Saturday, December 31, 2011
I honestly don't know how much of a correlation you can make between the winner of this weekend's exhibition in Abu Dhabi and who is going to make some noise at the upcoming (yes, really) Australian Open, but if there is any correlation, all signs are pointing to Novak Djokovic being in fine form once again in 2012. He was dominant in Abu Dhabi, just as he was dominant in 2011.
As for Roger Federer, he'll still be "officially" riding a 17-match winning streak when he takes the court in Doha vs. Nikolay Davydenko next week, but the 6-2, 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Djokovic probably won't do much for his confidence (nor will the straight sets loss to Rafa in the consolation match). Then again, maybe he's forgotten it already. I guess only Roger truly knows. And similarly, probably Rafa only knows what the fact that he was beaten in straight sets by David Ferrer means for his chances in Melbourne, bad shoulder and all.
So here's my question regarding Abu Dhabi: Should we pretend it never happened, even though it did? I'm confused.
That said, you can have a look at some of the highlights and form your own opinions.
Here you go:
And you can keep an eye on Federer and Nadal next week as they make their way to Doha for their first official event of the year.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Thursday, December 8, 2011
A lot has changed with regard to Ryan Harrison's coaching situation in the last nine months; then again, a lot hasn't. For Harrison, the coaching carousel continues to spin. He's beginning a relationship with Grant Doyle as of this week. That's great news for Doyle, who did some fine coaching work with Sam Querrey and has also made a name for himself running a high performance academy in Austin, Texas.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Monday, December 5, 2011
Friday, December 2, 2011
After the final ball of David Ferrer's 6-2, 6-7(2), 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Juan Martin Del Potro was struck today in Seville, Spain, I found myself resonating emotionally with the players as they went to their respective chairs, one crying in anguish, the other in the throes of heartfelt euphoria. For those who rejoice in more than strokes and strategy, and look for the sublime in every match, today's epic struggle was an insta-classic, plain and simple.
Whether you chose to root for Juan Martin Del Potro and his almost deceiving gentle aura or you were rooting for David Ferrer, the indefatigable warrior who deserves so much more recognition for what he brings to the ATP Tour, you had your moments. And whether you took it hard in the end or were sky-high in the sweetness of it all, when it was said and done I think we can all agree that this match was more a collective work of tennis distinction than a singular statement of success or failure by either player.
When viewed against the backdrop of all that has taken place between Spain and Argentina over the years, and when placed in context with the spiritual similarities of the two competing nations (and the two competing players), one could easily sit back and feel sweet joy for one and sweet sadness for the other, simultaneously. Either way, it was sweet, which is nice.
As a neutral, with only the purpose of reporting on the match, I felt an ebb and flow throughout the tilt, and was constantly reminded of how much respect I had for both players involved on an almost per-game basis.
With regard to Ferrer: How is it that the top 4 players can defeat him so regularly? I think if you took a person who had never watched tennis before, and told them that Ferrer was the greatest player in the history of the world, they would believe you after watching only a few points.
With regard to Del Potro: Is there any player on tour with a higher OMG quotient? The brute force he puts behind the ball is staggering. It is a testament to his fitness and strength yes, but I also believe it is a testament to his will. In other words, it is impossible to hit a tennis ball with Del Potro's might unless you want it badly, oh-so badly.
Both Ferrer and Del Potro are notorious for having a big, brave heart, and neither disappointed today during this 4-hour and 46-minute slugfest. Each worked the rowdy crowds into a frenzy at regular intervals, and each was improbably resilient when things looked to be turning sour.
It was a classic struggle, with Ferrer jumping to an early and decisive start only to see Del Potro strengthen his resolve in the second set and second set tiebreaker to draw even. Then in the third set, they wrestled for control again, each dishing out their most noteworthy body blows. For Ferrer it was the punishing mid-court forehand and the dropper that often put him in position to pass Del Potro; For Del Potro it was the filthy forehands that whizzed through the court like weapons-grade fire.
Throughout the match, as they soldiered through exchanges and jockeyed for control, the two were in contrast to one another physically, but almost identical in spirit. There was the 6'6" Argentine, gritting it out, struggling to defend the court with everything he had. And there was the 5'9" Ferrer, a Tasmanian Devil in tennis shoes, part wrestler and part sorcerer, gritting it out as well.
