Category Archives: Australian Open

Join us for the men’s Australian Open final! We’ll be blogging live on Sunday morning, January 27, at 12:30am (PST)/3:30am (EST)/9:30am (CET). We’ll stay up if you’ll stay up.

If Maria Sharapova is the diva, what does that make Lindsay Davenport? How about inspiring?

Lindsay Davenport just passed Steffi Graf to become the highest career money winner on the women’s tour. She’s currently at $21, 872, 217. That figure is partially due to inflation. You can bet that Graf never made $1.4 million for winning the U.S. Open and that doesn’t include a $1 million bonus for winning the U.S. Open Series.

Davenport hasn’t had heavy endorsement income for a few reasons. She’s not classically beautiful or sexy, and she’s not a self-promoter. Maria Sharapova is both of those things. It’s not a wild guess to say that Sharapova will earn as much in endorsements by the end of her career as Davenport will have earned from prize money by the end of hers.

Sharapova is an intense diva who commands the court and fights to the very last drop. She’s the self assured product of a family which lives for her tennis career. She’s supposed to succeed and she does. And her success is not limited to tennis.

For all the extra curricular activities Venus and Serena Williams involve themselves in – Venus now wears her own line of clothing and Serena consults on her Nike clothing line, Sharapova will probably outdo them both. She just signed a contract with WTA sponsor Sony Ericsson that includes acting as a design consultant for some of their products. Sharapova is, by the way, only 20 years old.

And so we find ourselves in the second round of the Australian Open to watch Sharapova, the present moment of tennis, play Davenport, the past champion. I feel bad about putting Davenport into the past tense because I’m ecstatic that she’s rejoined the tour after retiring to have a baby.

But she is 31 years old and it’s not quite the same as the Martina Hingis return tour. Davenport is a strong hitter and a big server but she never moved all that well. Hingis could always move and she was still a young 24 when she unretired from a three year hiatus with foot problems.

Sharapova isn’t a good mover either so both players tried to end the point as soon as possible once their match started. You’d have to go back to old movies of serve and volley at Wimbledon to watch a match with shorter points. These days Wimbledon courts are much slower.

Davenport was completely overwhelmed in the first set. It’s understandable considering that she’s only played Tier III and Tier IV tournaments since she returned to the tour last September. Sharapova repeatedly hit behind her or too far in front of her. Sharapova was already up 5-0 in the first set when Davenport ran Sharapova deep into a corner. Sharapova recovered with an emergency forehand slice but the angle of the shot was out of Davenport’s reach. Most women players today would get to that ball.

Davenport recovered in the second set, though, and managed to hold her first three service games. Now she was winning some of those cross court rallies. Two consecutive breaks of serve gave Sharapova the match, 6-1, 6-3, but Davenport could probably have made it to the third or fourth round with a bit more luck from the draw.

I think Lindsay can make it into the top ten. She beat number three ranked Jelena Jankovic twice last year and she also beat number 12 ranked Daniela Hantuchova. I don’t think she can get into the top five and I’d bet a lot of money that she’ll never win another slam. What do you think? Am I wrong? Am I more or less right?

[Correction: Davenport beat Jankovic once last year. In fact, until Davenport met up with Sharapova, she was 19-1 on her return tour. Her one loss was to Jankovic. Thanks to Anon for setting me straight.]

In either case, it’s wonderful to have Lindsay back on the tour. Tennis was never the beginning and the end of the world for her and that’s especially true now that she’s a mother. And don’t take my word for it. Serena Williams, who seldom has many positive things to say about her opponents, had this to say on Saturday:

I’m speechless because she looks better than me and she’s seven months out of having a baby. I’m convinced if I had a baby, seven months later I’d probably still be in the hospital trying to get over the pain. She is my ultimate role model. I’m really so motivated … she’s just taken it to a new level.

Tall Tennis

Ivo Karlovic is 6’10”(2.08m) and John Isner is 6’9”(2.05m). There’s no doubt they were the tallest doubles team ever to play a professional tennis match when they took the court in Melbourne today. They lost their match in straight sets but the trend worries me. Sharapova and Davenport are both 6’2”(1.88m) and if tennis continues to go the way of basketball, maybe we should consider raising the net. On the other hand, if people were abusive towards me just because I liked round robins, what will they say about raising the net? They’ll probably come after my head!

Watch out for Richard Gasquet. He beat Feliciano Lopez easily today and is looking good. As long as he doesn’t stub his toe or get a slight fever, I think he can go a long way.

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 259 user reviews.

Join us for the men’s Australian Open final! We’ll be blogging live on Sunday morning, January 27, at 12:30am (PST)/3:30am (EST)/9:30am (CET). We’ll stay up if you’ll stay up.

Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic exchanged places in the rankings, Novak Djokovic breezed through his first round match at the Australian Open, and Viktor Troicki ain’t looking too bad either.

I was watching Viktor Troicki play his first round match against Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open today and a thought hit me: Could it be? Is net play actually coming back into fashion? In case you’ve forgotten, net play is the act of approaching the net by choice instead of necessity.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took Andy Murray out yesterday by pressuring him at the net early in the match and here was Troicki hitting a forehand slice approach to get his butt to the net against Nadal. Nadal won the match 7-6(3), 7-6, 6-1, but it was closer than the score indicated and Troicki looked good. As Nadal said, “He played very, very aggressively.”

Troicki is a 6’4” (193 cm) player from Serbia who is ranked 126 in the world. Hardly seems fair that Serbia might have another promising player to add to Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, and Novak Djokovic.

While I’m on about the Serbs, I’d like to elaborate on a point I made about Jelena in my post yesterday. Jelena is one of my favorite players because she’s an idealist. She isn’t grinding for points and money, she wants to get the number one ranking and that’s why she’s out here. If tennis doesn’t work out, she has an alternative plan. She’ll return to Megatrend University in Belgrade – I hope it’s a business school with a name like that, complete her education and be happy to do so.

Here’s the question: How idealistic is Jelena?

If she really is interested only in the number one ranking, will she drop out of tennis and return to University if her ranking drops down to, say, the thirties? Or will she hang around for as many years as possible extracting every last bit of life out of tennis. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you, but there’s something very appealing about someone who has other fish to fry. Someone who thinks of something else besides accumulating as much money has humanly possible. It’s a rare thing in today’s world.

Most tennis players hang around as long as possible and do little afterwards, but I have hope for Jelena because she’s different. She’s unconventional in a way that her fellow Serb, Ivanovic, is conventional. Jelena is unconventionally beautiful and unconventionally outspoken. Okay, Ivanovic is a smoldering hot beauty, but she’s the last person likely to say anything remotely controversial. She cares way too much.

It cannot be easy for Jelena to be compared to Ivanovic. Jelena has lost to her five out of the six times they’ve played and Ivanovic just took away Jelena’s number three ranking. Not only that but Ivanovic is already a sex symbol and she just signed a racket deal with Yonex that could pay her more than $10, 000, 000 over four years.

Ivanovic is only 20 years old so who knows how she’ll develop and mature as a person. But for my money, I’ll take the devil may care Jelena any day.

I Told Ya So

Stefan Koubek took out Carlos Moya today, 7-6(5), 6-7(2-7), 7-5, 6-4. I told you Moya would not get to a fourth round matchup with Nadal. This is the fourth year in a row Moya has lost in the first round.

I know you all disagree with my Gasquet pick – I have him beating Nadal and getting to the final – but the way Nadal looked today I might not be far off. He struggled at times.

Farid, you were right about Ivan Ljubicic. He’s out already after losing to Robin Haase in four sets. Are James Blake‘s chances looking any better right about now?

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 182 user reviews.

Can Serena Williams defend her Australian Open title? Can Jelena survive another 22 game third set?

Serena

While Serena Williams was obliterating Jarmila Gajdasova in her first round match at the Australian Open today, I wondered if Serena is in the proper state of mind to defend her title.

Serena can’t sneak into town this year and run off with a title like she did last year. She’d been missing for most of two previous years and her opponents no doubt relaxed just the slightest bit. This year they’ll know better.

How is she emotionally? While her sister Venus recently got engaged to her boyfriend, golfer Hank Kuehne, Serena is working through a breakup with her boyfriend, Jackie Long. All you have to do is read a few sentences of this very personal blog Serena posted about the breakup to see the pain she felt. The timing of her sister’s engagement must have some sting to it.

Physically Serena should be happy because she played all four slams last year and did no worse than the quarterfinals. On the other hand, she suffered injuries at critical times. She injured her calf at Wimbledon and reinjured her surgically repaired knee at the year end championships. At least she made it to the year end championships. That’s a victory in itself.

All things considered, Serena is in pretty good shape but that will not be enough to defend her title. Justine Henin skipped the Australian Open last year to deal with her divorce and Serena’s three quarterfinal losses last year were all to the same player: Justine.

Jelena

Here’s the main reason to push the Australian Open back to the end of February: nobody is in match shape, people. If you’re a French player and you live in Switzerland to avoid the high French taxes, you can run up and down mountains all day long, it doesn’t matter, you still won’t be match tough by the third week of the season.

Look at the opening round match between Jelena Jankovic and Tamara Paszek. After splitting the first two sets, they got to 5-5 in the third set and both players forgot how to hold serve.

