Saturday, May 29, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
Kirilenko: Mentally tough and physically buff
As Day 6 of the French Open came to a nerve-jangling conclusion beneath the darkening Paris sky, incredibly competitive WTA matches were featured all over the grounds.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
SAM QUERREY: Um, just tired. Not into it. Mentally not there. I mean, you know what, I don't know. Just not did not enjoy myself out there. It's been like that on and off for like a while. So I'm going home tomorrow.
SAM QUERREY: No. I don't know what it is. I just need to just be in a better mood or just need to enjoy the competition and enjoy being out there more than I do. Right now, I mean, I'll enjoy it, and as soon as one thing goes wrong, I'm done.
Q. Were you in dubs with John?
SAM QUERREY: I am right now. I won't be in about an hour.
Q. Just want to get out of here?
SAM QUERREY: Yeah.
Part of me wants to tell Querrey that he's made incredible strides over the last 18 months, and he shouldn't take his uninspiring 4-set loss to Robby Ginepri - a mere blip in an otherwise upward trend - so hard.
Querrey is young after all, and he'll undoubtedly have to run a few hard miles before he reaches his destination. Monday's flame-out doesn't mean it's the end of the rope for the 22-year-old. But other parts of me are unmercifully critical of his performance on the court. It's one thing to go out battling to survive, but it is another thing entirely to quit. And quit is basically what Querrey did - he even admits to "tanking" in his press conference. At times Querrey was so perturbed, so disinterested, that he might as well have laid down on the court and taken a nap while Ginepri continued to play.
So where do I go from here, now that I am pissed at Sam Querrey? Should I call my local congressman? Should I sell all my Querrey shares and by some Roddick stock - a blue-chipper - which still has some upside left? Should I pick up a bundle of Kei Nishikori and John Isner and forget about him?
No! No! and No!
I may be mad at Sam Querrey but that doesn't mean I'm ever going to abandon him. He's a good kid, and he's got depth and intelligence and creativity. He just needs a little bit of that soldier mentality. He needs to play like his merry band of rowdy followers, the Samurai, is in the stands wherever he goes. Because even if the Samurai aren't in the stands, you can bet that they still are glued to their televisions or computers, hanging on every shot that Querrey hits.
To have the expectations of all your friends and family constantly on your shoulders is definitely a lot of pressure for any 22-year-old to deal with. But it is reality.
Sam Querrey is a remarkably gifted player with enought talent to easily take him higher than his current ranking. But the laid back Californian has to want to reach this potential in his heart - his fans can't do it for him.
Especially when those fans are pissed off that he just played the French Open like it was a knock-around at a family picnic.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Heartbreak for Dinara, Jubilation for Kimiko
Some are calling the upset shocking (Fox) and stunning (Yahoo). Others are calling it predictable. Some (like me) don't even think it was an upset.
Either way you slice it, the match between the 9th seed Dinara Safina and unseeded soon to be 40-year-old Kimiko Date Krumm was a crowd pleaser that was part psychological thriller and part fairy tale.
In defeating Safina, Date Krumm become the 2nd oldest woman to win a main draw match at Roland Garros (it was her first Grand Slam triumph in 14 years). The record still belongs to Virginia Wade, who was three months older than Krumm is today when she won a first round match at Roland Garros in 1985.
Still, being second to Wade did not do anything to dampen the spirits of the Japanese woman who returned to the game after a 13-year absence last year. Her unabashed joy at the conclusion of the match is the emotional high point of a French Open that is only three days in.
Date Krumm: I'm so happy I can't believe it
With the French fans showering her with boisterous applause, Date Krumm headed to the back of the court to get a hug and a kiss from members of her team. Her smile stretched from ear to ear, even as the injured calf that nearly forced her to retire earlier in the match was obviously bothering her a great deal.
But Date Krumm's soul-quenching quest for competition at the age of 39 is clearly more about the spirit than the body. She's not overly concerned about her second round match, saying, "I don't need to worry about the result. I don't need to worry about the money either. I had big successes in my first career."
