How much better are men than women at tennis? What about if you take away the serve?
These questions will be answered August 3rd during the first ever unisex professional tennis tournament, in which men and women will be entered in the same draw and will play each other head-to-head. The catch? To make it fair there will be no overhead serving. Instead, the points will be started with a below-the-waist feed.
So do the women stand a chance?
According to Alexandra Stevenson, who with a ranking of 204 is the top-ranked female to commit to the tournament, the answer is yes. "The only reason I would do this is to win," said Stevenson, who you might remember is the daughter of Dr. J and a former Wimbledon singles semifinalist. "Women can compete with and beat men serving underhand off the ground."
Steve Bellamy, the tennis promoter who came up with the idea, says the same thing. "Men dominate women in tennis mainly because of the serve, so this neutralizes that advantage."
Ohhhh really???? For years I have heard tennis people make this argument. But as a small audience will soon find out -- battle of the sexes or not, I can't imagine Alexandra Stevenson and Justin Gimmlestob attracting too many people -- it is a myth!
In tennis, the difference between men and women is the serve, yes. But it's also the forehand, the backhand, the spin and above all, the movement.
Vince Spadea, who with a ranking of 70 is the top-ranked male player committed to the tournament, averages about 92 mph on the gun. Compare that with Stevenson who routinely breaks 110 mph. You know why Spadea will dismantle Stevenson with or without the serve? He is an infinitely better athlete (it's biological). Spadea is far, far, far quicker and hits the ball much more cleanly. Power and serving have little to do with it.
Over the years the public has clamored for matches between men aned women. During Martina Navritalova's heyday, many in the press speculated that she could beat the number 100 ranked male player in the world (never mind that Martina's chief rival, Chris Evert, always struggled to beat her brother, an unranked player, and said of Martina, "any ranked male player in the top 1,000 would beat her. The number 100 ranked player would kill her.")
The public never got that match, or any other high-profile match between an active professional man and an active professional woman. But behind the scenes, these matches have played out thousands of times. Most of the top women use former pro's and low-ranked men to practice against.
How do they do? Bad. Real bad.
Before her Australian Open title this year, Maria Sharapova spent months playing practice sets against top-ranked junior boys. To quote Brad Gilbert: "She got beat down, over and over
Justine Henin, too, used to play practice sets against junior boys. Her results? "I don't beat them," she said. "They are either too fast or they have too much power. each one has something that I don't.
If Sharapova and Henin can't beat juniors, how will any women, let alone Alexandra Stevenson, beat professional men? They won't. The men can serve overhand, underhand or sideways, it won't make a difference. This isn't billiards or bowling. When it comes to men and women on a tennis court, it's not even close.
A Modest Proposal
Here's an idea: Tennis needs to add a playoff system and finally crown a true champion
What does basketball, baseball, football, soccer, hell, even NASCAR have that tennis doesn’t?
Ok the answer I’m looking for?
All of these sports have a champion.
Sure, tennis has a world number one, but it isn’t the same thing. You see, in these other sports, there is a clearly defined regular season, after which, the best teams compete in the playoffs. Eventually there is a climactic title game and an indisputable champion is crowned.
It is a reliable sports formula that has worked for decades. And its success is easy to understand. You see, sports fans need a climax. Otherwise, the games just seem like an endless series of exhibitions. (Wonder why boxing is dead? There are too many belts, thus no climactic title fights and no clear champion or logical format that fans can get their heads around). But with a playoff system, every game has a purpose and builds up to something bigger.
Right now, tennis is a lot like boxing. The season is basically never-ending and nobody really knows or cares who the champion is.
In tennis, the champion, or world number one, is ranked on what he has done not just in the current season, but also in the past 364 days. This means that Rafael Nadal, (“He’s now number one!” said John McEnroe after his Wimbledon victory) will not truly take over the top spot in the rankings for at least one month, maybe in Cincinnati or Canada. Talk about anticlimactic.
And who cares even once he is number one? Carlos Moya was number one at one point, so was Thomas Muster. It’s a cool thing to put on your resume, but does anybody really give a crap? I mean, can you imagine if the rest of the sports world operated this way. And with their win tonight, the Dallas Mavericks are now number one! No, we would say the Mavericks are in first place. They aren’t number one until they win the championship.
That’s how tennis should be too. Regular season. Playoffs. Champion … Then off-season and do it again the next year.
To make this happen, it wouldn't be that difficult. Of course, purists would probably cringe, but the changes I'm proposing aren't really all that drastic. Plus, they would give tennis what those other sports have. A champion -- not to mention a fanbase. Here's what I have in mind.
The Tennis Guy's Three Step Plan
1) Shorten the tennis season
Make it five months instead of ten months. This way there is a clearly defined tennis season and a clearly defined tennis off-season. Not only would this limit injuries for players, but it would also give fans a period when they simply could not watch professional tennis. It’s the number one rule of business: Leave ‘em wanting more.
