Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Australian Open: The Angry Happy Slam

Just wanted to throw a quick shout out to all readers. If you miss me, please come over to Tennis Now to read some of my Australian Open coverage. There's a lot to read, and there will be a lot more by the end of what promises to be a fantastic weekend!

-- The management a.k.a The Fan Child a.k.a Chris Oddo

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

5 Thoughts on the Andy Murray-Ryan Harrison Tilt

One of the more highly anticipated first-rounders in Melbourne did not disappoint, as Andy Murray outclassed youngster Ryan Harrison on Hisense. Here are five quick thoughts on what the match might mean for both participants.

***Editor's Note: You can find my work at throughout the Australian Open. I'm posting 3-4 pieces a day there, so please feel free to stop by and check it out.

1. Harrison's going places

The 19-year-old Shreveport, La. native is now 0-10 against top ten opponents, but don't let the 0-for fool you -- Harrison can play. And we were made aware of that fact in the first set yesterday when the feisty Harrison not only took the set, but looked like a bonafide world-beater in the process. Harrison made 69% of his first serves, smacked 12 winners, and basically looked like the better player throughout the 51-minute first set. Granted, Murray has never been the fastest starter, but if Harrison can find a way to play whole matches against top players the way he played yesterday's first set, he'll be scoring wins against top foes sooner rather than later.

2. Murray's calmness -- it's almost eery

During ESPN's broadcast of the match Brad Gilbert lamented that he could never get a young Andy Murray to behave so well when he was in his box. Ah, but that was a long time ago, Brad, and probably more importantly, it was before "Mr. Lendl" stepped to the fore. Here's my question: Is Lendl really ushering in the halcyon days for Murray, and if so, what will it really have a dramatic effect on the Scot's results? Of all the great things that Andy Murray did yesterday against Ryan Harrison, the greatest was his newfound zen-like placidity. No punching racquets. No bratty epithets aimed at anyone who would listen. Just proper, constructive tennis.

3. Murray's backhand, a thing of beauty

Now that Murray has me focusing less on his outbursts I noticed last night that his backhand is sublime, with a capital S. Of all the two-handers on tour, I'd say that only Novak Djokovic is more effective with the shot. But nobody is as natural with it. Murray can spin it or drill it, he can hit it crosscourt or punch it down the line. He can lob it, punch it, rip it -- you name it. The guy is a virtuoso with the two-hander.

4. So then, can he win it?

We've seen how much of a difference Lendl can make on Andy Murray's comportment, but what can he do for his nerves? Furthermore, is there anything he can do for Murray tactically when it comes to facing a merciless, en fuego player like Novak Djokovic? Murray's three previous trips to Grand Slam finals ought to have numbed him to the nerve experience a bit, so shying to the occasion probably won't be as much of a factor as it once was. As far as cultivating an effective strategy to deal with Djokovic, you can bet that Lendl is racking his brain for ideas every waking hour. It may not make the difference, but even the hope that there is somebody in his box that can make a difference could function as a potent placebo for Murray.

5. Is Murray's serve good enough?

Those of you who are kind enough to read this blog know that I'm very skeptical about Andy Murray's ability to deliver world-class serving on a consistent basis. I've written about it often. And honestly, as high as I am on Murray at the moment, my skepticism about the serve remains. His 54% first serve percentage yesterday does not inspire much confidence, but I do like the fact that he won 60% of his second serve points. Those numbers are way above his average. If he can keep that up, it will make his low first serve percentage a lot easier to stomach. The simple question is: Can he keep it up?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tomic Confidently Assumes Australia's Top Dog Status

They say that confidence is half the battle on a tennis court, and if it's true then Australian 19-year-old Bernard Tomic is half way there.

Tomic, who played last year's Australian Open with a ranking of 199, enters this year's tournament firmly entrenched in the ATP's top 50, at No. 38. Furthermore, the Queensland native is fresh off an exciting week at Kooyong where he triumphed in all three exhibitions he played, over venerable foes Tomas Berdych, Gael Monfils and Mardy Fish.

After his first match with Berdych, Tomic was downright giddy about the prospects of continuing his march to the upper echelons of tennis. "You know, I've got a good shot at being seeded in the French and Wimbledon...I haven't got much points to defend and I think the next four or five months is going to be really, really, really fun."

For a young man who just recently, by his own admission, has stopped growing, he has no qualms acting or feeling like he belongs in the "who's climbing the tennis ladder rapidly?" conversation (he nonchalantly called Milos Raonic "a good kid" when asked by reporters if he'd ever practiced with him).

Even with No. 22 seed Fernando Verdasco waiting as his first round opponent today, Tomic seems undaunted. "If I'm confident, I can go a long way, I think."

"I have a good chance, the way I'm playing, to beat him."

With Tomic now supplanting 30-year-old former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt as the top-ranked Aussie, you'd think the pressure would be a serious detriment -- especially on his home soil in a Grand Slam -- to Tomic's game, but nerves don't appear to a problem thus far. They weren't a problem last year, when Tomic upset two top 50 players (Jeremy Chardy and Feliciano Lopez) en route to a third round clash with Rafael Nadal, then held his own and actually flummoxed Nadal at various points during the match.

And they certainly weren't a problem last year at Wimbledon, when Tomic became the youngest player since Boris Becker to reach the quarterfinals and took a set off of world beater Novak Djokovic when he got there.

So, what will it take to slow this young phenom down? Will Fernando Verdasco's beastly groundstrokes have the power to quash the confidence of Tomic, or will Tomic use his nuance and ability to manipulate the pace of rallies to make another veteran look feckless across the net from him?

"He beat me once in Brisbane when I was 16 up there," said Tomic, of the 6-4, 6-2 thrashing he suffered at the hands of Verdasco in 2009 in their only previous encounter. "That was when he was on his run, playing well. I think you know, the last six months he hasn't really done much."

