Sunday, September 30, 2012

Monday Morning Server - 10 Things I Think I Think

1.  I think I should improve my tennis prediction powers.  I envisioned Aggie bringing Petrova to the woodshed.  Instead, Petrova defeats Radwanska 6-0, 1-6, 6-3 in the Tokyo Toray Pan Pacific Open final.

2.  I think Gasquet should bottle up Bangkok Betty and take it on the road with him.  He absolutely crushes Simon in the Thailand Open final 6-2, 6-1. 

3.  I think karma is a b*#@& and Simon should remember that the next time he wants to wax poetic about women's tennis and grand slam compensation.

4.  I think I can't wait for the world tour finals in London.  The fall tennis season is slow....just not enough tennis for my liking.

5.  I think we should all send a prayer or good vibes to Dolgopolov who recently announced he was suffering from Gilbert's Syndrome, which requires 1-2 week hospital stays everytime he has a jaundice flare up.  Watched him play at the French Open 2 years ago; he was a class act.  And not to mention a funky player with a funky game to match.

6.  I think with winter approaching I really really want to attend the Australian Open this year. 

7.  I think the most amazing achievement in tennis NOT talked about is Lleyton Hewitt coming back from not 1, but 2 hip surgeries to repair a labral tear (cartilage lining your hip socket).  As someone who has had the same surgery on both of my hips as well, I can tell you it is nothing short of a MIRACLE that he is playing tennis at all, let alone competing with the top players.  I don't like the guy, but I respect the hell out of his achievements, I think everyone else should as well.

8.  I think Federer makes a charge for a record sixth year ending #1 ranking. 

9.  I think Federer wins just enough to attain that record sixth year ending #1 ranking.

10.  I think the U.S. Open should switch to clay courts next year and shake up the tennis world.  No more endless rain delays for a little bit of drizzle on the court.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Throwdown at the Tokyo Tennis Showdown: Handicapping the final four

It seems my prediction powers are as good as my stock market predictions - NOT GOOD.  See the end for  my updated final prediction.

The WTA Toray Pan Pacific Open reached the semifinal phase today.  The final four left standing are #5 seed Angelique Kerber, #3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, #17 seed Sarah Errani, and #8 seed Sam Stosur.  Stosur scored the biggest upset by far beating an inconsistent Sharapova in the previous match, including a tight first set tie breaker.

Semifinal 1: Sam Stosur vs. Nadia Petrova
On paper this should be an easy, quick and efficient win, which is why Petrova will prevail in straight sets.  Stosur has made a career of winning matches she should NOT win (see U.S. Open final win over Serena Williams) and losing matches she should win (see French Open final loss to Schiavone).  Sam needs to accomplish just two objectives to win this match.  One, establish her kick serve (quite possibly the best kick serve in ALL of tennis).  Check out this video of her kick serve in slow-mo with tennis instructor instruction voice over.  Two, ride that massive forehand all match long.  That's it.  Game, set, match.

Semifinal 2: Angelique Kerber vs. Agnieszka Radwanska
The battle of the grinders.  Both of these women are solid in every phase of the game (with the exception of the serve for Radwanska).  But at the same time, they don't hit any one shot particularly great.  This match comes down NOT to shot making but the always solid, but sometimes boring, consistency.  Given that they both made the Quarters in the US Open, its a tough call.  Stretching back a bit farther (Cincinnati), Kerber is the hotter player coming into this tournament.  In addition, she has a much more attacking game.  I give her the edge, winning in 3 sets.

Final Prediction:  Kerber vs. Petrova
Petrova is on the wrong side of 30 and her best playing days are behind her.  She has a big game but has been unable to maintain consistency on her big shots throughout matches - matching her big winners with big unforced errors.  I expect Kerber to take this match in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2.

Now that Kerber laid a giant egg and lost 6-1, 6-1 against Radwanska, I need to update my final prediction.  "Fool me once,  shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me..."  No way I can bet against Aggie now.  She was absolutely lights out against Kerber, or "laying the wood" as Brad Gilbert said on Twitter.  It says here, Aggie wins 6-2, 6-0.

Greatest tennis player of all time?

A hot topic amongst tennis fans is the always contentious question, "who is the Greatest of All Time?"  ....affectionately known as the GOAT.  I never watched some of tennis past giants... players like Bill Tilden or Rocket Rod Laver.  I did, however, grow up watching Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and even a little bit of John McEnroe.  I don't want to denigrate our past tennis champions, but if I am picking the GOAT, I don't think the past generations even makes my list. 

We could debate this topic until we are blue in the face, but I think the entirety of Roger Federer's career puts him at the top of the list.  The usual suspects are all accounted for - grand slam titles, weeks ranked #1, master series titles, consecutive grand slam semi-finals, quarterfinals, etc.  No matter how you slice these achievements, it seems hard to make a convincing case otherwise.  Rafael Nadal could very well challenge for this title by the end of  his career if he comes back healthy and motivated, but at this point he is trailing Fed significantly (even considering his head to head matchup with Fed).