2) Get rid of that damn ranking system
Ranking players based on their 52 week performance is boneheaded. It blurs the line from one season to the next, so there can’t ever be a true tennis season. Plus it’s confusing to fans – especially the idea of defending points, which is a very unappealing, “inside-baseball” type-of concept that even the players hate.
We can still use the year-round rankings for seeding purposes in individual tournaments, but don’t make a big deal about them publicly. Instead, have announcers talk about the rankings for only that year (known now as the ATP Race). So instead of having to say that Roger Federer is still number one in the world when he clearly isn’t, we can say Rafael Nadal is currently in first place, leading the race.
3) Make the Tennis Masters Cup the official championship of the tennis season
Yes, that means make it bigger than Wimbledon.
First, let’s pare the field down for this year-end tournament from the top 8 players to the top 6 players. This way the number one and two seeds get a bye into the semifinals.
Second, let’s stage the tournament two weeks after the US Open, not 8 months afterwards, so it can be a climax to the season rather than an anticlimax as it is currently.
Third, and most importantly, let’s call this tournament the championship of tennis. Make this tournament the playoffs -- the climax of the season. Sure Wimbledon and the US Open and the other grand slams are big, but make this one bigger. The winner of this tournament is the champion for the year. The world number one. The person who gets second place is the runner-up, the world number two, and so on down-the-line to number six.
I don’t care if Federer wins every other tournament in sight, if he loses here do not call him number one in the world. After all, you wouldn’t call the Yankees number one if they lose in the World Series. Same thing. The whole season builds up to the playoffs, if you lose there, tough cookies.
Ok I’ve been on my soapbox long enough. Now back to reality. Will this ever happen? Probably not. A multi-million dollar lawsuit broke-out when the ATP tried to downgrade the ranking points alloted in a single tournament last year, so I can't imagine what might happen if the ATP tried to wipe out half the calendar. And could we ever convince Arlen Kantarian and the USTA to cancel their baby, that atrocious US Open series (it’s like adding yet another championship belt to the heavyweight division)? I doubt it.
But just because it won't happen, dosn't mean it shouldn't happen. NASCAR was invigorated when it added The Chase a few years ago, which was it’s version of a playoff system, and its way of crowning a champion each year. Now it’s time for tennis to do the same.
Rafa Knocks Out Federer to Win the Greatest Wimbledon Final Ever Played
In the end, the critics were right.
They came out of the woodwork after the Paris final. Federer was beaten so badly by Nadal in that match that it seemed certain that his reign atop tennis was over. Commentators said he was finished. Djokovic said he was vulnerable. Borg picked him to lose Wimbledon. So did Brad Gilbert. Chris Fowler. John McEnroe.
But the supposed chink in Federer’s armor seemed to shrink as the fortnight went by and the Swiss number one continued to roll through the field with typical ease. Like Mark Twain, who once said that rumors of his death had been greatly exaggerated, Federer too seemed to have more life than he had been given credit for.
“They can talk,” Federer said at one point, addressing his critics. “But somebody still has to beat me before it is true.”
On Sunday, somebody beat him. The critics were right.
It was an epic final – “the greatest tennis match ever played,” according to John McEnroe – but that doesn’t change a thing. We said the competition had caught Federer and we were right.
Rafael Nadal is now the best player in the world. Even Federer, notoriously sparse with his praise, would have to admit it.
Nadal will almost certainly end the year at number one, and I don’t think Federer will ever regain that mantle. He has maxed out his game. Nadal is just getting started.
Before the tournament, Federer was asked what he was trying to improve in his game. He laughed and said that he felt he did not need to improve, but just wanted to maintain his current level.
Not so for Nadal.
In the evening after his first round match, Nadal spent 45 minutes on a practice court by himself, serving a bucket of balls. He was trying to get better even in the middle of Wimbledon. And that’s not the scary part. The real eye-opener is that according to Brad Gilbert, many of those serves Nadal was practicing were over 140 mph. His serve is already unbreakable, can you imagine when he includes that in his game?
All of this is not to say that Nadal will dominate the sport like Fed once did. The competition is too good. Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka. This is not the ragtag group that Federer feasted on for years. Plus Nadal’s hard-court game remains unproven.
But the bigger picture is this. For the first time in five years, there is a new king of tennis. And his name is Rafael Nadal. Not Roger Federer.
Only a fool would say that Roger is finished. He is too good and he wants it too badly to disappear like Borg did in 1981. But there is no doubt that Federer has been usurped atop the sport. And I don’t think he’ll ever regain his throne.
An old Yankees scout used to say that there’s a golden rule that all baseball people live by when evaluating young ballplayers.
“It ain’t what he’s done. It’s what he’s gonna do.”
In tennis, companies like Reebok and Nike live by the same rule when deciding which young players to sign to big contracts.
If these companies are smart, they’ll stay away from Somdev Devvarman, the 2008 NCAA singles champion from the University of Virginia.
The Indian-born Devvarman has had perhaps the greatest college tennis career in American history. He reached the NCAA singles championship three times, won two singles titles, and went undefeated his entire senior season. But he doesn’t have the game for the pro tour.
