Author Archives: pat davis

The WTA Tour: Bank of the West

The women do Stanford in this Tier II event, but the field is strong with some compelling match-ups

Okay, so Anna Chakvetadze won Cincinnati last week, and according to betting form she therefore won’t win the Bank of the West this week. Inevitably she will have a falling off in attitude; the psyche’s natural desire for relaxation after a taxing week of getting to a WTA final.

Anna became the top seed here in Stanford after the pull-outs of Serena Williams (still the thumb problem post Wimbledon) and Ana Ivanovic, who is ranked a few places higher then “Chaky,” as she is nicknamed.

So one of the mini dramas already under way here at the Bank of the West Classic is whether or not Chaky can win two in a row. We wouldn’t recommend you bet against her though. She’s been to five finals so far in her young career, and she’s won all five of them. No need for stops in the Nerve Dept. to get herself refitted for combat, she gotta da nerve already.

Speaking of Ivanovic in fact, we wonder if this Anna, spelled with two “n’s” mind you, would have endured the same sort of nerves the Serbian beauty did in the final of Roland Garros. Ana Ivanovic suffered from major nerves, big time, and it lost her the final nearly from the get-go against Justine Henin. A painful thing no doubt, but often the young need to go through that. Or so we tell ourselves.

Chaky seems to have latched onto the keys to successful tennis from the start. She plays a good game under pressure and isn’t that the key for all the young players coming up? Their games at this level are pretty much all comparable. It comes down to the nerves, and how well they hold it together. If her nerve holds, there is no reason why she could not at least get to the final. But whether Chakvetadze wins a potential final or not depends in good part on how well the opposition plays, and in this event her Number 2 rival is surprise Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli.

The other mini-drama under way this week is whether Bartoli can transfer her fantastic early season run into the hard court season. I don’t see why not. And I’m not really sure why I feel that way. Bartoli still seems like an unknown ingredient. That’s what makes her fun to watch, she is strange, we haven’t seen this before. I had to make myself watch her at first, she was that jolting to the eye. Her style, and then her weight. But she moves well on the court. And she did pretty well earlier on clay, and then her success on grass. So why not hard courts?

I was not a Bartoli fan at the start. When I first saw her this spring, I could not believe my eyes. How could this overweight girl play tennis? Especially given her strokes. Those strokes. My God. Two hands off both sides. And that serving motion that looks like the loop in my bent silver earring.

What is with the French? On the one hand they produce atrocious styles such as Bartoli’s and Fabrice Santoro‘s. God knows we all love you Fabrice, but I would never teach your style to my child. If I had a child. On the other hand they give us players with a beautiful, classic style based around the strength of their one-handed backhands, like Richard Gasquet and Nicholas Mahut. Only in France, we suppose.

I would think losing to Santoro would be one of the more exquisitely horrible experiences in one’s tennis life. Akin to undergoing death by Chinese water torture. He’ll just dink you to death on the court. I’d probably succumb to my own frustration first. Vince Spadea is the souped up American version of Fabrice. And if he doesn’t get you on court, then he’ll rap you to death. Choose your poison.

But to return to Bartoli. I have become a fan, mostly because of the way she played her final against Williams at Wimbledon. Williams at Wimbledon, that has a peculiarly dynastic ring, doesn’t it? Bartoli was a heavy underdog, but she showed some fire and heat as the match went along, even though by then we all knew the outcome. But can she seriously hope to keep winning with her style of game and her weight issues. I would suppose that getting to the final of something like Wimbledon changes your life, like, a little at least. You may start doing things differently to accommodate just in the course of things. Maybe the weight will take care of itself. Her game may be set though.

It’s nice to catch a new face on the rise, especially after the enchanting run she enjoyed at Wimbledon. The quaintness of her upbringing is compelling, and reassures me that individuality is alive and thriving at least in one corner of the world. Unfortunately it’s not ours. Sad will be the day when the French surpass us, not only in wines, but tennis players. Her father led her through a strange and imaginative tennis upbringing, encouraging her early tendencies to hit the ball with two hands off both sides, and training her with methods that truly give new meaning to the term “home-grown.” I look at him and Salvador Dali pops into my mind; maybe he had an imaginary daughter like Marion. Both of them seem like creatures from a Dali painting in their fantastical strangeness, for want of a better word.

The camera showed him in the stands at Wimbledon, in the ludicrously named “Friends’ Box,” which is something like putting a handful of cats into a box, sealing it and hoping for the best. Rival families sit together. It’s great. Whoever gets the honor of creating that deserves to go into the Tennis Hall of Fame. We really need to know this guy’s name. As Rafa would say, we need more humor of the blackness, no?