That being said, perhaps a more interesting question is this: "if you had to pick a player at the top of his game to win a match, who would you pick?  That is, if you had a must-win match, who is your go-to player at the top of his game?  (e.g. Fed in his prime vs. Sampras in his prime)

As much as I am a fan of Federer and as much as I respect his array of shots, skills, and career accomplishments, I can't help but choose Rafa.  Throw out the records, the stats, and head to heads.  I pick Rafa for 3 reasons.

Rafa's mid-game adjustments.  I can't think of anyone else who makes "mid-game" corrections better than Rafa.  Quite simply, if his best stuff isn't working, he switches tactics.  More importantly, he has the skill and athletic ability to make these tactical changes.  Think about some of his big matches with Fed, Nole, and Murray.  The slice serving isn't working?  No problem, he switches to a body serve, or adds some mph's (as Brad Gilbert likes to say).  Nole is smacking returns down the line off of Rafa's backhand return?  No problem, Rafa starts hitting his backhand up the line instead, with pace and power.  Rafa is losing the baseline battle?  No worries, he starts throwing in the occasional serve and volley.

Is Rafa the only one capable of mid-game modifications?  Absolutely not.  Federer has just as much skill (some would argue more so) and athletic ability.  The difference?  Federer is stubbornly optimistic.  He believes his best is good enough to beat your best.  And let's face it, that is usually the case.  But not always.  See his Grand Slam matches with Nadal for evidence.  The same stubbornness and persistence that makes him great can also become his greatest weakness.  In the important matches, when points are tight, you have to know when to change directions.  Rafa seems to know exactly when and how to do so.

Rafa's mental toughness.  I talk about this in greater length here, but the bottom line is Rafa enjoys (perhaps loves?) the physical and mental suffering that tennis exacts on its greatest players.  He knows he has to punish his body in a tight, hard match, and yet, he still runs down every single shot as if it was his last.  On the big stage and under the bright lights of the biggest matches, there is no doubt you will be playing against a player who will make you suffer.  The question is this:  "who is willing to suffer more?"  The answer, Nadal. 

Rafa's will to compete.  Rafa's will to compete is similar to his mental toughness, yet subtlety different.  No matter how desperate the situation, how long the odds look, Rafa will not give up.  He doesn't throw in the towel.  Look at the epic match with Roger at the 2008 Wimbledon final.  Roger storms back into the match, winning 2 consecutive tie breakers playing flawless, beautiful, and unmatched tennis.  Any other player wilts right then and there at the end of the 4th set.  Not Rafa.  He keeps competing.  In the big matches, there is almost always a "gut check" point.  Rafa never back down in these moments.

In the end, this conclusion seems a bit bizarre.  Clearly, Federer is the greatest player of all time when we consider the entirety and enormity of his career accomplishments.  But, if you had to pick one player at the zenith of his game?  I keep coming back to Rafa.  I've said before but I will say it again.  Men's tennis is witnessing the most competitive and enjoyable competition ever.  Enjoy it while it lasts folks.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

10 Things I Think I Think About Tennis...

I am borrowing shamelessly from CNN SI's Monday Morning Quarterback Contributor, Peter King, with this post.

Here are the 10 things I think I think about tennis last week.

1.  I think I made a major error not including Laura Robson's finals appearance.  She is steadily improving every facet of her game.  I expect her to contend for the Top 25 by the end of the year. 

2.  I think it is NOT surprising that Federer leads Tennis Maven's POY voting thus far.  And I think it is sure to ratchet up the tension between Fedophiles and Nadalites.

3.  a.  I think am very happy for Donald Young, scoring a big win over Y. Lu at the Thailand Open.  Once considered the next breakout star, Young has fallen precipitously over the last year (currently ranked #124, down from a career high #38 last year).

     b.  I think it was a smart decision for Donald Young to hire Craig Smith as his coach

4.  I think tennis pundits, fans, and reporters everywhere are acting dangerously premature in predicting the demise of Rafael Nadal.  It says here he will come back healthier, stronger, and better than ever, thanks in large part to the most devastating weapon in tennis history.

5.  I think Caroline Wozniacki's recent victory in Korea is the tournament that catapults her back into contention for the #1 ranking again.  To be sure, her title victory came against an injury plagued Kanepi, but this is just the shot of confidence she needs right now.

6.  I think Brad Gilbert is right when he says Laura Robson will be a top 20 player by the end of the year.  Not bad for an 18 year old lefty hailing from the UK.

7.  I think the Djoker should bring back his altitude/rehab egg.

8.  I think Milos Raonic should pay Paul Annacone whatever money he must to hire him away from Federer.  Milos has the serve, height, and attacking game to become the next great serve and volleyer in tennis.

