Archive for May, 2011

30 May 2011

For me, the real business end of a slam starts with the quarterfinals. With only 8 players left in the draw, the possibilities no longer seem endless, and we can start looking at who has the most legitimate shot at the title with only 3 wins needed to take the it all. Let’s looks at what we have.

Men’s Top Half

The obvious intrigue of this half is Rafa/Sod, who meet for the third time in as many years at Roland Garros. On paper, Rafa is the obvious favourite. Considering his recent form, however, he might not be… but, Sod has hardly been the player he was last year either. I can’t help but think the match will be a tale of two halves. Rafa has been a slow starter for most of this tournament (and often through the year) whereas Sod had some serious trouble closing out Gilles today and was going through periods of really passive play. If Sod takes the first set, everyone should stay calm. Other than the fact that it’s Rafa, obviously, I fully expect this match to develop over the course of several hours with some big time momentum swings.

Below, clay grinder and veteran Chela awaits the winner of Muzz/Troicki. I actually really like Chela’s chance here, even though he’s played two 5 setters and one 4 setter already this week. Vik and Andy need to finish off their 5 setter tomorrow and then play again the next day. Even though Andy is the favourite to move through, even with a wonky ankle, he’ll be seriously up against it versus an even more rested Chela.

Men’s Bottom Half

With Nole already through, a Fed/Nole crash course seems inevitable, unless Monf can harness the crowd and pull off what I would consider the impossible against Fed. Fed has silently been moving through the draw with ease, especially considering what he had to endure to win the tournament 2 years ago. Does that put him in a position to take out Nole? Probably not. Nole got a free pass from Foghat, so he’ll be well rested, but Fed can hope that he might be well rusted as well. Fed will definitely need his A game in terms of his backhand, and probably a bit of help from the tennis gods if he wants to reach the final again.

Women’s Top Half

Was the women’s draw “wide open” from the beginning? Yes. Is it wide open right now? Yes. Is the caliber of players low? Hell no. With a mix of older powerhouses, young talent, and the resurgence of Sharapova, this is a quality last 8 without a player from the top 16 seeds. To boot, the champions of the past two years, Fran and Kuz, are still in, as well as 3 time slam winner Masha and slam finalists Nails and Marion.

If you’re a neutral, and maybe even if you’re not, you really, really want Fran/Kuz to happen again, after they slugged out the longest women’s match in history in Australia this January. Kuz has played quite well this tournament, and is looking really consistent, by her standards. Versus a hometown favourite Marion, whose worst surface is clay, that should be a winnable match.

Fran has a much more difficult test in the free swinging Pavs. Fran has never really had much problem with absorbing pace, and often uses it to her advantage. I’m thinking her consistent patterns of play will outdo Pavs who is likely to fire off a lot of errors, and we’ll have our dream semifinal.

Women’s Bottom Half

Last but not least, we have Nails/Vika and Masha/Petko. Nails and Vika might prove to be the closest and most interesting match-up of all. Both have been fantastically solid and have similar games. Vika is the favourite, but it should be a tight one. Let’s hope so anyway.

Masha should be able to deal with Petko, but both have had periods of brilliant play, interlaced with periods of boneheaded play. I think the consistency of their backhands is going to be key, as well as Masha’s serving, which has held up well so far this tournament. Petko is probably going to need to play the match of her career, to get through… which she just might do.


Posted by Brodie under: Ms. Licky, Roland Garros

25 May 2011

Tennis writers often use the metaphor “tough day at the office” when describing a close loss. Typically, players are either ahead and lose concentration and blow a match point or two, or are upset by a lower ranked opponent and can’t get a good grip on the surface or ball, and lose by making a lot of errors.

And then there’s Sabine Lisicki, where the metaphor “got shot in the foot by her co-worker” might work.

Sabine came flying out of the gates displaying the strength, talent and passion that we all know she has. For me, patience and containment has always been key for Sabine. She has a maaaassive forehand, but she often overcooks it, or tries to end points to quickly and makes a bad error. Perhaps adapting her tactics to clay changed things, but she seemed perfectly content to get some tricky balls back into the centre of the court to then try and move back on to the offensive wing and go for some winners. It worked wonderfully. At one point she had 16 forehand winners to Bepa’s 0. And so she took the first set.

