Archive for the ‘Superhero’ Category

17 Jan 2012

It certainly feels like a lifetime has passed since I wrote this.

It’s been a long couple of years for Sorana Cirstea. Things seemed very much on the up in 2009. She made the Roland Garros quarters and Los Angeles semis, as well as the third round in Wimbledon and the US Open. The transition from junior to serious pro seemed complete at the ripe age of 19.

Despite her positive outlook, it’s been a tough couple of years. Sorana has lost much of the “complete player” look she once had, and in a very similar fashion to Ivanovic, has looked more like a player with a big forehand and sporadic confidence.

Tennis is a funny sport though, and so often it’s in the head. At the end of the year last year, Sorana yanked out a $50k ITF title in France after saving a match point all the way in her first round. A solid showing in Auckland against Pennetta despite the first round loss, and then a quarterfinal loss in Hobart to Kerber after blowing two match points.

Expectations for Melbourne? Please. I’ll paraphrase, but at the beginning of her match versus Stosur, I texted my friend saying that I was about to watch Sorana be destroyed in front of a packed house.

Then things started happening. Impressive things. Powerful things. Dominating things. First, the footwork. It’s always been a bit clunky. Last year she made a push to become more fit, and looked almost unhealthily skinny. It was sad to see. However, there seems to be a good balance and it showed in her movement.

The forehand has always been big and been a strength. However, to my eye, much of the loopiness that made it wild was gone. This looked mainly in her wrist preparation which is much more consistent. However, the footwork allowed her to get to balls with plenty of time and make the entire motion consistently over the course of the match.

The serve was impressive as well. 65% is a very, very good sign for her. The fact that she was serving, on average, 10km/h faster than Stosur on first serves at 165km/h doesn’t hurt either.

Mostly importantly, however, was her ability to push Stosur around and take advantage of short balls early in points. Stosur traditionally struggles against some uber-flat hitters and that isn’t by accident. Sorana ate up Stosur’s slices which normally neutralize opponents. She was ready for them too, and wasn’t afraid to bend her knees and let it rip. The forehand down the line (including an amazing running passing shot late in the second set) was particularly impressive.

Lastly, the net. First off, I would like to note that many people noted Cirstea’s success at the net (14/16) and drew comparisons to Kirilenko’s net rushing versus Stosur in New York. This is both true and false. The true part is that both were very effective at the net, and playing the net was often a wise decision. The difference from the Kirilenko match, however, is that it was very much on the forefront of Kirilenko’s mind, particularly while serving. Many of Cirstea’s points at the net were a result of getting on top in baseline rallies and having the guts to finish them off. This largely comes about by the nature of Sam’s short slices, as well as a few Stosur drop shots. Just because a player has a decent amount of net approaches and is largely successful does not necessarily mean that they were net rushing, and in fact, can be quite the opposite.

Overall, you have to feel terrible for Stosur. Full credit needs to be given to Cirstea who may have played the match of her life last night and came in for a fight. But it is also fair to say that Stosur did not play her best tennis and really did not start to show shades of the US Open champion that she is until 1-1 in the second set. However, Stosur is a notoriously slow starter of the season and tends not to find a ton of success in Australia. This is far from a crushing blow to her confidence and potential success this season.

Next up for Sorana Banana is Urszula Radwanska and the chance to make a grand slam third round for the first time since 2009.

(Side note: for those curious of the Twitter hashtag I throw around in good fun, #SoranaCirsteaprayercircleofone. Clearly, I’m a fan of Sorana. I made a trip up to Montreal in 2010 to see the ladies play, and Sorana had made it to the final round of qualifying, up against fellow Romanian Monica Niculescu. Following nothing but the live scores with great intent. Clearly I was the only one caring let alone freaking out and tweeting about it, so I used the hashtag #soranacirsteaprayercircleofone, making a joke on the sometimes used #[player name here]prayercircle joke sometimes used for fans who have a player locked in a tight match. And so the hashtag lives. Oh, and she lost, by the way. Go figure.

15 Dec 2011

In a different approach from what I normally take, I’ll count down the top 12 tennis players in the world (6 women, 6 men) for the 12 Days of Christmas. I’ll also bring back my “Buy, Sell” segment as I look ahead to 2012.

