Archive for May, 2012

27 May 2012

- Are Andy Roddick’s days numbered? I know he was likely only playing RG because he owed Lacoste a favour, but Roddick looks increasingly like a man frustrated. This grass and hard court swing will be important for him. Many seem to think he will slog it out on the outer courts of America (ala James Blake) due to his love of the US Open, but I tend to agree. Careers fall fast in tennis, and Roddick has high, top 10 expectations of himself. Time will tell, but I still see next year’s US Open as his last.

- I only saw the highlights, but Del Potro continues to be a massive dark horse and underdog on clay. Delpo is part of a select few of power players (Soderling and Stosur come to mind) who tend to do well on clay. The extra time allows them to set up and continually drive the ball deep. It is relentless, and wears opponents down quickly, particularly of they are not natural defenders or clay specialists. Five sets further helps his cause, as his ability to drive shots deep rarely diminishes. There has been a little made of his knee problem, but he moved very well and confidently despite popping some pills on the changeover.

- Does Sorana Cirstea have a chance against Li Na tomorrow? No, really. Both players are a habit of close matches, for both good and bad. Likewise, both tend to have difficulty holding on to leads. Sorana’s game matches up very well against power players, and is very comfortable absorbing power, particularly while on the run. Much like her upset of Stosur in Australia, it is a match she will be up for, and her willingness to go for shots against big opponents may unsettle Nails. Don’t count the Romanian out.

- Speaking of which, no one is talking about Samantha Stosur… so it’s probably time to keep an eye out for Samantha Stosur.

- The more I think about it, the more I think the draw may keep Maria from her first Roland Garros title. A match against Serena in the quarters is very likely, and despite the improvements to her clay game and overall game, she might not have what it takes.

- Thinking of doing a live blog for those who are at work and have Twitter hacked off, or just want a more concise update or a bit of fun. Thoughts? Might start as early as tomorrow.

- Good to be back on the blogging train. Many posts coming this week, keep an eye out and spread the word! Cheers.

26 May 2012

French Open Stadium

Official Site: Here
Mens’ Draw: Here
Ladies’ Preview Here

Djokovic’s Quarter, Top Half – It can never be intentional, but the top seed always seems to get an excellent path to the quarterfinal, and it has to be said that Djokovic’s first four matches will have to be nearly painfully straightforward. Only Melzer or Davydenko could even have him breaking sweat in the first three matches, and will never last for five sets. Verdasco is a potential fourth round match up, however it remains to be seen whether or not the Spaniard will make it that far, and he surely will not have what it takes to outlast the Djoker.

Likewise, the other side of the quarter sees fan and French favourite Tsonga with confidence boosting first four matches. He would likely get Simon or Wawrinka (how’s that for a third rounder, by the way) and should be able to handle either of those if he can keep his brain together. This should be a largely straight forward and upset free quarter.

Predicted Quarterfinal: Djokovic vs. Tsonga

Federer’s Quarter, Top Half – Things are far less straight forward for Federer, as it is immediately obvious that Nalbandian in the second round is a serious landmine that all tennis fans should be aware of and be looking forward to. It should be one of the first displays of world class tennis that will deserve every eye ball it gets. I don’t think Nalby will have what it takes, but he may push Fed to the limits of his game.

The other half of the draw seems destined for a Berdych/Delpo showdown. Before his US Open win and eventual injury, Delpo pushed Fed to five sets and nearly won. He has some of the most underrated defense on the tour, and his ability to consistently drive the ball deep and find the angles and big shots to finish points means that he is a considerable clay opponent for a big man. Regardless, Berdych, an insanely streaky player, is finding his groove and will feel he has a legitimate chance at Fed in the quarterfinals. A tough one to call.

Predicted Quarterfinal: Federer vs. Berdych

Murray’s Quarterfinal, Bottom Half – In a mirror reflection of the ladies’ draw, the third quarter offers up many more questions then it answers. Ferrer and Murray are the favourites to make the quarters, but many names, including many who have found recent success on clay, may toss things slightly out of position.