Not exactly the feeble utterances of a kid who is new on the block.

"I think it's a good time to play him," he added.

Well, okay then.

Now that we know Tomic can talk the talk, we won't have to wait very long to find out whether he can walk the walk.

Quotable Quips: This Week in Tennis Quotes

Welcome to Quotable Quips, where we scour the internet, the pressers, the match recaps, and whatever else we can get our hands on to get a handle on who said what, why who said what, and what who might have meant when who said what.

“I am always surprised to see professional players searching for former professional players in order to solve issues that are linked to coaching. When Lendl was facing up to his four failures in Grand Slam finals, he called Tony Roche and their collaboration changed his career. Therefore learning from the Lendl situation does not mean Murray should call Lendl - but rather someone like Roche himself. The man is the most successful coach in the world, with 14 Grand Slams achieved with three different players.” --

Patrick Moratoglou, in this Yahoo piece.

Bonus: Rafa Three-pack:

“For a few balls, for the higher balls, you can hit the ball, you know, with a little bit more flat because the racquet goes faster into the ball. The racquet goes quicker.” --

Rafael Nadal on his racquet, which is three grams heavier, with the weight added to the head.

“I give information for you to write newspapers. But at the end of the day I look like I am the one who always talk about things that must change, and I don’t win nothing on that. I just lose time, energy, and the people can think that he’s always the one who says the bad things, the negative things."

-- on his leadership role among players and with the press.

“I didn't say that I lost motivation to play tennis. I say that I played a few matches at the end of last year with less passion than usual - not saying that I am not any more motivated to play tennis.” -- on his perceived lack of passion for the game.

“I try not to bore people with silly things like match results. Because, really — who cares about them?”

-- Laura Robson, as quoted in a New York Times Straight Sets piece.

"Isn't that the Petko dance?" -- Corina Morariu, responding to close-up camera footage of a prehistoric-looking bug that was on the court in Sydney between points of the Na Li Victoria Azarenka final.

“I think Ivan can help him understand how important body language is. That’s one of the four reasons why Andy hasn’t won yet. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic being the other three.” -- Mats Wilander, in an email to New York Time’s correspondent Chris Clarey.

“Who knows if this will last six months or six years, but I’m confident that at the end of this that Andy is going to come out a better player for the experience.” -- Darren Cahill, quoted in the same piece by Christopher Clarey.

"Yeah, I know I can beat anybody. I've beaten the best before." -- Aussie fan favorite Marcos Baghdatis, after defeating Juan Martin Del Potro in Sydney.

''I laugh a lot, so I think that has a lot to do with developing those muscles. I don't really do sit-ups too much.'' -- Serena Williams, on her oft-photographed six-pack.

''Margaret has said her feelings and it's public and it has leverage so I think this is the only way the people feel that they can be heard - through a sign of solidarity. As long as it is done tastefully, that's the most important thing for me.'' -- Rennae Stubbs, on the prospect of protestors turning out to rally against Margaret Court’s anti-gay marriage statements.

My Lebanese food from my grandma makes me feel good.'' -- Marcos Baghdatis, on why he feels Australia is so good to him.

“After that I went home, procrastinated on the packing for the earlier than expected trip to Melbourne, and got some rest. I awoke to all the media coverage of the loss and I can assure you it looked more dramatic than it was.”

-- Samantha Stosur, in her own words, as published in this piece.

Nadal's Inflammatory Comments: Self-Interest or Selfless?

You knew it would have to happen sometime. The always congenial and typically amicable rivals are finally experiencing a modicum of tension. Or, at least, it's what you will read and hear.

Now, before we try to make a mountain out of molehill of Rafael Nadal's thoughts on Roger Federer's lack of support for the player's movement with regard to the ATP schedule, let's state with equanimity that Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have always held each other in high regard. In fact, I'm quite sure they still do, and the fact that Rafa is willing to set off on a different course than Federer with regard to the great big elephant in the room known as the ATP schedule, does not in any way, shape or form renounce the mutual respect that the pair share for one another.

That said, Rafa's comments do make for a good read, and maybe -- should the longtime rivals meet in the Australian semifinals -- good fightin' words too.

"For him it's good to say nothing," Nadal told reporters in Spanish, in response to hints that Federer disliked hearing players complain about problems on the tour because it tarnished the image of the sport. "Everything positive. 'It's all well and good for me' and the rest can burn themselves."

"He likes the circuit. I like the circuit," added Nadal. "He finishes his career fresh as a daisy because he is physically privileged, but neither Murray nor Novak Djokovic and I are fresh as a daisy."

Strong words from the world's No. 2, quite obviously, and courageous too. Considerable credit has to go to Nadal here for stating his mind and for not being afraid to send a message to Federer.

Nadal's stated concerns about the rigor of the ATP's schedule are certainly not only his own. But the toll that his commitment to supporting Spain's Davis Cup aspirations -- a commitment that Federer regularly eschews when it comes to playing for Switzerland -- is somewhat unique. Perhaps, Nadal, ever loyal patriot that he is, does harbor some underlying bitterness for Federer's perceived lack of "love of country."

But, as with Nadal's current beef, there is always more than one side to the story. Doesn't Switzerland value Federer's Grand Slams more than it would value a Davis Cup title, and isn't Federer's reluctance to attempt an all-out pursuit of the latter at the expense of the former really the most patriotic endgame in reality?

The issues are complex, to say the least. And while Nadal's willingness to come out in support of the poor, the tired, the huddled masses of tennis players who do not benefit from being physically privileged like Federer, wouldn't he be wise, at this point in his career to take a page from the Federer playbook and stop hanging himself out to dry when doing so isn't required by the tour?

His well-documented frustration with the rigors of the tour is warranted -- no doubt -- and his desire to have Federer show more support for the grinders on tour is understandable, but is it realistic?