Nine straight breaks of serve followed. Yes, nine. Paszek served for the match five times unsuccessfully. It’s not that there weren’t some great points, there were. Jankovic hit a beautiful stretch volley for a winner after a protracted rally featuring sharply angled shots that pulled both players off the court. That shot ended Paszek’s third attempt at serving for the match.

But for each of those points, there were two gimmes hit into the net or beyond the baseline. And neither player could serve anymore. Jankovic hit 14 double faults in the match and Paszek served five straight faults at one point. Jankovic also needed two injury timeouts for lower back pain that was visibly bothering her.

They were like two drunken sailors throwing punches at each and missing badly. Here’s the next suggestion for the Australians: join the 21st century, use a third set tiebreaker. It’s not tennis after awhile, it’s survival.

Jankovic managed to find a way to win the match, 2-6, 6-2, 12-10. She deserves a lot of credit for that but it’s not clear how long her body can last. She retired three times during Hopman Cup matches and now she’s injured her back.

Jankovic’s fellow Serbian, Ana Ivanovic, passed Jankovic in the standings last week and moved into the number three spot. Jankovic has repeatedly said that she plays tennis for one reason only: to reach the number one ranking. I think her shot at that may have passed, especially as Maria Sharapova seems to be healthy again.

If I’m right and Jankovic does slide down the rankings to no better than fifth or sixth, I’ll be interested to see how long she sticks around.

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 166 user reviews.

The first grand slam of the year has arrived and the number one ranking is already in question.

Think about this for a minute: Roger Federer could lose the number one ranking to Rafael Nadal by the end of the Australian Open. Will it happen? Let’s see.

Roger Federer’s Quarter

Juan Monaco and Tomas Berdych are waiting around in the top half of Federer’s quarter but Monaco still isn’t good enough on hard court and 2004 was the last time Berdych beat Federer.

In the bottom half of Federer’s quarter there are a few stories. Ivan Ljubicic’s ranking has been sinking since last August and I don’t expect him to recover. James Blake dropped out of the top ten last October and is currently ranked number 15. I don’t expect him to drop further but I also don’t expect him to get back to the top ten. Ljubicic has a 4-1 record over Blake but his victories came over two years ago and Blake won their last match. If they meet in the fourth round, Blake should win.

Then we come to Fernando Gonzalez. He reached the final here last year then played through the most wildly inconsistent year I’ve every seen from a top player. He lost his first match in eight tournaments yet still ended up in the top ten. Well, except for Nikolay Davydenko who also lost his first match in eight tournaments but we expect that from him.

If Gonzalez gets to the fourth round and meets Blake, he should be golden because he’s won their last five matches. That would put him in the quarterfinals against Federer but Gonzalez can’t win that match.

Novak Djokovic’s Quarter

Marcos Baghdatis is in Novak Djokovic’s half of this quarter but he’s right up there with Gonzalez and Davydenko for inconsistency. Still, Baghdatis should be able to beat Lleyton Hewitt and that should put him in the fourth round against Djokovic. That will be as far as Baghdatis gets because he’s lost both of his matches to Djokovic.

I think Nicolas Kiefer will take out Juan Carlos Ferrero in the first round. Kiefer is one of my two dark horses. He could get to the fourth round because David Nalbandian is having trouble with back spasms. That wouldn’t be shocking because Kiefer got to the semifinals here in 2006. He’d meet David Ferrer and though he beat Ferrer in their only meeting, this time Ferrer should prevail.

I’d love to tell you that Ferrer could beat Djokovic in the quarterfinals but I’d be lying. Djokovic has beaten Ferrer every time they’ve met on hard courts and he beat him in straight sets at last year’s U.S. Open.

Nikolay Davydenko’s Quarter

My second dark horse is Stanislas Wawrinka. I say he beats Davydenko in the third round then loses to Mikhail Youzhny. The big match here is a possible fourth round matchup between Richard Gasquet and Andy Murray. I think one of them gets out of this quarter and into the semifinals. Which one?

This is the toughest match in the draw to call because Gasquet and Murray have similar hard court records. Gasquet has beaten Murray both times they’ve met but that’s not why I’m choosing him. I just think Gasquet is a bit more mature than Murray and is ready to reach the semifinals here.

Rafael Nadal’s Quarter

We’ve been concerned about Nadal’s fragility on hard courts and we saw it again in Chennai two weeks ago. Nadal survived a four hour semifinal with Carlos Moya then suffered a lopsided loss in the final the day after. This doesn’t happen on clay and it doesn’t even happen at Wimbledon. Nadal played seven straight days in Wimbledon last year due to the rain and still got to the final.