Wow. If only Date Krumm's victim today could worry a little less about the results. If there ever was a tortured soul on the tennis court, it is Dinara Safina. Up a break in the second set, and up a double break in the third, Safina couldn't maintain her consistency down the stretch. It's no surprise, as the talented former No. 1 has, in addition to serious back issues, struggled mightily with her mental game in the last year.
Mightily, just for the record, might be a severe understatement in Safina's case.
One gets the impression that Safina is so haunted by fear of losing, that she simply can not bring herself to win, no matter how big a lead she gets. The Russian is strong physically, and she's a world-class ball striker, but until she can develop a reasonable sense of belief in herself she's going to be living the Groundhog day tennis nightmare - losing close matches in perpetuity that she could have won.
So, mixed emotions, as the glory of Kimiko Date Krumm's inspiring victory comes with the agony of yet another Dinara Safina setback. Their match today was a stunning picture of two women on divergent paths in life.
One is living the dream, while the other is living the nightmare.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Rafa's running red-hot right now - does anybody stand even half a chance of taking him out in Paris?
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
The familiar refrain: Who can stop Nadal at the French?
Not much has happened to Rafael Nadal this spring. No, it's been pretty ho-hum. Just breaking the all-time record for Masters titles and becoming the first player to sweep through all three clay court Masters events without a blemish on his record.
As far as the rest of the field goes, they can at least take solace in the fact that the spotlight is not firmly planted on them. While this is Nadal's tournament to win or lose, the rest of the field can go about it's business in the shadows, silently determined to prove to the world that they were wrong to ignore them.
Without any further ado, let's take a look at the phenom known as Nadal, and those that are secretly plotting his day of reckoning at this year's French Open.
The hands-down favorite:
Rafa. So eminent, so humble, and so impossible to beat on clay. 2009 proved that he may not be invincible, but if there were a word that meant "only a minor miracle will stop him," that would be the word that most of us would use to describe Nadal's chances of winning his 5th French Open title two weeks from this Sunday.
For several months we've been saying that Soderling's shocker will serve as constant reminder to the other top players on the ATP tour that Rafa can be beaten. But in reality it appears that the only one who is using last year's 4th round loss as motivation is Rafa himself.
The scintillating Spaniard has made such a compelling return to form, that as he swept through the clay season (while wisely skipping the Barcelona event for rest) without hardly losing a set (two to be precise), it was hard to fathom anybody actually getting the best of him at Roland Garros.
One thing is for certain: Not many people talked about Robin Soderling in their 2009 French Open previews. Could this year's phantom be another player who is currently not garnering much attention as a possible breakthrough player in the French?
Probably the most amazing statistic about Rafa is how well he is managing his serve. A quick glance at the statistics showed that he is third on tour at winning service games (90%). He is sandwiched between a couple of behemoths named Isner and Karlovic, who both dwarf him in size and in service speed. But Rafa has become the master at using his serve to give him an advantage in the ensuing rally, and once he achieves this his opponent is basically running down a dream.
Of course his stellar return game is as defiant as ever, and when he is doing both so well, it leaves his opponent almost no margin for error.
Just what kind of Herculean effort will it take to knock Rafa off his game? Here is a look at the players who are likely trying to answer that question as I write.
Roger Federer: Federer has worked to put his game back together after another alarmingly poor spring. Unlike last year, he came up short against Rafa in the Madrid final, but Federer is well rested and perhaps he'll probe deep into his inner psyche to find that je ne sais quoi that has been missing for him so often when he faces off against his arch rival.
To do the deed Federer will undoubtedly have to come out with reckless abandon, looking to do damage with the forehand whenever possible and looking to serve to perfection. He's capable of all this, but first he'll have to win six matches to reach the final. Will he have enough left in the tank if he gets there?
Ernests Gulbis: What is uncanny about Gulbis is his ability to deliver soul-crushing first serves almost nonchalantly. When he does this, the match almost always tilts in his favor and he is free to dictate with his punishing groundstrokes and connect a few dots with his very precise dropper. When his serve falls off, so does his game. He's one of only two players to steal a set from Nadal this spring, and if he continues to play with a high level of confidence, it's not outrageous to think he can't challenge Rafa again.
