a letter to juju… from the tennis establishment

Benjamin Snyder contributes to Fortune.com and writes for his blog, TenaciouslyTennis.com. He serves as an editor for Goucher [Md.] College’s newspaper, The Quindecim, and plays for the college’s varsity tennis team. Benjamin swears that he is distantly related to WTA veteran Patty Schnyder. Today he pens a letter to Justine Henin. From the tennis establishment.

Dear Justine,
What happened? You’re retiring, again? After everything you’ve been through, you’re letting an elbow injury prevent you from playing for good? Fine. It’s not like any other big name players are sidelined right now. Oh, wait. Sorry, Serena and Venus….

But let’s get this straight: Kim wins the US Open as a mom, and you decide it’s time to hit the courts again. You seem jealous that she’s getting all the attention. You’ve never been best friends with Kim, especially with such an intense rivalry since childhood. Plus, there’s that time her father accused you of taking drugs in 2003. Things improved between you both, the Belgian Sisters were back, but Clijsters prevailed in the end.

It’s 2010. You play a tournament for the first time, losing to Kim. But it was the match of the year. You shock the world by clawing through to the Australian Open final. There, you face Serena, make it to the third set, and lose again. You take two titles during the year, lose to Kim some more, and hurt your elbow against her at Wimbledon. Ouch. But – fine – it makes sense that you lay low for the rest of the year.

In 2011, you’re not feeling 100 percent, but decide to play. Why? Apparently, winning again means more than anything. You tell the press that another major would be “a bigger achievement than what I did in the past.” | More from the TSF Vault: Justine Henin

Apparently, that’s not enough anymore. You tweak the elbow against Svetlana Kuznetsova in Melbourne and completely call it quits?

Happier (and healthier) times: Justine once held the tennis world in her hand. (Philippe Buisson)

That doesn’t sound like the Justine I know. The Justine who overcame so, so many challenges. A mother who died when you were young. A divorce. An estrangement from her family. Big babe tennis. Being vertically challenged. An obsession with pudding.

You say that you came back with “a lot of questions and a lot of doubts,” but you’re leaving us with even more by retiring so quickly. You’re in shock, according to your farewell letter – and we are, too. Remember the first time after getting owned by Dinara Safina as the world number one? These retirements come pretty quickly after losses. Don’t you want to take some time to think it through?

Well, I’m sure Kim will be fine that you’re taking the spotlight away from her again. It’s not like she’s about to win the Australian Open, or anything. Oh, and how about teaming up at the 2012 London Olympics? Good luck with keeping that friendship.

We’re left with another burning question before you tune us out: Who is going to make a comeback to inspire you to play again? Elena Dementieva? Not likely. Guess you better call Belgian Idol, they’ve got a microphone ready for you.

Sincerely,

The Tennis Establishment

(justine ao photo via getty images)

ao sf predictions with christopher phillips (gents)

Party crasher: everyone knew there would be a Spaniard in the semis. Just not this guy. (Getty/ Torsten Blackwood.)

Christopher Phillips, a regular TSF contributor, weighs in on the semifinal match-ups over the next two days in Melbourne. | More: Lady picks

As Rafael Nadal bows out of the men’s mix, all eyes are focused on the rematch of the US Open semifinal between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.  Both men are coming off of strong quarterfinal showings as Federer beat countryman Stanislas Wawrinka in straight sets and Djokovic handed the same result to former giant-killer Tomas Berdych.

Djokovic has been the more consistent of the two in only dropping one set in his run to the semis (a tiebreak at that) compared to three lost sets for Fed. Though most would say Federer has had the tougher draw in defeating three former top ten players (Gilles Simon, Tommy Robredo and Wawrinka), he looked especially vulnerable in a five-set clash with Simon in the second round. Djokovic has really only had to contend with the up-and-down Berdych and Nicolas Almagro, who’d always rather be playing on clay.

While Djokovic had Federer’s number in New York, I see the relationship between Federer and new coach Paul Annacone continuing to flourish for the Swiss.  Roger takes it in five.

At the top half we have one of my favorite (and I think most underappreciated) players in David Ferrer. After Ferrer’s quarterfinal upset over an injured Nadal, he takes on Scot Andy Murray.  After seeing Murray’s countless meltdowns in Majors, I very recently claimed that I thought Murray would never win a slam in his career. But with his solid under-the-radar play here, I may be forced to eat my own crow though with perhaps a bit of Aussie vegemite on top.

Murray may have already mentally booked his place in the final, which could spell trouble for him against a player with the consistency, determination and drive that Ferrer has.  Ferrer has had to fight more in his run to the semis, so he may be more battle-tested than Murray, but I pick the no. 5 seed in four sets.

ao sf predictions with christopher phillips (ladies)

Caroline Wozniacki is still no. 1 – and more importantly – still alive, at the AO. (Getty/ Clive Brunskill)

Christopher Phillips, a regular TSF contributor, weighs in on the semifinal match-ups over the next two days in Melbourne. Phillips lives, works and plays in Los Angeles, answering to a number of different bosses. Tragically, last year, he was speechless for weeks after learning of the retirement of Elena Dementieva and is currently on a search to find her replacement in his heart. | More: And for the gentlemen

Well… the semifinals have arrived (almost) as I predicted.  An on-fire Li Na takes on faux-kangaroo lover Caroline Wozniacki while Kim Clijsters and Vera Zvonareva meet at a Slam for the third time in a row (they’re 1-1 so far).  But where does it go from here?

