Friday, July 24, 2009

We've Moved!

For those of you who have been following Slice Out Wide, time to get used to a new locale. is the new home. Nothing more to be posted here...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nathalie Dechy Retires

French veteran Nathalie Dechy announced her retirement today, saying "au revoir" to tennis in order to get ready to say "bienvenue" to a baby.

The thirty-year old leaves the game ranked #90 in the world, a ranking that had been as high as #11 back in early 2006.

Dechy will be best remembered for memorable close losses against top seeds at majors. At the 2005 Australian Open, Dechy held match point against top seed Lindsay Davenport, before eventually dropping the match in three close sets. And at Wimbledon in 2008, Nathalie Dechy lost a heartbreaking marathon match to top seed Ana Ivanovic straight after an Ivanovic shot bounced in off a net cord to fend off Dechy's match point. Ivanovic went on to win the match 10-8 in the third, getting a few more lucky bounces along the way.

Dechy's pleasant demeanor and lack of big results outside of that Australian Open in 2005 likely means she will bie largely forgotten in the fairly near future. But when she is remembered, she'll be remembered fondly.

Nathalie was on the losing end of the first women's tennis match I ever saw in person, at the 1998 US Open vs. then world #1 Martina Hingis, by the score of 6-4, 6-4. Though clearly facing a superior player, Dechy's fight til the end left an impression on me that I still haven't forgotten more than a decade later.

Monday, July 20, 2009

World #1 Slums It Up In Slovenia

There's something to be said for having big name players show up to small tournaments to promote the game. It helps tennis gain roots in non-traditional markets, and lets fans in far flung locales see world class tennis in their own part of the world.

But when the big name player in question is a world #1 hearing increasingly loud criticism that her ranking is unjustified due to her inability to win the biggest tournaments, the decision is a little more questionable.

Dinara Safina is not only the only top ten player entered in this week's in Banka Koper Slovenia Open in Portoroz, Slovenia--she's only one of two entrants inside the top twenty (the second, twentieth ranked Anabel Medina Garrigues, barely fits in that category). It's almost as if Safina heard Serena Williams' sarcastic remarks about Safina deserving the #1 ranking because "she won Berlin and Madrid" and decided that the joke needed a better punchline.

While Safina spends her time in the second-least populated of the former Yugoslav nations, the rest of the top flight of women's tennis is preparing for next week's Premier level tournament in Stanford, a tournament Safina is not playing. The field at Stanford includes Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic, Samantha Stosur, Nadia Petrova, Dominika Cibulkova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Marion Bartoli, and Na Li. Every one of those players is ranked above anyone Safina might face in Slovenia. That list doesn't even include other Stanford participants like Maria Sharapova and Sabine Lisicki, both of whom are much scarier opponents than an Anabel Medina Garrigues or a Kaia Kanepi.

Portoroz, Slovenia sounds a lot more desolate than it is, in fairness. It's less than ten miles from Italy, and only about sixty miles of the Adriatic Sea separate the tournament from Venice. And Safina has been training in nearby Croatia for some time now, the home country of her coach, Zeljko Krajan.

But Portoroz is still Portoroz. Safina winning the title this week in Slovenia would only confirm her propensity for winning only the smaller titles in the eyes of her many critics, and would make her even more of a laughingstock .

And since that's how bad it would be if she wins, I can't even begin to imagine what the reaction will be if she loses.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pennetta Wins Battle Of The Boot

In a final that proved to be more of a meatball than a Vesuvius, Flavia Pennetta (left) routed compatriot and defending champion Sara Errani 6-1, 6-2 in the final of Palermo on Sunday.

Pennetta's win confirmed her reputation as a queen of the small clay court tournaments outside of the main clay court season, as now six of her seven titles have come at such events. As long as they keep holding them, somebody's gotta win 'em.

Just like Bammer, Pennetta too is defending US Open quarterfinalist points she's unlikely to defend. I give her a better shot, though. She's not someone who has too many inexplicable losses (save the French Open this year vs. Glatch), and she should be facing lower ranked opponents for the first three rounds. Put her in the eighth of a Kuznetsova or a Jankovic and she could see her way into the later stages of the tournament with some ease. Though if she lands in Serena or Dementieva's territory, she could well go out without a wimper.