The end was a splendid culmination and the emotional high point that all had hoped for. Ferrer's post-match celebratory scream was silenced by the thunderous growl of the crowd, but the look on his face was louder than love. Del Potro stood slumped at the net, a spent warrior in agony, yet he still managed to dignify Ferrer with his final gesture to him as they shook hands.
For a moment, it felt as if everybody had won. Even Del Potro's sadness seemed sweet.
But we know in the end there can only be one winner. Ferrer gave Spain a 2-0 lead, and Argentina has its back against the wall again. For the fourth time in four finals, the Argentine squad appears to have missed out on a chance to win its first Davis Cup title. Ferrer is overjoyed, the valorous hero. Del Potro is downtrodden, the lamentable loser.
We know in the end it's only going to be about one team, Spain or Argentina, when we check the record books. But today it felt like it was about all of us. The beauty of the sport and the heat of the moment. The power of desire and the heartbreakingly poignant feeling of loss. It was about Spain. It was about Argentina. It was about tennis. It was about us.
And now I hear the familiar refrain in my head: If you leave it all out there on the court, you can never lose.
And, for the first time in a while, I believe it's true.
Today in Droppers we will discuss the week's torrent of tennis news.
1. Caroline Wozniacki chooses Ricardo Sanchez as Coach
Well, what can you say about this move that hasn't already been said? Hmm...maybe I'll take a crack at that: I like the Wozniacki-Sanchez pairing because the parties have emphasized on ensuring that Piotr stays heavily involved. I think that's a good idea for the sake of stability. I also like the fact that it's reportedly a one-year deal instead of a "trial."
Before we chastise Wozniacki and her father/coach for what she hasn't done, let's acknowledge what the world's No. 1 has done. And let's not forget that Piotr has given his daughter some pretty sound fatherly advice over the years. It's clear that he's been very instrumental in Caro's rise to the No. 1 ranking, and it's also clear that the two work together exceedingly well. To keep him in the mix will only make them stronger.
Here is why I like the move: It's always good to get a new set of eyes.
I'm not sure how much we can expect Wozniacki to change her game though. The Wozniacki's seem to believe that Ricardo is valuable because 1) they know him and feel they can work with him harmoniously and 2) he is very familiar with the games of women on tour, and therefore would be an excellent scouting and gameplanning asset.
For those who now believe Wozniacki will appear in Australia next year hitting 100 mph forehand winners, keep in mind that Ricardo Sanchez's previous charge never hit very big, and never seemed to be encouraged to do so either. That said, Jelena Jankovic, who worked with Sanchez on two different occasions, did learn to become a very aggressive player who used angles and space very well.
2. Bogomolov to play Davis Cup for Russia
There has been a lot of talk about Alex Bogomolov joining with the Russian Davis Cup team, so I'll discuss my take briefly here. Remember, when Bogomolov first stated his interest in playing for the motherland, Peter Bodo wrote some very scathing commentary about it. Pete has strong feelings about the subject, and he's earned his right to speak his mind about it.
That said, I've got my own views on the subject. If Bogomolov wants to play for the moon, and if Bogomolov was born on the moon (he was born in Russia), then he should be entitled to play for the moon. If the USTA wants players to remain loyal to them for whatever reason, then they should have the kids sign on the dotted line, so their intentions are clear. Since they didn't, I think he's free to go, and while we are free to judge him, I think that we're wrong to do so.
We don't know what it's like to be Bogomolov -- with his bills to play, his family to provide for, etc... -- so I think it's pretty wrong of us to jump to conclusions about who he owes and for how much.
The news got a little weirder today when Dmitry Tursunov called out tennis journalist Ravi Ubha, saying that he wasn't responsible for what he was quoted for in this piece about Bogomolov. Apparently Tursunov never said it; somebody who had posted a comment on Bodo's original piece had said it. It's a long, convoluted story, so you'll have to go to to Tursunov's Twitter page to get a feel for it.
The bottom line? Tursunov didn't say it. Got it? Get it? Good.