Tennis, individual sport that it is, is driven by self-interest, and Federer is interested in cementing his legacy, not helping other, younger and more physically robust players, end it. Can you blame him?

Nadal, also is driven by self-interest. He wants an easier road to hoe, and he doesn't quite know how to get it without offending his own innate sense of honor. He'd like the tour to make it easy for him to stay healthy and be able to perform at his highest level for the most important events. He can state that he's out to see all the players benefit, but are his intentions really so selfless?

At the essence of the argument is this: Tour solidarity is in the interest of Nadal, but it is not in the interest of Federer. So it's only natural that the narrative has turned.

It is an interesting time for tennis, and there is a lot to play for -- both on the court and off. Nadal's fiery comments prove so much.

A little off-court fire to the rivalry might be just the thing to make it more compelling on the court. Not that it needed it, but it probably won't hurt.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Deuce Court: 8 Women's Must-See First-Rounders

Yesterday on The Deuce Court, we looked at some of the most mouth watering men's first round matchups. Today, we'll flip the dial and look at what's happening on the women's side in the first round.

Click here for the day 1 Australian Open Order of Play

1. Lucie Safarova vs. Christina McHale: American tennis fans might be surprised to know that the 19-year-old New Jersey-ite is ranked 2nd to only Serena Williams when it comes to American Women. McHale scored many convincing wins last year, Caroline Wozniacki, Marion Bartoli and Svetlana Kuznetsova among them) and while she may be 18 spots behind Safarova in the rankings, she is not a heavy underdog in this match by any means.

2. Victoria Azarenka vs. Heather Watson: Watson, one of two young Brits that experts are high on (Laura Robson being the other) faces a heavy challenge in Victoria Azarenka in the first round. Azarenka, seeded No. 3 and fresh of the Sydney title, is a clear contender for the title, and many feel that this could be the year she finally takes the final step in her maturation. Watson, meanwhile, proved that she enjoys the spotlight when she nearly upset Maria Sharapova in the first round of the US Open last year. She is now doubt relishing the opportunity to take a shot at another well-established player.

3. Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands: This should be an interesting study in contrast, with the crafty, agile and wonderfully cerebral Radwanska pitted against the brash go-for-brokeness that is Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

4. Serena Williams vs. Tamira Paszek: They each reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year before falling out, but beyond that, the comparisons between the 13-time Grand Slam singles winner Williams and Paszek, who is currently ranked No. 45 in the world, end. Most will be watching this match to see how much Serena Williams is hindered or not hindered by her recently-injured ankle, and if it ends up being competitive, that will be gravy for the paying customers.

5. Madison Keys vs. Zheng Jie: A resurgent Jie, a year removed from wrist surgery, appears to have regained her singles mojo. The diminutive Chinese took her first title in five years in Brisbane, and she promises to be a big challenge in a small package for the very young, very raw, yet very promising 16-year-old American.

6. Samantha Stosur vs. Sorana Cirstea: Stosur has fallen into a bit of a post-glory slumber, winning only one of her first three matches of 2012. She will play her first Grand Slam tennis since defeating Serena Williams in last year's US Open final, and her opponent, long-noted for her promise, will no doubt feel inspired to keep Stosur on the snooze. Cirstea, a former French Open quarterfinalist and a former No. 23 in the world, comes to Melbourne in good form, having nearly made the semis in Hobart.

7. Maria Sharapova vs. Gisela Dulko: Maria has not been in action since she gruesomely sprained her ankle at the WTA Championships in Turkey. It was yet another injury-related setback for the valiant Russian, who has never lost her belief, or her incredible will to win, during her well-documented return to the top of the sport. But Dulko will present a daunting challenge for Sharapova, especially since Sharapova is likely to be shaking off rust in the early going, and may or not be experiencing some mobility issues.

8. Kimiko Date-Krumm vs. Eleni Daniilidou: Hey, anytime you get to watch a 41-year-old woman compete for the second round of a Grand Slam, that's must-see tennis. End of story.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Deuce Court: 8 Men's Must-See First-Rounders

Make no mistake, watching Roger Federer in an empty Rod Laver Arena is exciting, but when Monday rolls around, Melbourne Park will be packed with throngs of the tennis-mad and an air of electricity will be pumping through the venue.

Here are eight matches that are sure to keep the energy of the crowd high throughout round 1:

1. Radek Stepanek vs. Nicolas Mahut: If you're a serve-and-volley aficionado, this matchup is sure to delight you. Two eclectic, captivating scissor-handed veterans in a serve-and-volley duel to the death. Mahut beat Stepanek in the pair's only meeting in 2006.

2. Andy Murray vs. Ryan Harrison: The buzz surrounding Murray, even if he played a qualifier in round 1, was going to be huge. He's got Ivan Lendl in his box, and that alone is cause for packing an arena to the rafters. Now that he's drawn upstart American Ryan Harrison for his first match, this is perhaps the match to see of the whole first round.

3. Ernests Gulbis vs. Michael Llodra: You never know what you're going to get when the mercurial Gulbis is on the ticket. But you can pretty much bet that it will be entertaining. Throw left-handed serve-and-volley tactician Michael Llodra into the mix, and you've got another must-see match. Gulbis is 2-0 vs. Llodra.

4. Janko Tipsarevic vs. Dmitry Tursunov: Tursunov hasn't quite managed to get himself into top 20 form, but he is a dangerous foe for Tipsarevic. At No. 41, the kooky Russian has proven that he can still play. The fact that he split two matches last autumn with Tipsarevic is proof of that.

5. Bernard Tomic vs. Fernando Verdasco: It's a tough draw for the 19-year-old Aussie. But you know what? It's an even tougher draw for Verdasco. Tomic has come so far, so fast in the last 12 months, that I don't see him losing this match. Not here in Australia, where he's proven he can handle the expectations of a star-hungry nation.

6. Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. Juan Monaco: Tough draw for both guys here too. Both are cagey veterans with beautiful flowing games. This one has the potential of going the distance.

7. Jurgen Melzer vs. Ivo Karlovic: Karlovic, even as with his skills diminished due to injuries and lack of match play, will always be the guy that nobody wants to draw. Melzer, though, is 4-0 vs. Dr. Ivo lifetime.

8. Andy Roddick vs. Robin Haase: Roddick went headhunting in their hotly contested third round affair last year in Melbourne (literally). The strategy worked, as it seemed to provide the impetus for another Haase disappearing act. Haase has beautiful game, but he has yet to reach his potential, and many fear he never will. Roddick, meanwhile, is sporting a mohawk. Forgive me, I just had to mention it.

Others: Sela vs. Bellucci (what are the odds that these guys meet in the first round two years in a row?); Chardy-Dimitrov (tres chic); Fish-Muller (Muller is a tough out, even for a player of Fish's caliber); Troicki-Ferrero (have never met); Del Potro-Mannarino (Mannarino leads h2h 1-0)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Li to Press: "Yeah, I'm Back"

There are much bigger matches to come in the next few weeks, but after tonight's semifinal victory Li Na is officially ready for them. Now, that doesn't necessarily that she's guaranteed to make the Australian Open semifinals for a third straight time, or make the finals like she did last year, or win her second Grand Slam, but what it does mean is that Li's confidence is at it's "sweet spot" after her come from behind 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 win over red hot Petra Kvitova in the Apia International Sydney semifinal.

Kvitova has long been a consensus pick to make noise at the Australian Open, which begins Sunday, but Li, with her spirited effort today, is making a lot of experts take note of her form.

"Yeah, I'm back," said a typically glib Li in her post-match press conference today, and few will argue with her now, as she's won her first seven matches of the year (three of which were Hopman Cup exhibitions), and will clash with Victoria Azarenka in the final.

"I was feeling stronger -- not only for the body but also in the mind," said Li. "I believe in myself (that) I can do better," she added with a satisfied nod, and the signature smile that the tennis world came to know and love last spring.

It will be hard for a woman of Li's ability to not do better, given that she had basically fallen off the map after her monumental French Open title run last year.

But that's all in the past now. Fresh year, fresh player, as they say.

Kvitova, on the other hand, will have to reconcile the fact that she failed to convert an opportunity to claim the No. 1 ranking in addition to failing to win a match that she dominated early on. Most believe that Kvitova is destined to become the WTA's No. 1 player sooner rather than later, but the burning question is: will the loss to Li impact her confidence heading into Melbourne?

It wasn't simply that she lost, it was the way that Li outdueled her in the crucial moments of the match. Once Kvitova failed to convert on a double break point at 2-3 in the third set, Li reeled off 11 consecutive points that landed her at match point.

Counting her recent appearance in Hopman Cup, Kvitova had won 17 consecutive matches coming into this semifinal. Now that she'll head into the Australian on a losing streak, her first few matches will be crucial in terms of gaining much-needed confidence for the later rounds.

For Li, confidence is overflowing.

But that's what crazy about tennis. One minute you can be on top of the world, and the next you can be cannon fodder for young upstarts. Li knows this, because she's been there and done that, as recently as last year.

Now that she's back in form, both physically and mentally, her annual Australian run looks to be shaping up quite nicely.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Good Morning, Sabine!


She's not only a world-class server, she's a world-class scene-stealer as well. Check out the new Wilson adds featuring Sabine Lisicki. There's more footage where that came from on this facebook page.

The Deuce Court: Aussie Aspirations, What do lead-up results really mean and more...

The Deuce Court is about to go crazy. Australian Open qualifying is underway. Petra Kvitova is playing Li Na today. Ivan Lendl photos are more popular than Scarlett Johansson photos on the Internet right now. And everything I see is fuzzy, yellow, and pops off the strings. In other words, life is good.

Deuce #1: Baghdatis?

Check the highlights at the top of the page and realize two things: 1. Marcos Baghdatis is, was and always will be a must-see player down under, and 2. Matthew Ebden can play (props to @bgtennisnation for pointing that out on Twitter yesterday while the match was going on). No. 97 in the world gave the Bag Man a run for his money yesterday, and the highlight reel shows that the kid has chops. Ebden, too, will be a player to watch next week in Melbourne.

Deuce #2: Madison Keys, totally low key.

This is not Madison Keys Twitter page. This is Madison Keys' homepage. Neither says anything about her Australian Open preparations. This young woman put up a very strong US Open performance last summer, losing a closely contested three setter to Lucie Safarova in round 2. I'm anxious to see what she can do a million miles from home, and so are a lot of other American tennis fans. She wont turn seventeen until February, and I like that a lot of what she's doing is being kept under wraps. That said, I'm dying to hear some news, see some practice photos, read a canned Q and A -- ANYTHING!

Deuce #3: Match of 2012? Kvitova-Li

Na Li and Petra Kvitova are both running the table in 2012. That will end today, and it promises to be quite a show, as the pair of sluggers are both emerging as Australian Open favorites as we speak. In addition to emerging as favorites, both appear to have completely distanced themselves from their post-Slam-winning slumbers that caused many to question their long-term viability at the top of the game. Kvitova has won 14 straight (not including the three at Hopman Cup). Li has been decidedly demonstrative of late too, winning all three Hopman cup matches and her first three at Sydney. Both women are for real -- we'll find out who is realer tonight.

Previously the pair have split two matches on clay, with Li winning the bigger match, a French Open 4th-rounder last year.

Ad In: Aussie Kim in her last Aussie Open?

Say it ain't so, but it very much looks that way. So get her while you can, and read this must-read piece in the Guardian, written by Donald McRae.