It doesn’t seem too long ago that I sat down on a blustery August morning to watch Superhero Slam absolutely dismantle Virginie Razzano. Yes, it should have been a pretty winnable match for Sam. However, the manner in which she did it left my jaw around court level. As Razanno realized she wasn’t going to win from the baseline, she adapted and tried to get to net more. Good move. Unfortunately for her, it didn’t matter. Sam fired big serves, down the line passing shots, wicked spinning lobs, you name it. On Sam’s serve, she started coming to the net, slicing and pounding to set it up and finishing it off with excellent volleys. It eventually led to one of the most comical things I’ve ever seen on a tennis court in Razzano’s frustration, and it was tough to blame her.

Consistency and confident have always been the two most difficult things for the Aussie, but she managed to pull them together this year at the US Open, and did it ever pay off. While this past year’s US Open will likely be remembered in the minds of most for Stosur’s first slam victory and Serena’s ridiculous and offside comments (again), it will always be that tiebreak that will stand out for me. It was classic US Open, for better or worse. One amazing match pushed to an outer court because of rain that brought massive drama and more atmosphere than your kid’s soccer final. It was also one of those excellent sports moments that was fantastic to see unfold in real time over Twitter as well.

Amazingly, before Rome Stosur had only made one semifinal (Stuttgart) and one quarterfinal (Dubai) and even lost to one Dinara Safina in Indian Wells. The results started to come, however, largely the final in Toronto, where she never looked likely to lose until teeing off against a rejuvenated Serena.

Then of course the US Open run, where she survived back to back marathons against Petrova and Kirilenko, dismantled Zvonareva and eventually calmly rose to the occasion against a scatterbrained Serena.

All in all, Sam has very few points to defend for the first chunk of the year, and some successful results could see her ranking stock rise incredibly quickly. When she’s on, she’s really on, and Sam Stosur is undoubtedly one to watch in 2012.

This Is No Rehearsal

Posted by Brodie under: Serena, Superhero, USO

13 Sep 2011

After a foot injury turned to a life threatening disease, Serena Williams missed her chance to return to the biggest stage of tennis and right the wrong that was her infamous shouting tirade on lineswoman Shino. She missed the chance to defend her Australian Open title, and missed Roland Garros too. Finally, she returned to Wimbledon in a wave of emotion that moved tennis fans everywhere. She was so happy to be there.

Truth be told, no one expected her to win that tournament, and she didn’t. That was fine. It was the calm before the storm, the trumpeting of the return of the “real” number one. The Queen was back, baby.

The stage was set all too perfectly. After casting out the number 1 Caroline Wozniacki like a heretic from the church of tennis nerddom, she was in the final. This wasn’t any final, however. Pushed back to Sunday because of the rain, it would take place on the 10th anniversary of September 11th in New York, happening at the same time as the triumphant return of the NFL’s first Sunday. It was all so American. All too perfect.

Her opponent would be Australian Samantha Stosur who she had dismantled in the Toronto final just weeks earlier, and had dismantled on many occasions before.

It wasn’t such smooth sailing, however. In many fans thirst for blood in the semifinal, they failed to see the chinks in the armour of Serena. She looked impatient at times, and missed easy shots. Her defense backed her up against an opponent seemingly incapable of hitting winners, and she was fine.

Stosur is not Wozniacki, however. She made her pay, keeping her off balance with her trademark kick serve, and punished the short balls down the line on the forehand wing when the opportunities presented themselves. She took the first set.

We as tennis fans didn’t jump to conclusions. It’s why they play the games, but it’s also why they play three sets. Serena would make errors, keep her calm with her trademark stretched left arm, palm-to-the-court “I’m not going to freak out” look. She would spank a couple winners, get fired up, gain her focus and composure, and her opponent would crumble under the weight of it all. It would be one way traffic from there, and the prophecy would be fulfilled.

If football is a game of inches, tennis is a game of milimetres. It’s also a game of milliseconds. After hitting that fateful forehand at the start of the second set, she yelled out a “come on!” before Sam got to the ball and lay a racquet to it. The point was rightly awarded to Stosur. It was one way traffic indeed, but the cars were on the wrong side of the road.