9.  I think Sloane Stephens is the next American to win a Grand Slam title.  She is too good and too talented NOT to win one in the near future.

10.  I think Andy Murray suffers serious post U.S. Open fatigue and does not contend at the Masters events or World Tour Finals.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The 3 Best Things in Tennis Last Week!

Woz bags her first title in 13 months, winning the Korea Open by beating an injury plagued Kaia Kanepi 6-0, 6-1.  Although Kanepi struggled with injuries, this is still a great win for Wozniacki.  She has had a disappointing year, dropping all the way to #11 in the rankings.  This could be the tournament that catapults her back to the top, or at least in the discussion with the top women.

Its good to be Jo-Willy!
The big serving Frenchman, Tsonga beats Seppi in a quick, 50 minute Moselle Open final, winning 6-1, 6-2.  This guy has more natural ability than anyone on tour (save for the terminally frustrating Tomic) and it's a joy to watch him fire on all cylinders.  Enjoy it while it lasts because his style of play is not conducive to a long career.

The pride of Luxembourg
Gilles Muller hailing from Luxembourg (aka The House that Gilles built).  We here at Tennis Maven have a soft spot for the big serving Luxembourgian Lefty.  He lost in the second round to Davydenko, but not before a courageous 7-5, 6-4 showing.  Just wait until Basel Davydenko....just wait!!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

What if the Big 4 didn't play tennis?

Let's consider the physicality and athletic ability of today's tennis players.  Is there any doubt we are witnessing the most athletic bunch of players to ever wield a racquet?  The difference in athletic ability between today's players and the stars of the past is so great I am not sure one of the greats like Rod Laver could even take a set off a journeyman player like Jurgen Melzer (although admittedly he was once a top 10 player).  Heck, I'm not sure old Rocket Rod could win a match against the pride of Luxembourg, Gilles Muller.  But I'm not here to pick a fight with the tennis lions of the past.  Instead, I want to ponder what sport would today's top player be playing if they weren't playing tennis.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!
Roger Federer:  
He floats around the court like a butterfly and stings like a bee.  Sound familiar to anyone?  Call me crazy but I think Fed's unsurpassed timing, footwork, and power translates perfectly to boxing.  He could bob and weave (drop shot), sticking his jab (backhand) while flooring his opponent with a powerful right hook (forehand).  I am quite sure, however, that Fed wants no part of busting up that pretty little face of his.

Rafa Nadal:  
The easy choice here is soccer.  Futbol is his favorite sport after all.  But what does Rafa love to say about tennis?  He proudly says that he "enjoys the suffering" and that it is a key component to his success.  Given his athletic abilities - he is arguably the fastest player on tour, as well as the strongest - I see Rafa's gifts translating to the National Football League (NFL).  He is the perfect complement of size, speed, and power to play running back in the NFL.  And most importantly, as he says, he enjoys the suffering.  As an NFL running back, he would endure his fair share of suffering.

Andy Murray:  
If not playing tennis, clearly he would be playing seeker for the British national quidditch team.  We here at Tennis Maven kid .... because we love.  But seriously, do we see this guy playing any other sport than table tennis.  His game is full of funk, junk (aka old man tennis), slices, spins, etc.  This is perfect for schooling this competitors in table tennis.  Plus, no one cares when you whine, complain, and berate yourself in table tennis.

Novak Djokovic: 
The human gumby machine.  He twists, slides, and contorts his body in ways that are inhuman at times.  His will to win is beyond reproach.  And his ability to perform under earth rattling pressure is legendary (check out his forehand service return winner on match point if you don't believe me).  This author says here that the Djoker would have been a gold medal winning gymnast.  It doesn't fit with his macho reputation and attitude, but I guarantee you he doesn't care a lick about that.  The Djoker is all about winning.

Friday, September 21, 2012

My vote for WTA player of the year.

Going into the fall/winter stretch, here are my rankings for player of the year honors.

#1   Serena Williams:  

When she is healthy and committed, is there anyone better than serena?  Ever?  She doesn't beat her fellow competitors so much as she demolishes them.  But it says much about her playing schedule when she wins 2 grand slam events and we still consider others for POY honors.  That is where we find ourselves, however, because the #2 player on this list .... 

#2   Victoria Azarenka:  

Tennis fans are a fickle bunch, and many might forget her winning streak to start 2012.  She bagged her first slam and looked like a world beater for 27 straight matches.  Too bad TennisMaven POY honors has a rule regarding shrieking.  Anyone who screams loud enough to make even Adult Film stars blush is disqualified.  Honestly, ask yourself, Can you watch an entire Azarenka match without hitting mute?

#3   Maria "Sugarpova" Sharapova:  

New rule, anyone who creates their own candy line is automatically considered for POY honors.  An unexpected win at the French pushes her towards the top.  She once called herself a "cow on ice" when describing her play on clay.  Perhaps now she can making a laugh cow chocolate for all of us who mocked her claycourt abilities.