! Keep your arms away from the cage, please, the lion is restless right now.

“Maybe down the road I’m going to look again for someone who’s going to be able to help me out for practicing.”

Practicing, he calls it. Biff bam socko! I kind of like his man-against-the-wilderness attitude. After all he was coachless for quite a long spell, he can do it again until he lands the proper man. It will be fascinating to see who he picks, and why.

Roger’s situation was one of the many interesting tidbits to emerge out of the week in Rome. Here are a few of the others….

  • Good Boys, Bad Boys: Gasquet, Berdych, Djokovic and Gonzalez started off in Rome looking good in their early matches. Then Gasquet and Berdych ran into Volandri and the upstart had his way with both of them, with a tasty slice of Fed beef in between. What’s with the young lions that they play well on a Monday and then just vanish in their next round? Djokovic and Gonzalez had a great week in Rome also, yet both must feel rather letdown that their games didn’t have enough left for Nadal. They failed to make what they would probably consider a decent showing against the world’s number two.
  • The second best thing I will take out of the Rome event was the intelligent play of Nikolay Davydenko in the semi-finals against Rafael Nadal. That match should have been the final. Who would have thunk it that Nadal could be pushed around by Davydenko and his uncanny ability to hit the ball so early? What a great tactic against the Spaniard! Everyone thinks in terms of hitting big forehands out wide to him, or even just up the middle, and of course serving well on first serves especially. But not enough praise is sung for those early strikers of the ball. Quite a tactic to use on Nadal, and hopefully one that will be tried again. It’s just not enough players seem able to do what Davydenko did. Maybe hitting early is one of those skills you either have naturally or you don’t. You have to see the ball so well so early to play like this. It may be nearly impossible to teach. Most guys (and girls) seem content to let the ball roll into their comfort zone a little more, whereas Nikolay moves out to greet it. Necessity imposes this style upon him: he is neither very tall nor very strong and he has no capacity for thunderous shots. But just by stepping in and lasering a ball he had Nadal scrambling for his life. By far this was the most entertaining match of the week. Good to see the Russian getting back into form, he’s had a tough opener to his year what with injuries and inconsistency.
  • The highlight of the week has to be the play of Filippo Volandri, number 53 in the world, a clay court player of decent strength who put together a fantastic week for himself. He beat Gasquet, Federer and Berdych before going rather quietly at the hands of Fernando Gonzalez. His play was all heart, all crowd-driven. Don’t you love the names those Italian moms give their kids, like Potito and Daniele and Filippo? With a name like Filippo Volandri, no wonder this guy was flying high. He comes with wings! He has a so-so forehand, and an even more so-so serve, but they both were firing away with remarkable pace and consistency. He wailed repeatedly on a lovely one-handed backhand that seemed hit with so much joy and confidence. God, I want to kiss the man, but I suppose I have to wait in line. They should make a bust of him and put it on the grounds of the Foro Italico, to join the other gods. He certainly played like one. In a week where one of the big sporting idols in Italy, cyclist Ivan Basso, was embroiled in further doping headlines, the inspired play of Volandri probably came at just the right time. Good fortune continues to smile on him into this week. He suffered a miserable first set at the hands of Andy Murray today in Hamburg, only to find himself getting the win anyway after Murray tweaked his wrist and had to retire.
  • Most luscious sighting of the week: Ana Ivanovic’s mom watching her equally beautiful daughter win a juicy WTA title in Berlin. On Mother’s Day we like to thank moms for being supportive, for being good cooks and housekeepers and whatnot, but how about thanking them for just looking absolutely HOT! in a cream-colored jacket and top with a lovely matching choker, streaked blonde hair and dark shades.
  • Even in Rome, she would have stood out like a sore thumb. Happy Mother’s Day!

Federer and Canas Could Meet Again in Hamburg

If Nadal takes the week off, look for the latest Federer-Canas meeting in the final at Hamburg.

We have a new game in tennis: find the player in the draw who’ll beat Roger Federer this week. If Filippo Volandri – a wild card – can beat him in Rome, anyone can. Federer was obviously none too happy about that loss because he fired his coach Tony Roche this weekend.

Federer hired Roche to put more attack and volley in his game but it seems to have knocked Federer out of his rhythm. It could be that focusing so intently on improving his clay court skills and winning the French Open has thrown the rest of his game off. Let’s see if going solo returns some semblance of normalcy to Federer’s game this week.

Federer’s Half of the Draw

Robin Soderling should be Federer’s quarterfinal opponent because Soderling has beaten David Ferrer all four times they’ve met and he’s better than Ivan Ljubicic on clay.

I expect Novak Djokovic to find a reason not to play Hamburg even though it’s a required event because he’s looking pretty tired. That’s what happens when you’re tied with Rafael Nadal for the most wins this season: you get worn out. Even if Djokovic did play, he’d meet Mikhail Youzhny in the third round and Youzhny has beaten him twice this year. Youzhny has also beaten Tomas Berdych three times this year and that should get him a semifinal match against Federer.

I’ve ignored James Blake because Berdych should be able to beat him on clay.

Nadal’s Half of the Draw

I think Nadal will find a reason to drop out too. That dizzy spell and hospital visit in Rome set up the perfect excuse for Nadal to claim a health problem. I could be wrong – and if I am, I’m sure you’ll let me know about it – but I’m proceeding as if Nadal is not here.

Guillermo Canas beat Nikolay Davydenko in Barcelona. That was before Davydenko found his game and played a superb match against Nadal in Rome, but Canas is also 3-1 lifetime over Davydenko so I’m going with Canas. Canas is also 3-1 over Tommy Robredo and has beaten him this year.

I don’t know who’ll win if Fernando Gonzalez and Richard Gasquet meet in the third round, they’ve never played before. Gasquet is a better clay court player but Gonzales has found his game again and reached the final in Rome. It might not matter, though, because Canas beat Gonzalez the last time they met in Hamburg and Canas also beat Gasquet in their only meeting. Jeez, Canas has a winning record over everyone, including Mr. Federer.

By my calculations, that gives us a Federer-Canas final and that’s a match I’d love to see. I do not believe that Federer would let Canas beat him for a third time this year.

Hamburg draw

Quarterfinalists: Federer, Soderling, Youzhny, Berdych, Robredo, Canas, Gasquet, Igor Andreev
Semifinalists: Federer, Youzhny, Canas, Gasquet
Finalists: Federer, Canas
Winner: Federer