for traveling pros, a tale of two approaches

By Jonathan Scott



Is that a sweater vest? Meet Roger Federer, amnesiac. (Getty)

Tennis is a tricky bitch. In no other sport does nostalgia ring so supreme as the calendar moves about — both in mind and spirit but in sport, too. And by sport we mean rankings. A great Wimbledon one year means everyone will be watching you the next. As Billie Jean King said: “Pressure is privilege.” But for some touring pros, pressure is just that — pressure. So as the raindrops (and strawberries and cream) start to fall across the pond, we look at two very different approaches to that pressure: those who seem to enjoy it and others who would rather the past was dumped just like a carton of sour, meant-for-strawberries cream.

The difference between an Amnesiac (the ones who’d like to forget Wimbledon 2010, and perhaps the 12 months since) and an Android (those who will be looking to methodically defend and go just as far again, if not a step further) will indubitably be a matter of psychological and physical fortitude. But, let’s be real, mostly mental. A lot of mental.

AMNESIACS

Tsvetana Pironkova: How to explain the free-fall? This quick-striking Piron-ha 2010 made the Wimby semis before evaporating. She gave Serena a fair fight in round one at Eastbourne this month, but the gal who vanquished Venus last year has all but vanished since, nearly as much as the House of Williams itself. A likely and foreboding second-rounder against Vania King or Petra Martic looms. Danger, dear Piron-ha!

Caroline Wozniacki: No way around it, the future no. 1 had her Stella McCartney-branded clock cleaned by Petra Kvitova at this time last year, submitting 2-and-0 to the Czech’s lashing strokes. A hard-court tuneup at home in Copenhagen – dubbed the Wozniacki Open by, well, everyone – wasn’t the best prep, but Caro simply has to forget last year’s lawn debacle if she’s going to vie for that virgin Slam. A potential second-round fracas against Sania Mirza lurks; lest we forget, Mirza took Justine Henin to three sets in Melbourne six months ago.

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Mirjana Lucic: The doe-eyed teen once tapped by Steffi Graf as an heir apparent in women’s tennis would probably rather forget the past decade more than just the last year. Lucic competed gamely against Jelena Jankovic at the 2010 U.S. Open but, no thanks to her father, her career and her life have been a piping hot mess since her dreamy ascension to the 1999 Wimbledon semis. First up for the comeback girl: Dominika Cibulkova, the no. 24 seed. Expect a shootout.

Nicholas Mahut: Think the lawn gods are at all kind? Rethink that right quick. Mahut drew John “Tall Tree” Isner in the first round AGAIN. If there’s any justice in the world, Mahut may even notch a W at the Big W this time out, provided that he serves well (you’d think 103 aces last year would have done the trick) and has, you know, developed his return and groundstroke game.

Roger Federer: Fed claimed his back ailed him in going down to Tomas Berdych last year, a gripe that Big Berd received sorely. If his French Open form holds, Roger, who may as well refer to Centre Court as his “backyard,” is a threat to seize his 17th Slam here and now. It may be his best chance for the rest of his career, and subtly so. A possible third-round bout with David Nalbandian intrigues.

Novak Djokovic: The Djoker has done anything but laugh at the All England Club in his young career to date. In short, when this fortnight has come around, his ass is grass. A semifinal appearance in 2010 had him waving his Wimbledon whites to Berdych’s missiles. This year’s streaking artist has much to prove on the surface, and no doubt he feels that heat. To make the semis again would honestly be to break even. Robin Soderling, Phillip Petzschner, Xavier Malisse, Jurgen Melzer, Victor Troicki, Michael Llodra, James Blake, Florian Mayer, fresh-faced Brit James Ward, and even Alejandro Falla (who nearly pulled the early rug out from under Fed last year) are all in his section. In a word, wow. He’d have better luck to play them all at once…

ANDROIDS

Ever the android, Kvitova levitates at the 2010 Championships. (Getty)

Vera Zvonareva: Life itself is like Ms. Zvonareva: You never know what you’re gonna get. Last week’s Eastbourne triumph over Serena (7-5 in the 3rd!) had to help, but VZ has scads and oodles of points to defend here or her ranking may dive. Elena Vesnina, her doubles partner in a run to the final last year, awaits in round two, but Vera should and will be wise to not look past Alison Riske first. The American girl has a grass-tastic forehand and likes the turf.