Even after losing the second set 7-5, she seemed very much in the match, continuing to play great defense and moving well. Then came the third…

Slowly, fatigue and dehydration started to creep in, and after blowing a match point, she was in need of serious treatment. The cramps in her legs were terrible, and she complained of not being able to see. It took everything in her to fight back tears and to continue on, up a game, but on serve 4-5 in the third. However, considering there isn’t a tiebreak in the third set, it was all but over.

She could barely reach the net to shake Vera’s hand, and then collapsed near her chair in agony. She then had to be taken off in a stretcher, hiding her face with her hand. Heartbreaking.

I’ve been trying to make my blog and tweets a bit more unbiased to appeal to more people, but I can safely say that I am a huge fan of Sabine, who not only has a huge forehand, but a generous heart and from everything I’ve heard, is one of the nicest and easiest going girls on tour. Even despite what seemed like a never ending injury spell, she put in the hard work at the end of last season to get fit and healthy. It’s a crying shame that problems continue to plague her.

Sabine showed today why she’s the real deal, and just came up short once again. I really think there’s a serious breakthrough coming for this girl that will awaken everyone’s eyes to her, maybe as soon as Wimbledon. Get well soon Sabine, the future of women’s tennis needs you.

Escape Artist

Posted by Brodie under: Rafa, Roland Garros

24 May 2011

It was close. Nearly the biggest upset in recent slam history, and dare I say possibly the biggest upset in French Open history… a set away. But the match was always going to end this way.

Rafa defeated Tree in 5 sets, dropping the second and third, and needed to summon a ton of strength in the fourth and fifth set to stave off early elimination. Both of Isner’s sets came in tiebreaks, naturally. I must say, his serve was absolutely cracking, and his willingness and ability at the net was fantastic. Power and different looks are what throw the best of players off their game, and it was a deadly combo for Isner.

However, he needed to win that fourth set if he was going to win the match. Rafa slowed his tempo down, and in the lull of the beginning of a new set, Rafa broke and fought his way for the set. By the end of the set it was clear that Tree’s level and energy were dropping drastically and he was all but out of it.

This match is another reason why the guys at the very top of the men’s tennis iceberg are simply amazing and inspiring. If you manage to take them to five sets, kicking and screaming, you still have to find a way to break them and outlast them. Even though Tree seemed to have a serious grip on the match after the third set, within minutes he was broken and all of a sudden it seemed like Rafa had every ounce of momentum with him.

We’ll see how Nole’s fitness does, as well as the other top guys. I’ve got a feeling there’s going to be some great 5-setters this fortnight.

16 May 2011

As many of you have heard on Twitter, I’ve decided to flip my regular “The Week Ahead” posts into a podcast. This is my first test run. And I mean that. I’m still getting used to editing things, and it’s a bit strange talking to no one. At the same time, I edited it up so it goes pretty quick (it’s only 16 minutes) and sounds a bit like a Sunday afternoon radio program or something.

Hopefully you like it, I’m sure my Roland Garros one will end up sounding much more confident, and be a lot more interesting. This really was just meant as a test run so the RG one can be solid.

I can’t quite figure how to get it to my web disk right now (to eventually set it up with iTunes), but I’ve got it on Soundcloud. You can listen right on this site, or jump to Soundcloud to get a download of it. Thanks guys.

Music provided by Coheed and Cambria. If for some reason you haven’t heard of them, check them out, and if you have, please support.

MTR Podcast – May 16 2011 by Mind The Racket

The Thin Line Between

Posted by Brodie under: Rome, Vika

14 May 2011

“What are little girls made of? They’re made of sugar. And spice. And sweat. And grit. And fucking swearing, bitches.”

And therein lies the question. When do all those lovely catch words, sweat, grit, determination, desire, competitor, passion… when do they all become ugly?

Last night in Rome, it got ugly. Vika was, um, unimpressed with Maria, and had a catchy phrase to call her. And after she was forced to retire with an elbow injury, down in the second set, she flailed her arms around in a near universal, ahem “I find you highly irritable” gesture.