At Wimbledon Richard Williams sat in front of Pere Bartoli, a long-faced, bespectacled man with thinning hair. A doctor. Of what I know not. Let’s hope it’s not gynecology or something equally strange. At the end, after Williams had seen his daughter handle Bartoli’s kid pretty good, he turned to the Frenchman and said something that caused him to wipe tears away. I always wondered what Williams said to him. For once the Friends’ Box caught a glimmer of its name.

Well, let’s see how our week unfolds here at Stanford. This may be a smaller women’s event in that it is a Tier II instead of a I. But I like the field. Daniela Hantuchova is the Number 3 seed and having an excellent year; Patty Schnyder and Tatiana Golovin are in the draw along with Sania Mirza who is likely to get much support from the Indian community in the area. Also Shahar Peer from Israel, and Sybille Bammer, our Mom of Moms. Good competition is shaping up here. Stay tuned!

B**tch and Sing Dept: A Handful of Girl!

Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic has jumped to the top of her sport – time to take a look at “Our Favorite Alien”

It was barely a year ago when Jelena Jankovic began to turn her moribund career around. Her start to 2006 was so abysmal she contemplated quitting the game altogether and returning to her studies. Then she started to play better, and capped her Wimbledon last year with a solid win in the fourth round over Venus Williams. She was ranked Number 26 then; now she is Number 3 in the world. Amazing what a little confidence can do for a girl!

This year she had another good Wimbledon, even though she lost in singles in the Round of 16 to surprise finalist Marion Bartoli. Jankovic then hooked up on the spur of the moment with Jamie Murray, brother of Andy. He needed a partner for the Mixed Doubles. Never one to enjoy the practice courts, Jankovic figured it would give her some practice, now that she had been bounced from the singles. Low and behold, this rather quaint pairing got all the way to the finals, where they beat Jonas Bjorkman and Alicia Molik.

Jamie and Jelena became the talk of London. Are they dating, the British press wanted to know. They were all set to babble deliriously over yet another Murray. Brother Andy had to pull out just before the tournament began, so the Brits were on the lookout for anything or anyone from their tribe who could take up the slack. Jamie and Jelena were Heaven sent. Jankovic played coy about the rumors; Murray sounded just relieved he had found a decent partner who could, basically, carry the team. Mommy Murray just sounded…well, annoyed her son had to share the limelight.

Judy Murray is probably going for The Gloria Connors Tennis Mom Award. And nobody will stand in her way, for sure. Have you seen the chin on this chick? It’s made of granite, at least. I bet it takes a punch pretty good. Mom poo-pooed the rumors, basically implying like any good mom that my son – that’s MY SON, got it? – is way too good for that strange-looking girl with the long sculpted face that could have been lifted from a Modigliani painting. He drew roomfuls of elegant long women with elegant long faces. Some of us refer to Jankovic as “our little alien,” a term of endearment and ownership.

Where does she get those rather Asiatic-looking cheekbones? Her mom is a pleasant, plump bottle blonde who travels everywhere with Jelena. She looks nothing at all like her daughter. I figured she got the look from dad, but we never saw dad. Then he showed up just before Wimbledon at an event, and he looks pleasantly relaxed and also nothing like his daughter. Jankovic says she doesn’t know where her foreign looks come from. “Maybe it was the postman,” she quipped to Ubaldo Scanagatta.

Joking around seems to be a big thing for Jankovic. Also perhaps an excellent way to relax yourself in a sport that gives you little opportunities for relaxation. The notion that one can “have fun” in tennis these days is nearly non-existent. Sadly, it may be part of why interest is draining out of the sport. Thank God for Jelena, who takes the cake in the personality department. Why not, she’s probably baked it too. The girl is a ham. Wherever she hatched from, we are glad of it. But where does she go from here with her game?

She needs to start beating the very top women on a regular basis. She’ll be seeing a lot of them now as she gets more and more into the later rounds. She has beaten some of them, now she needs to beat more of them. Especially someone like Justine Henin. Although Jankovic has yet to beat the Belgian, they have had a medley of interesting, competitive matches. It’s only a matter of time. She had a good win over Maria Sharapova at Birmingham, a run-up event to Wimbledon. Jankovic had to come back in that match, and it gave her a ton of confidence. She needs to gather herself better at the big moments in big matches.

