Category Archives: AMS Rome

Monte Carlo, Madrid and Musical Chairs

Madrid will replace Hamburg, Shanghai will replace Madrid, and Monte Carlo will be left out.

I assume everyone here knows the game musical chairs. If not, just think of it like this: someone starts up the music and a bunch of people walk around a collection of chairs. As soon as the music stops, everyone has to find a chair to sit on. Problem is, there’s one less chair than there are people so someone ends up on the floor.

In the musical chairs game that comprises the 2009 ATP schedule, Monte Carlo found a chair but could still end up on their butt.

When the ATP settled its suit with Monte Carlo last week, they allowed it to keep its Masters Series designation – Masters 1000 as it will be called – but removed it as a required tournament.

Madrid will move from the fall indoor season to the spring clay court season. This is important because the sneak-peek 2009 calendar I’ve seen puts Madrid into Hamburg’s slot and since Monte Carlo is no longer a required event, people like Roger Federer will probably play Rome, skip a week then play Madrid, then rest one week before playing Roland Garros.

Rafael Nadal usually plays Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome before resting up for Roland Garros. This year he played Hamburg too and lost because he was tired. Nadal will surely play Barcelona and Madrid as he is a Spanish player and that means he will likely skip Monte Carlo because that will be one tournament too many.

A lot of other Spanish players will do the same thing and clearly the hard court players won’t waste their time in Monte Carlo if they don’t have too. No one cares about the hard court players but the Kings of Clay come from Spain so Monte Carlo will be left with a bunch of second tier players trying to make Masters Series money.

By they way, completing our game of musical chairs, Shanghai will get a new Masters 1000 event and take over for Madrid. That means we now have eight required Masters 1000 events instead of nine and that was the point.

Here they are: Indian Wells, Miami, Rome, Madrid, Canada, Cincinnati, Shanghai, Paris.

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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!

Davydenko Battles Nadal While Federer Fires His Coach

Nikolay Davydenko lost a brilliant battle to Rafael Nadal in their Rome semifinal while Roger Federer fired his coach two weeks before the French Open.

Nikolay Davydenko had the right game plan to beat Rafael Nadal in their Rome semifinal and he played the match of his life, but he was one skill short: attack mode. He came to the net when he was assured that Nadal was out of position but again and again he found himself inside the baseline and decided to backpedal instead of move forward and attack.

Davydenko got all those short balls because he pushed Nadal by taking the ball early and hitting wide to Nadal’s backhand. Once he got Nadal on the run, he kept him on the run. But he didn’t attack quite enough and that uncovered one more problem: size. Davydenko is a small guy and Nadal is a big, bruising hitter. If Davydenko had attacked just a bit more he might have been able to win the first set. But he lost it in a tiebreaker and by the third set, he’d run out of the strength he needed to push Nadal around the court while Nadal was still humming.

This was the match we’ve been waiting for since last year’s five hour, five set final between Nadal and Roger Federer. When Nadal had time to run around his forehand and set up shop, Davydenko found a way to get the ball back. When the rally went on forever, Davydenko hit away until Nadal made an error. When Nadal served for the first and second set, Davydenko broke him.

It was everything Davydenko had but it wasn’t enough and it must have been a bitter loss. As he walked off the court the crowd yelled and clapped for him. He threw his hands up halfway and out to the side and half grimaced/half smiled in response, a gesture expressing the appreciation and the pain.

I’m sure Roger Federer saw the match and it might have been bittersweet for him too because he has the skill that Davydenko doesn’t. Federer-Nadal is a fascinating twosome in that regard. The fiery but one-dimensional Nadal drives himself to excellence and the supremely skilled Federer stays calm enough for his tennis brilliance to emerge.

Desire trumps finesse on clay, though, and Federer’s attempt to change his game to win the French Open appears to have come to a sticking point. He hired Tony Roche to improve his net play and he fired him this weekend just two weeks before the French Open.

There are rumors that Lleyton Hewitt will hire Roche and Federer will hire Darren Cahill. I’m not sure why Roche would want to work with Hewitt and it’s not Federer’s style to be desperate for help. It’s just the opposite, he’s gone for long stretches without a coach. Still, it leaves Federer without direction at the moment and sets up a curious situation for someone with the best shot in his career at a calendar grand slam.

Perhaps last year was his best shot.

See also:
Federer’s Slump
Federer Loses Again, This Time to a Wild Card
B**tch and Sing Dept: Early Rounds in Rome
Rerun in Rome: Preview and Picks

Federer’s Slump

Is Federer in a slump?

I had hoped to talk about a new rivalry today. I didn’t expect Novak Djokovic to beat Rafael Nadal in Rome but I thought he could give him a good match. Djokovic played much better in the second set than the first and he showed promise, but he still lost their quarterfinal match, 6-2, 6-3. Instead of talking about that rivalry, let’s go back and revisit Federer’s latest loss.