Errani never made a ton of noise during her strong 2008, but has made even less so far in 2009. She'll fall slightly in the rankings from this loss, and it will be interesting to see how much longer she can keep knocking on the door of the top tier. I don't think we'll hear too much more from her, but I could be wrong.

Take Your Daughter to Victory Day in Prague

With seven year old daughter Tina watching in the stands, late-blooming Austrian Sybille Bammer won her second career title in Prague 7-6(4), 6-2, defeating Francesca Schiavone in the final.

Bammer is about the streakiest player I've ever seen, so I'm always amazed whenever she manages to string together more than a couple wins. She's been written off and come back about as many times as a player of her notoriety can be, and yet keeps managing to put up surprising results.

She's defending quarterfinalist points at the US Open, and while I'd be surprised to see her make the second week, it's certainly not out of the question should the right draw fall her way.

I don't think too much can be read into this win, but it is cool, just a few days before Kim Clijsters makes her comeback, to see another mom on the tour still getting it done.

Chardy Drives Off With First Title

While players who have never won a tour title can't really be choosers, it's tough to say it was a bad decision for Jeremy Chardy to make his first tournament win the one that came with a Mercedes.

The 22-year old Frenchman drove away in a E350 CDI by defeating Victor Hanescu in the Mercedes Cup final in Stuttgart, by the score of 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. Hanescu was a two-time loser on Sunday, dropping the doubles final as well. I'm sure someone told him he'd be happy with his accomplishments later on.

Chardy is a real fun player to watch. Think Lleyton Hewitt minus a step, but with a more downhill way of ball striking. With this win he moved up eleven places to a career high of #32 in the world, in position to be seeded at a slam for the first time.

His movement is much better on clay than hard courts, but if he ever gets a handle on moving on the hard stuff, his game should translate real well to the US Open courts. It'll be interesting to see what if anything he can do during the next couple months.

Robin Rocks On

Ever wonder what happened to Bambi's mother? She was coated and glass and made into the Bastad trophy.

Robin Soderling got thehonor of lifting the deer carcass by defeating Juan Monaco in the final of the Swedish Open, 6-3, 7-6(4). He is the first Swede to win a title in Sweden since Thomas Johansson won Stockholm in 2000.

With the win Soderling moved to a career high ranking of #11, and has a great chance of making it into the top ten once #10 Fernando Gonzalez's indefensible Olympic points fall off.

And it's a ranking he more than deserves. Though recently thought of as a fast, indoor court specialist, Soderling secured his first clay court title in Bastad on the heels of making the French Open final some weeks ago. Soderling has gone 15-0 since Madrid against players not named "Roger." If he can keep that up, he'll have a pretty nice year on his hands.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

All-Italian Final in Sicily

The Internazionali Femminili Di Palermo trophy will stay in Italy for a second straight year, as Flavia Pennetta of Brindisi and Sara Errani of Bologna will play for the International level clay court title on Sunday.

Errani is ranked thirty-two places below Pennetta, but is the defending champion at Palermo, having defeated Pennetta in the semifinals of the tournament last year. The two have only faced each once outside of Palermo, with Pennetta defeating the younger Errani when she was still ranked a lowly #216 in 2007 at Acapulco.

The odds of having an all-Italian final looked pretty good by the semifinal round, with three of the four semifinalists hailing from the country. Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany was the only foreigner in singles action on the last day in Palermo, losing to Errani in a roller-coaster three setter, 6-3, 4-6, 6-1. Pennetta had decidedly less trouble dispatching fellow Italian veteran Tathiana Garbin, taking care of her country woman in fourteen games, 6-1, 6-1.

The real question for me going into this final is not how each will respond to the pressure of the occasion, or who the Sicilian crowd will be pulling for, but rather why Anabel Medina Garrigues wasn't in the draw. In AMG's last six times in Palermo, she's won four titles and made two semifinals. Medina Garrigues is scheduled to play Potoroz next week, so she's not injured--maybe she's just sick of winning in Sicily?