There are two ways to win on the ATP tour. Play with great power or play with great athleticism. Somdev plays with neither.
Devvarman is 5’10” and has dominated the college ranks with a spinny, accurate forehand, solid court coverage and great mental toughness. The problem is that by ATP standards, his strengths are not really strengths.
His forehand will not intimidate any professional player. For a little guy his movement isn’t great. And his mental toughness? Right now it is phenomenal, but it is easy to play with confidence when you are winning every match in front of a big home crowd (Virgina was the college tennis attendance leader this year). It is hard to foresee Devvarman maintaining that same level of focus and confidence when he is not surrounded by his teammates and fans, and is instead slumming it at challenger tournaments all over the third world.
But none of these problems will prove to be his fatal flaw. Devvarman’s real killer will be his two-handed backhand. It is the worst backhand I have ever seen for a pro tennis player (at an ATP tournament in Washington D.C. last summer, I saw Devvarman shank at least 40% of his two-handers during his blowout loss to Paul Goldstein).
How bad is Devvarman’s backhand? Think Andy Roddick when he first came on the scene. You combine Roddick’s backhand with Devvarman’s serve and you know what you get? A short career.
Now, you might ask, how could Devvarman be this bad? He has dominated like no other college player, and in recent years college guys have come through and done pretty well on the tour. Benjamin Becker knocked Agassi out of his last US Open, and John Isner, who Devvarman beat in the NCAA championship last year, almost beat Federer at Flushing Meadows.
The difference between Devvarman and those two is that Isner and Becker both have huge weapons. The only time either of them doesn’t break 130 on the gun is on second serves. It is a lot easier to stay mentally fresh when you hold serve 90% of the time.
Devvarman on the other hand has no such go-to shot. He reminds me a lot of Benedict Dorsch (pictured left), the Baylor player who won the 2005 NCAA title. Like Devvarman, Dorsch had absolutely no backhand, and in college he won mostly on smarts and toughness. But on the ATP tour Dorsch has struggled, never breaking into the top 100 in three years of action.
By contrast, the guy who played number two on that Baylor team, Benjamin Becker, has been inside the top 40 in the world.
Like they say, it ain’t what you’ve done, it’s what you’re gonna do. In college, Somdev has done a lot. But in the pro’s he’ll spend his career ranked in the 90 to 140 range. Nike and Adidas won’t be impressed.
ESPN's Wimbledon coverage has been so good, it just might save the sport
An amazing thing happened this week.
I was sitting on my couch watching a Wimbledon snoozer -- Venus Williams was beating down some poor, overmatched British girl -- when suddenly Chris Fowler appeared on my television and announced that ESPN was going to swing over to court 2, where Benjamin Becker was in the third set of a major upset against the fourth seed, Nikolay Davydenko.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Had ESPN really just interrupted a Venus Williams match to show us Benjamin Becker and Nikolay Davydenko on court 2?
But that wasn’t the end of it.
The entire afternoon ESPN whisked us from one court to another, showing us glimpses of centre court, court 8, court 12, even the practice courts. We saw the stars and the journeymen. There were blowouts and tiebreakers, men and women, player-interviews and studio-analysis. It was a glorious blur!
And it may just save tennis in the United States.
For years televised tennis has been a snoozefest. Networks like NBC and ESPN have bled the excitement from the sport by showing entire matches of the same few players over-and-over -- Nadal, Federer and Roddick for the men, Sharapova, Venus and Serena for the women. Not even I want to watch Rafael Nadal roll over Nicholas Kiefer 7-6, 6-2, 6-3 for three hours, as NBC showed us this Saturday.
True tennis fans know that the real fun of going to a tournament is bouncing around on the outside courts, sampling the spread. You check out the young up-and-comers on court 18, the fading stars on court 11, a little bit of doubles, perhaps even some mixed doubles, some juniors, some of the practice courts. Certainly you slide into the big stadiums and watch the stars for a bit. But it’s only the novice chumps that stay there all day, peering through binoculars as Sharapova blows out some nobody.
For years ESPN and all of the other tennis networks have been that novice chump, glued to the star power of Arthur Ashe stadium but missing the fun on the outside.
Finally, though, it seems that ESPN has learned its lesson, and the network is now employing what I call the “golf-approach.” Golf coverage long-ago figured this thing out. Watch the U.S. Open. Tiger Woods is the star, but the cameras bounce from hole-to-hole, player-to-player, showing a little bit of everything. The cameras may focus on Tiger the most, but we don’t watch him walking the fairway while Adam Scott chips in an eagle.
It should be the same for tennis. It is okay to show more of Roger Federer’s match on centre court then Janko Tipsarevic’s battle on court 35. But please don’t show us Federer at two sets to love, 1-0 in the third, when Tipsarevic is in a fourth set breaker.
If ESPN sticks to this new strategy (and gets rid of some of those blander than vanilla commentators – I’m talking to you Dick Enberg and Pam Shriver) it could do a lot to bolster interest in the sport. For years tennis coverage tried to appeal to the mass audience by showing only the stars. But that hasn’t worked for the simple reason that nobody wants to sit through the monotony of a four hour tennis match, whether it’s the Williams sisters, Andy Roddick, Andre Agassi or anybody else playing.