In a rather classy way, Vika said on Twitter (@Vika7) that she essentially only ever chirps herself on court and not another player. Maria declined to comment any further. Few. Vika was mad at herself, case closed. Except…

Who calls themselves a “f—ing b—h” after winning a set? And my first year university psychology class I took way back when tells me that when you’re pissed at yourself, you usually do something physical. Like, I don’t know, smash a racquet? Pull a Youzhny and bleed your forehead open? Not swing your arms helplessly. A nice attempt at a save, but not a realistic one.

So, as tennis fans, what do we do with this? This is nearly universal to tennis. When a pitcher throws at a hitter, they swear and look for payback. Hockey players will go after the other one, maybe fight. The list goes on. In tennis, not only can you not storm the mound, there is no one else on the field except the two of you. It’s all tension, baby.

For me, responding to this is difficult. I’ve never been a huge Vika fan, but I’ve never thought her as the scum of the earth, and really respect her game and think she’s great for the game. I also think I’m a highly competitive person and am definitely into finding ways of pumping myself up in intense, competitive situations.

However, no one wants a sore winner, and no one wants a sore loser either. Yet Vika falls into a strange spot here, being injured before the incident, and during the incident that led to her retirement. There is no “code of retirement ethics for an opponent” in other sports. In tennis, it’s unwritten. How many people have chirped on Justine for retiring in a slam final? Or for players retiring down a set and 0-4 or 0-5? “What the hell, just stand there and finish it out.”

In other words, I’m not going to sit here and tell that what Vika did was totally acceptable, or completely slimey. Simply, we should stop and think about what happened, and the players that have muttered similar words either undetected by cameras, or on non-show courts. I don’t know. Maybe it was unsportsmanlike, maybe it was in the heat of battle, or maybe it falls on the thin line between.

Ponder The Racket VII

Posted by Brodie under: Ponder The Racket

12 May 2011

– How good is Pavs starting to look? As a tennis fan, time flies, but the girl still isn’t 20. She’s starting to look physically fit, and already has some of the biggest power on the tour. A serious “big babe” throwback, if you like. If she can continue to stay fit,, improve her movement, and find the consistency needed with the forehand and serve… wow, watch out.

– Julia Goerges just might be a serious player in the future of women’s tennis over the next 3-5 years or so. Really. Her serve is plus, her forehand is plus, her backhand is solid. She just has a very versatile all around game that she’s growing into at age 22. If she can start to find ways to figure out tougher opponents (she nearly did in Australia) she’ll find her way into the top 10 and start to seriously challenge the top names (a bit like Flavia did a couple summers ago, the only difference is that Julia is still quite young).

– Not much has been written about Germany, but I would expect top knotch players, especially on the women’s side, to keep surfacing. They’re showing their stuff through Fed Cup and with the success of Goerges, Petko and Barrois, and by the sounds of it, it’s just the beginning. Likely more will be written on Germany as they really start to stick around, but from what I’ve heard, there are fantastic facilities there and a ton of opportunities to get out and play and learn.

– Everyone has been on “fading Fed” watch for a while. I don’t think it is going to happen suddenly, like a second round loss at a slam or something, but I do think the signs are slowly appearing. Specifically on the backhand side. It’s not even that it’s a total mess, but it no longer looks like he’s able to create a lot of the magic and crazy angles off that wing that we are used to seeing from him. To boot, opponents who have really tried to beat up on that side in the past are likely going to find real success, as we saw today with Richie’s win.

– The top 7 WTA seeds are in the final 8 (along with Greta Arn, lulz) in Rome. Can we just take a second to realize that things aren’t that wide open for Roland Garros? Sure, there’s probably 3 guys with a legit shot for the men, but if the top 8 women seeds made the quarters at Roland Garros, would people all of a sudden go “wow, the WTA is so wide open because of no Sisters, Kim, or Justine”? Sure, someone outside of the top 8 might win in Paris in a few weeks time, but if the top 8 are the serious favourites and are going in playing well, things are way less wide open than most of us are probably thinking.

– Andy Murray might be figuring out how to play on clay. Yes, you read that right. Years ago, I couldn’t figure out why Muzz sucked so badly on the dirt. Great mover, fantastic defense, consistent… he should be great, right? The problem has always been that he relies on pace, both his own and his opponents, and keeps things flat and dangerous. That doesn’t work so well on clay. However, from what I’ve seen, he seems to be relying more on the things that work for him on clay, and developing some patience. I don’t think he’s a contender for Roland Garros, but matching his career best, a quarterfinal berth, would be a great and likely result for him.