Deuce #4: What the hell is up with John Isner?

My guess (and I'm going out on a limb here) is that he played a bad match against American qualifier Bobby Reynolds and it won't happen again soon. Yes, Isner could have used a few more matches, but let's not forget that his last two Australian Open appearances have been pretty solid (4th and 3rd rounds). I think he'll still be a factor in Melbourne.

Ad Out: Who's in top form, and does it matter?

The most difficult thing for me this time of year is to try and decide which results will actually correlate with Australian Open results. For example, Fish destroyed Milos Raonic at the Kooyong Classic yesterday, and Bernard Tomic beat Tomas Berdych. Those are some pretty eye-opening results, but it's an exhibition. Who knows what it all means. What if Na Li crushes Petra Kvitova in Sydney today? Naturally, we'll all be penciling Li in as the Aussie Open favorite, but is that what it really means? Sometimes the best thing for a player is to suffer a nice thrashing just prior to a big event. It tells the player: get your ass in gear because you have to be better. Then the player proceeds to work like a maniac, focus like a guru and train like a mensch. The message? Results in the lead-ups matter, but not as much as we armchair prognosticators would like to think.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Week that Was: Likes, Dislikes and Details

Just like the Australian summer, the tennis is heating up down under. But not all tennis players are created equal, and the first week of 2012 gave incontrovertible proof of that very fact. Some, like Milos Raonic, Bernard Tomic and Andy Murray were fast out of the gate, while others, like Samantha Stosur, Stan Wawrinka and even Rafael Nadal, have yet to find their A games.

Here's a look at who wowed and who was cowed.

Like: Andy Murray

What's not to like about starting the season with a title? Well, okay, since you asked, I'll tell you. Murray won 47% percent of his second serve points last week in Brisbane, which puts him at 66th-best on tour after one week of work. That said, Murray banged down some aces and generally did more damage with his serve than usual, and he won 89% of his service games, which is considerably higher than last year. I've said time and time again that the single missing ingredient in Andy Murray's game is the ability to hold serve like the other members of the big four. Everybody talks about Ivan Lendl being the missing ingredient, and he very well may be, but not if he doesn't place a heavy emphasis on getting his new charge to hold serve more often.

Like: Kaia Kanepi

Wow. I'm speechless. And apparently I'm not the only one, because I read a lot of buzz about Kanepi's game throughout the week. It's probably a little too early to anoint her as a legitimate Grand Slam threat, but with her sterling performance in Brisbane, the former No. 16 and three-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist is clearly setting the table for a banner year. She breezed through her final four matches, taking out top flight competition (Pavlyuchenkova, Petkovic, Schiavone, and Hantuchova) and playing a brand of aggressive first-strike tennis that was, in a nutshell, awe-inspiring.

Like: Bernard Tomic

Yes, he met his match in the Brisbane semis, but take a look at the highlights if you want to know just how unique of a talent Bernard Tomic is. Keep in mind, he was outside the top 200 this time last year, so to have world beater Andy Murray on a string for much of the first set in an ATP semifinal is an achievement to be sure. At No. 37 he won't be seeded this year in Melbourne, but with the right draw, I think another appearance in the second week of a Slam is very, very possible.

Like: Milos Raonic

I should say love. The missile shoots up to No. 25 in the ATP rankings after taking the Chennai title, and he'll be a serious contender to go deep in the Melbourne draw now that he is healthy. And get a load of these stats for the banner week: Aces: 77 Percent of service games won: 100 Percent of break points won: 100 (14 of 14).

Raonic's return is still flawed, but I believe that the big Canadian has a better chance than that other North American monster server, John Isner, at actually making strides on the return game. Raonic is a top 10 player relatively soon regardless, but if he finds a way to win, say 17% of his return games and stay healthy, I don't see why he can't disrupt the big four stranglehold, win a few Slams and challenge for the No. 1 ranking.

Like: Zheng Jie

She's healthy again, after a 2011 that was spent recovering from wrist surgery (ask Juan Martin del Potro if that's easy), and she nabbed her first title since 2006 by beating Flavia Pennetta in the final.

Like: Petra Kvitova and Na Li

Both former Grand Slam winners were strong in Hopman Cup singles play last week. Kvitova served up a statement win over Caroline Wozniacki, then ousted Marion Bartoli in the final. Li was also unbeaten. Prospects for each heading into Sydney and Melbourne look very good.

Like: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Nice start to 2012 for Jo-Willy. He notched his 8th career title in Doha, and took his career record to 3-1 vs. his good buddy Gael Monfils.

Dislike: Injuries

It was a tough week for Kim Clijsters, Serena Williams, Alexandr Dolgopolov, and Roger Federer. All experienced different injuries, and all will have to tread very carefully with less than a week remaining before the Australian Open gets underway. There are also a host of pre-existing injuries, like Maria Sharapova's ankle, Rafael Nadal's shoulder and Novak Djokovic's general state of fatigue to worry about too. The good news? Each is currently very hopeful of recovering in time to be close to 100 percent fitness in Melbourne. The bad news. I can just feel more bad news coming, so I'm staying prepared.

Dislike: Samantha Stosur

I'm not sure why, but whoever has won the last Grand Slam on the women's side is basically destined to fall on her face in the next Slam. And maybe the Slam after that. Stosur appears to be no exception, and she'll limp into Melbourne with one win in three matches in two tournaments this year. Can she break the trend? I'm not feeling it, but I hope she proves me wrong. She's dying to play her best tennis in front of her home crowd, but she'll need to right the ship fast.

Dislike: Agnieszka Radwanska

Why does Aga always have to give her kid sister such a beat-down when they play?