Serena Williams: Nary a new word can be crafted as far as what Serena’s presence does for the media and entertainment prospects at these Championships. The defending champ rained down a record 89 aces in taking the title in 2010 without losing a set – and then POOF! we didn’t see her again until this present time. Her makeshift match play at Eastbourne belies the fact that, when all’s on the line, you doubt a Williams and you likely get burned. A funked-up Aravane Rezai is her first foe, and it’s hard to see anyone in her quadrant giving Serena an alley fight until Marion Bartoli or Na Li in the later rounds.

Petra Kvitova: Mmm, too Kvit to quit – Petra means “rock” in Greek, but this Czech sensation can be a bit malleable in high-risk situations. Sure, she blasted Wozniacki en route to a combative 2010 semi against Serena, but she’s not dazzled when it mattered most in Slams since then. A Paris victory indoors over Kim Clijsters is her best showing in the past year. She needs a defining statement at this Slam to regain her form and inflict terror in opponents about her ground game, if not her endearing pterodactyl-esque squawk after lasering winners. Hard-serving Canuck Rebecca Marino may give her game like whoa in round three.

Tomas Berdych: Forget the fact that T-Berd fell in the French’s first round 9-7 in the fifth, less surrendering his 2010 semifinal points there. He has finalist credentials in London, and simply must go about his work robotically and avoid considering that his last year has been a wipeout. He didn’t handle the new media attention well in the wake of his surprise showing last year, but the sole seeming trouble he may have in his eighth of the draw arrives in the person of Philipp Kohlschreiber, a grass-court maven and heartbreaker who often plays the top guns tight. After that? Nadal. Then again, this is Berdych, and he might as well make his own life harder with Julien Benneteau early.

Rafael Nadal: The changing conditions of the court and heavier balls at Wimbledon have benefitted Rafa to no end. If the grass was as it was in the 1980s and ‘90s, he’d have no chance and Federer would be approaching 20 Slams now. Even so, the reigning champ (who should be sporting an “I’m still no. 1, no?” tee these days) has done everything right to capitalize on his strengths and impose his will here. A third-round boxing match with Milos Raonic and/or a fourth-round duel against Juan Martin del Potro both entice.

Andy Murray: Besides James Ward, who just alighted upon the grass courts and the front pages in the UK with recent success, there’s a strapping lad by the name of Andy Murray who, like Federer, is poised in a prime spot to turn the tables on Nadal and Djokovic, the two who have garnered all the 2011 press to date. Mr. Fuzzy Muzz should shed his thin skin (in addition to his overgrown Chia head and whiskers) and put his (tennis) balls to the (purple and green) wall. He may get Ivan Ljubicic, Stanislas Wawrinka, and Andy Roddick in succession, but Raggedy Andy proved himself on clay this spring and now could catalyze a tennis revolution in Great Britain by channeling all his nervous energy into a real run to the final. No time like now for the cunning no. 4 star.

Jonathan Scott is the keeper of the Daily Spin column at TENNIS.com and a freelance music scribe when he’s not caught up by tennis, which is hardly ever. Follow him on Twitter: @jonscott9

strokin': when tennis met music

By Jonathan Scott

It may not be tabloid fodder like every Taylor Swift dalliance, and it’s not nearly as insufferable as Brangelina, but the marriage between music and tennis is itself a storied love affair. It stretches across decades and genres, and it knows no bounds – well, none other than those pesky white lines.

Try to set aside the disappointment that the artist Sergey with the song “Tennis” on iTunes is actually not Vera Zvonareva‘s ridiculously good-looking model/coach. And, however possible, repress the memory of Justine Henin‘s song-and-dance scareoke on TV. Yes, Novak Djokovic and Ivo Karlovic have tried their tongues at rapping, as has Vince Spadea with amusingly deplorable results, but that doesn’t mean you should try it at home after perfecting your Djokovic-ian down-the-line backhand, does it?