The real trick to generating interest in the sport is to chop up the coverage. We have short attention spans these days. We don’t want to grind out a long match. We want some breaks, some player interviews, some glimpses into the other matches. Then come back and show us Nadal’s match when it’s 5-5 and the excitement is really there.
Finally, it seems, ESPN has figured this out. The next step? How about throwing in some doubles?
If you took the Tennis Guy's advice in the quarterfinals, you made $150. Now cash in on his semifinal picks.
Rafael Nadal versus Rainer Schuettler
Summary: If you thought Andy Murray got blown off the court by Nadal, just wait till you see this match. Schuettler does not stand a chance. He cannot hurt Nadal, he can't run with Nadal, he can't outserve Nadal. In short he doesn't have a prayer. The odds in favor of Rafa are astronomical. It is still worth a wager. Nadal is an absolute lock to reach his third straight championship match.
Schuettler's Upset Likelihood: .1% Schuettler's Gambling Odds: 16/1 Nadal's Gambling Odds: 1/50 Expected Return from a $100 bet on Schuettler: $1.70 Expected Return from a $100 bet on Nadal: $101.89 The Verdict: Bet on Nadal
Roger Federer versus Marat Safin
Roger Federer is playing the best tennis of his career right now. He is flat out dominating his service games and that probably won't change against Safin, who doesn't move well enough to break Fed more than once or twice. Still, the big Russian always has a puncher's chance. Safin can hit winners from anywhere and if he stays in the match mentally, he has a shot. Marat's been waiting a long time to have another opportunity in a grand slam event. He won't let this one go without a fight.
Safin's Upset Likelihood: 30% Safin's Gambling Odds: 8/1 Federer's Gambling Odds: 1/20 Expected Return from a $100 bet on Safin: $170 Expected Return from a $100 bet on Federer: $73.50 The Verdict: Bet on Safin
The Gambler’s Guide to the Quarterfinals
When it comes to gambling, tennis is like blackjack. It is the one game that can be beaten. The Tennis Guy has made a small fortune over the years taking advantage of misplaced odds and unforeseen upsets. Now he is ready to share his knowledge.
Andy Murray versus Rafael Nadal
Summary: Andy Murray truly has the game to beat Nadal. The Scot will push the ball relentlessly to Nadal’s backhand and make Rafa generate his own pace, which is something Rafa can struggle with. Plus Murray loves to play the drop shot and Nadal does not defend that play very well.
Nadal seems like he is on another planet right now, so it is hard to see him losing to anybody, but Murray has a real shot at this upset.
Murray's Upset Likelihood: 40% Murray's Gambling Odds: 7/2 Expected Return from a $100 bet on Murray: $180 Expected Return from a $100 bet on Nadal: $70 The Verdict: Bet on Murray
Roger Federer versus Mario Ancic
Summary: Bad movers don’t stand a chance against Federer, and Ancic is a bad mover. He will struggle to make a dent in Fed’s serve games (I doubt he will break serve even once,) which means there will be a lot of pressure on Ancic to hold. The one positive? Ancic can handle Roger’s short slice better than anybody because he is so good at coming to net. The negative? Roger won’t need to use that slice to win this match.
Ancic’s Upset Likelihood: 10% Ancic’s Gambling Odds: 10/1 Expected Return from a $100 bet on Ancic: $100 Expected Return from a $100 bet on Federer: $99 The Verdict: Too close to call. Don't Bet on this one.
Marat Safin versus Feliciano Lopez
Summary: A tricky match. Safin returns well and can punish serve and volley players when he is on (remember that Sampras match in the US Open final a few years back?) But Lopez is serving really, really well this tournament, so he won't be easy to break.
The key for Safin is his forehand. He has a tendency to get tentative with his forehand against lefthanders, and if that happens here Lopez will jump all over it, chipping his backhand and then smothering the net. Still, I think Safin is playing too well right now to lose to anybody besides Rafa or Roger. Usually a gambler's nightmare, in this match Safin is a lock.
Lopez’s Upset Likelihood: 10% Lopez’s Gambling Odds: 6/5 Expected Return from a $100 bet on Lopez: $22 Expected Return from a $100 bet on Safin: $145 The Verdict: Bet on Safin
Arnaud Clement versus Rainer Schuettler
Summary: This is a battle of defense versus offense. On any other surface I would consider Schuettler’s defense almost a lock to overcome Clement’s offense. Here? I still think Schuettler will win, but he is not as overwhelming of a favorite.
Schuettler’s Upset Likelihood: 65% Schuettler’s Gambling Odds: 1/1 Expected Return from a $100 bet on Schuettler: $130 Expected Return from a $100 bet on Clement: $60 The Verdict: Bet on Schuettler
Good Luck and Happy Gambling!
Welcome Back Marat!