Strong Is Beautiful

Posted by Brodie under: Uncategorized

12 May 2011

The WTA has launched a new advertising campaign “Strong Is Beautiful”, the first major one since “Looking for a Hero?” And I’m all for it.

To start out, the “Hero” campaign was definitely fun. Images of Ana, JJ, Masha and company running around and switching into Mighty Morphing Tennis Hotties was all good for possible new audiences. The problem with it was that it put the onus on the person watching the ad. It also did little for people who already were fans or planning on going. We weren’t looking for heroes, we all already have our favourite players.

And that’s where this new campaign comes in. I dare say that it’s in your face for the WTA, showing a variety of players mid stroke with bold, all caps STRONG IS BEAUTIFUL. To start, this just kicks ass. It grabs your attention. “Hey, look at these chicks kicking ass!” “Woah, sweet.”

At the same time, it also turns the “females in a male dominated sports market” on its head. To a certain extent, you can’t blame the WTA for trying to sell their sport through their players looks. Sports is a male dominated industry, there’s no doubt about it. The awesome part of this campaign, however, is that it’s far from “hey, isn’t Maria Kirilenko hot in a bikini?” Instead it shows the players in their “natural” beauty (in the sense that they’re swinging a racquet) and lets you know that their strength, determination, and skills on the court are what own. Are they photoshopped? Yes. Are they wearing outfits that would never be seen on a tennis court? Sure. But even ATP ads are photoshopped (what ads today aren’t?) and the outfits are, for the most part, tasteful and appropriate. Regardless, I bet a lot of the players would rather wear something nice in the shoots than their regular on court gear.

Nice touch having players speak in their native tongue, too. Vids after the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »

12 May 2011

Introducing my brand new segment “Brodie Answers Wertheim’s Mailbag”! I really liked the idea of starting up my own mailbag and answering people’s questions, but realistically, the chance of me getting a lot of quality questions week in and week out is pretty low. So instead, I’ve decided to blatantly steal an idea from what is likely my favourite non-tennis blog, sports or not, Drunk Jays Fans. They regularly run a segment, Stoeten Answers Griffin’s Mailbag, answering questions from a prominent Blue Jays reporter. (If by some magical stroke of sadness you are a Jays fan and have yet to discover Drunk Jays Fans, head over there pronto.)

Much like the DJF posts, I’m not going to read Wertheim’s answers. I also mean absolutely no disrespect to Wertheim, who I consider to be one of the best in the biz, and is really just a fantastic reporter regardless of sport. You can find Wertheim’s mailbag from this week here and his ongoing work here, where you can also submit a question that he and eventually I may answer. Let’s get this going.

Assuming that Novak Djokovic is not doping, what else would explain his meteoric rise (yes, even from No. 3 to No. 2 is a huge bump up)?
Seth Aaronson, New York

Thanks for the question Seth, but really, you put “assuming it’s not doping first”? Pfft.

I think there’s probably four things at play here, two being big, two being lesser. First off, as has been made note of, is Nole’s diet. I’m slightly biased, as a friend of mine has recently gone gluten free and it’s changed his life entirely. I doubt Nole’s body was getting hit as hard as my friend, but regardless, this would have been something keeping Novak back and would likely explain some of his health and endurance problems in the past. Big boost right there.

Secondly, Nole’s confidence is through the roof right now. For me, it all comes back to that semifinal win back in September. Nole had been Fed’s chew toy the year before, and Nole consistently got to the quarters or semis of slams but really was fodder for Fed, Rafa, or whoever else willing to step up to the challenge. That win over Fed was big time. And though he didn’t win the tournament, it was a serious turning point. I noted it earlier in my post about the Rafa/Nole match that Djoko was working the snarl, and instead of throwing his hands up or getting angry in stressful situations, he just bit his tongue, shook his head, and carried on. The dude really believes he can beat anyone right now.

In terms of mechanics, the confidence has translated, for me, in his dealings with short balls, or balls that he should be turning into offense. 99% of them, maybe even more, he’s hitting with power and placing them in ideal situations. I think we’ve all seen Nole miss balls he should be cranking or putting away in pressure situations, and that is entirely gone. In fact, in pressure situations, his game has risen to a new level.