Donald Young back with mom Ilona as coach
I really don't have a lot to say about the recent reports that Donald Young is backing out of his USTA coaching agreement to work solely with his mother. This is another case where it's better to keep quiet and observe, rather than sanctimoniously rush in with judgement. I don't know the whole story, and I'm not sure who does. Reportedly, a source says that Donald was asked by the USTA to attend one of its training centers for workouts during the offseason, and he refused.
Is it true? Who is the source? What is Donald's side of the story?
I'll defer until I know more.
I will say this about Young and Bogomolov. They both had great seasons and they should both be really proud. End of story, for the moment.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
On the eve of the 99th Davis Cup final in Seville, Spain, The Deuce Court is here to get you fired up.
Deuce #1: The Potential
It will be pretty hard for this year's final to top what happened last year in Belgrade, when Novak Djokovic and Co. won their first Davis Cup. That said, there is something highly intriguing about this weekend's clash between Spain and Argentina. Just hearing those two nation's names in the same sentence gets my head running with images of gauchos and matadors, conquistadors and flamenco dancers. Throw in the improbable nature of what Argentina is trying to do in Seville (break Spain's run of 20 consecutive home Davis Cup victories), add a dash of the revenge factor brought about by Spain's colossal upset of Argentina in 2008, and you have a recipe for for a clay court delicacy the likes of which we may have never seen.
Deuce #2: The Reality
Okay, now let's come down to earth, where the clay is clumpy and slow, and the footwork of the top two Spaniards is quick and decisive. Is there really any way that Argentina can do this? Neither Nadal nor Ferrer have ever lost on clay in Davis Cup play, and that's over the course of twenty-five matches. Can we realistically expect one loss from the vaunted pair, let alone two?
Ad In: The Mysticism
Ah, but there is something about the spirit of Argentina. The fire, if you will. Everybody is confident in Spain's chances right now, but you can't get through a single preview that doesn't at least mention the fact that Argentina is very dangerous, very hungry, and very talented. Juan Martin del Potro may have only gone 3-7 vs. the top ten in 2011, but is there anybody out there who doubts that the man is capable of greatness on the grandest of stages? David Nalbandian, too, will be lurking in the shadows, ready to contribute on the doubles court and, should the opportunity arise, in the reverse singles on Sunday.
Deuce #3: What about Juan Monaco?
He's been labeled the sacrificial lamb by some members of the media, one supposedly sent out to make nice with his video-gaming buddy Nadal (yes, you should click on that last link) and possibly steal a set after playing some long, physical points. But are we selling Monaco short by labeling him so? He's been playing some great tennis this autumn, and he's no doubt going to be inspired by the confidence that his coach Tito Vazquez is showing in him.
Ad In: How bad does Argentina want it?
Since none of Argentina's team members played tour events in the last three weeks, they've all been gearing up for this tie by working extremely hard on the clay. Meanwhile, Nadal and Ferrer have been playing on hard courts, and feeling quite "passionless." Could the difference in preparation have an effect on the outcome, or will fumes be enough to power the clearly superior Spaniards to the title on clay?
Deuce #4: What about Dubs?
Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco have been hit and miss in Davis Cup play, but they have won their matches in the last two finals. Argentina will need to win the doubles to have any hope, and David Nalbandian and Eduardo Schwank will have to find a way to beat them, in their first Davis Cup match as a team. Can they?
Ad Out: My pick
Spain is just too good, plain and simple. But they will need their big guns to close it out on Sunday.
Spain 3, Argentina 2
Fernando Verdasco's summation of the mindset of his team as they prepare for the 2011 Davis Cup final is telling, and it bodes well for Spain. A healthy respect for the competition has never been a problem for the Spanish, and it has a lot to do with their success. "I think they [Argentina] will come with everything," he said. "I think it's going to be more difficult than everybody thinks."
Spain is, of course, well versed in Argentina's long and agonizingly fruitless quest for the Davis Cup; they were the thieves in the night that raced into Mar del Plata to dash the Argentine hopes of victory in 2008. To their credit, the Spaniards know to be prepared for a hungry bunch of unsung adversaries when the 99th Davis Cup final gets underway in Seville tomorrow.