Isner could wait for Ferrer, a match-up that does not suit the Spaniard, though clay will give him an obvious advantage. Murray could meet Dolgopolov, and yes, Richard Gasquet. If memory serves correctly, Murray has come back down two sets to love TWICE to the Frenchman at Roland Garros. Always an intriguing match (though, when isn’t it with Murray on clay?). Perhaps the most difficult quarter to call.

Predicted Quarterfinal: Ferrer vs. Gasquet

Nadal’s Quarter, Bottom Half – Sven himself could not have drawn up a better draw for Nadal. Pico in the fourth round and Tipsarevic in the quarters is heavenly for the Spaniard. Both players who play a defensive, grind style. In other words, a lesser attempt at what Nadal plays, and a style Nadal routinely feasts on. Easy.

The only other real threat, Nico Almagro, is on Tipsarevic’s half of the quarter, and a player Nadal can easily outlast over five sets.

Beyond that, Nadal could easily take a Ferrer, Murray or Gasquet and grind them into a pulp in the semis. Again, these are not power players who push the ball deep or serve big on clay. They are players whose games match up perfectly for Nadal on clay. No Soderlings, no Isners, no Delpos. If you are a Rafanatic, give a prayer to the tennis gods before bed.

Predicted Quarterfinal: Nadal vs. Almagro

Predicted Semifinals: Djokvoic vs. Federer, Nadal vs. Ferrer
Predicted Final: Djokovic vs. Nadal
Champion: Nadal

26 May 2012

Official Site: Here
Ladies Draw: Here
Men’s Preview: Here

Azarenka Quarter, Top Half – This quarter is full of players who have had either a solid clay season, or a rather succesful six months, and may offer up many entertaining early round matches devoid of big names. Wozniak, Cibulkova, Cetovska, Halep, Safarova and even French youngster Caroline Garcia are names to keep an eye out for early.

This will be of little consequence to top seed Victoria Azarenka, however, as she will avoid most of these potentially dangerous names and should make the quarterfinals in rather straight forward fashion.

The main challenge for her will not come until the quarterfinals. Stosur sits on the opposite side. She will need to get past Petrova first, a match up that offered up an epic 3 set tilt at the US Open last year. Clay gives the advantage to Stosur, however, and I like her chances for success in Paris once again.

Despite some interesting names, there are very few players that can really threaten Azarenka or Stosur early. If you’re a fan of either of these players, you should like their chances, as do I.

Predicted Quarterfinal – Azarenka vs. Stosur

Radwanska Quarter, Top Half – It should be immediately clear that this quarter is minefield of early round matches and disasters waiting to happen. Radwanska has played an incredible amount of tennis this year, and I am not completely convinced of her chances on the slow Roland Garros clay. She gets Williams in the second, yes, SECOND round. Truly, that match is anyone’s guess.

Two other Roland Garros champions and possible hijackers of the apple cart are Ivanovic and Kuznetsova. Ivanovic may have a tricky match against Errani, who has been fantastic of late, in the third round. Regardless, her draw is rather do able and a fourth round finish is a must. Beyond that is not out of the question either.

Elsewhere, Bartoli and up and coming Kerber are on course for an absolute thriller of a fourth round bash. Pennetta and a recently of form Medina Garrigues will have other ideas, however. Personally, I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from Kerber this year and I really don’t think she will be stopping any time soon. Her power game translates well on to clay (rather like Kvitova or even a Stosur) and she will give Bartoli massive problems.

Predicted Quarterfinal – Ivanovic vs. Kerber

Kvitova’s Quarter, Bottom Half – Not only does this quarter feature the past two RG champions, it features both of last year’s finalists. In my opinion, this quarter is the most difficult to predict and will serve up the most upsets and largely bizaare results.

Schiavone, ranked only in the top 20 from her finalist points of last year, won Strasbourg this past week. She is a streaky player and thrives off confidence and the mental game. A successful week may just be the thing she needs to have a good week.