See Thursday Night's Skirmish For Yourself

I had no idea the event was even televised.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fognini Makes Semis in Stuttgart

Perennial first or second round exiter Fabio Fognini is making a surprise run into the late stages of an ATP tournament for only the third time in his career.

He's doing so on the heels of one of his biggest career scalps, a in the quarterfinals of Stuttgart, defeating second seed Nikolay Davydenko 6-1, 3-6, 7-5. At #11 in the world, Davydenko is the highest ranked ever to fall to the player straight outta San Remo.

Fognini, who has a father named Fulvio and a sister named Fulvia, notched a nice 6-2, 6-0 win over Marin Cilic in Monte Carlo this spring. That was the kind of match he was capable of winning--one where the other guy never really showed up. But for him to prevail in a match that was tied 5-5 in in the third set against a tough opponent could represent a milestone in the 22-year old Italian's career.

I've seen Fognini play a couple times in person, and he's got some nice weapons, to be sure. He moves incredibly quickly and can hit just some pretty decent shots on the run off both wings.

He's also been, today's win excluded, totally useless in terms of mental toughness during the key stages of matches. When the going got tough, racquets got smashed, chains of Italian gestures and expletives flew, and Fognini routinely blew late leads and chances. If something happened (perhaps winning a $35k challenger in San Benedetto last week?) to give him the mental toughness he needed so badly, he could become a real threat to make some noise at some big clay court events next spring.

Coming Soon: 1 on 1 With Rennae Stubbs

The incredible PR team for the Washington Kastles was able to hook yours truly up with a one-on-one extended interview with five time grand slam champion Rennae Stubbs, which took place earlier today.

Rennae and I talked about World Team Tennis (including yesterday's newsmaking incidents), Australian tennis, and the "soap opera" (her words) that is doubles in the WTA.

We covered a lot of stuff in pretty good detail, so the interview will probably be split up into two parts when it is published on the new site, .

Coming Soon: Q&A With John McEnroe

John McEnroe was in town with his World Team Tennis squad, the New York Sporttimes yesterday, causing all sorts of commotion during the contentious match between the two best teams in the Eastern Conference.

But before all hell broke loose, I got a chance to talk to him about a wide range of topics, including the entertainment aspects of tennis, Davis Cup, and even Roger Federer's "15" jacket.

That interview will be posted sometime soon after the new site, , goes live.

Stay tuned.

WTT: New York Sporttimes def. Washington Kastles 20-19

WASHINGTON—A contentious and drama filled match between the top two teams in World Team Tennis’ Eastern Conference made for an entertaining Thursday evening in the nation’s capital. With tensions peaking in the men’s doubles, the New York Sporttimes and Washington Kastles aimed blistering shots and blasting words at each other in a match that boiled over more than once.

Women’s Singles: Abigail Spears (NYS) vs. Olga Puchkova (WAS)

Known for her serving woes, it wasn’t much of a surprise when Olga Puchkova chose to return to open the match. The shakiness on serve first popped up at 1-2, when Puchkova double faulted twice to go down 0-3. The youngest Washington Kastle was able to fight back to 2-3, but a loose forehand put her down a break at 1-3.

Spears seemed to have caught some of Puchkova’s serving yips, which made things a little more interesting. Puchkova steadied her groundstrokes to rebreak for 3-4, but then blew a 3-1 lead at 3-4 to give Spears the game and the event. New York Sporttimes lead 5-3.

Between matches there’s a John McEnroe impersonation contest, which consists of three people in wigs shouting at New York Sporttimes player John McEnroe, screaming that he was a jerk. He didn’t seem to know quite how to take it.

Women’s Doubles: Abigail Spears/Christina Fusano (NYS) vs. Olga Puchkova/Rennae Stubbs (WAS)

After she and Spears held easily to open the match, Rennae Stubbs took over. Taking over involved hitting a shot that bounced up into Spears’ face, for which Stubbs apologized copiously, an example that would not be followed in the next event…

Fusano was broken for the second time to give the Kastles the event 5-2, and the overall lead. Washington Kastles 8-7.