In '08, Argentina was heavily favored to win its first title at home against a Spanish team that was without Rafael Nadal. But the pressure of making history amidst throngs of tennis-mad companeros proved to be to much for the squad. For the fourth time in four Davis Cup finals, the end was not pretty for Argentina. In fact, it was downright snarky, with Nalbandian and Del Potro giving each other the silent treatment as the final balls were struck. No doubt dejected about the loss, and wearied by the infighting, dejected captain Alberto Mancini resigned after the tie.
Such is Argentina's forlorn Davis Cup history, a prime example of the classic quandary: so close yet oh so far. How does a nation so steeped in brilliant tennis go without a Davis Cup title for all these years? There are 13 nations who have won the Cup. Spain, of course, broke through with a bang in 2000 and are now looking for their 5th title. Serbia won its first in remarkable fashion last year. South Africa has been crowned, as well as Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Italy.
It makes one wonder: Will the day ever come for Argentina? Not even Guillermo Vilas, the original King of Clay and the holder of tennis's longest winning streak of all-time, could take Argentina to the pinnacle of team tennis. Not that he didn't try. Vilas and Co. lost in the finals to the Americans in 1981, with John McEnroe proving to be too much for Vilas and Jose-Luis Clerc on the fast American hard courts.
But enough history. Let's talk about the here and now. Does Argentina have a shot?
At first glance the answer has to be HELL NO! When you consider the gory details of Spain's domination of this event since the turn of the century, it seems like impossible might be overstating Argentina's chances. Nadal has won 18 straight Davis Cup singles matches and has never lost one on clay; Ferrer has also never lost on clay, going 11-0. Meanwhile, Spain is in the midst of a 20-tie win streak at home that has now spanned over 10 years.
And what is Argentina's answer to that intimidating body of work? Honestly, they have none. At least on paper they don't. But when you take your microscope out and start to explore the psychological underbelly of this one, there are a few things that favor Argentina.
Backtrack, if you will, to Fernando Verdasco's comments at the top of the page. While it's prescient of he and his teammates to be aware of the fact that Argentina is a very dangerous squad to face, the fact that they do consider them dangerous means that they may believe it. The roles are reversed this year. As bad as Argentina wants this title, nobody expects them to get it, and they could benefit from the fact that they really and truly have nothing to lose.
Secondly, if there was ever a more perfect chance to exact revenge for that heartbreaking defeat in 2008, this would be that chance. We must consider the character of the Argentinians before we write them off in this one. Anybody who witnessed Juan Martin del Potro at his most inspired in 2009 knows that improbable victories are not at all out of the question.
Finally, I think it's fair to say that the Spanish, though they are taking painful strides to alleviate any worry about it, are still slightly fatigued from a long year in the trenches. Though it's hard to envision anybody outlasting David Ferrer in a battle of grinders, at this point, I'm not completely convinced that the Rafa who takes the court tomorrow is going to be the swift assassin that we have been accustomed to seeing.
That said, there may several ways to spin this thing, and some of them might make Argentina's chances look a little better than they actually are, but considering what's at stake, where they are playing and who they are playing, revenge might be a dish that never gets served.
Argentina will need a miracle to win this one, and that is a fact. For some reason (there is just something about Del Potro and, to a lesser extent, Nalbandian), I consider them to be capable of a miracle this weekend.
Though I don't expect it, I'm still excited to see them try.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Friday, November 25, 2011
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Monday, November 21, 2011
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have developed a nice niche rivalry in 2011. Theirs may not fit the classic definition of a rivalry and it may not possess the cachet of Federer-Nadal or Nadal-Djokovic, but from a purely aesthetic standpoint, the regal and refined Federer pitted against the dynamic and flamboyant Tsonga is about as dreamy as it gets.
The pair’s seventh meeting of the season, a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 Federer victory, started anticlimactically. Each player was tentative early, but it was Tsonga whose nerves bit him first, in the fourth game of the first set. The Frenchman didn’t make a first serve in that game, and to make matters worse, he missed badly on two consecutive inside out forehands – his bread and butter when he’s going good – to hand Fed the first break of the match.