Lastly, a tiny bit has to be said about the drop in play by Fed and Rafa, specifically Fed. I’m sure I’ll have more on this later, but Fed’s backhand is seriously beginning to break down, and his ability to create ridiculous angles is also diminishing. And I’m not just talking clay, more their semifinal in Australia. Fed has never been one to try and change his approach much in a match, and in that match Nole was on a different planet and Fed had no way of getting there. Whether or not a 100% in form Rafa would beat Nole on clay right now, I have no idea, and I don’t want to say for a second that Rafa’s drop in his game has allowed Nole to win, blah blah. Not for a second. But it does, at the least, have something to do with Nole being able to generally cruise and not have to endure insanely grueling matches, or even having to play them in the first place.

It’s a rare occurrence, but you wrote something that I strongly disagree with, and I think it’s worth presenting the other side. I don’t think players are upset about Wayne Odesnik giving up names, etc., to get his sentence reduced as you indicated when you said, “the players, not surprisingly, consider this a breach of loyalty.” The players have been lined up against the guy from the second news of his arrest broke last spring. To me it’s fascinating to see the relative blind eye of the other players to doping situations in football and baseball. In tennis, the dopers are treated almost as lepers. Guys are not bashful about it, either. Wayne’s a different guy and has never fit in among the American players, so I’m not sure the bile would be free flowing if this crime was committed by “one of the guys.”

But it’s been pretty much across the board anti-Wayne from the second this news broke. Same for other players over the years who were nailed for performance-enhancing doping issues (remember, Richard Gasquet wasn’t a performance-enhancing issue, but all Argentine players, on the other hand, went for a number of years with a shadow over them in the locker room due to the actions of a few of their countrymen). I don’t think players wanted Wayne to get off with a reduced sentence because they view his crime as very offensive to their group as a whole. To a certain extent, the strong anti-doping response from the rank and file in this instance is something that should give tennis fans cause to believe their sport is prideful of being clean. Excuse me while I step off my soap box …

Hey Anon. I think you’ve confused me with someone else, but perhaps you’re referring to the Wertheim article Best of Five.

To address the wording of your actual question, I’m not entirely sure if Wertheim is saying that other players are upset at Odesnik, or the ITF etc. for giving him a lesser sentence. In terms of the Argentines, I think the culture around doping has definitely changed, especially if you consider that Odesnik is an American and the troubles baseball has gone through to try and rid the sport of doping.

I think players and fans do take a certain pride of tennis being clean, for sure. Players are constantly bending to the rather absurd doping tests that force them to figure out where they are going to be months down the line. And to be perfectly honest, testing in tennis is really a lot easier. There’s no teams, there’s no clubhouses or stadiums to try to break down. The players are right there, it’s always the same group, and it’s really not too tough to get guys to go pee in a cup the day after Roland Garros has started.

In other words, wise observations.

The WTA must do something about the women’s grunting/screaming/screeching. As a person who wears hearing aids, I literally had to leave a Victoria Azarenka match at Key Biscayne—the volunteers tried to stop me at the gate, saying my leaving was disrupting the players. As I told them then, the disruption was all coming from a young woman who has crossed a line that Monica Seles and Maria Sharapova never did.

We are driving people away from tennis with this type of behavior. Whose job is it to stand up and say “enough?” I, an ardent fan, won’t even watch women’s matches. Can’t someone find a difference between Nole or Rafa or Serena expressing effort in the third set of a well-fought match and what’s happening with this young woman from Belarus?
— John Gilliam, Miami Beach, Fla.

First off, John, if you wear hearing aids, couldn’t you turn them off? It’s a small mercy many of us probably wish we had when watching Vika live.

Second off, I’m not sure there’s a huge difference between Vika and Masha. If you’ve ever seen the two of them play each other, you’ve probably observed it sounds more like a Choo-Choo Train vs. Angry Cat.

Unfortunately, the WTA has gotten itself into a tricky spot with this issue. Masha has obviously been doing it for years, and you can’t tell a multi-slam winner to shut it suddenly. At the same time, other girls are going to point to her and go “she’s been doing it, she’s a champion, why can’t I?”

At the end of the day, I think this argument eventually falls on the side of the players. No one really seems to have a problem with grunting unless it reaches the epically hilarious proportion of Shreeky McBurrito, who was actually shreeking into the stroke of her opponent. Is it annoying? Sure. But to a certain extent, you don’t necessarily need to watch unless it’s a later round anyway.

