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
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
The WTA posted its year-end player awards yesterday, but something about them left me feeling a little disappointed. Well, not disappointed really, but I did feel that more players deserved credit for their remarkable achievements. Depth was truly the calling card of the WTA this year, with three first-time Grand Slam winners and lots of other surprises along the way. Sure, Petra Kvitova is clearly deserving of player of the year, but how about a rule precluding her (or anyone else) from getting more than one award when there are so many other deserving players?
All totaled, Kvitova won four awards, including one voted on by the fans (favorite breakthrough player) and another voted on by peers (Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship). Make no mistake about it, Petra is totally deserving, but I've created The Fan Child's WTA Awards to recognize some of the other great players who've been left off the WTA's official list.
So, here goes:
Most Inspiring: Na Li
First Asian Grand Slam winner in tennis history? Check. Thought by many to be past her prime and not truly elite? Check. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the biggest story in tennis this year, Na Li. Not only did she have 116 million watching her French Open final in China, she also proved that press conferences and on-court interviews can be hilarious episodes of comedic genius too. But seriously, think about it: No matter what happens in Chinese tennis for the next million years, Na Li will always be the one who cracked the code. And she did it against the odds, on a surface that she outwardly disliked, with tons of spunk and nerve to boot. It's true that Li hasn't been the same player since this remarkable triumph, but that does not in any way cast a shadow over Li's truly remarkable performance at Roland Garros. Nothing ever will.
Comeback player of the year: Serena Williams
Sabine Lisicki, who has chosen by the media for the WTA's version of the award, is very deserving, let's make no mistake about that. But is she as deserving as the player who went through a near-death experience, was expected by many to never play again, then rose from the ashes to become the Tour's hottest player of the summer and reach the US Open final? I don't think so. I know the last thing that Serena wants is another meaningless award -- the woman wants Grand Slams titles -- but if there was one comeback player in the WTA this year, it could only be Serena.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Sam Stosur
I actually don't understand why Sam Stosur wasn't voted by her peers for the Sportsmanship award, but because she wasn't I'm going to do her a solid and vote her in for the WTA's most pleasant surprise. Honestly, is there a nicer, more down to earth player on the WTA Tour? Still, as talented as Stosur was, most believed that she'd forever be known as a player who always found a way to not get it done when it counted the most. But lo and behold, there was Sam Stosur, staring down Serena Williams in the US Open final, and playing the best tennis of her career, precisely when it counted the most.
Best Crowd Pleaser: Andrea Petkovic
Ah, the Petko dance, the vids, the indie music, the hilarious, sentient, and self-effacing tweets, the laid back viral video shot on the Indian Wells grassy area with James LaRosa. Is there anybody better suited to deliver the message that WTA players can say more than stuff like "it is what it is" and "I'm just going to try and play my tennis" when the camera is on them? I think not.
Grunter of the Year: Maria Sharapova
This one was very close. I hemmed. I hawed. But in the end, based on the strength of her decibel level and on her Grand Slam final appearance at Wimbledon, I have to give it to Maria. Obviously Vika is a close second, and in a surprising twist, Francesca Schiavone, she of the "Ah-Heeeeee," came in third.
Server of the year: Petra Kvitova
Since I'm not going to do the conventional player of the year thing, I have to give Petra something. Petra used that big swooping lefty serve as the cornerstone of her dynamic game this year, and she's finally proved that someone other than a Williams sister can bring the heat on the serve when it counts. In second place is Sabine Lisicki, who has the chance to enter the top 10 next year, largely on the strength of her serving prowess.
Best Net Player: Francesca Schiavone
In a game ruled by baseline bashers that fear they'll turn into pumpkins if they cross the service line during a point, Francesca Schiavone breaks the mold. Francesca may not have the purest volleying technique, but she more makes up for that in aggression and a willingness to finish points at the net. Schiavone is one of the most exciting players to watch on Tour because she plays tennis in three dimensions, using everything she can to construct winning points.
Is there anybody I've left out? Of course, that is what part 2 is for, so stay tuned for more in the upcoming days.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will renew their storied rivalry next week in London, as the two were drawn into Group B alongside Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Mardy Fish. Below are all the singles and doubles group pairings.
Federer is attempting to become the first player to win the event for a sixth time. The 2010 champ is currently tied with Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl, who have each won the title five times.