There is one specific change I would suggest: work on that serve, honey! She is so solid off both wings, she can hold her own at net, and her retrieving capabilities are tremendous; she can run down any ball because of her great movement and athleticism. Her fearlessless and ability to compete are top flight. But her serve should be as powerful as her ground strokes, and it’s not. Her second serve is about as horrible as Elena Dementieva’s, and we all know how horrible that is(!) It needs to be more of a weapon, not something that merely starts the point off.

Because she doesn’t like to practice much, Jankovic enters a lot of tournaments. Way too many. She should take a page from the Federer playbook: longer periods off, but go for quality play in challenging tournaments that you select carefully. A little discrimination is a good thing. It will add longevity to her career while keeping her energy level high. Besides, I for one am looking forward to a good decade with Jelena, she is certainly the most fun we’ve had on the women’s side for a while.

B**tch and Sing Dept: Wimbledon Afterglow

Roger Federer discovers the rearview mirror, and guess who’s coming?

Usually after I tape a tennis final I don’t like to see it right away. Mostly I am just tennised out and loathe to see anything further that even slightly resembles an orb-like object, particularly when colored yellow. Yesterday though I couldn’t resist dipping my hand back into that cookie jar that was Roger FedererRafael Nadal at Wimbledon ‘07 again. Talk about your instant classic. It’s so classic already that ESPN’s classic channel showed it last night. Like seeing a great movie, reading a fine novel, enjoying a good wine, this match left us with a feeling of keen satisfaction.

First off, let’s simply congratulate the lads for showing up, in one piece, fully prepared to play. No whining about my aching this or that. They are performers. That’s been a problem at Wimbledon this year, particularly late in the second week, when the rain delays put an undue burden on the capabilities of the players to get through matches. Nadal had already played all seven days, even though it was five matches. It didn’t seem to faze him though; at times he seemed fresher than Federer. From the mental standpoint, Federer may have faced the greater burden: he simply doesn’t play that many five-setters, so just getting his mind around that prospect may have been taxing. He couldn’t finish his man off in three sets this year or even four. That sent a message Federer didn’t want to hear. He displayed more crankiness during this match than we have ever seen from him before.

Isn’t it great to know that even the mighty Fed can suffer from bugs up his alimentary canal? I tell ya, that restored my faith in tennis humanity. When he uttered the “s” word about Hawkeye I felt like standing up and applauding.

What made the difference in this match on Sunday? It came down to the serving. Nadal served well enough, but it was Federer serving well at the crucial points which made the difference. Nadal was asked this in his presser. For him there was no doubt where the difference in the match resided.

Maybe if we have to find any difference, maybe the difference is the serve. He serve better than me, and that’s important in every surface, but in this surface more, no?

Federer echoed this in his comments:

From the baseline he was not outplaying me, but I always thought he had the upper hand for some reason and I couldn’t really play that aggressive like I wanted to, maybe like last year. But my serve kept me in, and I definitely won the big points today, which was most important.

Federer was only playing the Pete Sampras style of winning sets: you go through a set making sure you take care of YOUR serve. Of course you try to break HIS serve too, but you’re not obsessed about it. Then you get to the tiebreak and you turn on the afterburners. You serve lasers at the proper moments, grab those ever so few key points and your opponent’s ass is grass.

Nadal has learned a lot of new skills for grass court tennis. He’s shortened his windup on his ground strokes, he was coming into net more than Federer, and he’s learned how to angle volleys sharply off to the sides. You’d almost think he thinks he’s Patrick Rafter or Stefan Edberg the way he volleys.

But he needs to make one more change, and that’s to his serve. I want to see him hit through the serve more, rather than roll his racquet over and around the ball, creating a ton of spin. Spin is good, but sometimes you need the laser beam, right up the “T”. I said this about Richard Gasquet’s game last week after he dusted Andy Roddick in what I think is still the most brilliant match of Wimbledon. It occurs to me now that this can be said of Nadal’s game too.

Nadal and Gasquet both need that silver bullet. If Nadal adds that shot to his repertoire, he will win Wimbledon next year. He needs to feel confident that he can whip out an ace when he really needs it. But what about his high serving percentage, you’re saying. Doesn’t that count? Yes, it does. But you don’t want to give your opponent a way into the point by rolling in a serve that he can still get a racquet on. And Roger managed to at least get most of those serves back into play. You need to blow a couple right by him. End it fast. You can see what Federer does with that serve, and the enormous confidence that comes to him from hitting that shot when he needs it. That made the difference on Sunday.

Luck also entered into the equation. When it was over I immediately felt that Federer caught more than a little of it on this day. Nadal outplayed him overall. But Federer won the crucial points at the crucial moments. It was so nice to hear that Federer said that to Nadal during the handshake.