Similarly, Li Na is a player coming off success, the type of succes she may need to kickstart her championship defense. However, she has a tough first round opponent in Sorana Cirstea. Haha. No, really. Seriously. She should be fine, though.

Kvitova is coming off a rather serious injury, and in all honesty, I don’t think she will find much success here. Other question marks are raised by Zvonareva and Jankovic. Overall, however, the quarter is there for the taken.

Predicted Quarterfinal – Na vs. Schiavone

Sharapova’s Quarter, Bottom Half – This quarter should really come with an asterik of “Williams’ Quarter?” There are some other good clay grinders in this quarter, Wozniacki, Kirilenko, Rezai, Goerges… unfortunately all of these players have the exact wrong styles of game to upset the power houses of Masha or Serena. The end. There would have to be an absolute seismic collapse of one of these players or a career showing from one of these players to prevent the quarterfinal match we all want to have happen. I don’t see it happening.

Predicted Quarterfinal – Sharapova vs. Williams

Predicted Semifinals: Stosur vs. Kerber, Na vs. Sharapova
Predicted Final: Stosur vs. Sharapova
Champion: Sharapova
24 May 2012

For those unfamiliar with this segment, no one ever sent me questions for a mailbag, so I stole Wertheim’s and answered them for him. I don’t read his answers until I’ve answered them myself. He always gives great answers, and you can read his thoughts here. Cheers.

Just when I was ready to write off Maria Sharapova, she wins two titles on European clay. Can you give me one reason she cannot win the French Open?
– Cyrus, London

I could give you a few, sure. It’s been a bit of a strange year for Sharapova, making five finals, yet only winning the ones on clay. I think it is safe to say that Maria is finding her old, pre-shoulder injury form. Those strange, insanely error filled days seem to be disappearing and she is consistently beating up on the players she should be beating up on.

She’s also lucked out in that Kvitova is dealing with some health problems and doesn’t look like a major threat for the title. As always, Serena poses a serious problem for her and the draw will be big in outcoming this tournament for the ladies. Serena is a serious match up problem for Maria, even on clay where I might be tempted to give Maria the slight edge. Other than that, if you are a Maria fan, you have to like her chances, and I personally would say that she has to be the favourite going in.

Hi Jon Brodie, the rumours of tennis’ death have been greatly exaggerated! I have channeled my inner Greg Sharko and come up with this: No fewer than five tennis players have been included in the Forbes Celebrity 100 List. Roger Federer comes in first (of tennis players) with a ranking of 37 and earnings of $52 million. He is fourth on the list of athletes, behind Tiger, LeBron and Kobe. Second is Rafa at No. 47 and earnings of $33M. As expected, the first female tennis player and third total is Sharapova at No. 71 and $26M. I’m sure she’s not happy, but Serena comes in after Sharapova as the fourth tennis player, ranked No. 77 and half of Sharapova’s earnings at $13M. Finally and maybe most surprisingly is Li Na (Na Li) coming in fifth at No. 87 and $18M. Even more surprising though, is Djokovic’s absence from the top 100 (although he is one of Times Magazine 100 most influential people for 2012). The Celebrity 100 is based on entertainment-related earnings plus media visibility (exposure in print, television, radio and online). Can we deduce from the list that the top four (let’s exclude Li Na) are the real anchor (attractions) of tennis?
– Max of Johannesburg, South Africa

Hi Max, thanks for the question. Some fascinating figures here. Tennis has always been a sport of superstars, and this is not likely to change any time soon (read: ever). There are no teams, so people tend to grasp on to favourite players and watch specifically for them. It is human nature, really.

The key to this, however, has been marketing. Yes, top players who win grand slams make an absurd amount of money (that they rarely have time to spend until retirement, hi Marat). However, players like Federer, Nadal, and particularly Maria Sharapova have turned themselves into their own brand. This opens up other advertising avenues. This is hardly new. I still remember seeing a Rolex Pete Sampras ad at the beginning of EVERY changeover during the 2000 US Open, and how increasingly ironic it became as it was clear he was out of his depth against Marat Safin.