Given Nadal’s fragility I didn’t think he’d go far here but now I’ve changed my mind. I was expecting a knock down drag out fight between Moya and Nadal in the fourth round but Moya has bombed out in the first round the last three years. He just beat his first round opponent, Stefan Koubek, in Sydney last week but Koubek won both their hard court matches last year. And Moya lost to his second round opponent, Agustin Calleri, in Sydney.

That leaves Andy Roddick in the top half of Nadal’s quarter. Philipp Kohlschreiber should be Roddick’s third round opponent and I wanted to pick him as one of my dark horses because he just won Auckland. But Roddick takes care of business in slams so let’s look at Roddick versus Nadal in the quarterfinals.

Nadal beat Roddick in the semifinals at Indian Wells last year so I’m going with Nadal to get to the semis.

Australian Open Draw

My Picks

Semifinalists: Roger Federer plays Novak Djokovic, Richard Gasquet plays Rafael Nadal.
Finalists: Federer, Gasquet
Winner: Federer

The answer is no, Federer won’t lose his number one ranking but Nadal may get even closer to the top.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 226 user reviews.

In no particular order, here is the first installment of notable events from the year 2007.

Bad Tennis Predictions

I went on the Sports Talk Cleveland radio show early in the year and participated in a serpentine draft for their tennis fantasy league. In a serpentine draft, whoever picks first in one round picks last in the next round. After I won the right to take the first pick in the draft and learned that I’d get the last pick in the second round, I blurted out, “Does that mean I have to take Serena?” Silly me. Serena Williams dropped in to the Australian Open and rolled into the final where she gobsmacked Sharapova 6-1, 6-2. Roger Federer won the men’s title but, then, you knew that.

Megamerger Multimedia Disease Attacks Tennis

IMG bought Tennis Week, the venerable tennis publication started by the late, great Gene Scott 32 years ago. Not such a big deal until you realize that IMG also represents Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer (and Nick Bolletieri’s tennis academy). Is this yet another nail in the coffin of independent media? There is hope I suppose. The New York Times owns part of the Boston Red Sox and they still trash the Sox regularly. But it does make you wonder if Tennis Week would get interference from the head IMG guy if they trashed Sharapova for pulling out of Toronto because she stubbed her toe.

The Interview That Wasn’t

The P.R. firm for a wine that Jim Courier endorses offered me an interview with Courier. It started off as a telephone interview, then it was demoted to an email interview, and then it turned into nothing because Courier never answered my email. And that was after I spoke to my friend Bob Blumer, star of the Food Network show Glutton for Punishment, so I could get up to speed on old world wine versus new world wine. That was also after I picked Courier to be Richard Gasquet’s new coach because I thought Gasquet needed one. Gasquet didn’t need a new coach. He made it to the year end championships just fine thank you.

Pregnancy, Cocaine, and the Comeback Mommy of the Year

Anastasia Myskina and Kim Clijsters are both pregnant. That’s a better way to leave the tour than testing positive for cocaine. I’m sure Martina Hingis might have been happier if her engagement to Radek Stepanek had ended in marriage and she was taking a pregnancy test instead of a hair test to prove that she never touched the white stuff. Lindsay Davenport gave birth in June and returned to the tour three months later. So much for retirement. She went 13-1 in her comeback and plans to play in three slams in 2008.

The Media Wars

At the same time that Sports Illustrated laid off 298 employees, it paid $20 million for fannation.com, sports information and fan blogger site. The timing of these transactions made it look like S.I. was exchanging paid writers for unpaid fan bloggers, but the reality is a bit more complex. S.I. was trying to beef up its online presence and narrow the gap between si.com and the hugely popular espn.com. S.I. even poached ESPN radio personality Dan Patrick, but that must have pissed off ESPN because they turned around and stole S.I.’s back page columnist, Rick Reilly, with an unbelievable $3 million per year offer. Hey guys, I’m available and I’d take a lot less than $3 mil.

Back to Back to Back to Back

By the time I reached Indian Wells on Sunday afternoon in early March, Guillermo Canas had already beaten Federer for his biggest win since coming off a 15 month suspension for using a banned substance. He beat Federer again two weeks later in Miami and if that wasn’t bad enough, David Nalbandian raised himself from the dead, or at least from his lethargy, and beat Federer in consecutive meetings at the last two Masters Series events of the year, Madrid and Paris. And Nalbandian had never won a Masters Series event before! Not only that, but because I didn’t pick Nalbandian for my fantasy team in Paris, I dropped out of the top 100 in the ATP Fantasy Tennis Season for the first time all year and lost my subleague title. Serves me right for not believing in the guy.

To be continued…

Teddy Awards

Please go over to the poll on the right side of the page and vote for the player who is in most need of a new coach. I skipped Female Centerfold of the Year because Ana Ivanovic was the only player nominated.

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 298 user reviews.