The Spaniards: This has been the season of the Spaniard, as David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro, Fernando Verdasco, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Feliciano Lopez, and Albert Montanes have all done some damage over the last three months. Verdasco broke through to his first Masters final, but played a loose match and was hammered by Nadal in Monte Carlo. Ferrer was basically hell on wheels throughout the European clay swing, but he couldn't do the deal against Rafa, or for that matter, Federer. Almagro, perhaps overlooked, mightily swung his way to a one set lead over Nadal, but he couldn't cash in on the opportunity.
Expect Spaniards to move through the draw swiftly at Roland Garros. They've all got the game and they all relish the chance to shine on the clay. But when they butt heads with their country mate, it never fails: They seem willing to take a back seat to Rafa. Psychologically, I don't think any of the Spanish players believes that they can beat Rafa in a meaningful match.
Maybe one of them will finally say "enough is enough" to Rafa, but I wouldn't bet on it.
Gael Monfils: La Monf finally got a few matches under his belt in Madrid, and he played well until he got steamrolled by Nadal. He's made the semis and the quarters of Roland Garros in the last two years, and he is without question one of the most entertaining players to watch, due to his joyful and artistic brand of showmanship. La Monf patrols the red clay with such a reckless abandon, such a joie de vivre, that it is hard not to imagine him winning it all in Paris when you watch him play.
What would it be like in Paris if Monfils won the crown? How crazy would that be and what would it do for not only tennis in France, but for tennis around the globe? It's fun to think about, but when reality sets in, the hard truth is that Monfils has not put in the hard miles this season. Roger Rasheed, his fitness-crazed coach, can only do so much with a man who has been out since Indian Wells due to injury.
Murray and Djokovic: It's strange to be putting Murray and Djokovic in the same category but that is where I am putting them. Is it where they belong? I'll let you decide. Both have been bitten by the inconsistency bug in 2010, and both come in to Roland Garros with very little buzz surrounding them.
Djokovic is one of the best clay courters in the world, but his 2010 campaign paled in comparison to his results in 2009, where he pushed Rafa in Monte Carlo and Madrid. This season has been one of turmoil and health issues for Djokovic. His seperation from Todd Martin was supposed to give him the freedom to find himself again, but so far that has not been the case. Still, many have been waiting, almost expecting, a breakthrough from the Serb. He's gone deep in Paris before (semis in '07 and '08) and he certainly has the game to do it again.
Murray played some pretty good tennis in Madrid, and it appears as if he has finally shaken the Melbourne blues from his system. But Alex Corretja hasn't really turned him into a clay afficionado, so it's hard to imagine him getting any further than his career best quarter-final run of 2009.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Tsonga is underrated when it comes to clay. No, he isn't a clay specialist, but he appears to be very comfortable on the surface, and he's played at Roland Garros throughout his junior career many times. 2010 will be Tsonga's 3rd French Open, and last year was his best performance as he maneuvered into the fourth round before being taken out by Juan Martin del Potro.
Much like Monfils, Tsonga is very good at rallying the home crowd and using their energy to his advantage. He may be headed for a career best performance at Roland Garros if the draw works in his favor.
Robin Soderling: Twice he avoided a clay rematch with Nadal by losing earlier than expected in Rome and Madrid. But Soderling is good at responding to a few poor weeks with a superb one. Factor in the fact that the Swedes have a great history at Roland Garros (9 titles), and it's not too hard to imagine Soderling making a run here.
The no-shows and the walking wounded: It's a pity, but this years Roland Garros draw will be missing several top players who would normally be getting major ink. Juan Martin del Potro is recovering from wrist surgery, and Nikolay Davydenko is not quite healed from his wrist issues. David Nalbandian is out again, as minor injuries keep derailing his comeback from hip surgery. Gilles Simon, Radek Stepanek, and Tommy Haas are also still out with injuries.
Fernando Gonzales, a semi-finalist last year, will play for the first time since his early departure from the Barcelona draw in April. A knee injury has kept him on the sideline.