As the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival just wrapped its annual song-a-thon in Austin, Texas – soon to be the site for a volatile USA vs. Spain Davis Cup tie in July – here’s the skinny on the latest hot shots in tennis-tinged music and an homage to some of the greats.

Best Newcomer: James Blake is a dub-step soulman and a veritable crooner. The British JB, that is. His American counterpart is a best-selling author and owner of a laser forehand whose best days are past, but Blake the Brit is taking the music world by slow-burning storm, releasing his rave-reviewed eponymous debut in February and – well before that – igniting the blogosphere with his faithful but quirky cover of Feist‘s “Limit to Your Love.” Let’s just pray that, when we hit up a James Blake concert sometime, his fans aren’t half as annoying (adorable?) as the American Blake’s J-Block can be in the tennis stands.

Dainty she is not. Our fave album cover from Blonde Readhead’s 23. (Image via band website)

Best Dressed: Sometimes it’s okay to judge a band by its cover. Oxymoronic indie rockers Blonde Redhead out of New York City put out the best, most elegant tennis-themed album art when they dropped 23 in 2007. But, no, the song “Top Ranking” has nothing to do with disputed no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki.

Worst Dressed, but Best Sound: Yea, there is a band simply called Tennis, a married duo specializing in ’60s surf-pop for 2011. This act released its debut Cape Dory in January, and though the song “Marathon” doesn’t harbor the words “Isner,” “Mahut” or “Wimbledon” anywhere in the lyrics, it’s solid stuff. Consider it your soulful throwback soundtrack for this summer – but steer clear of wearing skintight aqua as with the album cover. It looks like leftover fabric from a hideous Nadia Petrova creation.

Best Tournament Run: This has to go to the ginger-haired heroine in the video for Vampire Weekend‘s “Giving Up the Gun.” She rips through a draw that includes Joe Jonas, a Daft Punk-helmeted doubles team, and even a flask-swilling Jake Gyllenhaal in tear-away pants. It’s a great song, and the immaculately-white indoor court is sharp – even if the choked-up strokes from the damsel look laughably bad in reality. Girl, who taught you to grip a racquet like that? Topping it off: RZA from Wu-Tang Clan serves as the chair umpire, and Lil Jon offers astute on-court coaching. Brill.

TSF Vault | The many lives of tennis-themed music vids

Best Clay-Court Match: French DJs Martin Solveig — oddly in tasteful Wimbledon whites — and Bob Sinclar, sporting some hot-magenta vintage-Agassi styles, squared off on Roland Garros‘ red dirt for the video for Solveig’s dance track “Hello” sung by Dragonette. The match and music video are both visceral, a veritable heartbreaker. Check out the cameo by that flashiest of the current French tennis stars as he comes on the scene and devastates the darling DJ.

Hello? Could Martin Solveig look any cooler? We think not. (YouTube screengrab)

Best Charity Hit: Andy Murray and Thom Yorke of Radiohead teamed up for charity single “Two Minute Silence” to benefit serving and former British troops and their families. Strangely enough, its title is no lie. “Hear” — but really just see — it here. British Prime Minister David Cameron and more also got in on this quiet riot. Truly the oddest not-quite-a-band lineup ever, but hey, can’t wait for their episode of “Behind the Music.” Finalist: Wozniacki put out a charity single called “Oxigent” (or “Oxygen”) to benefit Danish and Polish Paralympic athletes. Because, you know, she has oodles of free time.

Top Passing Shot: Meg Baird‘s lovely, lilting “Waltze of the Tennis Players.” It’s just pretty, and we do pretty.

More of Jonathan’s music musings (including “Best Grunt” and “Best Musical Ode to a Tennis Player”) after the cut. [Read more…]

stay, don’t go

By Jonathan Scott

Another brand of March Madness is upon us: With the unisex goodness that is the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells tournament, the 2011 pro tennis campaign kick-starts into high gear. This 1-2 punch of Cali and Miami makes for a full month of top-notch tennis. Indeed, spring’s done sprung.