Speaking of likes: Feel free to like me on Facebook if you are so inclined.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Quotable Quips: This Week in Tennis Quotes

Welcome to Quotable Quips, where we scour the internet, the pressers, the match recaps, and whatever else we can get our hands on to get a handle on who said what, why who said what, and what who might have meant when who said what.

Let's start with a 3-pack from the queen of quotes, Serena Williams:

1. Referring to her ankle injury, sustained in Brisbane during a victory over Bojana Jovanovski: "If it's not OK I'm definitely talking to my friend Jack tonight, so we'll see. He loves ice too."

2. On Twitter, in an apparent 180 after her much-interpreted I'm not in love with tennis revelation and the ankle injury/ Jack quote: "Being an athlete requires sacrifice, discipline & heart. There is no winning without hard work. I'm about to overcome this."

3. Via Twitter, on New Year's Eve (this one explains a lot): "I definitely have a screw loose."

Moving on, let's get to some more serious stuff:

Bernard Tomic, on his feelings of manliness, which were fueled by his semifinal appearance in Brisbane: "I feel much more confident. I'm stronger physically. It's a better feeling out there knowing you're not a young kid anymore, with players overpowering you."

Marion Bartoli, on her feelings of guilt after double-bageling Jarmila Gajdasova at Hopman Cup: "I'm sorry I beat her that way but I was just focusing on my own game and not looking at the scoreboard."

Flavia Pennetta, discussing her relationship with Carlos Moya, in her recently released book, entitled "Straight to the Heart:" "I was trying to be numb towards life, not to feel pain. I did not even feel physical (pain). A silly example: even when I was waxing, I did not even feel anything."

Margaret Court, in an interview with Ben Rothenberg of NYT Straight Sets, when asked why she feels she is being misunderstood with regard to her stance on gay marriage: "Well, I think one of the tennis girls said, "Why do I hate homosexual people?" And I don't hate homosexual people. That's been put out there, and I think that's very wrong."

Milos Raonic, on his plan for world domination, after taking out Janko Tipsarevic in Chennai: "My job is to take care of my serve."

An anything but overconfident Kaia Kanepi, on her amazing run that led to her winning the Brisbane title: "I have to be ready because history has shown that nothing comes easy for me."

Yanina Wickmayer, who returned from a five-month hiatus due to back issues, on being scheduled on an outside court in Auckland earlier in the week: "I guess five months off and you're nobody, huh?"

And, finally, we'll close with some more humorous quotes (and if you haven't watched the YouTube video at the top of the page, you might get a laugh or two out of that as well):

Jack Reader, Alexandr Dolgopolov's coach, on his charge's volleys: "I hate his volleys. It's like he is waving a wand around instead of punching the volley forward."

Andrea Hlavackova, after winning the doubles title in Auckland, on how she originally paired up with her partner Lucie Hradecka: "I kind of stole her from another player."

Friday, January 6, 2012

Flashback Friday: Safin-Sampras, Australian Open, 2002

Each Friday at The Fan Child's Two Cents, we will tap the archives and take a look back at a classic tennis memory.
Marat Safin and Pete Sampras met four times in Grand Slams, and, strangely, this nail biter in the 4th round of the 2002 Australian Open was the only meeting that went beyond three sets. With Sampras 30 years of age and Safin still 21 at the time (he would turn 22 5 days later), many have wondered what the matchup might have been like had the two reached their prime at the same time in their careers.

Speculation aside, even though these two titans of tennis were more than 8 years apart in age, their meetings did make for some compelling, even ethereal tennis, and the above clip of their third and fourth set tiebreakers provides concrete evidence of that.

Actually, there's enough tennis gusto in the first point of the third set tiebreaker to make a lot of complete matches look, well, wimpy. Athleticism is one thing, and both Sampras and Safin are clearly gifted in that regard, but what impresses me most about seeing these two battle it out head-to-head is the sheer manliness of the tennis. The word formidable comes to mind, and it can be equally applied to both players. Both are dauntingly tall with broad shoulders, and each generates a massive serve and huge groundstrokes from their frames. Furthermore, each employed an aggressive style that suited their assets. This was manly tennis played by manly men, and its visceral appeal -- the sheer intimidating aggressive nature of each -- was awe inspiring and attractive.

What is intriguing about this particular match is that Sampras, after being boxed around by Safin for the first two sets, is clearly digging as deep as he possibly can to try and stage a comeback. Sampras would play (and win) his final Grand Slam only nine months later, and while he'd clearly lost his superhuman-ness at this stage of his career, he hadn't lost that lust for battle that had always partially defined him.

Safin, no doubt bolstered by his straight set victory over Sampras in the 2000 US Open final even after an injury-marred 2001, would prove himself to be up to the task of weathering the Sampras storm on this occasion. The big Russian was able to fight off not one but two set points in the fourth set tiebreaker by hitting blistering backhands down the line that caught Sampras off guard on each.

"He loves that should doesn't he?" said one commentator after the second match point saved.

"Why wouldn't he?" said the other.

Safin would eventually prevail, 6-2, 6-4, 6-7, 7-6

But the former world No. 1 and current Russian Parliament member would eventually fail in his attempt to win his first Australian Open title (he fell to Swede Thomas Johansson in the final).

It's a shame that these two greats weren't a few years closer in age, but they still managed to stage a few epic battles nonetheless, and for that, we should be thankful.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Jay Z in the House

Holy hilarity.

When I posted this piece about who is trending up during the first week of the tennis season, I regretted that I didn't leave space to mention Zheng Jie, who has reached the semifinals of the ASB Classic in Auckland, and will face Svetlana Kuznetsova for a spot in the final.

For the former Wimbledon and Australian Open semifinalist (and former No. 15 in the world), things are clearly moving in the right direction. Dating back to her semifinal appearance in Guangzhou, this is Zheng's third semifinal appearance in her last six events. Zheng, who had wrist surgery prior to 2011, appears to have finally gotten her mojo back.