“You’re out of control. You’re totally out of control. You’re a hater, and you’re unattractive inside. Who would do such a thing? And I never complain. Wow. What a loser.” Just some of the deep insights that came out during the changeover.

Serena, rather sarcastically if you ask me, reflected after the match that she would have to check the rule book and thought obstruction was more like the “hat rule”, in that if you lose your hat, the point is called a let and you replay it. She was wrong.

Ironically, the tour has come under much scrutiny with the absence of Serena, Maria, Kim, and now permanently Justine in that many lower ranked players are able to make it deep into tournaments and in fact win them as the top seeds crumble and fall away. Sadly, despite Serena doing the same thing, Stosur rose to the occasion and took it, and not just in this match.

Her match versus Petrova was incredible (see my post below). The longest match in US Open history for the women, she dropped the second set, barely. But like what many of the top men do, frankly, they keep faith in that they were the better player on the court, stick to the game plan of staying aggressive and looking for openings, and wait it out on their way to victory, however slim it may be.

It was the same story in the next round as her and Kirilenko ground out one of the longest tiebreaks ever. While it would be lovely to say that winning it was a turning point for Stosur, that was not to be as Kirilenko took it 17-15. That was all fine and dandy for Stosur. She kept working, kept attacking, and smothered the exhausted Kirilenko and the train kept rolling.

When we look back at this tournament, it will be highlighted by the final, the return of Serena, and her inevitable frustration and fall. Really, it should be highlighted by those two fantastic, epic, historical matches that took place late at night on Louis Armstrong and the Grandstand respectfully. While the worlds’ eyes were elsewhere, a champion was forging the ground work for an historic run to the finish line.

Fistful of Steel

Posted by Brodie under: MaKiri, Superhero, USO

5 Sep 2011

It just wouldn’t be a Labour Day weekend without some drama after the sun goes down and the lights come on.

What was originally scheduled as the third match on Arthur Ashe was pushed all the way to a late start on the Grandstand as to avoid delaying the night session, and the fans were treated to some tennis dessert as Samantha Stosur took on Maria Kirilenko.

The first set was all Stosur from the beginning, dominating from the baseline off the forehand wing and troubling Kiri with her big kick serve. Kiri scratched out a hold and broke Sam serving for the set, but was then broken herself, and the set was over in a blink, 6-2.

From then on, MaKiri decided it was do our die, and it was a beautiful thing to see. Instead of trying to out hit Sam from the baseline, she took any and every opportunity she could to get to the net. This often meant taking short balls inside out on the forehand and pushing Sam to her weaker backhand side. It was textbook net rushing harkening back to the often used strategy of 20 years ago and more.

The greatest part, however, was that it was working. A wonderful doubles player in her own right, it didn’t matter if it was forehand, backhand, or right at her, Kiri had all the answers at the net.

After a grind of a set, it was off to a tiebreak, one that is now already partly legendary. Set points and match points saved abound, it was full of insane winners, long rallies, and missed opportunities. 32 points, and 17-15 to Kiri.

Jacked up on adrenaline, she came flying out of the gate in the third to hold at love and take a couple points off Sam’s serve. Two nights ago, Sam played the longest women’s match in US Open history against Petrova, where she served for the match in the second and blew the tiebreak. She kept calm on serve in the third and found a way to secure the only break of the final set at 5-6 to take the decider.

Not unlike two nights ago, Sam kept her cool. Something has to be said about both her mental strength and her fitness. It was pretty clear that Kiri’s adrenaline and level of play would not hold up all set, and like a vulture swooping in to claim its prey, Sam broke early and cruised to take the match as if the second set had never happened.

Make no doubt about it, Sam is playing incredibly well right now. The errors are there, and always will be when you play the way she does. The important thing is that she’s sticking to her game plan (kick serves, finding a way to the forehand, pushing out wide and staying patient) even when things get tough, but not playing stubborn enough to not make small adjustments (such as her approach to passing shots against Kiri, specifically the third set). Her past two matches have been insanely close, but her opponents have been on their game and they’ve deserved to be.