Li has won all of her matches in straight sets, with the most difficult coming in first round versus Sofia Arvidsson.  Li has broken her opponents no less than four times each match while maintaining her own first serve percentage at an average of 72.4%.

Wozniacki, on the other hand, hasn’t won her matches as decisively as her opponent, and I do have to admit I thought Francesca Schiavone still had a chance deep into the third set to win the match.  While Caro gutted through to the win, the way she let an injured, fatigued Schiavone dictate the match from the first point I think will be her downfall when she faces a stronger, healthier and confident Li.

Li leads the head-to-head 2-1 with both of her wins coming last year on Australian soil in Sydney and Melbourne, respectively, so I pick her to make her home country proud by being the first Chinese woman to reach a major final.

On the other half of the draw it’s Clijsters pitted against a resurgent Zvonareva.  This one could go either way really.  Zvonareva’s only dropped one set in five matches – to Serbian Bojana Jovanovski in the second round.  Clijsters, meanwhile, hasn’t dropped one yet, but was pushed to one tiebreak in each of her last three matches and looked shaky at times.

Apart from Vera falling apart during the USO final, the Russian beat Kim three times last year – including at Wimbledon.  Since Clijsters holds an advantage of second-serve points won (60% to Zvonareva’s 46%), I’m going with Clijsters in three sets in the battle of two baseliners.

dancing queen

Before Andrea Petkovic, the best tie the tennis world had to dancing was Monica Selesfrightening stint on Dancing With the Stars. We all remember how that turned out, right?? Petkovic’s moves are refreshing – just like her personality. We took awhile to warm up to the German, but watching her fight her way past Maria Sharapova was enduring, and now the dancing seems a little more appropriate, eh?

More: Courtney Nguyen‘s USAToday piece on the dancing Petko | Petkorazzi on YouTube

And: Aussie ladies: Ekaterina Makarova outfit no-no gets Mariana Alves outta her chair | TSF Vault: Alves

sunday survey: week 1’s wackiest?

Week one of the Australian Open is over and done with: seven days of play down, seven to go. But there were seven instances out of the tennis norm that caught our eye, and we’re wondering for today’s Sunday Survey: which moment was the wackiest? Choose in the survey below. And if you’re not sure what we’re referencing, check out videos on each occurrence after the jump.

Click here for a video vault on all seven moments. [Read more…]

short balls: guest appearance

Short balls is making a weekend appearance, so don’t get too worked up… But you might be excited to hear – maybe you should be sitting down for this – that Marv Albert is joining CBS‘ team for its March Madness coverage. You tennis fans remember Marv, don’t you? He’s the basketball commentator that was tapped by TNT in 2000 to help the network at Wimbledon. His famous making-a-tough-jumpshot phrase (“Yesssssssssssss!”) didn’t really translate well to the game of ball and racket. At all. That reminds us: TNT was once the home of Wimbledon?! Oh how things change in 10 years.

Earlier this week it was announced that Andre Agassi will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame this summer in Newport. The announcement didn’t come as a total shock to anyone, though the Hall did put together a great video to capture the events that took place in Las Vegas for the announcement itself:

Short(er) balls: We stumbled across this site of gents being sampled from all walks of life. Even Novak Djokovic gets a piece of the action. | And if you ever consider leaving a nasty comment, we will track you down…

Picture this: You guys missed Heineken Day. But these fellas didn’t.

(photo via ao.com)

milos' melbourne mastery

Which one doesn’t belong? That would be the fella on the far left – Vasek Pospisil – who is the only man among these four pictured who isn’t still alive and well in the Australian Open draw. That other unfamiliar face – second from left – is one Milos Raonic, a 20-year-old Canadian who has advanced to the fourth round of the AO with a four-set win today over 10th seed Mikhail Youzhny. In six matches (including three qualifying wins), Raonic has dropped just two sets. He’ll face no. 7 seed David Ferrer in the Round of 16.

More: Montreal Gazette‘s Stephanie Myles on tennis’ changing guard | Canadians on TSF

(photo via popout.com)

caro to press: ask me something different!

“You work the the Daily Mail? Here. Take my towel.”

Caroline Wozniacki decided to take a little bit of a different route in her press conference yesterday after her win over Dominika Cibulkova in the third round of the Aussie. Saying that she had heard in the media that she was boring, she came to the mic ready with notes compiled from questions that she “always gets asked.” After she answered – or stated, rather -the usuals (How did you feel like you played? What were your strengths out there? Who do you have next? How does your new racquet feel? Do you really think you should be no. 1?), Caro let the media ask some new, original Qs. Their creativity was mixed. Listen to the presser audio here | Transcript here

Like Caro’s look? More Stella McCartney from adidas

(photo by ben solomon for ao.com)

todd woodbridge: "[kim] looks grumpy; boobs are bigger"

UPDATE: Watch the video on New Zealand’s 3 News

In a light-hearted, but hilarious moment from the post-match interview between Kim Clijsters and Todd Woodbridge, Clijsters turned the tables on the former Aussie star and revealed a text message he had sent to Renae Stubbs:

Woodbridge text, recalled by Kim: “[Kim] looks very grumpy and her boobs are bigger.”

Clijsters recalled the text during the post-match interview, and Woodbridge thanked Kim for the “end of my television” career before signing off. More of the exchange:

Kim: “Rennae Stubbs showed me a text you sent in which you said you thought I looked pregnant.”
(Laughter).
Todd: “Well, are you?”
Kim: “No.”

(photo via getty images)