Federer had expressed slight concern about the speed of the courts at the O2 Arena earlier in the week, but he didn’t seem to mind serving on the speedy surface as this match began. He lost three points on serve in the first set, facing no break points. Meanwhile, Tsonga continued to look badly out of sorts. He double faulted at 2-5, 0-30, and Federer had the set when Tsonga dumped a volley into the net on the next point.
But Tsonga rallied, buoyed by the support of the crowd when he held to draw even in the second game of the second set. His feet started to move with a sense of urgency, and when Federer missed on two identical forehands from 30-all of the very next game, Tsonga had taken advantage of an oft-recurring Federer theme: the inexplicably loose game. With Tsonga holding the break advantage in the second set, things were finally getting interesting.
In the third set, Tsonga took the dominant role, attempting to hit Federer off the faster court, while Federer stayed defensive, looking to find the crack in the armor of his now emboldened opponent.
The two traded holds, until the crack in Tsonga’s armor finally opened up. On a day that loose play was the norm rather than the exception, Tsonga’s final walkabout (a botched volley and a double fault) while serving to stay in the match left him facing triple match point.
He saved one, but Federer sailed a nifty backhand pass past Tsonga to seal the deal on the next.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Welcome to The Deuce Court, where we wax poetic about tennis while keeping it sweet and short...
Deuce #1: Really, Yannick?
Most of you know by now that France's last Grand Slam champion penned some scathing commentary about Spanish sports having "la potion magique" while other nations like France are too strict and law-abiding to enjoy the benefits of PED's. As is always the case with these type of allegations, Noah's unfounded accusations are at best irresponsible, at worst harmful, Whether Noah intended to do it or not, he has unfairly cast the Spanish players in a very negative light.
The whole piece smacks of a bitterness that I never suspected a person as happy-go-lucky as Noah to possess, but the craziest ideas of all came in the last line: Noah wrote "La meilleure attitude à adopter est d'accepter le dopage. Et tout le monde aura la potion magique." which roughly translates to "The best attitude to take is to accept the doping, then everybody will have the magic potion." This is wrong on so many levels. So, we are just supposed to ban all attempts to curb doping because some athletes in some less-policed nations are allegedly gaming the system and gaining an illicit advantage? Great, and while we're at it, let's make sure that the 6-12-year-old's are getting there share of dope as well.
No, no, no. Not good at all. As messy and expensive as policing doping is, and as unfair as it may or may not be (because there will always be some who have found "la potion magique" and, more importantly, found a way to avoid detection), just giving up the chase entirely will never be the solution. There are lives in the balance Yannick, not just wins and losses -- get with the program.
Deuce #2: Tipping Rafa
It's been a month since Rafa's disappointing loss to Florian Mayer in Shanghai, so it's somewhat of a mystery as to what form he'll actually be in when the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals begin. Based on what I've seen from his practice vids, and what he's telling the press in this piece, Rafa basically pulled the plug on playing in Asia because he wanted to go home, regroup, and come back with a renewed focus for this event and for the upcoming Davis Cup final with Argentina. We all know what Rafa can do when he sets his mind to something. I think more than anyone else in the field, Rafa wants this title. Because of that, he's my pick to win it. That could change after I see his form, but for now, I'm tipping Rafa to do the deal in London.
Ad In: Less than 24 hours to go until the #finalsshowdown begins in London.
What a fantastic way to finish the season. As Federer said (paraphrasing) in a pre-tourney media interview, opening a tournament against a top ten players really gets your blood pumping. Mine too. No offense to the rest of the top 100, but how nice is it to get all this talent bundled up into one delectable holiday package, at the perfect venue, with throngs of tennis hungry fans, and no chance of an early round upset? And even better, if your favorite player loses his first match, he's still got two more to play. No offense to Shanghai, Houston, or anyplace else, but since the finals moved to London, I have been all-in. I sense that I am not alone in this sentiment.
Deuce #3: Tsonga Not Intimidated
Good luck to the rest of the field trying to top this quote. He may not win the event, but the Frenchman has best quote wrapped up.
Ad Out: Helfant's replacement
Christopher Clarey's must-read on the future of tennis looks at the search for a new Chief Executive, possible changes to the rankings systems and more.
Friday, November 18, 2011