After a great run in Toronto, and now overcoming two difficult three set matches, Sam’s confidence has to be sky high. Up against Zvonareva in the quarters and then possibly the winner of Pennetta/Kerber, she might just be the favourite to make the final.

16 Aug 2011

For those who don’t know, I had the amazing opportunity to cover the Toronto edition of the Rogers Cup for tennispanorama.com and take over their Twitter account @GVTennisNews This is my way of saying thank you to both the tournament and the site, and signing off in a way. The site really is a fantastic source of all tennis news. If tennis could have its own section in the newspaper, it would likely look something like Tennis Panorama. Thanks everyone for following along for what was a fantastic week. Regular blog proceedings will be starting up once again!

TORONTO, Canada – It has only been four tournaments, but Serena Williams is back to her winning ways.

In a week full of surprises, delays, and drama, Williams was the last woman standing as she defeatedSamantha Stosur 6-4, 6-2 to claim her second championship in as many tournaments. The victory was her 39th career WTA title.

“Eight months ago if there was only one tournament I want to win, it was Toronto. For whatever reason, I really wanted to win this event,” said Williams. “Going through so much and being able to win is even more amazing.”

The match started out an incredibly high level, with both players serving incredibly well. First serves were hitting lines and surpassing 108 mph on a consistent basis as both players avoided break points for the first eight games.

The fifth service game for Stosur was a different matter, however, as she began to feel the pressure, and the errors crept in. She saved the first break point of the match with an excellent slice that handcuffed Williams as she came to the net. Williams managed to get another break point, and would take matters into her own hands with an incredible down the line back hand winner. “I definitely think that’s when the match started changing,” said Williams. “but for the most part I was really fighting until that point, and obviously after that point I kept fighting. It was definitely a big point.” For Stosur, it was a disappointing lapse in concentration. “Especially being up in the game and really holding quite comfortably up until that point, it’s disappointing to lose that,” said Stosur. “Once an opponent gets a certain lead, sometimes it really boosts them and makes it a bit more difficult.”Williams then held easily to take the first set, 6-4.

The pressure continued to bother Stosur. A passive game filled with errors meant that Williams would go up an early break in the second, and it was relatively smooth sailing for Williams. After a loud strike of thunder, she didn’t speed up the match by playing faster, but by serving better. Stosur insisted he didn’t let it bother her. “If you are losing, you kind of hope it does come to stop and get a bit of a break. But I think really you’ve got to just try and ignore it and play each points as normal.”

In Williams her first three service games of the set, she lost only two points. In the final game, she clocked a first serve coming in at 124 mph. “I kept thinking, hit a ace, hit a ace, hit a ace, because I knew at that point I didn’t want to hit too many shots because I felt like I was getting a little tight,” said Williams on the last game of the match. With rain threatening at 5-2, she saved the only break point she would face all day to close out the match and win the championship.

For Williams, it was another display of dominance why many consider her one of the best to have ever played the women’s game. Williams has often talked about finding “another level” this week, particularly after losing the first set to both Jie Zheng and Lucie Safarova, and she did so again today, taking opportunities with conviction and staying out of trouble on serve. She hit nine aces and lost only three points on her first serve, 11 on serve in total.

Though Stosur could not take what would have to be considered the best championship of her career, she remained positive after struggling with bouts of inconsistency this season. “I’m full of confidence, really happy with the way my game is at the moment.”

With the draw for Cincinnati already released, Stosur and Williams could meet again in the second round if the draw holds up. “I never really want to change my game too dramatically against any kind of opponent,” said Stosur. “It’s maybe trying to execute a bit better and must always go out there and try and play as best you can.” Williams praised Stosur’s game and looked forward to the possible match-up. “We’re both playing really intense and really well, and we’ll see how it goes.”

Serena Williams has to be considered the favorite heading into the final major of the year, the US Open which gets under way in two weeks. She now leads the Olympus US Open Series. “I feel like there is a lot of improvements I want to make, you know, being able to close out big points and winning on big points and capitalizing on that,” Williams said about her game. “Still returning a little better, but overall it’s solid.”