This isn’t really a question but just a response to the grunting issue. I don’t think that grunting is unsportsmanlike rather that it is just annoying for fans to watch. I can’t stand watching grunting and as attractive a person as someone like Maria Sharapova is, I still change the channel because I can’t bear to watch. It’s not exclusive to the WTA either. Is there any chance that grunting could be banned from the sport? I mean, if the best player of all time (possibly) in Roger Federer doesn’t make a peep then how necessary is it?
Chris, Vancouver

Good call, Chris. The only thing I have a problem with is your Fed comment. “Roger Federer wins 16 grand slams, so why can’t everyone do it?” See what I mean? I’d call on what John said above, that when players start doing it later in a match, it really makes sense and almost heightens the sense of drama. And no, we’re not banning it. If it seriously bugs you that much, find another sport.

My daughter plays a lot of junior tournaments, and now I’m starting to notice a new form of grunting on the boys and girls side. The player is making a sound that sounds like “oww” so now you are left to wonder whether the call is indeed “out” or just a grunt “oww.” I tell my daughter just keep playing the point until they confirm the “out” call.

Manorville, N.Y.

Good for you, Manorville, if that is your real name. An “oww” grunt sounds like the most moronic thing ever, and more like a tactic to distract. I’m not good at tennis, and don’t pretend to be, but any time I’ve really gone for a shot and a bit of a grunt has come out, it’s never been an “oww” sound. And if you think about it, if you’re really going for a shot, your body is going to be tensing up, and the muscles of your throat area aren’t going to be opening up for an “oww’ sound, but instead result in, well, a grunt.

I’ve seen several people suggest that the some of the onus needs to be put on junior coaches and umpires to get unnecessary grunting out of kids at a younger age, and I’d totally agree there.

6 May 2011

For the third year straight, Rafa and Fed will tee off in Madrid. The difference this year is that it will be in the semis, not the final.

It’s been a long, tough path for Fed who barely survived Feli and had his hands much more full with Sod than the scoreline would suggest. To be honest, I’m having a tricky time figuring out if Fed’s level of play is down, or more that it’s clay, and he’s running into good opponents. I think it’s definitely true that Fed isn’t trying to be super creative out there and is sticking too his strengths (particularly the forehand and even the serve) and I think that’s the right move.

Rafa is obviously the favourite tomorrow, but I’d hesitate to count Fed out so quickly. The courts are playing incredibly quickly, and Fed has found ways to end points quickly as well as stick in longer rallies. I’m also not entirely convinced by Rafa just yet. He had the odd bump in Monte Carlo and has had a rather straight forward draw this week.

The real question, however, will be whether or not Rafa or Fed can challenge Nole in the final, assuming Novak wins. I’ll preview the final tomorrow night, which should be fantastic. Happy semis watching!

Train Don’t Stop

Posted by Brodie under: Ferru, Madrid, Nole

6 May 2011

Weather, resilient opponents, court changes, continent changes, the kitchen sink… it really doesn’t matter what you throw at Novak Djokovic right now. He extended his winning streak to 8 gazillion and is looking as confident as ever. (OK, 29 straight wins this season, equaling Lendl’s record for consecutive wins to start a year.)

A lot of love must be sent Daveed’s way, who despite going down a set and a break, fought back to reclaim the break and then broke at the end of the set to force a third. He looked as aggressive as I’ve seen him in a while. Not content to play defensively, he was clearly looking to get in as many forehands as possible and go down the line when available. He was getting balls deep and was changing directions effectively. Unfortunately for him, Nole turned up the heat in the third, stretched Ferru wide and the errors started to creep into his defense.

It was impressive to see Nole fighting off his inner demons in the third after some close calls and tough games. You could almost feel the glue melting and the pieces separating, but Nole kept his snarl and shook them off (literally). Before you knew it, the match was over and the streak was very much alive.

Nole takes on Bellucci in the semis, who deserves a serious shoutout. The kid has real talent on clay, and if he can keep his confidence up and head straight, he’s likely going to be a serious force on clay for years to come, especially as many of the Spaniards age.

Mind The Racket Podcast:

Episode 7 – US Open Week 2 Wrap-Up