The story of how a new coach named Gumy helped get Safin back from the brink to beat Djokovic at Wimbledon
"I am enjoying the sport I’ve been playing since six. It's better than cleaning the streets of Moscow.” – Marat Safin
There were signs that the man known for his comebacks was finished. Like the stupid sap who wins the lottery and then squanders the money, Marat Safin was throwing away the good fortune God had given him. Okay, sure, he was dating supermodels and partying at the Playboy mansion. But his tennis? The big, talented Russian was getting pummeled. Losing to journeyman after journeyman, his ranking was a solid 83 in the world.
This is when Safin hired yet another new coach, and told him -- as he told all the others – that he would do whatever it takes to get back on top. The new coach, Hernan Gumy, didn’t believe him. Coaches are paid on commission, and Gumy was not about to grind out a living taking 15% of the 83rd ranked player’s tournament winnings.
So Gumy, who previously worked with Guillermo Coria, tested Safin’s commitment right away. For the first few weeks the two did not use tennis balls. Gumy made the overweight Safin do punishing runs and workouts and waited for Marat to complain so that he could walk out. To Gumy's surprise, Safin did not complain. Instead, he put his head down and worked like a mule.
Perhaps, Gumy thought, Marat was serious this time.
But when Gumy finally brought out the tennis balls and they practiced a bit, it became clear that Safin’s problems were deeper than just a lack of commitment or physical condi
tioning. Marat’s forehand was lifeless, his serve was erratic and even his usually sweet backhand was flying all over the place.
That is when Gumy pulled Marat aside and told him something no coach had ever said to him before. The problem with your tennis, Gumy said, isn’t in your head, it’s in your body.
“It may be easier to think the problem is just mental and you can fix it sitting on a couch, but it wasn’t true,” Gumy says. “Everybody was telling Marat it was a confidence problem but I looked beyond that. I studied videos and compared matches he played in 2000 with matches he played in 2007. I noticed that he was positioning himself differently when he hit the ball. He’d started putting his left leg more forward to protect his injured knee on his backhand. I noticed that he was doing the same for the forehand. These are the small details that ended up ruining his game.”
Safin, who long-ago tired of coaches who acted like psychiatrists, was receptive to the changes that Gumy proposed to his strokes. “When I showed him the montage that I’d compiled, he was like ‘Wow! That’s incredible!’” Gumy says.
Still, success did not instantly follow. Safin didn’t break the top 70 for the year, and after being obliterated by Lleyton Hewitt in the finals of a tournament in Las Vegas, even Gumy thought it might not work out.
Darren Cahill, who spoke with Gumy after that match, says the coach was ready to throw in the towel on Marat. “He was at a loss as to what to do. Marat was terrible, truly terrible that match. They had tinkered with his strokes, his strings, his exercises. Nothing worked. I think they were beginning to think it was over.”
But the beauty of Marat is that he cannot be explained. He once said of finding his tennis game, "It's like love. When you look too hard, you don't find it. When you let it happen naturally, it comes."
In Paris at the French Open, Safin finally found it. He lost in the second round to Davydenko, but he played well, crushing the ball and not his racquet. On Tuesday at Wimbledon, Safin did one better, whooping Novak Djokovic in straight sets.
"The hardest part is now over,” says Gumy. “He’s back in shape, he’s found his tennis again. For a while he thought that his time had gone, that he was finished. I can tell you that he no longer thinks like that. He has big ambitions.”
Still, it may be wise to temper your expectations. After beating Djokovic, Safin was cautious with his words. " I didn't play great for a long time," he said. "I don't even remember how it feels. You know there is a flight leaving at 8:30 every morning and I was almost there. So I don't know, I cannot assume I will win again."
Marat may be right to be cautious, but after watching him blast Djokovic it is difficult not to look ahead. Watch out in the semis, Roger!
Safinisms through the years
·"I really don't like that modern art stuff, the kind of art where you need to be on mushrooms or something to figure it out. Kasmir Malevich, you know him? The guy with the white squares? I mean, what is this?"
·"I'm not fighting with myself. Oh, my God. That's how I am. You know, the story of the hippo? The hippo comes to the monkey and said, listen, I'm not a hippo. So, he paint himself like a zebra. He said but he's still a hippo. He said but look at you, you're painted like a zebra but you are a hippo. So then he goes, you know, like I want be a little parrot. So, he put the colours on him and he comes to the monkey and said but, sorry, you are a hippo. So, in the end, you know, he comes and said I'm happy to be a hippo. This is who I am. So, I have to be who I am and he's happy being a hippo. "
·"Do you expect me to smile like an idiot on court? Nobody likes to lose, and I can't be relaxed when I see on the scoreboard that I'm loosing and making stupid mistakes. That's just the way I am."
In the locker room after last year’s epic Wimbledon final, Rafael Nadal sat at his stall and cried. After a few moments, his uncle and coach, Toni, sat down next to him and put his hand on Nadal’s back. It was a somber moment. They had been so close. Would they ever get another chance like that to win Wimbledon?