Next up for Williams is Cincinnati, and then the US Open. “Right now physically I feel solid. I feel really good. I’m due to play on Tuesday in Cincinnati, so I’ll be there.” Williams insisted that she doesn’t feel like a favorite heading into the final grand slam of the year. “I never go in as a favorite. I feel like I’m still the underdog. I’m just taking it one day at a time and one match at a time and just going with it.”

It is expected that Williams’ ranking on Monday will place her in the top 32 high enough to be seeded at the US Open.

6 Aug 2010

Let’s be honest folks. As one who has given myself up to the tennis gods and created a tennis blog, I’m a tennis nerd. I spend a lot of time watching it, reading, and being in the know. I have people’s tweets go to my phone so I’m always on top of things.

So then how ridiculous is that in one day away from the game, I can’t keep up with the amount of injuries?

Superhero Sam busted up her forcep and lost. Rusty Lleyton is out of Toronto. Venus has knee pain, and is advised not to play until said knee pain goes away, so she’s withdrawn from Cincy, and no word on Montreal (did I not totally call that she would skip out of Montreal cause her sister wouldn’t be there?). It could also be coincidence, but Tree isn’t playing Toronto and no one really seems to know why (if you do, hit me up, I haven’t been able to find out why).

There was some grumblings before the hard court season about injuries. It’s been a pretty ridiculous year for injuries, many wondered who would be out (or left…) come USO times. Obviously some huge gaps already, with Justine and Delpo missing the USO, Serena missing the whole hard court season, and a whole other slew of injuries as well as less serious ones causing players to retire from matches.

It’s been such a rough year for injuries, this 2010. I really hope the ATP and WTA sit down and have some serious talks about injuries and the tour schedule. Here’s an idea: screw with the ranking system a bit, and how points are awarded. Just an idea.

The Case For Vika

Posted by Brodie under: Stanford, Superhero, Vika

31 Jul 2010

Solid win today for Vika, who took out Sam in straights today. The stats show pretty obviously that Vika brought her A game, and Sam did not, and it was enough to make the difference. Both these players are too good for another to not show up, and have things be close. Vika served at 74%, Sam at 55% with only 2 aces. Vika was only broken once in her 6-2, 6-3 victory.

The real impressive thing for the birthday girl (who turned 21 today) was her match yesterday versus Bartoli. Down a break in the first set, she remained positive, fist pumping, tapping herself, and urging herself on. Unfortunately for her, she dropped the set and got broken early in the second. Things totally unraveled, with her yelling at herself and whacking balls against the backstop. I figured it was over, usual Vika was out being herself again. But slowly things shifted, Vika pushed on, upped her game, Bartoli’s game dropped a bit, and before you knew it, Vika had the match in three. While it wasn’t a total mental display, the end of the first set, and the eventual win showed real signs of Vika staying calm, positive, and reassuring of herself. Those are the wins that are important for big time players, because more often then not, you find your A game the next day and before you know it, you’re in the final.

I can’t say I’m a huge Vika fan. Hate her for the “wooo” sound (once drove my sister out of an adjacent room because the sound alone was driving her mad) or the temper, but the fact of the matter is that Vika has one of the hardest hitting games out there, and isn’t afraid to take it to opponents. Not to mention some good defensive skills and above average volleying. The temper and consistency are what has been hurting her, but with an improvement in the headcasiness (I can only assume that’s a word) and a proper control on aggression, she should be a serious contender for a ton of hard court points this season. Which along with other big hitters like Sam, Masha, and Elena, you’ve got to like as a fan of the WTA.

Hero In A Dream

Posted by Brodie under: Superhero, SW19

22 Jun 2010

There was a lot of talk around Sam heading into this Wimbledon. How would she do? Sure, that kick serve won’t work too well, but what about the power and the consistency? It’s the WTA, who knows?! Hell, I had my doubts, hence leaving her off my seedings.

But I don’t think anyone saw her losing to the 2009 Freefaller.

She who could do nothing wrong lost to she who could do nothing right. Lately, anyway. I guess that’s how tennis works. 6-4, 6-4 for Kaia Kanepi. It must be the white. A superhero can’t be told what their costume will be. Besides, white is so bland, and impossible to sneak around in. Pssh, Wimbledon. What do you know?