And then things got interesting.

Men’s Doubles: John McEnroe/Robert Kendrick (NYS) vs. Leander Paes/Scott Oudsema (WAS)

Six fairly easy holds brought the event to 3-3. Then things got interesting.

After a long exchange on Paes’ serve, Paes ended the point with a drive into Kendrick, which he just barely managed to turn away from slightly, letting the ball strike him in the back. Paes was fired up and ran back to high five Oudsema, without the half-hearted apology customary in such a situation. Kendrick was having none of it, and stood over the net shouting “you’re not gonna apologize?”

Paes didn’t apologize, and so Kendrick’s partner John McEnroe walked around the net to get in Paes’ face. Kendrick and New York coach Craig Adams joined him, with Washington coach Murphy Jensen coming over to monitor the situation.

Serving at 3-4, 1-0, Kendrick then drilled Paes, who was standing at net on the opposite side of the court, with a first serve. The Sporttimes won the point, and it was a long time until the next one.

As Oudsema and McEnroe argued at the net, Puchkova ran over to Kendrick and began yelling at him, leading Craig Adams to come over to yell at her some. Rennae Stubbs didn’t think too highly of this, and began yelling back. Jensen and Adams both protested with the chair umpire, who gave a conduct violation warning to the Kastles, apparently for Puchkova’s behavior.

After the Sporttimes held for 4-4, more arguments with the chair erupted. Rennae Stubbs incurred a point penalty for something, giving the Sporttimes a 1-0 lead in the tiebreak before it even started. The Kastles seemed rattled and didn’t quite recover, losing the first three points to 4-0. A bloop off McEnroe’s racquet then gave Oudsema an opportunity to peg either one of his opponents, but he put it away softly, the crowd appreciative of his taking the high road.

But one point later it was over, the Sporttimes taking the tiebreak 5-1, and evening the match. Tied 12-12.

The tension continued into halftime, with Kastles owner Mark Ein joining Jensen for more arguing

Kendrick approached Ein, and seemed to make peace. The arguments stopped there, but the flame-up, a type of incident unheard of in World Team Tennis, cast a shadow over the night that would last the rest of the match.

A fun shadow, though.

Men’s Singles: John McEnroe (NYS) vs. Scott Oudsema

Surprisingly given Kendrick’s ranking inside the top 100, McEnroe played the singles event for the Sporttimes, taking on Washington’s Scott Oudsema.

It was a classic battle of experience and finesse vs. youth and raw power, with the finesse and court smarts winning with relative ease. The fifty-year old McEnroe conserved energy well, and reflected back Oudsema’s power at sharp angles that slid out of the23-year old’s reach.

The event ended on a game point at 2-4, with an Oudsema shot landing near the sideline. Both players thought they had won the game, and fist pumped. The challenge showed the ball to be just barely wide, giving McEnroe and the Sporttimes the event and the lead. New York Sporttimes lead 17-14.

Mixed Doubles: Robert Kendrick/Abigail Spears (NYS) vs. Leander Paes/Rennae Stubbs (WAS)

The close, tense match was to end on Washington’s forte—mixed doubles, with doubles stars Leander Paes and Rennae Stubbs combining their slam winning forces against the far less heralded team of Kendrick and Spears. Kendrick’s substitution in for the scheduled McEnroe (greeted by boos by the Washington crowd) was a sign of both the Sporttimes’ desire to win as well as McEnroe’s fatigue.

The Kastles had a chance to win the match right then and there if they were able to win the event 5-0 or 5-1, and they came close. They were unable to win either of Kendrick’s service games, however, winning the match 5-2 to force a match deciding super tiebreak. Tied 19-19.