Is Federer in a slump? This year he has two titles in six tournaments and lost in Rome to wild card Filippo Volandri, a very unFederer-like state of affairs.

Our reader Maria thinks he’s in a state of denial and unwilling to admit that he has a problem. My co-writer Pat thinks Federer has the existential problem of having himself as his biggest challenger because there are so few other challengers out there. A tough situation if you think about it. If his challenger is inside, if it’s his inner self, is that enough to propel him to his two remaining goals: a calendar grand slam and fifteen slam wins (one more than Pete Sampras’ record)?

Federer has two problems at the moment. On hard court he doesn’t have a credible challenger which makes it hard to maintain a high level of emotional drive for winning. On clay his challenger is a fierce competitor who favors eccentric attire and tied the record for consecutive wins on a single surface today with his victory over Novak Djokovic. Nadal tied John McEnroe’s record of 75 consecutive wins on indoor carpet.

Federer hired Tony Roche and improved his game in order to beat Nadal on clay court but so far he has failed. This year he is regressing instead of progressing. Federer’s two challengers appear to have ganged up on him and left him reeling a bit.

Nadal has improved his clay court game while Federer has not and Federer’s inner self is suffering a lack of drive. That’s a pretty big one-two punch. Add one more goal that Federer may be pursuing: greatest of all time. He will not be the greatest of all time as long as Nadal is supreme on clay and that could be eating at Federer’s inner self too.

You can see why Federer befriended Tiger Woods. On two occasions Woods changed his stroke to improve his game and on both occasions he went into a slump while he remade himself only to emerge and return to dominating the PGA tour. Woods is trying to beat Jack Nicklaus’ record of eighteen major wins, he currently has twelve. Federer currently has ten slam titles.

Maybe Federer’s competition with Woods to see who can reach their goal first will prop up Federer’s inner self. And maybe Woods can help Federer figure out how to muck his way through a slump and return to domination.

I don’t think it will be enough to help Federer win a French Open as long as Nadal is healthy, but anything can happen, and I’d bet a whole lot on Federer breaking Pete Sampras’ record.

See Also:
Rerun in Rome: Preview and Picks
B**tch and Sing Dept: Early Rounds in Rome
Federer Loses Again, This Time to a Wild Card

Federer Loses Again, This Time to a Wild Card

How did Roger Federer lose to wild card Filippo Volandri in the Masters Series event in Rome? Let me count the ways.

1. Mistaken Identity

Federer couldn’t hit the side of a barn with his forehand – he hit two forehand winners all day – but he kept going for big shots. If he’d been playing Rafael Nadal that would have made sense, but it wasn’t Nadal, it was Filippo Volandri who is currently number 53 in the world. Federer should have made the adjustment any amateur knows how to make: get the ball in play and let your opponent make an error. At the very least, make your opponent hit some shots. Volandri had no opportunity to lose his nerve because Federer didn’t make him hit enough balls to lose his nerve.

2. No Returns Accepted

Volandri is a weak server. When he was serving for the match, one of his first serves came in at 86 mph. Olivier Rochus is 5ft5in and his serve is more intimidating. Yet Federer got exactly one break because he couldn’t return the ball and he didn’t pressure Volandri’s second serve (which is barely stronger than my second serve).

3. Server Down

Federer’s first serve percentage was 44%. It’s clay court tennis, if you can’t get your first serve in it’s not like the lighting fast court gives you a second opportunity to hit a big serve. Here’s the stubbornness again. Take something off the first serve and just get it in! Works for Rafael Nadal.

4. Can’t Get a Break

When Federer lost to Guillermo Canas earlier this year, he said he wasn’t playing the big points well. Today Federer had seven break points and he converted exactly one. Volandri, on the other hand, had eight break opportunities and converted four.

5. Wrong Side of the Bed

Maybe Federer fell out of bed and knocked himself unconscious without knowing it because he forgot how to slide. Clay court movement is not his forte but again and again Volandri hit a deep cross court shot and Federer couldn’t get himself close enough to slide into the ball on the soft red clay. I’ve never seen him play so badly. Forty-four unforced errors in two sets with four double faults and only twelve winners.

Volandri is not one of those wild cards who’s ranked two or three hundred and something, he’s a pretty good clay court player. He won more clay court matches than Nadal last year and took the title at Palermo. Of course, Nadal was undefeated and Volandri lost fifteen matches but still, he’s not chopped liver.

Right about now, Federer is chopped liver. His last four tournaments ended with four Federer losses and today, a meltdown. The edge is gone, at least for the time being. There’s no longer that feeling that Federer will pull a win out by suddenly taking over a match and easily dispatching his opponent. His opponents frequently show more desire than he does. His clay court season is in tatters and Nadal is running away with every tournament.

The best we can do is hope that Novak Djokovic can beat Rafael Nadal – they play each other next. That’s not likely but then neither was today’s result.

See Also:
Rerun in Rome: Preview and Picks
B**tch and Sing Dept: Early Rounds in Rome