This also means that both Roland Garros finalists are out in the first round of Wimbledon. I’m not sure the last time the two finalists of a grand slam turned around and lost in the first round of the next one, but considering Serena has never lost in the first round of a slam, I’m guessing it’s been a long, long time.

5 Jun 2010

There’s something special about winning their first ever slam. Unless it’s Satan himself, it’s damn near impossible to not be totally pumped for them for achieving what was likely a childhood dream. However, there’s something seriously special about a 29 year old pulling it off.

It may not be old in other sports, but 29 is near ancient in tennis (she turns 30 this month). Experience is possibly one of the most underrated things in tennis, however. So many people (myself included) thought that the only way Franny would win would be a total mental breakdown from Sam. Sure, Superhero’s forehand wasn’t magic, but Franny beat her. Straight up. And to see her bouncing around like a little kid in that second set tiebreak was just fantastic.

And can we just tip our hats to the quality of that match? It wasn’t three sets, no, but it was one of the best women’s slam finals in a long, long time. Most people are calling it the best women’s RG final in a decade. It would have been easy for people to tear down this final as some sort of “crisis” in the women’s game. No Justine, no Sisters, and no one willing to step up to the plate. Sam and Franny took down those ideas at the door. It was high quality and super entertaining.

Lastly, something has to be said about what this means for Italian tennis. Every player seems to have a hero growing up. This was the first Italian woman to make the semis of a slam in the Open era, forget actually winning it. Italy, you have yourself a new national hero.

Superhero Cometh

Posted by Brodie under: Roland Garros, Superhero

3 Jun 2010

I was taking a little run through old posts about Superhero Sam, just to find some interesting things I’ve said about her, and also to find the origin of the awesome name. I put her in the “buy” category for “Buy, Sell” (nevermind that I also said buy Trumpet and sell Venus…) and loved this little gem:

I got a chance to see her beat Kuz in Toronto, and then beat Gypsy 6-3, 6-1, in what was one of the biggest dominations I saw all year. Gypsy was powerless against Sam’s power, and when she would start to come in, Superhero would beast backhands cross-court, forehands down the line or cross-court. And then when it seemed like Gypsy might be on to something, Sam would just come to the net and start volleying the shit out of everything, and as I’ve noted many a time, all Gypsy could do was curse at the sky… she finished the year at 13, and don’t be surprised if she breaks the top 10 this year.

What can I say, I clearly described it pretty well. /Roger

Here is the origin of the nickname:

I think if you were to call one WTA player a superhero, it would probably be Sam. She looks totally normal, and is quite funny off court. Hell, she looks quite pretty in her TTV mugshot. But on court? First of all, she’s jacked up. As all hell. And her sunglasses, hat, and tied back hair all create her epic disguise (those sunglasses just ooze badassery), and she serves big, and is willing to track down any ball. She also doesn’t really follow through on her serve, which is weird as hell.

Sam has been absolute dynamite these past two weeks, and it’s been a treat to watch. Like I said, she has the weapons to beat just about anyone. I think the beginning of this year was really just fine tuning things, especially the forehand, which I seem to remember was pretty wild at the beginning of the year. Pretty sure she’s putting a bit more spin on it too and that’s keeping things in the line.

JJ was really no match for her; she was a step behind the entire match. Sam just knows how to construct points on clay to give herself a chance to hit a winner with the angles, and she also has the shot making skills to pull the trigger when the opportunity arises. Also, just like Rafa, it buys her just that much more time to run around the forehand, which she does done so damn well this Roland Garros.

Franny has played a great tournament, but in all honesty, Superhero’s game is firing on all cylinders and she’s showing a new mental strength that is equally impressive. A music professor once said to me “we don’t practice for the days that we play the best, we practice for the days where we play the worst”. A pretty similar thing applies for Sam in pressure situations. She’s at the point that her game is so solid, it doesn’t matter how nervous she is, she’s closing it out. I’d fully expect her to close out this tournament on Saturday just the same.

The Changeover Podcast:

Episode #56 – Indian Wells Wrap