Da Man is definitely looking over his shoulder now, and if Nadal makes those few changes to his game by next year, he’s going to be the one watching his opponent recede in that rearview mirror.

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ATP Fantasy Tennis: Gstaad, Bastad and Newport

ATP Fantasy Tennis Season is under way and I’ve posted a Fantasy Tennis Guide with fast facts, strategies, and statistics to help you play the game.

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I’m a bit exhausted after living through Roger Federer’s five set battle with Rafael Nadal earlier today at Wimbledon. Tennis attracted a few more fans with that tense and magnificent final. Roger admitted that he was lucky to get through and win his fifth straight title and he was.

I had some luck at Wimbledon too. I picked seven of the eight quarterfinalists. Philipp Kohlschreiber was a bad pick but the top eight seeds won’t all make it to the quarterfinals so you have to pick one or two surprises. Juan Carlos Ferrero was the surprise this year.

You may have thought the grass court season was over but it’s not. There’s one more largely insignificant grass court tournament in Newport, Rhode Island, U.S.A., home of the Tennis Hall of Fame. The clay court season isn’t over yet either, there are eight more to go, if you can believe that, and two of them take place this week in the rhyming European cities of Bastad and Gstaad.

BASTAD (clay, first prize: $55,820)

The first prize is low but there are no high priced tournaments this week. Nicolas Almagro dropped out of the top thirty and that means he could meet Tommy Robredo, the defending champion, in the quarterfinals. Almagro beat Robredo in Harmburg in their only meeting but I still think Robredo is the stronger player. Whoever wins that match gets Carlos Moya.

There’s a tough choice at the bottom of the draw because Juan Monaco and David Ferrer have both had good results on clay this year. I’ll take Monaco because he’s 2-0 over Ferrero on clay.

Bastad draw

GSTAAD (clay, first prize: $58,700)

Richard Gasquet is the defending champion and he’s still in this draw as I write but check to see if he withdraws before you choose your team. Wimbledon was a long journey for him. More importantly, you should save Gasquet for the slams and Masters Series events instead of wasting him here.

When there are two or three tournaments to pick from in one week, pick the players with the easiest path to the semifinals or final. Mikhail Youzhny and Philipp Kohlschreiber have the easiest paths to the semifinals in Gstaad.

Nikolay Davydenko does not. He should meet Paul-Henri Mathieu in the quarterfinals and that match is a tossup. They’re 2-2 on clay against each other going back to the year 2000 but neither player has ever done well in Gstaad. Mathieu has been more consistent on clay this year so I’m going with him.

Gstaad draw

NEWPORT (grass, first prize: $66,850)

This tournament is a mess to pick because the top seed, Mardy Fish, lost both of his grass court matches this year. Anthony Dupuis could come through qualifying and he got to the semifinals at ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Nicolas Mahut is in the main draw and he almost took the title from Andy Roddick at London/Queen’s Club. You can’t pick either of these last two players for your fantasy team, though, because they were both out of the top 100 when the fantasy season started.

Three of the four qualifiers are in Fish’s draw – how strange is that? – and if one of them is Dupuis, it could be trouble for Fish. Still Fish is likely to get to the semifinals before losing to Mahut.

The bottom quarter of the draw is a complete mess so I’m going to ignore it. Just above that it looks like Fabrice Santoro has the easiest path to the semifinals.

Newport draw


Newport is the richest tournament but not by much and Mahut is likely to win that anyway so I’m only picking Fish and Santoro. I’ll ignore Gasquet’s quarter of the draw at Gstaad and pick the other possible semifinalists: Mathieu, Kohlschreiber and Youzhny. The three strongest players in Bastad are Robredo, Moya and Monaco.

My team: Fish, Santoro, Mathieu, Kohlschreiber, Youzhny, Robredo, Moya, and Monaco.

Happy fantasies!

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B**tch and Sing Dept: Peek-a-boo Tennis

Join us for the men’s Wimbledon final! We’ll be blogging live on Sunday, July 8th at 6am PST/9am EST/2pm BST. Join in by writing comments and we’ll respond in real time.

Intermittent Tennis, With Frequent Showers

So far there have been 347 rain delays in this year’s Wimbledon through Monday of this week, but what really counted was the one Serena Williams got yesterday in her match against Daniela Hantuchova. Was that 345? Or 346? Anyway, it allowed Serena to regroup from her painfully obvious calf cramp and – after yet another rain delay – she came out and held her own to defeat Hantuchova in three sets. She is probably in no shape at all to play Justine Henin in the quarterfinals, at least according to Richard Williams, who felt she should have retired.