Super Tiebreak: Robert Kendrick/Abigail Spears (NYS) vs. Leander Paes/Rennae Stubbs (WAS)

The sides remained the same from the last event into the deciding event. The tiebreak stayed close until the very end, when at 5-6 Kendrick was able to take advantage of a Rennae Stubbs serve to give New York the victory. New York Sporttimes win 20-19.

As McEnroe and the rest of the New York team rushed to celebrate with Kendrick and Spears, the dejected Kastles were left to compose themselves for the post match autograph section.

It will be interesting to see what if any fallout there is from the ugliness in the men’s doubles. I don’t know that suspensions or fines are ever doled out in World Team Tennis, but if they are, this would certainly seem to be an occasion for them.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ana Ivanovic Enlists Darren Cahill

Struggling Serb Ana Ivanovic is now working with Darren Cahill, reports (in their sidebar). Cahill and Ivanovic will meet up the week before the Los Angeles WTA stop, which Ivanovic is playing and Cahill is commentating for ESPN2.

This is definitely a good get for Ivanovic. Her career has been in total freefall ever since she won the 2008 French Open. Ranked #1 less than a year ago, she is now outside the top 10, sitting currently at #11 (up from #13 before Wimbledon). With an errant ball toss causing her problems, as well as a seemingly complete loss of her court instincts, Ivanovic needs a big, proven name like Cahill to come in and work with her exclusively, which her Adidas-hired coach Sven Groenefeld was never able to do.

Cahill, who has previously coached Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi, has not worked extensively with a WTA player previously. He's got a reputation for being a great tennis mind and a class act, which should help him communicate with Ivanovic, who seems to be completely out of ideas and weapons in many of her matches.

Ivanovic won matches back in her peak playing days by playing fairly level, consistent tennis that was driven by aggression and decent movement. After she won her slam the self-doubt came (would seem an odd time for it), and her results tanked. She hasn't made the quarterfinals of a slam in her five slams after winning the 2008 French Open, a letdown that has taken her almost completely out of the conversation about the elites in women's tennis.

She doesn't have many points to defend in this second half of the season until Linz which she won at the end of 2008 in sort of a fluke patch of good form. With Venus and Serena still not playing many smaller tournaments, there's a fair number of points out there for Ivanovic to pick up. There's a great opportunity here for Cahill to help Ivanovic get back into the top 10, and possibly even into the Year-End Championships. Whether or not he'll be able to help the struggling Serb is yet to be seen, but it least it shows she's still trying.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Coming Soon: Q&A With Billie Jean King

I got the incredible chance to speak with tennis legend Billie Jean King while she was in town to promote World Team Tennis yesterday, just before the Newport Beach Breakers vs. Washington Kastles match.

She had a lot of great answers on a wide range of topics, from World Team Tennis to Davis Cup.

I'll post the full transcript of my questions and her answers in a few days, after the site moves into its new home.

Richard Gasquet Cleared

The ITF's independent Anti-Doping Tribunal announced today that it is letting Richard Gasquet off on time served.

Gasquet, who had been suspended since May for a positive cocaine test during the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, had always claimed he had not intentionally used cocaine. His claims that he had likely accidentally picked up trace amounts of it while partying at a Miami nightclub (after having already pulled out of the tournament) were verified in the tribunal's 38-page report.
"By the end of the hearing before us, the expert witnesses were agreed that the quantity was of the order of 1-10 mg, and more likely than not towards the lower end of that range, i.e. 5 mg or less," the report stated.

That is a very small quantity indeed. We were shown a vial containing 1mg of a white powder similar in appearance to cocaine. It was about the size of a single grain of refined salt."
All in all, this is the best possible ending for Gasquet, who has already faced some pretty steep consequences for what now appear to be circumstances not of his own volition. Missing the French Open and Wimbledon (his strongest slam historically), was punishment enough. Hopefully he can put this behind him and get back to doing what he did best: not playing up to his potential.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

WTT: Washington Kastles def. Newport Beach Breakers 22-12

WASHINGTON—After a starting line up introduction of WWE proportions—complete with cheerleaders, pyrotechnics, and no less than three mascots (a medieval knight in full armor and a giant tennis ball of each gender)—the Washington Kastles and Newport Beach Breakers were set to battle in front of a sell-out crowd of over three thousand in Kastles Stadium, the venue for World Team Tennis in downtown DC.