Nadal leads Federer in their head-to-head rivalry 17-8, and he won all three matches that the pair contested in 2011, losing only one of the eight sets they contested.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is seeking a second World Tour Finals title to top off one of the most successful seasons in ATP history. He will contest Group A, along with Andy Murray, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych,
Play begins on Sunday, with 2 singles and 2 doubles matches taking place. Stay tuned for previews and analysis later in the week.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will meet for the 6th time in 2011 tomorrow in Paris. The Deuce Court will now break it down.
Deuce #1: If you were thinking that Roger Federer was going to become an afterthought after suffering through his first season without a Grand Slam title since 2003, think again. Federer has been excellent since returning to the court in Basel last week. He's won 11 straight matches since the US Open, and today's 6-4, 6-3 victory over Tomas Berdych might have been the most impressive of them all. It took 81 minutes, with Federer blasting 34 winners to 13 unforced errors.
Deuce #2: After losing four of his first five matches against Federer, Tsonga recorded one of the most epic wins of his career against him in the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Down two sets to love, the charismatic Frenchman found a way to accomplish what had been impossible achieve up until then: He became the first man to come back and beat Federer after trailing by two sets in a Grand Slam (Federer was 178-0).
And, for good measure, Tsonga stormed past Federer in Montreal, scoring a 7-6, 4-6, 6-1 victory at the site of his first career victory over Federer.
Ad In: Federer rebounded nicely in New York, scoring a decisive straight set victory over Tsonga in the quarterfinals. At the time, Federer said "I was returning much better this time around, or his serve wasn't going through the court as much as it did in Wimbledon, and I just felt that I was in control from the baseline."
If that's the case, then the much-talked-about slower courts in Paris might serve to give Federer a boost this time around as well.
Deuce #3: When it comes to confidence, I'm not sure that either player has a decisive edge in this tilt. Both have scored massive wins against the other this season, and both are in fine form. But Tsonga, who was able to fight off three match points in the final set of his thriller against John Isner today, should benefit from the fact that he is playing with house money now, in front of a crowd that, while enamored by Federer, will be in his corner from start to finish.
Ad Out: Federer, who has won 50 or more matches in 10 consecutive years, will be gunning for his first Paris title tomorrow. He has now reached at least the final of all nine masters events.
Deuce #4: Tsonga's only previous masters title came in Paris in 2008; Federer is attempting to win his 18th, which would leave him one behind the all-time masters title winner (Nadal, 19).
Ad Out: Regardless of outcome, Tsonga will rise from No. 8 to No. 6 in the ATP rankings, marking his previous career high.
The Deuce Court's Pick: Federer in two
Friday, November 11, 2011
I caught myself wondering today: "What will tennis be like without Roger Federer?" I'm not the first to wonder, and I'm sure I won't be the last -- such thoughts are natural, especially on a day when Federer became only the 7th player in the history of men's tennis to reach the 800-win threshold. Thankfully for those of us who aren't ready to bear the thought of a Federer-less ATP Tour, it appears that Roger is likely to spend the next few years of his life inching towards Jimmy Connors all-time record of 1,242 wins.
Which brings me to what I perceive to be the most remarkable thing about Federer, post-domination: the fact that he seems just as content as the world's No. 4-ranked player as he did when he was reeling off Grand Slam titles speaks volumes about the man's genuine love for the game. I can honestly say that I expected Federer to handle his new place in tennis' pecking order with a lot more disdain than he has shown. Instead, it's been nothing but positivity, a willingness to improve, and the desire to regain whatever slices and snippets of his former glory that he has the power to take back.
This, more than anything, has reinforced my respect for Federer the player and Federer the man of late. The fact that he is in there, digging into the trenches and going about his business, is something that should not be taken lightly. Federer is a man who has clearly bought into the idea that his talent is something that should never be taken for granted. And so, here he is, doing the best he can with what he's been given, working every day to make the most of his abilities, honoring his talent, honoring his family and his starry-eyed admirers -- honoring the game.
What's not to love? How can you not be moved when you see a player who has won 16 Grand Slams working as hard if not harder than everyone else on the Tour when he could easily be putting his feet up and sharing a Corona with Mirka on some idyllic beachfront in perpetuity?
It was just a routine tennis-watching Friday for me until Federer took the court in Paris this evening, then all of this started to hit me. I had just watched a few hours of the Tomas Berdych-Andy Murray quarterfinal, and while it was a fantastic match with lots of drama, some world-class ball striking and the like, once Federer's match started airing I was immediately struck by how entertaining, by comparison, it was to watch Federer play.
Even though it was not his best effort of the week, something about Federer's play still felt sublime. It was symphonic. It was refined and dignified, yet explosive. It was svelte, adaptive and interpretive. And all the while there was that Federer Aura, making every single tense moment feel larger than life itself.