The main concern of tennis’ “demise”, though largely untrue, is the wage inequality, if you will. Many of the players hanging around the 80-150 rank have an incredible amount of expenses (flights, hotels, coaches, gear… families) that really don’t see them make much of an incredible living considering what they have to go through. If you need further evidence, look up the story of Frank Dancevic, who was planning on taking a summer off from tennis. He ended up getting a wildcard to Indianapolis (not exactly a short skip away from Canada) and drove down himself. Luckily the trip was worth it, and he made the finals.

In other words, there are few, if any other sports where we can say the top 100 players are not entirely taken care of. I really do think we as a sport need to take better care of our lower ranked players, particularly in grand slams where the winners cheque seems to be growing at a rate much faster than those knocked out in the first couple of rounds. This would also make the jump from amateur to pro much easier as well.

I was just watching the Rome Men’s final and heard the commentator say something I’ve heard about 6,129 times, “Rafa’s really right-handed, but Uncle Toni thought he would be better off playing as a lefty.” Now that quite a few of the tried and true “beat a dead horse” comments have finally been retired by the tennis commentators (see: Serbians, tennis, empty swimming pool), what are your predictions for the next round of comments sure to be heard thousands of times at Roland Garros?
– Andy, Vail, Colo.

Seriously. I really think commentating is at a sub-par level compared to many other sports, though it depends on your preference. We also have a tough task of trying to appeal to diehards and new comers alike.

Instead of being negative Nancy, I’ll give some props to the always fantastic Robbie Koenig and Jason Goddall. I know some people find some of their catch phrases annoying, but these guys know what they’re talking about. Furthermore, they’re not afraid to do something almost no tennis commentator is willing to do: shut up. I mean that in the best possible way. Nearly every commentator seems to think they need to fill the gaps between points when really there is next to nothing going on, and little rhythm to the match. Relax. That calm feeling between points is as real as the incredible tension when watching tennis live.

Oh, and did you hear that Mardy Fish lost weight?

Now that it’s French Open time, there’s one question that I’ve never had an answer to so I turn my lonely eyes to you. Why do the French dislike Nadal? He reveres their tournament, he gives 100% every time he’s out there, and he’s an honorable champion. Is it because they favor style over substance, or they don’t like the Spanish, or what? It’s not exactly like he’s kept a group of French superstars from hoisting the trophy, so what gives?
– Craig Berry, Park Forest, Ill.

Heh. I was actually thinking about this today. Tough call. A large part of me mainly thinks that the French just prefer Federer because he speaks French, and they’re a little tired of Nadal winning the title every. Damn. Year. (Except one). Also… they’re French? I’m not being racist, they just love drama and would probably rather get behind the underdog, which I totally get. Regardless, Rafa dunn care.

After the very questionable withdrawal of No. 1 Azarenka, the Italian Open women’s field was weakened. Then following a simple 4-0 win of Serena Williams over local favorite Flavia Panetta (retired with wrist problem), Serena withdraws from a semifinal due to a lower back problem. As a customer who paid to see quality tennis, I certainly feel cheated. Why support the WTA and equal pay when the players convey so little respect for fans? Otherwise, had a great time in Rome seeing all the top men actually playing.
– Ken, Austin, Ohio (yes, there is another Austin in the US, not just Texas).

Shut up. The real problem here is the ATP and WTA, in my opinion. Outside of possibly the top 4 men (who typically get a Wednesday night start if they win the week before) it is nearly impossible for regular players to have amazing back to back weeks. Even if they don’t withdraw or retire, they tend to play rather poorly. This is a pretty unavoidable fact if the schedule stays the way it is. Toronto and Montreal are likely to get decimated by the Olympics this year. Try me.

What the heck is going on with Jelena Jankovic?
– Charlie G, Washington, D.C.