There was little doubt whom the throngs had come to see: Serena Williams, fresh off her eleventh Grand Slam Singles title just ten days ago at Wimbledon. Though Serena Williams is the marquee player on Washington’s lineup, she plays only one of her four World Team Tennis matches in Washington, as the league makes an effort to get the fan favorite to as many of their locations as possible.

Though Serena is the main attraction, the fans will have to wait for her to take the court until the second half of the competition, with men’s doubles and singles serving as her opening acts.

Men’s Doubles: Kaes Van’t Hof/Ramon Delgado (NBB) vs. Scott Oudsema/Leander Paes (WAS)

The Kastles got off to a quick start in the first event of the evening, with the home team taking the first six points of the match on the back of the dominant play of the best doubles player on the court—Leander Paes. The momentum soon ran out though, with Newport Beach coming back with a six point streak of their own to gain complete control of the match-up.

Newport Beach won the event 5-2, with the Kastles only winning the games on Oudsema’s serve (as much due to Paes’ presence at net as Oudsema’s tough serving). Serena Williams and Olga Puchkova coped with the defeat as they coped with most everything else during the evening—by giggly chit-chat. Newport Beach Breakers lead 5-2.

Everybody on each team comes on the court to warm-up, as the crowd applauds the introduction of Redskins QB Jason Campbell, who, like almost everyone else, is here to watch Serena.

Men’s Singles: Ramon Delgado (NBB) vs. Scott Oudsema (WAS)

Based on their relative forms in the doubles, Delgado seems primed to take the singles rubber. But Oudsema gets off to the better start, breaking the Paraguayan in the third game for 1-2.

Oudsema’s demeanor on court is a strange cocktail of listless and fired up; he lackadaisically gives up on several points after hitting poor approach shots, yet shows an incredible amount of emotion after every big point won.

The instability of both players’ emotions makes for some pretty ugly tennis. Both are content to moonball back and forth, waiting for the other to change things up and inevitably make a mistake. With neither player having any success flattening out the loopy shots, it’s a style that pays dividends, however unattractive it is to see enacted.

The event goes to a tiebreak, with Oudsema jumping out to a 4-1 win and holding on for a 5-4 win, which makes the partisan crowd and Washington Kastles Coach Murphy Jensen extremely happy. Newport Beach Breakers lead 9-7.

With the men’s tennis out of the way, it’s time for Serena to take center stage.

Mixed Doubles: Kaes Van’t Hof/Julie Ditty (NBB) vs. Leander Paes/Serena Williams (WAS)

On paper, the mixed doubles is a mismatch of epic proportions. Leander Paes and Serena Williams have won a combined twenty grand slam doubles titles, which compares rather favorably with Van’t Hof and Ditty’s combined total of zero.

Not surprisingly, the matchup isn’t much closer on court than it looked on paper. Though Serena doesn’t even touch a ball for the first seven points of the match, the Kastles win them all. A few crowd-pleasingly grunted Serena Williams volleys later, the Kastles close out the event 5-0, and take the lead in the match. Washington Kastles lead 12-7.

Women’s Doubles: Marie-eve Pelletier/Julie Ditty (NBB) vs. Rennae Stubbs/Serena Williams (WAS)

This match-up doesn’t look much closer on paper than the mixed. Rennae Stubbs and Serena Williams have won a combined seventeen grand slam doubles title, and Pelletier doesn’t bring any more to the Breakers’ table than Van’t Hof did, leaving the Newport Beach total at zero.

Williams makes it seven games in a row for herself before Pelletier and Ditty take a game thanks to some nice touch from the front of the court. Williams and Stubbs are unfazed, and stay strong to win the event 5-1. Washington Kastles lead 17-8.

Rough day at the office for Julie Ditty, who won exactly one of her eleven games.

World Team Tennis founder and civil rights icon Billie Jean King comes on to the court to say a few words to the crowd, who show their respect for all that she’s done for tennis with the loudest applause of the evening.