The answer is almost certainly yes. Rafael Nadal is, in my book, an overwhelming favorite to win Wimbledon this year. He has improved every facet of his game and looks unbeatable. His confidence is brimming from his beat-down of Federer in Paris and his victory over a tough field on the grass at Queen’s. And his draw? It is tricky, but Novak is in Fed’s half, which is all Rafa can ask for. This is the year Captain Capri conquers Wimby.
Rafael Nadal - All signs point to this being the year that Rafa finally wins Wimbledon. But watch out for Andy Murray in the quarterfinals, he has the perfect game to blunt Nadal’s power.Expected Finish: Champion Update: Champion
Novak Djokovic - An easssssy draw means he’ll walk to the semifinals. But beating both Fed and Rafa back-to-back in a grand slam once he's there? Impossible. Expected Finish: Runner-up Update: Lost in 2nd Round
Roger Federer - Talk about being on the hot seat. Federer’s new coach, Jose Higueras, took over at the worst time. Federer’s game has been bypassed and Higueras will certainly take the fall when Fed fails to win Wimby for the first time in 5 years. The draw won't help Roger either. Hrbaty in the first round, Soderling in the second round and Kei Nishikori in the third round? Fed’s only 50-50 to get through even that nightmare of a section, let alone winning the whole thing. Expected Finish: Semifinals Update: Runner-up
The Dark Horse Picks
Andy Murray-His game is tailor made for grass. His return of serve is the best in the game, his push-backhand is perfect for lawn tennis and even his laughable forehand works pretty well on a skiddy court. Watch out. He is a legitimate threat to beat Nadal in the quarters and make it all the way to the finals. (Gamblers beware however, he may have to face Tommy Haas in the fourth round and that would be a toss-up) Expected Finish: Quarterfinals Update: Lost in Quarterfinals
Kei Nishikori-The Japanese teenager was the only player to take a set from Nadal at Queens. He has the game to make it to the semifinals, but no sane person would pick him to beat Federer in the third round. Expected Finish: Third Round Update: Withdrew in first round
James Blake-An easy draw, and the best forehand in the game, means Blake should roll into the quarters. A weak mental approach means he could lose to anybody. Expected Finish: Quarterfinals Update: Lost in second round
The Grass Specialists
Andy Roddick - You never know when he will decide he is tired of losing and get back to the tennis that brought him to number one in the world – big serve, lots of defense, fear of the net. I don’t think it will be this year, but he should still be able to serve his way into the semifinals. Expected Finish: Semifinals Update: Lost in second round
Lleyton Hewitt - His flat, hug-the-baseline game is perfect for Wimbledon and he can beat most of the field just on raw ability. But mentally he just doesn’t seem to care any more, and I don’t foresee him making a real impact on this tournament (especially with Fed in the 4th round). Expected Finish: Round of 16 Update: Lost in round of 16
Ivo Karlovic - It has become a cliché to say that Dr. Ivo is dangerous. But if you look at his results, he pretty much beats the players he’s supposed to and losers to the guys in the top 15. That will be the case here. Expected Finish: Round of 16 Update: Lost in first round
Marat Safin - Call me crazy, but something about his demeanor has changed. After years of underperforming, he seems ready to play ball again. And even with one of the worst forehands on tour, the mercurial Russian still has that sweet backhand and a puncher’s chance. The problem? He’s got Djokovic in the second round. But if he sneaks by him…Expected Finish: Second Round Update: Lost in semifinals
David Nalbandian - He is the most unpredictable player on tour. He rolls to the semi’s at Queens and then loses 6-0. 6-1 to Djokovic. Who knows? I think he’ll make the quarters but I wouldn’t bet on it. Expected Finish: Quarterfinals. Update: Lost in first round
The Gambler’s Specials
Upsets to cash in on.
Hrbaty over Federer (Round 1) The odds on this match will be astronomical, but Hrbaty’s beaten him before, and his flat, power game can be Nalbandianesque at times. Upset Likelihood: 10% Update: Federer wins in straight sets
Kei Nishikori over Federer (Round 3) Again, the odds will be astronomical and Nishikori has the talent to make it a match.Upset Likelihood: 15% Update: Nishikori withdrew in first round
John Isner over Nadal (Round 2) Nadal’s serve is almost unbreakable and he eats up weak movers. Stay away from this trendy pick (that is if Isner can even get by Gulbis first)Upset likelihood: 0% Update: Isner lost in first round
Sam Querrey over Juan Carlos Ferrero (Round 1) Ferrero, quite simply, is washed up.Upset likelihood: 40% Update: Ferrero wins in 4 sets
Benjamin Becker over Nikolay Davydenko (Round 1) Becker’s got the serve and movement to make it a match, and Davydenko will be a huge favorite.Upset Likelihood: 50% Update: Becker wins in straight sets
Frank Dancevic over David Nalbandian (Round 1) Dancevic is dangerous and you just never know when Nalbandian will tank a match.Upset Likelihood: 50% Update: Dancevic wins in straight sets
Why the French Open massacre signals the end of Federer's reign atop tennis
This may have been Roger Federer’s “Bjorn Borg” moment.