For a short time, Jankovic was on top of the world and number 1 in the world. Hey, so was Ivanovic. (Tennis is a crazy sport, no?) I do remember the big uproar of her trying to put on extra muscle and subsequently damaging her game. I think she really pushed to take things to the next level, which was the wrong move. She’s not the same type of player as Hingis, but she really should have took a similar route. She will never be as big and powerful as Serena, Maria, Victoria or even Petra. It’s just a fact of life. What was once a confident, impressive counterpunching style is now a confused, dramatic overly defensive and error filled glitter bomb. Does that answer your question?

Talk about bellyaching!!!!! Who are you! No one seems to back a girl or guy who speaks the truth and stands up. We have enough sheep! Start calling them out! I applaud Nadal for taking risks both in his game and in politics! Baaaa Baaaa to you!
– Sally, Los Angeles

Uh, so do I. Good on Nadal for calling out Madrid if the clay really was that bad. I already talked about why I’m not a fan.

Jon Brodie, Can you stop writing about Rafa forever please? You ginormous Fedtard.
– Badri, Vancouver

You must have me confused with someone else. Vamos, etc. etc.
Hey Jon Brodie, discerning Canadians want to know: Can Milos Raonic do well at Wimbledon? Sure, he’s got possibly the best serve in tennis which should bode well for grass, but he’s also a big guy with awkward movement. He may not be able to get down low enough to those skimming ground strokes. Your thoughts?

– Michael, Halifax

Yum. Educated Canadian tennis fans! Agreed.

Milos can definitely do well at Wimbledon. Well meaning probably fourth round or quarterfinals (draw and ranking depending). I really think this post-Roland Garros period will be one of the biggest times of Milos’ early career. If you remember last year, Raonic went down early in Wimbledon and subsequently missed the entire hard court season including the US Open; an incredible amount of missed points. Already ranked 22nd, the Canuck has a legitimate shot at trying to crack the top 10.
As for the logistics of grass, we have seen some big men find real success on grass (such as Ivo Karlovic, Tomas Berdych) and others completely flop (hi, Delpo). Raonic’s serve will be a sight to see at this year’s Wimbledon. His movement and physical training with Galo Blanco in Barcelona is beginning to really pay off as Raonic crafts himself into a well rounded tennis player. Personally, I think Raonic has spent so much time practicing the first shot after the serve, including digging them out of tricky spots, that he should be able to find a lot of success on grass.

23 May 2012

Originally posted to Tennisbloggers.com

Now the final major clay event before Roland Garros, Rome gave fans an oppurtunity to see their favourite players on a truly slow, traditional surface.

On the ATP side, the King returned to the throne as Rafael Nadal once again defeated Novak Djokovic in the final, 7-5, 6-3. Having been rained out on Sunday, the final did not get under way until noon local time on Monday. A critical point at 30-30, 4-5 in the first set was wrongly called out against Djokovic and quickly corrected. A point he likely would have won to gain a set point ended up going against him. The frustration mounted and Nadal sprang like a shark to blood, breaking Djokovic and then holding once again for the first set. Despite some trading of breaks early in the second, Nadal settled and took hold of the match to take the title.

Nadal won 12 sets and lost none, defeating Ferrer and Berdych en route to the final. Having already won titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, Nadal becomes the favourite for Roland Garros once again, if only slightly ahead of number 1 Djokovic and Federer.

The WTA final saw plenty of drama as Maria Sharapova climbed back from a 4-6, 0-4 defecit to eventually take the title from the grasp of Li Na, winning 4-6, 6-4, 7-6. The epic affair was nearly spoiled as rain delayed the third set tiebreak, but was completed later on the Sunday to crown the champion.

This gives Sharapova her second clay title of the season and was her fourth final of 2012. With Petra Kvitova struggling to be fit, Sharapova’s devastating baseline play may set her as the favourite for Roland Garros along with Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams. Roland Garros remains the only major title to alude Sharapova over her career and will be hungrier than ever with a new found success on clay.