Tennis is a rock-n-roll game these days, but there is still room for the classically trained musician. It's great to see Federer pull out the harp to negate the thrum of a wall of electric guitar. He's a throwback in so many ways, but the one thing he doesn't seem to be doing -- the thing that we all fear -- is getting old.
But the older he gets, the more milestones tennis fans will get to enjoy. He's six wins from tying Stefan Edberg at 806, so I guess we could say Federer's 30 -- going on 806.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Monday, November 7, 2011
So how has turning 30 been for Roger Federer? Well, if his level of play is any indication, his fifth career Basel title yesterday proves that he's feeling quite alright, thank you. And, in a period when the rest of the "Big Four" (Nadal, Djokovic, Murray) are suffering from some sort of tennis-related ailments, the senior "Big Four" member has been busy proving that tennis isn't just a game for the under 30 set of late.
The redundantly discussed "genius" of Federer was available for all to see last week in Basel, and for Federer, who clearly relishes the opportunity to give his countrymen something to remember, this was more than just the luck of the draw: it was proof that The Swiss Maestro is still a remarkably gifted player who is practically a freak of nature when it comes to two all-important necessities in tennis: a: balance and quickness (the man is lightning fast for his age) and b: his ability to remain fatigue/ injury free.
These virtues will always give Federer a shot when it comes to Slams, because his high-octane forehand and serve are basically built for triumph. More than anything, the thing that Federer needs to work on is getting his backhand at its optimal level for the last three rounds of a Slam. Is it possible? I think so.
In the end, even if Federer never truly overcomes the disadvantage of being a one-hand backhand hitter in a two-man backhand hitters world, he still has a relatively good chance of winning that elusive 17th Slam next year -- especially if Djokovic or Nadal (or both?) are dealing with injuries that limit their effectiveness.
For Federer to capture his 17th Slam, he may have to finish that Slam as the last-man-standing, so to speak. With Djokovic and Nadal exhibiting so much physical vulnerability on the tail ends of sustained periods of domination, Federer is in a position to benefit from his meticulously maintained fitness and uncanny ability to remain injury-free, if one or both should be hampered by injuries.
Of course, Federer willl need his shotmaking too. And he'll need the booming serve that he was able to produce with such regularity in Basel. That's need with a capital "N." Make no mistake about it, Federer's serve will be the key to any future Grand Slam runs that he makes.
Fortunately for Federer these things -- the world class shotmaking and serve -- are staples of the Federer arsenal. A year ago, when a friend asked me to write this guide -- The Definitive Guide to Whether or Not the Maestro Can Do It! -- I must admit, I didn't see it happening. Now, after Federer's effort vs. Djokovic in the French and at the US Open, I am convinced that he has a good chance to win another Slam.
Federer may be aging, but if there is any indication of it, it is only evidenced by the fact that he isn't as consistently good as he once was. But in the Slams Federer is proving that he can will himself to inspired tennis. Federer is is a player who has seemingly nothing left to prove and yet he still appears motivated to prove something. Next year shouldn't be any different.
The same things that irk some people about Federer -- his perceived arrogance, his habit of crying at inopportune moments, his bitter resentment of losing and the snide comments he can make after losses -- are the things that are driving him, pushing him further, enabling him to display his "regal" and physically charismatic method of ball-striking: one that can only be described as an art, or, as David Foster Wallace so famously wrote, a "Religious Experience."
With Djokovic and Nadal both so much younger than Roger, it's hard not to feel for Federer. He's seen the game evolve during his career, and the current state of string and racquet technology have conspired to make his elegant one-handed backhand look like an outdated shot at times. He's had his reign at the top of tennis cut short by a new breed of super athletes (namely, Nadal and Djokovic) that are playing modern tennis the way it was meant to be played, and it hasn't always been easy for Federer to accept it and stay positive inspite of it.
Federer is fighting an uphill battle now, and it has been 7 Slams since his count stalled at16. 20, a number that some glibly threw around back in late '09 and early '10, isn't in the picture any more, but 17 still is.
17 is still a number that even the skeptical can grasp. One more shining symphony from the Beethoven of tennis? One for the doubters and faithful alike? Ah, it'd be one for the ages, for sure.
Regardless of what the future holds, the beauty lies in Federer's quest.
The key is that Federer is still fighting. He's still looking for ways to stem the tide, and turn it back in his favor. He's No. 4 in the world right now, and in the short term, he has nowhere to go but up.
I say, why not? If that's not definitive enough, stay tuned for Part 2.