The best of the rest: Andy Roddick had his best showing at Roland Garros last year, but he hasn't played a match on clay all season. John Isner and Sam Querrey, the bomb-serving Americans don't strike the same type of fear into the hearts of their opponents as they do on clay. Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil had some great results on clay earlier in the season, but he hasn't been able to cause much of a stir in the Masters events. Marin Cilic is off his game, but I wouldn't write the young Croat off just yet. Tomas Berdych and Juan Monaco, as usual, will be fun to watch - both are capable of causing a stir. German Philipp Kohlshcreiber is always capapble of an upset.
CHECK BACK FOR DRAW ANALYSIS ON FRIDAY, AND PLEASE CHECK WITH WWW.ONTHEBASELINE.COM FOR A WOMEN'S PREVIEW LATER IN THE WEEK!
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
The sporting world is Darwinian by nature. All major sports have had to evolve to meet the demands of audiences that are difficult to satiate. Surely the executives at the top of the tennis food chain are thinking up ways to make the sport more appealing to a ravenous yet fickle viewing audience as we speak.
And if they aren't, they should be.
For there is nothing worse than an unsuspecting fat-cat form of leadership that rests on it's laurels. Like the tennis players we admire, who are tirelessly searching for ways to gain a competitive edge in the sport, tennis' leadership should seek to ensure that it remains on the cutting edge of the sporting world by examining the need for change and opening dialogues to gauge the public and player's sentiment.
Just for the fun of it, let's look at a few changes that could be employed to spice up the sport to keep it a step ahead of it's competition:
1. Eliminate the 2nd serve in the tiebreaker:
This idea was taken from (and today's post inspired by) Peter Bodo's Tennis World piece about Ion Tiriac today. In it Tiriac mentions that eliminating the 2nd serve would be a great way to diminish the advantage that the power servers have in tiebreakers, thus making the points longer and ultimately more captivating. It'd also do it's part to shorten matches by a fraction which would probably be a good thing for our beleaguered injury-lathered players.
My Vote: Yes, why the heck not? It's a relatively small change but it would be a thrill to see how each player handled this new challenge. We'd also see a lot more rallies and a lot less aces and service winners — things that tend to turn off a lot of people who don't watch the sport regularly.
2. Eliminate the service let:
The let is another call that slows down play. The rationale here is that the server has done what he's supposed to do by putting the ball in the box, so let's get on with it. Another advantage here is that we wouldn't have to rely on those unreliable microphones that are hastily taped to the top of the let chord. Of course many would have a hard time accepting that a serve that bounces off the chord and trickles just over the net would actually be scored as an ace, myself included.
My Vote: It'd be fun. I can already hear the roar of the crowd as a player scrambles up to the net to try and pick off a let before it bounces twice. It would test the players ability to improvise and, while it might be crazy, I can see it being wildly entertaining for spectators. What the heck, let's do it.
3. On-court coaching:
Martina Navratilova and Brad Gilbert are two of the biggest proponents for full-time on-court coaching on the tour. They argue, against many a purist I might add, that the coaching would make for better all around play, and what fan in their right mind doesn't want to see better play? Detractors argue that on-court coaching eliminates what many feel is the most alluring element of tennis — players are out there in a sink or swim environment, and that's what heightens the tension and drama of the affair.
My vote: I'm going to admit that I'm on the fence here. I'd love for more coaches to get more recognition and face time (they are an underrated group as a whole), but based on what I've seen to date it hasn't really heightened my experience as a viewer all that much. Often times it seems to distract the player more than help the player. I do, however, love the added perspective and insight that the words of certain stellar coaches bring the viewer who is looking to a) get closer to the sport and b) learn the game from watching it.
4. No-ad scoring for the first six games of every set:
Today's player are spending so much time on the court. Each season blends into the next, with little or no time off for the top players until a brief two week period in December. The game is facing an unprecedented wave of injuries and health issues that is a) bringing down the level of many tournaments and b) increasing the allure of performance enhancing drugs that might do their part in alleviating some of the symptoms of fatigue and injury.