ATP Surprise of the Week – Andreas Seppi - Home field advantage is a term often tossed around in sports around the world, but rarely mentioned in tennis. This past week, the Italian crowds of Rome were clearly behind their man, clay journeyman Andreas Seppi. Seppi needed three sets in all three of his wins including massive upsets of Isner and Wawrinka. After dropping the first set in a tiebreak against Wawrinka, Seppi rode the wave of the crowd in a momentus win over three sets, all in tiebreaks. The Italian easily fell to Federer in the quarterfinals, but the run will remain an unforgettable effort in his career.

WTA Surprise of the Week – Angelique Kerber - Perhaps the surprise is not the semifinal result on the week, but the season. Kerber continues to be a mix of Wozniacki-like consistency, both in matches and week to week, and Kvitova-like lefty power. The German has now provern herself on all surfaces, and a combination of improving movement with devastating power and placement has earned her some massive results this season. A darkhorse that could make some serious noise at Roland Garros, she is one to spot on the draw.

18 May 2012

NEWSFLASH: Tomas Berdych will not be making the final of Roland Garros.

Likewise, Federer will not be winning over 50% of his points within the first three shots of the rally in Paris.

And there lies the problem.

We as the tennis faithful have grown accustomed to certain norms. Particularly, each major tournament will be preceded by several tournaments played on the same surface. Nearly every major player will play at least one of these, particularly before Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and we, Tennis Nation (capitals mine), will have a rough idea of where each player stands heading into the Big One.

At first, the idea of blue clay warmed my heart. Tradition is important in tennis. Tradition is important in nearly every sport except Arena Football and that weird, probably no longer existing basketball league played on trampolines. However, tennis has always had one thing other sports don’t have. We have different surfaces. Sure, baseball and football (the one where you use your feet) have different sized stadiums, but it isn’t the same. If you don’t include carpet and indoor/outdoor differences, there have always been three. Why not add a bit more colour, a bit of a different feel, and change things up?

In reality, I’m still not against blue clay. But I’m against the timing. Over the last few years, we have had optional Monte Carlo, Madrid, and Rome to get a proper look at our sports’ stars. Sure, Madrid has always been a bit quick, but it is still clay. Sadly, Madrid is now more than just quick. It didn’t take long to see that this wasn’t your grandma’s clay. High altitude means thin air, and faster balls, as normal. But the blue clay was quick as well, and the bounce was low. It was a bit like a strange grass/clay hybrid.
Therefore, players typically successful on faster and/or lower bouncing surfaces had a field day. Likewise, they are players that do not place footwork at a premium. Tipsarevic upset Djokovic, Verdasco upset Nadal, and Federer chuckled to himself as he took another Masters title at the hands of a crumbling Berdych. Del Potro also found immediate success.

Things have returned to the norm in Rome, as arguably the top 4 clay players are in the semifinals (Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, Ferrer). Unfortunately, this will be our only look at Federer on real clay. Nadal’s defeat of Djokovic in the Monte Carlo final is telling, but not definite.

For players, Rome could prove to be a much bigger preparation week than it has the past several years. Yes, it is placed after Madrid instead of before, but this could be their main chance to get warmed up on the red stuff. For us fans, we must take the Madrid results with so many grains of salt that it is practically irrelevant in the prediction of Roland Garros. With several players threatening to boycott the tournament, we will have to see what steps the tournament takes over the course of the year to alter or entirely change the surface. Your move, Magic Box.

The Blogman Returneth

Posted by Brodie under: Uncategorized

18 May 2012

Boom! I’m back! It feels good to be back. And this time, I won’t be going away. For those who follow, I’ve been back tweeting, and now turn my attention to the blog, and whipping this place back into place.

Lately, I’ve focused my attention on broader pieces on bigger issues. I still plan on doing that, but I also plan on doing match reports in the vein of what I used to do. Along with that, I’ll bring back my “The Week Ahead” (as well as week in review, also on TennisBloggers.com) as well as Ponder the Racket, answering Wertheim’s mailbag and other fun stuff. Keep an eye out and spread the word. Cheers!

The Changeover Podcast:

Episode #56 – Indian Wells Wrap