Carla Suarez Navarro took out Venus Williams at the Australian Open. David Nalbandian is long gone too and is there any better player who didn’t won a slam?

Sports News - January 22,  2009

I fell in love with Carla Suarez Navarro at the French Open last year when she got to the quarterfinals in her first appearance in a slam main draw as a qualifier. She got that baby face and I love baby faced assassins. She’s baby sized too at only 5ft 4in (1.62m), and most people not named Justine Henin would have been intimidated by 6ft 1in (1.85m) Venus Williams but it didn’t seem to bother Carla and now Venus is out of the Australian Open.

After Carla hit some crucial shots at the beginning of the third set she turned to her box and did half a fist pump then got back to work. Still, she managed to find herself serving just to stay in the match at 5-2 in that third set. She got through that game then found herself down a match point in her next service game. She kicked in a first serve which threw Venus off, but Venus messed up two more returns. I know Venus was anxious because she was hitting everything long and she hit a double fault. Baby Carla was the cool one tonight, not the veteran.

As much as I love Carla, she hasn’t done much outside clay court events and that’s a testament to how slow the courts are here. Oddsmakers had Venus and Serena as favorites, but I crossed Venus off as soon as I saw Andy Roddick getting into protracted rallies. The Aussies got rid of the Rebound Ace courts but now they have a surface that doesn’t do much justice to their hard serving younger players.

Carla borrowed her backhand from Ivan Ljubicic who made news on a few fronts this week. First of all he played in the best match of the tournament so far, a four setter with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga that was tighter than – as Vic the Brick, a Fox Sports announcer, often says – an Aretha Franklin jumpsuit. Did you hear her bring it at Obama’s inauguration? And check out that hat, who could not love you Aretha?

The first three sets were tight anyway: 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (10/8), 7-6 (8/7). Ljubicic tired out in the fourth one and maybe that’s because this has been a busy week for him. There was a raucous player meeting before the tournament began and Ljubicic was in the thick of it because he’s a player representative on the board of directors.

Guillermo Canas in particular was mad because the new tour structure gives the higher ranked players a bigger share of the prize money. The higher prize money was the buyoff for getting top players to accept higher penalties for missing required events. Players are mad that Ljubicic allowed this to happen on his watch. Canas probably also wasn’t happy with Ljubicic for saying that players who served drug suspensions should not be awarded wild cards right after Canas came off a two year drug suspension. Canas is still very mad about that suspension and he expressed it by getting up and walking out of the meeting when Stuart Miller, the ITF’s drug guy, got up to speak.

Ljubicic resigned from the Board of Directors after his first round win here under that tired old excuse of wanting to spend more time with his family. I wish someone would just come out and tell the truth now and then. I’m actually glad to see that the SEC – the U.S. agency that oversees the stock market – is investigating Apple CEO Steven Jobs to see whether he made misleading statements about his health. I was just about to buy one of those aluminum Mac Book Pros and I want to know if the guy’s gonna be around or not.

Anyway, if I was Ivan I would have thrown some crap back at the players. He’s been working as a representative of the players for a long time and if they want to complain, they should get more more involved rather than walk out. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic did the right thing: they got themselves elected to the player’s council. Ivan deserves better treatment.

I’ve been watching Yen-Hsun Lu out of the corner of my eye for the past few years. He took out Andy Murray at the Olympics last year but that was probably Murray’s fault for not being prepared for the conditions. Lu popped up again for another big victory, this time taking out David Nalbandian in the second round here and I wondered if I should, similarly, blame Nalbandian for the loss.

It’s not like Nalbandian doesn’t have his rhythm yet. For sure, Argentina’s Davis Cup loss must have been tough to swallow and Nalbandian got into it with Juan Martin Del Potro in the Davis Cup locker room for playing too much tennis in the fall season instead of saving himself for Davis Cup – Del Potro pulled out with an injury after losing his first Davis Cup match. But Nalbandian took the title in Sydney last week so he looked like his head was back on straight. On the other hand, I was a bit shocked to realize that he hasn’t reached the quarterfinals at a slam since 2006

That’s all about conditioning. Running around on indoor fast courts playing short points suits him fine, but Nalbandian’s not up for those best of five outdoor matches in the searing heat. So I will blame him. I got excited at the end of 2007 when he won the Masters events in Madrid and Paris, but I think it’s now more or less official, Nalbandian goes on the list of the best players never to win a slam.

Who else is on the list? Let me think.

Todd Martin was the first player who came to my mind. He reached two slam finals and four semifinals and that’s not bad. Marcelo Rios did Martin one better by getting to number one in the rankings – Martin reached number four – and Rios may have been cheated out of his slam. Petr Korda beat him in the 1998 Australian Open final then tested positive for steroids at Wimbledon that year. However, Rios had no slam semifinals, just the one final, so Martin would win that pairing if we were doing bracketology.

Nalbandian looks to be just a hair behind Martin with one final and four semifinals but he edges closer when you consider that he has a year-end championship and Martin doesn’t. Alex Corretja might come next though his two finals and one semifinal were all at the French Open. He does have a year-end championship though. I’m sure there are many more. Help me out here. Who else am I forgetting from 1997 forward?

It makes you marvel at those who have won a slam doesn’t it, and even more for those with lots of them.

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