Women’s Singles: Marie-eve Pelletier (NBB) vs. Serena Williams (WAS)

Though she made things look easy in her first two doubles events, Serena Williams hardly looks to be playing effortless tennis in her singles match vs. Quebecoise Marie-eve Pelletier. Williams labors to hold for 2-1, but then gets a relatively soft break to go up 3-1. But she digs herself a 1-3 hole in her next serve game, needing to lean on her big serve more than before to get to 4-1.

With Pelletier serving at 1-4, Serena jumps out to an 0-3 lead, giving herself four match points. But she manages to lose all four, spraying shots wide when trying to end the evening with an exclamation point. Pelletier is taking the ball early and taking advantage of Serena’s often slow first step, as she moves to 0-3 on Williams’ serve. But Serena holds on for the 5-2 with four big serves, carrying the Kastles to the “W” on the strength of her 15-3 record on the night. Washington Kastles win 22-12.

The victory brings the Kastles’ winning streak to five, and moves them into second place in the Eastern Conference. A matchup with the first place New York Sporttimes and John McEnroe looms for Thursday. The Kastles won’t have Serena, so they’ll have to rely on Puchkova and Stubbs to compensate for the lost fifteen points. Won’t be easy.

To see all the exclusive photos from Tuesday night's action, check out The Daily Forehand's Picasa Album.

WTT Coverage Tonight: Breakers @ Kastles

I'll be covering World Team Tennis for the first time tonight, as the Newport Beach Breakers are in DC to face the Washington Kastles. Headliner Serena Williams, in her only home match for her team, the Kastles, has already caused the first sell out of the season in Washington.

The Kastles boast a line up of Serena Williams, Leander Paes, Rennae Stubbs, Scott Oudsema, and Olga Puchkova (who probably won't see much action with Serena in the lineup).

The Breakers don't quite have the star power of the Kastles, bringing a lineup of Ramon Delgado, Julie Ditty, Marie-Eve Pelletier, and Kaes Vant Hof.

I've never been to a World Team Tennis event before, but I've heard from everyone who has that they're a lot of fun, so it should be a good time. Hopefully I'll be able to get some good stuff out of it in the way of photos, recaps and interviews as well.

Stay tuned for all that good stuff some time later tonight (and probably into early tomorrow).

Monday, July 13, 2009

US Davis Cup: The Blame Game

With the United States Davis Cup team losing its quarterfinal to a country with less than one-sixtieth its population, there will certainly be some finger pointing going on. And I'm certainly not immune from it.

For starters, let's exonerate those who are largely free from blame on this one:

  1. Andy Roddick. Some people might rush to blame Andy Roddick for missing this tie, sitting out with injury after seemingly appearing healthy at the end of his Wimbledon final just a week ago. Those people are, of course, delusional. Roddick's Davis Cup record of loyalty is beyond repute, and for him to take a week off after the most devastating loss of his career with what is almost certainly a legitimate injury is more than fair. Had he been able to keep up his Wimbledon form, Roddick still might not have been able to beat Marin Cilic (though he would have handled Karlovic pretty well).

  2. Mardy Fish. Sure he lost his only match of the tie, but for Mardy Fish to push the much higher ranked Marin Cilic to an extremely tight fifth set on his least favorite surface in front of a "hostile" (James Blake's word) crowd was an extremely impressive showing.

  3. The Bryan Brothers. Practically a guaranteed point, hard to fault the Bryans for this loss as they won their doubles rubber in just over an hour of abusive tennis. But more on them later...

And now the more fun part. The ones who do deserve the blame. Or at the very least a couple whacks with Dunlop's shame stick.

  1. James Blake. Though he was an integral part of the US winning the Davis Cup in 2007, a lot can change in two years. Blake has been declining more and more rapidly, mentally more than physically. And he didn't have a lot of mental strength to start with. I can't say that I had any confidence that Blake would win either of his singles matches at any point, including when he led Karlovic 2 sets to 0. Blake said after the tie that he didn't realize how much he had been taking Andy Roddick's presence on the team for granted until he had to go out and be the top player on the team himself. Blake is such a class guy, but I think this needs to have been his last time playing for the US Davis Cup team unless his tennis drastically turns around.

