It was a slaughter of the lambs in Fantasy Tennis last week, but the bunny got through. The bunny in question, or ‘Hasi’ in German, is the nickname of Tommy Haas, who nabbed the final Sunday in Los Angeles. But he wasn’t one of my picks last week, sad to say. In fact none of my guys made it to a final. Verdasco got to the semifinals in Kitzbuhel, but everyone else died. And this after a stellar weekend last week, when four of my picks went to the semis in two events.

Sometimes it feels like if you’re not the goat in the barn, then you’re eating crow up at the ranch. Now my Fantasy team, TeamTorpor, has been passed in the rankings by SmallFry, so a battle seems to be shaping up here and I had better make a few judicious picks this coming week to make up for my transgressions. Tricky thing, this, because now I find I have used up a host of players in tournaments. Squandered, if you will.

Which brings me to a rather motley choice this week of Kohlschreiber, Volandri, Calleri and Chela in the Sopot event, and Grosjean, Hrbaty, Agassi and Tursunov in the Washington one. Everyone is motley, that is, except Tursunov, who we are going to have to start calling The Tomahawk. Even though he lost in the final Sunday in Los Angeles to Tommy Haas, the big Russian Jim Courier-lookalike has a habit of taking high balls on the forehand and crunching them back at you like he’s wielding a tomahawk. But let’s save the headsplitting for the moment.

Here’s why I picked my motleys. In Sopot, I have to go with Kohlschreiber, I have overpicked Davydenko and must save him for probably the Open. And Kohlshreiber has made his way into the semis at Gstaad and several quarterfinals this year also, including Kitzbuhel, so he can play a bit on clay. I picked Volandri to work through the draw past Gaudio, who continues to disappoint this year. Calleri has played well lately too, he can surpass Coria if they face in the quarterfinals. Chela I am picking over Tommy Robredo. Alas, another workhorse on his way to the glue factory.

In the Washington event, it seems highly likely that James Blake could face Sebastian Grosjean in the quarterfinals. I have picked the Frenchman, because I have used Blake three times already and need to save him too. Would I pick Grosjean otherwise to beat Blake? Not a chance in hell, but that’s Fantasy Tennis for you. Lots of Strange Bedfellows in this game.

For the same reason I have to pick Hrbaty over Hewitt. But someone tell Hrbaty not to wear that shirt with the vents against Hewitt, it might fire him up again like it did at the Open last year when they met. Hewitt needs an event right about now to get his game going, he should beat Hrbaty but Hrbaty got to the semis last week in L.A. He’s a fit enough guy to hang around and bother Hewitt for a bit, and hopefully to beat him. My heart says no, it won’t happen, but we must use our heads here.

In another quarter of the draw, Andre Agassi could face a possible match-up with Andy Murray or Feliciano Lopez, I like watching Lopez play, he has a very flowing game and a big lefty serve that makes him well-suited for hard court events. He got to the final at Gstaad earlier this year, but lost to Gasquet. Murray is debuting his new coach, Brad Gilbert, so he probably wants to be on his best behavior and try and win one for Motormouth. A tougher question for Murray might be, how does he get a word in edgewise with Gilbert? Inquiring minds want to know. But Lopez or Murray, it doesn’t matter, I still want to put my Fantasy money again this week on Agassi, and am doing just that.

Andy Roddick is back after retiring with a back problem in Los Angeles. Even if his back is fine, Roddick could face Tursunov in the quarterfinals, and the big Russian might just handle our lad. Like he did Tommy Haas, at least in their first set.

(Note: This is written Tuesday, Roddick has pulled out with the back still causing problems, so hopefully all you Fantasy players heeded Nina’s advice and stayed away from picking Roddick).

The final Sunday from Los Angeles displayed two fine talents, with good all-court games. Haas had to be the favorite going in, he’s got the experience and two titles on hard court already this year under his belt.

Although Haas has a fine game himself, it was Tursunov who was the revelation on Sunday. Where has this guy been and why isn’t he already in the top ten? It’s been interesting to watch him put his game together, and this year it’s jelling fast. How lucky were the fans in Los Angeles last week who got to see not one, but two monster forehands, the one from Fernando Gonzalez that actually brought a look or two of fear in the eyes of Andre Agassi, who went down to Gonzo in the quarterfinals. But Tursunov hits one that is just as awesome, and for most of the first set on Sunday he seemed ready to reduce Hasi to a quick rabbit stew.

When Haas had the ill luck of hitting groundstrokes to the forehand side of Tursunov, he would see the ball getting drilled back at him for winner after winner. For most players a ball up high is usually harder to hit, but for some reason Tursunov seems to thrive on hatcheting them back. He was pounding serves in too, and the combination of the two makes you kind of wonder where he’s been all our lives.

Here’s the rub though with a guy like Tursunov. When someone comes along and outsteadies him, he can get rattled a bit, become impatient and then unglued. As with most blonds, just don’t let him think too much, he gets into trouble. I know, I am blonde. But when he is fearless and confident, like he was in the first set on Sunday, he can be a pretty intimidating presence. I wasn’t sure Haas could pull it out; it seemed like he just ran into a better player who was playing bigger on that day.

So how did Haas survive the Tursunov onslaught? Basically by keeping his own cool and not imploding, holding his serve steadily and tightening up his own game. Neither guy is exactly short on temperament, shall we say. Sometimes they exude the feeling they can spin off into space at any moment. Makes for a jittery, dangerous kind of feel to the match. We like that, we think.

In the first set, the usual probing went on until game 5, when Tursunov drilled a backhand up the line for the only break in the set. Haas challenged a call on game point, but lost, and Tursunov got up 5-3. This seemed to rattle Haas, who had several challenges go against him in the match. He tried a drop shot off a return of serve which fell lamely in the net. Brain cramp, Patrick McEnroe muttered from the booth. Then as if Haas wasn’t feeling badly enough, Tursunov hit a great running two-handed backhand into the corner for a winner. He went on to serve the first set out at love, 6-4. Tursunov looked strong as a bull, but he moved really well on court.

Haas pulled the match together with his serving. At key moments, he got the first big ones in; he had to, Tursunov was unloading on the second serve, and Haas had to be careful. Haas continued to hold with his serve, and gradually it became Tursunov’s turn to get frustrated. Now he started missing some of those big winners he was nailing consistently in the first set. Haas won the second set, 7-5 by basically competing well, combined with Tursunov getting a little tight at key moments.

Early in Set 3, Tursunov showed his own little brain cramp when he attempted a drop shot from the baseline. Haas got the early break in game two when Tursunov netted an easy forehand. He attempted to work his way back in with some nifty winners, but it didn’t matter now; Haas was serving too well and keeping his head together. He clocked a 107mph second serve to Tursunov’s backhand at 30 all in the final game of the third set. Tursunov was not so sure of the call and challenged, but finally it went against him. Haas got match point and finished it off, for a final score of 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.

Tursunov has said, “I play every match the same.” According to Patrick McEnroe, that’s his problem. He should not treat every match alike. He is still not fully plugged in to when the big points arrive, and how to play them.

But he’s learning. “Physically, I have always had good strokes, but it’s been the ability to put them together and know when to use them. The mental aspect of the game is the biggest improvement this year.” Tursunov uttered this statement during an online chat on the ATP Tour website today, so he seems pretty aware of what he needs to do.

It’s been interesting to see him grow as a player. I think he has a terrific game, he’s certainly a character. Much as I love Haas’ game and was happy to see him progress to his third title of the year, it’s Tursunov who for my money gets the nod as the most improved player of the year.

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