On Sunday, in their third straight French Open final, Rafael Nadal didn’t just beat the world's top-ranked player. He destroyed him. 6-1, 6-3, 6-0.
Nadal was younger, faster, stronger and more determined than Federer. In short, he was everything that John McEnroe was to Bjorn Borg 27 years ago in their championship match at Wimbledon.
That match, and the realization that he was no longer the best player in the world, caused Borg to quit the sport. Federer won’t quit, but he will leave Paris with a mighty chink in his aura, and a confidence so dented that he won’t stand a chance to defend his many Wimbledon titles.
I was always skeptical of Federer’s dominance. The competition he built his record on was tremendously weak. Fernando Gonzales, Marcos Baghdatis, a punchless Hewitt, a serve and volleying Roddick. This was about as unimpressive a cast of grand slam finalists as there has ever been.
No longer. Worthy foes have come along, namely Nadal and Novak Djokovic (maybe Murray too if he gets his act together,) and Federer has wilted. His defensive, slice-heavy game won’t cut it anymore, and Roger has shown an inability to adapt a more offensive style.
Now some will say that I am making too much of this loss. After all, Roger did make it to his 3rd straight French Open final on his least favorite surface, losing only to perhaps the greatest clay-court player of all time. It is easy to think that he might come back and dominant at Wimbledon and the U.S Open like he always does.
Don’t be fooled. To anyone who has been paying close attention, it is obvious that Federer has been bypassed. His game just doesn't match-up. His backhand is spotty, his offense is erratic and mentally? Borg said it best when Rafa beat Federer two years ago. "Roger has no balls."
I don't doubt that Federer may win another grand slam in his career. He might even win two and tie Pete Sampras' record. But any way you cut it, it's Rafa’s and Novak’s world now.
Sights and Sounds from Gael Monfils' wild run to the French Open semifinals
It all started with Marat
Marat Safin practices with Gael at Indian Wells a few months back and he goes crazy.
“I don’t understand!” Safin says. “You have all the available shots, but you are ranked 90 in the world! How?”
"I realized when Marat went crazy, maybe he is right.," says Gael. "I should play better."
In the middle of practice before the French, Gael and his coach Thierry begin screaming at each other after Gael misses a shot.
"See what happens when I try to hit the ball hard every time?" Gael yells.
"And do you see what happens when you don't?" Thierry replies. "You are ranked 400 in the world!"
The silent treatment
Gael and Thierry do not speak for days after their argument.
"This is very common for us," Gael says. "When it happens we just hit and do not talk. It can be quite funny."
Towing the company line
Speaking to reporters at the French, Gael says:
"I want to play my game. I want to let my opponent think that he is leading in the point, but really I am still there. Yes, I know, sometimes I get screwed playing that game. I am trying to change a bit.”
Did they chant the same thing at his challenger in Morocco last month?
“J’aime Gael! J’aime Gael!”
A crowd of French girls chant I love Gael at his practice court before his quarterfinal with David Ferrer.
“Je t'aime aussi!”
Gael’s response: "I love you too!"
Not an American sports fan
Gael wears a Miami Hurricanes football jersey to his press conference.
“You are a Hurricanes fan?” A reporter asks him.
“A Who fan?" Gael replies.
“Your jersey, it is the Miami Hurricanes.” The reporter says.
“Oh, Oui, oui. I like the colors.”
But at least he’s trying
Reporter: “Your match with Federer in the semifinals. It will be like a France versus Brazil soccer game, yes?”
Gael (laughing): “I would rather say Lakers versus Boston. Yes, it is probably the most important match in my career. But it’s not the game 7 yet.”
And let me give you my World Cup picks for two years ago while I’m at it
On the eve of Monfils' semifinal match, four French tennis blogs declare that they have picked Monfils to win from the start.
One blogger writes in French, “Somehow I knew back then while he was playing the Challengers that Gael was going to breakout and win in Paris this year.”
The front page of Thursday's L'Equipe newspaper, a sports daily, does not contain a single article.
Instead, there is just a giant picture of Monfils and the words, "La Gloire de Monfils"
"The Glory of Monfils."
Just based on looks I would've guessed it was Gael who was from Mars
Monfils' father says he has told his son to treat his semifinal match with Roger Federer just like any other.
"He's playing an extraterrestrial -- the man from Mars -- but he has to treat it the same way."
John McEnroe once said the French Open was like a shuffleboard tournament, because anyone could luck their way to victory. And he was right. Remember Martin Verkerk? The unseeded Belgian made it all the way to the French Open finals 5 years ago. The next week he lost in the first round at a local club tournament. And two years later he was out of tennis.
But these days the French Open looks a lot like any other tournament. And that means there are only three contenders. Djokovic, Nadal and Federer. The 2008 version of Martin Verkerk doesn't have a chance against these guys.
It seems like every grand slam is a crap shoot between these three guys, but there is still one exception. Roland Garros. No one has shown they can beat Rafa on clay. Federer is 1-8 against Captain Capri on dirt. Djokovic has shown he can win a set and almost a match against Nadal this year in Hamburg -- but the Utah Jazz showed they can almost beat Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals -- in sports, almost doesn't mean a lot.