  2. Patrick McEnroe. PMac soaked up plenty of praise for guiding his team to the 2007 Davis Cup title, when all he did on paper was pick the two highest ranked singles players and the highest ranked doubles team. Nothing too remarkable there. It's tough to get a gauge on how effective he is as an on-court coach, but judging on the way both Mardy Fish and James Blake withered on Friday, I'm guessing it's not extraordinary. McEnroe's main problem, from an outsider's point of view, is a complete and utter lack of creativity or foresight in picking his line up, almost always going with the Roddick-Blake-Bryan-Bryan foursome no matter the surface or location. Putting in stronger clay court players like Wayne Odesnik or Jesse Levine should be an option worth considering, as well as giving more opportunities to players like Levine and Sam Querrey who likely represent the future of the American team in the long run. Exposing them to Davis Cup atmospheres and pressure can only be good for the future of the team years down the road.

  3. The Bryan Brothers. (This is mostly rirected at McEnroe again) Yes, their Davis Cup record is unassailable. But they take up so much room. Having both Bryans on the team completely locks the Americans into playing the same two players in all four singles matches. The lack of options the Bryans cause can prove disastrous if the player plays poorly in a crushing defeat like James Blake did, and then is forced to return Sunday, and would be even worse if one of the singles players suffered an injury that forced a Bryan brother into a live, decisive fifth rubber. Certainly having a "guaranteed" point from the Bryans is nice, but it's hardly to say that they're the only pairing that could win for the US team. Mardy Fish won the doubles rubber in the 2008 Davis Cup semifinals with Mike Bryan. Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick won the 2009 Indian Wells doubles title, and Fish teamed with Blake to make it all the way to the semifinals of Wimbledon just recently. When Ivo Minar and Tommy Robredo looked shaky in their opening singles matches during this weekend's Davis Cup play, their respective captains had the flexibility to replace them. As long as both Bryans are on the team, the US has no such option.

Easy to pass around blame (especially to the guy in all four photos), but I have a couple possible solutions, too. My line up for the American Davis Cup team would be Roddick, Fish, Querrey, and Bob Bryan. If Roddick were out like he was this time, only then would I add Blake to the roster, to serve as an emotional, veteran presence more than anything, and definitely not playing him on the first Friday of the tie.

After several years of doing the same thing and getting results, it's time for Patrick McEnroe (or his replacement) to make some changes. The team is broken, and it needs fixing before 2010 if the US wants any shot at competing for the title.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rajeev Ram (Who?) Achieves Newport Double

Probably the luckiest lucky loser ever, American Rajeev Ram made the most of his last minute entry into the Newport singles draw by taking home the ATP 250 title, defeating Sam Querrey 6-7(3), 7-5, 6-3. As if that wasn't enough for the 181st ranked player in the world, he also won the doubles title in a super tiebreak with partner Jordan Kerr.

Crazily enough, Ram probably should have won this match more easily than he did, as he served for the first set, playing a pretty tight game to allow Querrey to break back and force the tiebreaker he eventually won. But Ram rallied valiantly in the second, and kept momentum through the third, leaving the always-chipper Querrey, an enormous favorite to win this final, shell-shocked.

In Sam's defense, I don't think anyone could have anticipated how well Ram would play today. Ram had not faced a player inside the top 100 on his way to the final, so it would have been only natural for a top fifty player like the third-seeded Querrey to consider him a push over.

Looking back at the ATP title winners of 2009, no previous champion comes anywhere near close to the longshot winner Ram is. Ram is the first lucky loser to win an ATP title since Sergiy Stakhovsky won Zagreb in 2007.

Hopefully the US Open (and some of the lead up tournaments) will reward Ram, who will still be well outside the top 100, with some well deserved wild cards. It's going to be interesting to see how Ram follows up this dream of a week.