She celebrated that fact with some hilariously good-natured hip-hopping, aided by a posse of event media staff. The result is sure to be a viral video. Watch out Petko, the WTA might have itself a new it girl.

Reading the Tennis Tea Leaves: Who is Trending Up?

It's been a tumultuous week of tennis, and today I'm going to try to make sense of some of the madness by attempting to quantify the early achievements that we've witnessed in Brisbane, Perth, Auckland, Doha and Chennai.

In keeping with the spirit of making sense of the madness, I've elected to go with a nice easy bullet format, so, without any further ado...

  • Aussie Kim is Emerging as an Australian Open favorite -- There were moments during her straight set victory over Iveta Benesova last night where I became convinced that Clijsters is going to be the best player on the WTA tour through the Olympics this year. She was tattooing the ball early and often last night, from both sides, and it was easy to see that this was not the same Clijster's who didn't even bother limping to the finish line in 2011. A myriad of injuries caused Kim to pretty much throw in the towel before Wimbledon last year, but if last night's version of Aussie Kim is any indication, she's hell bent on starting the year with a bang. She was certainly banging last night, and what impressed me most of all was her movement. Precise footwork and keen fitness will allow Clijsters -- should she manage to stay healthy -- to produce a daunting blend of knock-your-socks-off power and keep-the-point-alive defense that is sure to make her a very scary opponent in Melbourne.

  • Dolgopolov Top Ten? -- I don't know if "The Dog" will ever be one of the more consistent players on tour, but man is this guy electric. Of all the guys on tour, is there any player who has a game that resembles a 4th of July fireworks display more closely than Dolgopolov? This guy is exploding bottle rockets all the way. He may not be a fixture in Grand Slam semifinals this year, but if dolgopolov does go deep in a Slam, get your popcorn ready and your DVD set to "record."

  • Kaia Kanepi Surging -- A powerful display that featured 12 aces and a whole lot of sizzling forehands left the Estonian among the last four in Brisbane. She's currently ranked No. 34, but reached as high as No. 16 in 2011. Could this be the beginning of another push for her?

  • How will Serena's ankle affect her chances in Melbourne? -- I think the ankle will limit Serena's already limited mobility, and that will be a hindrance for her in Melbourne, should she be fit enough to play, for sure. That said, if there is anyone on the women's side who can overcome mobility with a parade of aces and winners it is Serena. Still, I think this will hurt her chances of returning to the Grand Slam winner's circle quite a bit.

  • Tsonga at a new level? -- Doesn't it seem like the always brilliant Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has turned a corner of late? He was always pure poetry in motion, but now he seems less prone to the walkabout virus that continues to plague his friend Gael Monfils. I think the Frenchman, with all his firepower and shotmaking prowess, could make a push to enter the top four.

  • Li Na has something to prove, and that is a good thing -- The 2011 French Open champion didn't like the way the rest of 2011 went down, and she's apparently out to prove that she can not only regain the form that saw her play two consecutive Grand Slam finals in 2011, she can do better. Li busted her hump in Munich during the off-season, and here's what she had to say about the experience.

    “The training lasted four weeks. Like no photo-shooting, no interviews, just only training, very tough, like six hours a day for training. Two or three hours for tennis but most was for fitness because I want to keep healthy and stay for whole season.

    “Before I always have knee injury and some back injury so I couldn’t finish whole season and I didn’t want to do that again. I know now I’m not young anymore – I didn’t have time to waste. I have to focus every tournament, every second, so that’s why I stay in Munich for long time just to keep body healthy and strong.”

  • Tomic on the up -- the 19-year-old Aussie has made his first quarterfinal on home soil, and he's added a little muscle (3kg) to help him add some power to his already nuanced game. He'll play a winnable match against Denis Istomin for a spot in the semifinals, where either Andy Murray or Marcos Baghdatis will be waiting.

  • Different year, same grinders -- How nice is it to see that heart and soul veterans Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova have already made their first semifinals of the year? I know it's far-fetched, but is there anybody out there who wouldn't enjoy seeing these two battlers reprising their friendly rivalry in a Grand Slam final?

  • Masha? -- Well, Serena's got ankle issues and so does Maria Sharapova. But Maria's injury, which happened in October, is a bit more concerning. It's been almost three months and if she plays Melbourne, she'll be coming in with zero matches under her belt.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Deuce Court: Serena Said What?

The Deuce Court is The Fan Child's soapbox. Today we discuss Serena Williams eye-opening comments about her lack of love for tennis and Rafa's heavier stick.

Deuce #1: Serena Said What?

Everybody and their mother's cousin has already posted takes on Serena's latest attention-grabbing remarks to the press, but if you haven't read or heard enough yet, I encourage you to follow along with me.

Actually, I don't really have much to say. Serena probably fell out of love with tennis a long time ago. It's not really big news. And can you blame her? The same tour stops, year after year; the same questions from the same people, year after year; she's thirty, but after the year she had last year, she must feel like she's going on 130.

Worry not, die hards! The fact Serena chose to have a little fun with the media doesn't necessarily mean that she's at the end of her wits, contemplating retirement, or burned out beyond repair. For all the criticism that she takes, the fact that Serena is quick to lively up the press room with her abstract sense of humor is something that we should praise her for. We watch tennis to see competitors, and Serena's always been there to give us what we need in that regard; we watch press conferences to get a glimpse into what kind of people the athletes really are, and Serena's always been quite good at that too.

She really is quite hilarious (Brad Gilbert had some interesting comments on her on ESPN today), and it takes a rare athlete to be as convincingly good as often as Serena has been in her career while also being convincingly, well, strange. Just listen to her remarks: "I've actually never liked sports...I don't like working out, I don't like anything that has to do with working physically...if it involves sitting down or shopping, I'm excellent at that."