Rafa may have lost his aura of invincibility on the dirt (Djokovic after losing to Nadal in the Hamburg semifinals: "I know I can beat him on this surface and I expect to win in France"). But for at least one more year, Nadal will have too much heart, too much spin, too much bicep and too much butt for the rest of the field. He will win his 4th straight Roland Garros title.
The Picks The Champ -- Nadal- His reign is tenuous. A hole in his game has been revealed: He cannot defend the drop shot. Time and again this clay court season Nadal has been exposed by the drop shot -- most notably by Djokovic in Hamburg. Nadal is fast enough, but his touch and net game are so poor that when he gets to the ball he has no idea what to do with it. Still, he's the champ, and his heart is enormous. He'll win his fourth in a row. Expected Finish: Winner Update: Champion
The Artist -- Federer - A tough year for the king. The competition has reeled him in by exploiting the main hole in his game. He can defend better than anyone. But his offensive skills -- though elegant -- are inconsistent. If you can defend you can beat him. The problem? No one but Nadal can defend on clay well enough to take him out. Expected Finish: Runner-up Update: Runner-up
The Third Wheel -- Djokovic- At the moment he is the best player in the men's game. He is lighting quick on defense, mentally he can grind, and his backhand down the line and serve are wicked weapons. But he can only beat Nadal with offense, and on clay that is impossible to do. Still, he'll make the semi's at his 6th straight major. Expected Finish: Semifinals Update: Lost in Semifinals
Floaters David Ferrer- He's had his best results on hard courts, but his game is really tailor made for clay. He reminds me of Guillermo Coria a few years ago when the Argentine was dominating on dirt. Just a relentless grinder. Expected Finish: Semifinals Update: Lost in quarterfinals
Stanislas Wawrinka - Absolutely a perfect clay court game. Great spin, great speed and great mental toughness. But he's still a year away from a major splash. Expected Finish: Round of 16 Update: Lost in third round
Ernests Gulbis - The 18 year-old is a serious contender here. He has Blake in the second round, but if he gets by him, he will roll all the way to the quarters. Expected Finish: Quarterfinals. Update: Lost in quarterfinals
Andy Murray- He is a fast court player who may win Wimbledon or the U.S. Open this year (no that is not a joke). But his forehand has no explosion, his backhand cannot move through a clay court, and his stamina is among the worst in the men's field. He is no threat in Roland Garros. Expected Finish: Third Round Update: Lost in third round
David Nalbandian- At his best he is untouchable. He is rarely at his best. Plus he is an artist, a pure ball striker. And on clay, victory is more about the three S's -- spin, speed and smarts -- than art. Just ask McEnroe or Fed. Expected Finish: Third Round Update: Lost in second round
Washed Up Juan Carlos Ferrero - The mosquitoe was once unbeatable here. Two things changed. One: His ball, once cleaner, deeper and harder than everybody else's, became the norm on the ATP tour. Two: He stopped caring. In his prime he fought for every point like he was starving. Now? He seems like he just finished a four course meal. Expected Finish: Third Round Update: Lost in first round
Gug Kuerten - At his best there would be nothing between him and Nadal. Five years of hip problems and on the eve of his retirement he is the worst player in the main draw. Expected Finish: First RoundUpdate: Lost in first round
Lleyton Hewitt -They say humming birds have such short life spans
because they flap their wings so hard and so fast that eventually they just burn out. Hewitt is a hummingbird. His game was always too flat for France, but at least he had the world's biggest heart. It's been 7 years since he was grinding his way to the number one ranking. These days he's just been going through the motions (though things could be worse for him: see left) Expected Finish: Third RoundUpdate: Lost in third round
USA! USA! James Blake- He is not as great of a guy as people may think. He complains about playing on Sunday this year, saying the tournament committee disrespected him. He is moody with the press. And yes, I was teaching a clinic with him a few years ago and he pulled out his cell phone to speak with a friend in the middle of playing a point with a 10 year old kid!
Okay, I know I am being too harsh, I'm sure he is a nice fella, and his game? This could be the year he has a breakout on clay. His forehand is the best in the world and he can beat 90% of the tour with just that shot. The other 10%? He needs to play smarter. For a Harvard guy he doesn't understand the game. James, Move back on your return of serve (especially on clay)!!! Don't approach the net with a soft slice backhand cross-court!! Get a new coach with a pedigree!
Unfortunately, even if he plays within himself, this year it won't do him much good. Why? He's got Errnest Gulbis in the second round, and the 18 year-old has too much game for James on clay. Expected Finish: 2nd Round.Update: Lost in second round
Robby Ginepri - Call me crazy, but I expect him to have a breakout tournament. He's never, repeat, never won a match at Roland Garros in his career. And he's not exactly tearing it up this year (he's ranked 88 in the world). But Robby's working with Sergi Higueras -- the same coach as Federer, and the coach who helped Chang and Courier win their titles here -- and he seems like he's turned a corner. Expected Finish: Round of 16. Update: Lost in Round of 16