Perhaps shortening some of the matches by eliminating some (not all, but some) of the long multiple deuce games might have a positive impact on the overall play?
My Vote: No, there is a place for no-ad scoring, and it's called World Team Tennis (and doubles, but I'm not in favor of that either).
5. Introduce the shot clock between points:
This one has been brought up so much, and so many people seem to be in favor of it, it makes me wonder what the powers that be must be doing up their in their ivory towers. A shot clock would eliminate doubt and frustration much in the same way that the Hawkeye has eliminated the ill will that can be caused by getting snubbed on a call. How can that be a bad thing?
My vote: Yes. 30 seconds seems fair to me.
6. Eliminate players catching their tosses before serving:
In a sport where the server has a distinct advantage over the returner, why make it even easier for them? Not only do players get a mulligan when they've inadvertently tossed the ball (or if it has been blown by wind) out of their strike zones, but they also force the returner to go through the ritual of preparing to return again. It's annoying, to say the least.
My vote: Yes. If you toss, then you must hit it. It's not fair to the returner — or the television viewer — to have to sit through multiple do-overs by a server who is not up to par in the first place.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Rafa's dominance is clear, but the rest is up for grabs.
Three months ago it was the "big four" and the rest of the top ten that we pencilled in for the later rounds of the Masters events and the Grand-Slams. Now it's Nadal and the Spaniards, and it seems like you can flip a coin or throw a dart at an ATP bracket after that.
Sure, the European clay court season has always provided opportunities for the Spaniards, the Argentines, and other red clay connoisseurs to step up and challenge the big serving first strike players who usually rule the roost at the other three Slams, but this year there seems to be less rhyme and reason to it all.
Is it just me or does it seem like, with the exception of Nadal, that anybody can beat anybody right now? Am I hallucinating, or did I really see Isner and Querrey in the finals of a European clay court tournament yesterday? Have I just polished off four bottles of Bordeaux or has Ernests Gulbis really emerged as the only player with even the slightest chance of beating Rafael Nadal on clay? Am I sniffing too much glue or did Albert Montanes really trample Roger Federer on his way to a successful Estoril title defence?
Where is Djokovic? Can't breathe.
Where is Murray? Can't believe (but at least he's got his girlfriend back).
Where is Federer? Perhaps he'll show up in Madrid, but the Federer that has appeared on the court since his 16th Grand-Slam title at the Australian Open is a mere shadow of the player we've come to know and worship over the last seven years.
Where is Del Potro? Wrist surgery has sidelined him until at least late summer.
Where is Davydenko? He's got wrist problems too.
How about Roddick? Well he's in Madrid in body, but many feel that his spirit is getting ready for another run at Wimbledon in early July.
I could go on and on like this, mentioning all the so-called dangerous players that are either injured or in seriously less than stellar form at the moment. But it'd all be useless and truthfully, it's probably a little too early to panic about the games of guys like Cilic, Soderling, and Monfils.
They may not be peaking at the moment, but hey, at least none of them are peaking too early.
Maybe Federer, Djokovic, Murray, Cilic, Roddick, Monfils, and a host of other perennial Grand-Slam threats would rather go in fresh and fit than hot and worn down.
There are many who feel that Federer's chances at defending his Roland Garros crown are slipping away with each early exit that he makes this spring. They say if he comes up short in Madrid, he'll have zero confidence heading into the French, and that is something that not even the Swiss Maestro can overcome.
They may be right. But then again, who the heck knows what each individual needs to be in tip-top form when they arrive in Paris? Nobody thought Federer was in a good mindset last year but then he woke up in Madrid and the rest is ancient and memorable history.
Meanwhile the Spaniards who have been formidable foes all spring - most notably Verdasco, Ferrer, and Juan Carlos Ferrero - are all hoping that coming in hot, albeit a little fatigued, does portend good things.
It'll be interesting to see what happens when the French Open gets rolling in two weeks time.
A season that has been full of surprises is sure to have a few more twists and turns as we head down the home stretch.
Buckle up, get your popcorn ready, and enjoy!