But still we feel anticipation. Serena was a force of nature out there in the size of her determination and ability to work through pain. This would be a wonderful story if she could break Henin in two. Personally I would relish that but we can’t count on it. Brad Gilbert likes Venus Williams’s chances better at this point than her sister’s, and I would go along with that. Venus over Maria Sharapova sounds more likely than Serena over Justine.

Apart from the Serena Williams story we could echo the sentiments of Nikolay Davydenko who summed it up succinctly: This is one BORING tournament. What’s wrong, Nic? Not having any fun? You’ve only managed to get further along on grass – your least favorite surface – than you ever have before at Wimbledon. So quit yer grippin’, guy! The weather does that to a disposition. Sitting around waiting for the endless rain delays to end can be pretty tiresome. It’ depletes energy to wait and deal with all the pent-up feelings.

Roger Federer, not having played since Saturday, probably has a hard time remembering what a tennis court looks like. I’m having a bit of trouble remembering what Roger Federer looks like. He won’t play his quarterfinal match until Thursday against Juan-Carlos Ferrero, and we’re knocking on wood with the weather on that one. It may turn out to be too much of a good thing for Roger: you want your body fresh during a Grand Slam, but five days of inactivity is not a good thing.

It took a somewhat dour Swede, Robin Soderling, to finally be the guy who took it to Rafael Nadal in the Butt Picking Department. Nadal was serving with new balls but he apparently forgot to hold them up to Soderling. Either because he was ticked off by that show of disrespect or maybe because he forgot he needed a new racquet to hit new balls, Soderling trotted quickly to the sidelines to retrieve another racquet.

Now it was Nadal who got ticked off. He bounced the balls for an eternity, like he normally does. Then he stopped, held up the new balls for his opponent to see, and started the ball-bouncing all over again! Annoyed with this, Soderling turned away from the service box. Then, wonder of wonders, he reached around and PICKED HIS BUTT! Great shot, I thought, hooting with laughter. He picked it deliberately, almost lovingly, it was a shot of purpose, intensity, cloth even flew up from the offending backside. The crowd yukked a bit too when they saw that. These guys should take their act on the road when they get done. If they get done.

But guy, doing that to Nadal could end up being the kiss of death. Nadal held serve next at love and then broke Soderling. I don‘t want to see what Rafa is like when he gets, like, really mad. Nadal may have gotten fired up by that episode but Soderling got more fired up: he roared back from the break early in the fifth set to break himself. The match is now deadlocked at 4-4 awaiting yet another day in which they can hopefully conclude this meandering epic. Assuming we want to see it end. Maybe we should make them stay out there longer. We could get more yuks out of these guys. They could become the Flying Dutchmen of the tennis world, who knows?

Part of the problem with all the rain is that the tournament feels like it’s slipping into a watery bog. Players go on court and come off court, they hang around and wait and try to occupy themselves during the rain and wonder when and if or what they should eat. Not good for morale, and certainly not for momentum. If you are a server who relies on your serve, your timing is going to come and go like the weather.

Amelie Mauresmo probably lost that final set 6-1 against Nicole Vaidisova because her game had been completely disrupted by all the rain. Not an excuse, but another hurdle for the players to navigate through. Mauresmo just went away in that final set and for a defending Wimbledon champion it was a disappointing thing to witness. Jelena Jankovic suffered a surprising upset for the same reason at the hands of Marion Bartoli: Jankovic needs rhythm going in her groundies for her game to work and the rain disrupted that.

It seems unfortunate the tournament directors can’t show some flexibility and schedule the middle Sunday for play, particularly knowing how bad the rain was already and what was coming down the road. It was a beautiful day last Sunday. People should have been on court taking advantage of that. But no, it’s Wimbledon, we’re special. And we’re different, thank you very much. So no, we won’t help the players out by having them play on Sunday.

I guess because they granted the women equal pay for the first time this year that the powers that be think that’s enough in the concession department. We won’t get anything else out of them now for probably the next decade, except that retractable roof they propose to have built by 2009.

But tomorrow is another day. Hopefully the waters will recede. Then I am half expecting Marcelo Rios to pop up and say, with that wonderful sneer, “You see? I told you – grass is for cows.”

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See also:
James Blake the Confidence Man
Wimbledon: A Little Play, a Lot of Water
Wimbledon 29 Years Back
Wimbledon Joins the Hard Court Season
B**tch and Sing Dept: Grass Munching Time
ATP Fantasy Tennis: Wimbledon Picks