What? I actually never liked sports? Are you telling me I'm supposed to do anything but laugh at that?

There are a lot of ways to interpret Serena's words, but to think or expect her to give away these last few years of the prime of her tennis life because she's tired of working out is ludicrous. This is, after all, a women whose pressers frequently devolve into discussions of nail-painting techniques, hip-hop chart-toppers, and the size of Nadal's butt.

With Serena's pressers the message has always been clear: Interpret at your own risk. The real proof, as it always has been, will be found on the court. She's done a pretty good job of proving herself over the years, and I don't suspect that she'll have a problem doing so in 2012, whether she's in love with tennis or she'd rather host an 80's practice than hit the gym.

Ad Out: Rafa's Heavy Stick

We've covered Rafa's butt, as seen through Serena's eyes (she did call Rafa her "fellow booty brother" last year), and now it's time to cover Rafa's racquet. This story is pretty much for Rafa fanatics (who isn't) and gear geeks (how could you not be?), and the gist of it is that Rafa has opted to add weight to his Babolat AeroPro Drive GT. Check out's newest gear maven, Justin Difeliciantonio's piece for more in-depth analysis. Or, if you really want to get specific, check out Matt Cronin's tweet (@tennisreporters) which reports the following:

Babolat re Nadal's racquet: "Fine-tuning Rafa's swing weight, slight addition of weight near headsize part, modifying weight by 7 pts.

Reportedly, Rafa is searching for a little more pop on the serve and a little more zing on the two-hander. My guess is that he finds it, but here's my question: will he find it before he takes his February sabbatical?

"My preparation is not the perfect one, and I'm trying to play with a little bit heavier racket, to get a little bit more power," Nadal told reporters on Monday.

I pulled this question and answer from Rafa's Doha press conference today. The whole transcript can be found at

Q. Are you starting to get a bit of rhythm with the new racquet? Are you starting to get the feel of it?

RAFAEL NADAL: I think I did a few things very well today. I hit very good with my backhand. I really believe that the racquet can help me with the backhand.

With the forehand I felt I hit the ball most of the times where I want to hit the ball. Few days ago and yesterday in the practice, you know, when I tried to hit the ball, sometimes I hit it a little bit left, sometimes too early. That’s why I didn’t have totally the control of that, you know, the speed of the racquet, no?

But today when we have rallies, I really felt that I have really positive control of the ball. Not perfect, for sure, but in general I think I felt most of the shots the right way. So that’s really positive.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Petko Channels Her Inner Hoopster

Just came across this clip (via @wta and @brisbanetennis) of the new Petko celebratory stomp, which occurred after Andrea Petkovic's three-set victory over the always feisty Shahar Peer.

Unlike the original Petko dance, which set the bar rather high, and the second incarnation, which brought it down a bit but opened the door for break dancing, freestyling and the like, the third version calls forth the vaunted image of Michael Jordan draining a buzzer shot from the top of the key with the game on the line. It's the perfect match point statement. It's short, sweet, but like all of Petko's theatrics, it's unassuming, joyous, and it seeks to elevate rather than berate.

In short, I like it.

You have to admit, the woman knows how to bring a crowd to its feet. This is a first-rounder in the first event of the year. It's supposed to be sleepy time, but because of Petkovic's infectious enthusiasm, everybody in the crowd goes home with something they can remember.

Gotta love it.

The Deuce Court: Previewing the Week

Join The Deuce Court as we preview week one of the Australian Summer.

Deuce #1: Murray-Lendl Buzz

The spotlight will be on Andy Murray in Brisbane, that you can be sure of. Just a few days after making news by hiring eight-time Grand Slam title winner Ivan Lendl as his new coach, Murray will enter Brisbane as the only top ten player in the draw. Reportedly, Lendl will join Murray in Melbourne for the beginning of the Australian Open, but the buzz about the high-profile hiring will likely follow Murray to the court in Brisbane, where he'll face Mikhail Kukushkin in the first round.

On paper it looks like a great hire for Murray. Lendl was the consummate professional throughout his career, and he'll likely be more eager than some of Murray's recent coaches to direct some constructive criticism at his charge. And even though Lendl's self-imposed tennis hiatus lasted quite some time, does anyone really doubt that he doesn't have some very good advice to offer Murray with regard to breaking down the big three?

My question is this: Can Lendl talk Murray into serving better? If he does, I think the pairing will succeed. If he does not, perhaps not.

Deuce #2: Serena's Mission

What we already know about Serena is that she's not one for apologies, what we're dying to know is what kind of fire is burning in her 30-year-old belly? Thankfully, we'll probably find out by the end of the week. With a star-studded draw in Brisbane (Stosur, Clijsters, Petkovic, Pavlyuchenkova, Schiavone), fans will get a chance to see who's been doing their homework in the gym and on the practice court over the last two months.

Ad In: The Roger-Rafa show in Doha

Are you ready for Federer-Nadal, edition 27? How could you not be? They played an exhibition match over the weekend, and they had a romantic candle-lit knock-around in Doha yesterday, but now it's time for some REAL tennis.

You'd think that with Nadal nursing a now-publicized ailing shoulder, Roger would have a good chance to reach the double digit win mark against his long-time rival (he currently has 9), but that wasn't the case over the weekend in Abu Dhabi, when Nadal took out Federer in straight sets in the aforementioned exhibition.

This week, if all goes well, Roger will get another chance. But they aren't the only two people in the draw, so we should keep an eye on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils as well.

Deuce # 3: Keep An Eye on the Kids

The kids are alright. But is "alright" going to be good enough to climb the rankings when the game's scales are clearly tilting in favor of more experienced, more developed players? Young ones in action this week: Raonic, Chennai; Harrison, Nishikori, Tomich, Brisbane; Jovanovksi, Brisbane; Marino, McHale, Auckland.

Ad Out: The Draws