Now a curious trend seeped into tennis again in 2010: jumpy observers of the sport seeking to retire players -– good, even great stars who reaped some solid results -– before they themselves are ready to hang up their racquets. The guilty parties: too many tennis writers and other observers and “personalities” involved to various degrees. Their victims? Among them, Andy Roddick, Venus Williams, and even Roger Federer, proving that not a single star is exempt from these hasty calls to exit.

But Roddick won Memphis last month, dousing the ballyhooed, raging fire that is young Milos Raonic and coming up with possibly the best championship-point winner ever. He also ignited his fellow Americans’ effort on the Chilean clay in Davis Cup, punctuating his clinching win with a scissor kick (Video: here) that would make Sally O’Malley salivate. Too many quickly forgot that Venus seized some early 2010 titles and vaulted to no. 2 in the world before injuries in part derailed both her autumnal and 2011 Aussie exploits. (Oddly, she’s now singing 311 karaoke on a MIA-to-Turks cruiseship and showing off some fly dance moves for someone with chronic knee issues.). Fed himself ran the table at the London year-end championships in December, outdoing even Rafael Nadal in the final, and snagged an early 2011 title before a taking-all-comers Novak Djokovic rolled over him in Melbourne.

Still, retirement happens. It’s inevitable. Justine Henin’s departure has itself turned into a piece of music with multiple movements, the strings swelling and falling at different points. Henin has been like that lover who breaks it off and then loiters for attention: Mercy. And merci.

All of the brouhaha catalyzed a thought: Who or what in the sport truly needs to go?

Without further ado, a few items –- persons, peccadillos, and other pesky minutiae –- that best get gone. Now. Conversely, some other talents and trends are welcome to get comfy. So there it is: Stay, or Go.

GO: Foremost, let’s be done with the freak injuries. Some stars are making the maladies on TV hospital dramas seem realistic: Victoria Azarenka scarily passed out on court after bopping her head during a warm-up run, and then Anna Chakvetadze did her best Vika impression. Meanwhile Andy Murray strained his hand by playing video games excessively (okay, that one proved a fib). It seems a few players just need to be grounded.

Granted, Serena’s recent pulmonary embolism/hematoma scare is more than legit. Anyone who relishes compelling tennis, even if no fan of hers, whether onlooker or media, can only hope she makes it back into the mix again. Tennis needs her fight and her bite. Not every player needs to be Mama Kim Clijsters, portrait of civility.

Speaking of, GO: Can we just be done with all the talk about Clijsters’ motherhood? Cute turned to precious in a hurry there, and not in a good way.

GO: That hand-strain hoax aside, Murray might want to consider tempering his video gaming: Girlfriend Kim Sears reportedly already broke up with him once over the habit. Word to the wise, young gun: the lady has you on watch.

Judy Murray, we heart thee.

GO. STAY. Good dog: Not to pick on the Murray familia too much (see below), but what of these tweets from the family’s resident cur, this Maggie? So let it be written, so let it be done: No more Murray mutt tweets, at least not until Andy bags that virgin Major. It’s no less lame to put your pet on Twitter than it is to fashion a Facebook profile for it.

STAY: Judy Murray, British tennis coach and mom to Andy and Jamie. Yes, she advises her son. She also isn’t afraid to shoot a witty retort at a former player who yaps about her spawn’s chances at winning big with her on board.

GO: Boris Becker. Just let it be, Boorish. You were a fine player, a flame-maned, serve-and-volley stud on grass. Then you knocked Murray and his mum for his underperforming at Slams, chiding him for his closeness to Judy and (good grief!) for standing by his girl at age 23. So a former player cheats on his pregnant wife with a Russian model (in a closet), resulting in a lust child, and then doles out unsolicited relational advice? Laughable. Not content to merely stand by his statements from the fall, BB waxed on again after Murray’s mopey, one-sided loss to Nole in the Aussie final. Sigh. Everyone’s a Carillo. Click to read more, kids. You don’t want to miss these musings.

[Read more…]